Aligning marketing and sales for BIGGER growth: Part 2 : Episode 17

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Listen into part two of our conversation with Brett Keirstead, a fractional chief sales officer and former senior HR tech sales leader. In our spirited debate, we cover the challenges both teams can run into, the sometimes clashing view points and ways to overcome our differences to put aside our egos and work together towards the common goal of supporting the company’s success.

[00:00] Welcome back!

[00:25] Increasing communication and respect between marketing and sales

[03:31] Not everyone is a marketing expert

[07:30] Aligning on how to best support the buyer process

[10:48] The pushback from sales

[15:11] Marketing’s true aim

[19:28] Working to better understand each other

[24:38] The takeaway: Communication is key

[25:41] Outro

The Demand Gen Fix is hosted by GrowthMode Marketing. Visit to learn more about us.


Welcome back to The Demand Gen Fix with GrowthMode Marketing. On today’s episode, we are rejoining our conversation with our special guest, Brett Keirstead, and talking about how we really need to get our sales and marketing aligned in order to make sure that our companies are growing the way that we want them to grow. So, with that said, let’s rejoin the conversation.


Goes back to communication between the two departments, because I feel like a lot of times marketing just says, just do it. Just do it and trust us. And that of course, is going to create some tension. No one wants to be told what to do, but if we have the conversation and say, okay, here’s our plan. This is why we’re doing this podcast. We need brand awareness, we want people to know our names, like explaining why we’re doing what we’re doing. I think people will get on board a lot easier than just, don’t worry, don’t worry. We’re doing all this stuff behind the scenes. We know what we’re doing. Just trust us and do what we say. That’s not a good way to work.


I think if I was marketing and presenting to sales, I would just try to say, I’ll typecast salespeople just for this podcast, but generally speaking, they’re very self-centered, and I don’t mean that in always in a bad way. They’re just thinking about results for themselves. They’re under a lot of pressure to sell. What’s in it for me. Secondarily is, as you know, they’re generally not detailed people. So, if you provide, we’re doing 18 things, they’ll be like, you lost me at number two. Right? So, there’s a little bit of selective listening that goes on, and again, there’s that filter of hearing what you say and putting it through the filter of how does this help? I imagine that’s frustrating for marketing people because they explain it and they didn’t even listen, and do it? Well, because they didn’t hear you.


What I would do is I would try to explain things to a salesperson going down the path I was on before about outcomes. So, I’d say, hey sales, we’re doing this campaign, or we’re doing this effort right now around a new product launch or a new branding effort or a lead generation campaign, and we’re going to do seven or eight things. Ok? The purpose of each them is number one, this campaign is designed to do this outcome. We just want to provide awareness. We need to lay the foundation. Then the second thing we’re going to do is we’re going to put this out there and that purpose is for X. It’s to generate a second level of awareness. The third then will be to convert whatever it is. I know it sounds like you’re almost talking to a child about it, but you have to remember, a salesperson doesn’t understand what you’re trying to do.


They just think, are you getting me leads or not? If you want them to understand it, you’re going to have to explain it in sales terms or layman’s terms or child terms in some regards, because then it’s like, okay, I know what you’re trying to do. I should not expect a bunch of leads and I shouldn’t be disappointed, well, marketing didn’t do this when that wasn’t even your intent. I think that’s where we get off track sales has the same burden. I can do the same speech about the sales side too, but I think that’s just one thing that I’ve seen over my years with separation between really great integration between marketing sales and when it gets disconnected.


That is a really good point, Brett. And I think, as marketers, we need to recognize that we’re the only ones that have studied marketing and understand the science behind it. I think sometimes that gets lost because it feels like, as a marketer, everybody else thinks they know what marketing is, they think they know how to do it. Everybody brings ideas where we’re just shaking our head like, no, Jim, that is a terrible idea. Thank you for the feedback. We’ve got to be able to explain these things in ways that other people understand, because it may feel like sales understands marketing because we’re so closely interlaced in everything that we’re doing. But to your point, Brett, they don’t. And if we don’t have a way to explain it to help them understand, here’s the big picture and here’s the outcomes that we’re trying to accomplish for you. And we’re not going to go into the nitty gritty of how we do it, because that shouldn’t matter to you. But yes, this campaign is not designed to bring you a ton of leads. It’s designed to bring you brand awareness and trust so that when that prospect actually is in market, they raise their hand, they become an inbound lead, and you are going to have a better lead handed over to you.


We both make assumptions about each other. I’ve been in sales for 30 years, B2B, HR tech, SAAS, and I’m a staunch supporter of our profession, and I’m a defender of sales. If you ask 20 random people on the street, what do you think of salespeople? Unless you get an actual salesperson, you’re probably going to be over 20. Tough. To marketers and to other people, you have to understand that. You have to understand that sales carries an under-appreciated reputation as a profession. It’s not easy. I remember having a CEO, we were getting into a debate about this one high value prospect. And he said to me, did you explain to them that we have the best product? And I said, no.


I didn’t even think of that.




I imagine sometimes that marketing people look at sales with the same level of scratch your head, like, why didn’t you do it? Part of it is a competency issue, but part of it is just maybe you didn’t understand how complicated that sales process is. They’re super complicated, there’s many moving parts and it’s difficult to sometimes understand, like you feel when you’re not in it. How complicated it is, or how sophisticated it is, or how much training we had to go through as salespeople. We have the same problem you do. Marketing and sales both have a reputation issue of not being serious discipline. It’s just like, oh, marketing people. They create those fluffy pictures, and they post stuff on social. And you’re like, that’s so insulting.


You know? Or salespeople, oh, you just go out and take people out drinking and golfing and you close business, it’s outrageous. You know? But we both have to understand that we both operate in that environment and probably even towards each other. I think raising the level of respect for what each party does, what each function does, and how hard and how sophisticated it is. In addition to understanding the outcome side of things. Item number two is just developing a deeper level of respect for how hard it is and how much sophistication goes into what happens.


I think one thing that marketing and sales need to be having conversations on and need to get aligned on is how prospects, the way they buy has been evolving quite a bit. It used to be marketing finds a lead. Someone filled out the form on our white paper suite, we got a hot one, let’s pass it over to sales. And sales starts the chase. Or maybe it’s the SDR team, and we start hounding that prospect like, hey, we’re the best, come buy from us. The reality is that’s not the way that companies are buying anymore. And there has been this big shift in the last few years where prospects are trying to do as much as they can upfront before they have to talk to the salesperson. I think part of it is we created this beast in the technology space.


If you think about software as a service company where the buying process was, I filled out a form because I was interested in your content. I never said I was interested in your product, but your salesperson called me, and SDR hounded me until I made an appointment. I talked to the salesperson, I want to see a demo. The first conversation is a discovery call, right? There’s no value to me as the prospect, but you are getting all kinds of information from me. The second call you make me go on, you make me go through a presentation, I still don’t get to see the demo. I see screenshots of the product, find I have to go to a third call. And finally on the third call I see a demo and I’m like, great, what is the pricing? Uh, let me schedule a fourth call.


We have to put together a proposal, we’ll walk you through it. So now you’ve made me go through four sales meetings to get the one piece of information I wanted, which was how much does this cost? And, and I guess two pieces of information. How does the software actually work? We’ve created a really bad taste in the buyer’s mouth and now we’re frustrated because the buyers don’t want to talk to companies because they don’t want to go through that process. They want to minimize their interactions. And so, I think from a marketing and a sales standpoint, we need to work together to figure out what does the new marketing and selling model look like to support the way that prospects actually want to buy instead of trying to pull them into our traditional sales process.


Okay? So that’s your version, right? That’s how you speak. All right? Now let me translate that into sales speak. You’re basically threatening my job. You’re threatening to disintermediate me. You’re insulting my value as a sales professional by saying, well, you don’t understand. You’re going to put them through four sales cycles and the customer doesn’t want that way. And we should be doing four more things ahead of times before it gets to sales. All you’re doing is saying out of it as a salesperson you may not think you’re saying that, but in effect, I could interpret it that way by saying, well, the customer doesn’t want to talk to a salesperson. That’s an insult to me. I might turn around and go, well, the customer doesn’t want another piece of marketing, right? I could make that same argument. Do you agree?


I could make the exact same reverse argument. I think this is a tricky subject, but it’s one that you kind of have to take a step back and think through the emotions behind it too. It’s not as simple as saying, oh, well let’s just have sales do less because marketing can do more because that’s what the customer wants. Well understand that reaction. To me as a proud full sales professional, I’d be like, I don’t want you touching my account, my guy can do it better. You give me a lead, I’ll nurture them. So, it’s super tricky. It’s not as simple, right? I would argue the size of company, the type of people, the type of product you’re selling, the size of the deal. Let me give you another example. Let’s say I have a relationship with a very large potential prospect and the deal’s like 5 million a year.


Well, do you think I’m going to let marketing send four emails on my behalf without me? No chance, right? But on the flip side, if I’m selling more mid-market or transactional business, and it’s that we could use marketing cadences and demand gen to nurture them so that I’m not wasting my time. Well that makes sense. That makes total sense. So, I think trying to sit here and I’m not saying you’re trying to do it, but we collectively try to put this guaranteed framework together and say, well, we should always be doing it this way. I think we intuitively know that’s not the right idea. I think the way to do it, like the four of us were brainstorming the other day. If you take each function in the customer journey, and I know that’s an old term, but if you think about it each function along the way and just be like, who of us and in what manner optimizes that experience for the customer and for the business. Like that’s how we should draw it up. Then we’ll figure out, well hey salesperson, in this sense, let’s let marketing handle it three or four more contacts before it gets to you.


Our intent as marketers is to give you a better lead. We’re not trying to take your job away. We’re trying to help you do your job better. There’s never that intent of trying to like get sales out of the picture. It’s trying to help them to get more success.


If I’m in your shoes and I’m communicating this with marketing, or excuse me with sales, I’d use those exact words. You know, what is it? Let’s not overlook the elephants in the room. And I’ll tell you, the people that listen, people on this podcast that listen, like when I worked at Avi and when I worked at Knowledge Marketing in both cases, uh, marketing reported to me as cheap revenue officer, right? That’s the greatest experience. I loved it. I had awesome marketing people. We would get in rooms sales and marketing, and we would just go at it, you know what I mean?


But it was fun. But we all knew at the end of the day, what we were trying to do was trying to carve out all of the different things that were necessary to do in order us to sell as much as possible, right? And that was either upsell, cross-sell, retain. It wasn’t just sell and go away. There’s a lot to it, especially in SAAS and especially in a recurring business. It goes on and on forever. But when sales and marketing are brought together by the leaders, whether it’s one leader or two and put into a collaborative team environment and they’re allowed to have fun with each other, it’s amazing how that works. Because even if I were to say, well, your leads suck, and they’d be like, yeah, well you suck at following up once you just get it out.


We don’t need to talk about it behind each other’s backs. If we just get out there and talk about it and say, why do you feel that way? What could we do differently? Or why do you feel like I’m not following up because I feel like I followed up, right? I think whether it’s organizational structure, whatever, we shy away from super productive, honest conversations that would solve it. I don’t know whether that’s the construct of the business or whether it’s just the leaders aren’t aligned or we’re not working together, whatever it is, I think that’s the way to structurally go about it.


At the end of the day, egos aside, marketing & sales, it’s about the prospects and the customers and what’s the best way to bring them from A to Z when it comes to turning them into customers. Both roles are really important. Obviously I get what you’re saying when your knee-jerk reaction is, you are in my territory, you’re taking my job away. When we make statements like your digital footprint needs to become your best sales rep, we never said it replaces the job of salespeople, but I can tell you as a salesperson, they’re like, that’s bullshit. I need to be your best sales rep, right? I am getting paid. You are not taking these leads away from me. The way prospects are buying now, they’ve made up to 80% of that purchase decision before they’re willing to talk to a sales rep, which means we’ve got to build that brand awareness and trust with them on the marketing side long before they raise their hand.


Or your company’s not going to make the shortlist and that sales rep’s not going to have the opportunity to influence that last 20% of that decision. That’s what our aim as marketers is. How do we nurture these individuals and these companies so that they actually want to talk to our sales reps? The benefit then to the sales team is instead of getting 500 leads from us that you’re chasing and you’re spending a lot of time and you’re going nowhere with it, and you’ve got marketing saying, I gave you leads, they’re not moving, they’re falling out of the pipeline, you’re not doing your job and sales saying, that’s because your leads suck and why are you sending them to me? Instead, we’re focusing on the quality that’s being passed to sales because I think the organization wins. And so do marketing and sales. When you’ve got high quality leads going to the salesperson and they get to spend their time focused on real opportunities, they’re going to have shorter sales cycles, they’re going to have higher close rates and overall lower customer acquisition costs, you’re going to thrive as a salesperson if you get those kind of leads.


So how as marketers do we make that happen? We can’t do it without having alignment with sales and without having both teams agreeing this is the right strategy to take for the organization to help us create that catalyst for growth.


I have a couple of other thoughts I would share. Number one is I think we both have to remember both marketing professionals and sales professionals, if they’re any good, they have tremendous pride in what they do. They own it, they have personal emotional investment in it. So if you create something that you grind it over from a marketing standpoint and you’re like, this is an incredibly good piece of collateral, let’s just use an example and sales doesn’t use it, that is a personal insult. I imagine the feeling that you have that that is really, really frustrating. I would couple of things. Number one, I would tell you don’t take it personal and if you want to take it personal, then rethink, did you sell it to them properly, right? Take some accountability. And I’m not saying you don’t but take some accountability.


How many times do they need to see something in the of it and maybe the way you presented it the first time didn’t work and you shouldn’t be mad about that, right? It’s just like a marketing. If like you were selling your products to a customer, you wouldn’t be like, wow, I tried once and they didn’t like it. They’re stupid. I get it. There’s a lot of emotion in it. On the other side, don’t forget that sales has a lot of emotion and passion in themselves, their accounts, there’s a lot of pressure and they take pride in their ability and their ego is their best and worst in it, right? The ego gives them the belief that they can really work with somebody and be successful, but it also gets in the way sometimes of accepting other people’s ideas.


There’s just no way around it. I think both sides can spend a little bit more time talking with each other on a personal level and understand each other’s motivations and emotions and feelings about what they do and what they produce. And I think that would help with the connection. And that’s why, like I said in those examples, I’ve tried to make people talk together as humans, and express their frustrations because there’s a lot of baggage. Everybody brings baggage to the conversation. That would be my other piece of advice is just remembering that side of it. When you do that, it generally tends to make a better connection. People will be more understanding. I know how much time and energy and effort you put into it and let me take a second look at it. Those are the kinds of feelings that you want people to react to it, but it’s just not going to come from, well, I put a lot of pride into it. I sent it to you. Why didn’t you use it?


We have to have empathy for how challenging each other’s roles are and that we’re all trying to accomplish the same thing at the end of the day.


I was at AVI, and we had probably a dozen salespeople. Every salesperson is different. So I’ll give you an example, and I know this is hard for everybody to understand. It’s even hard for me as a leader to deal with, but I’m about effectiveness. Let’s say the four of us are on a sales team. I’m a certain kind of rep. I might say, you know what, Deanna, I’ll take every leap. I don’t even care if it’s unqualified. I want to talk to people, I want to build relationships in my network.


It’s not a waste of my time. I don’t have a thousand calls a day. I only have so many companies and if you got me the janitor, so what, I’ll talk to the janitor and I’ll find out something about the business and we’ll move on. Jenni might be like, I don’t want to talk to anybody unless they’re qualified, right? And Erica may be like in the middle, if it’s my ideal prospect, I’ll talk to them. But if it’s a low end, I won’t talk to them. The reality is, we’re all individuals and the most effective, but inefficient would be to treat everybody differently. That’s very inefficient. But if you really wanted in a mid, maybe an SMB or maybe a mid-market, if I was a marketing team, I would spend some time at least understanding the different personalities that I have on the sales side and how that may react differently to different leads. I’m not saying you should change everything for it, but it is a consideration because again, I know on one team, four different reps will have four different perspectives on what they want. And specifically an example of leg gen, can be very different. Now I know that’s tough for a marketer here who wants to create process and repeatability and consistency and efficiency, but it’s probably the reality.


I think that’s great and that’s fine. But then I say that if that person who wants every single lead and they’re only converting 1%, then we don’t want to hear about it. Right?


I understand. It’s a tough issue. It’s not an easy answer, I’m just saying it’s reality. And that’s part of what being the leader has to understand, the leadership in the business has to understand what’s going on at a functional level. So again, when I ran sales and marketing, it was easy because I got everybody in the room and I’d say, Joey, what do you want? He goes, give me everybody and I love prospecting. And Dan might say, uh, no, no, no, no. Don’t gimme the Joey calls it, I hate those leads. You guys nurture them. I don’t care. Send them to me later when they’re more qualified. Then I Brett, as the running the organization can’t come back to marketing and go, well, your conversion percentage is down, right? They’re like, yeah, it’s cause you told me could Joey everything.


You make a really good point Brett too, in investing our time in understanding people’s connection to these things and how the sales team wants to operate. Obviously, organizations are different based on how big the sales organization is or how complex. I will say in my experience too, as a marketer that that is the key to getting the sales and marketing alignment. Started building the trust with the individual reps and getting, I understand if you have 300 sales reps, that’s not possible. But as a marketing leader, the more you can do that upfront, and it might not be that you’re going to create all these separate processes based on what everyone wants, but the more you create that trust and the more you have those conversations with them directly and say, hey, I noticed these leads coming in for your territory. What do you think of the like, that I think is, in my opinion, that has started or gotten me to the point where that sales and marketing alignment has been most successful.


I mean that’s the point of this entire conversation is the communication is key and the sales and marketing alignment obviously is necessary. You cannot fix that in this conversation. We did not fix that for every organization or anyone listening. I will say I think you’re making a very good point because that is one thing that it’s really hard to start building that alignment and the trust if you don’t, as a marketer, if we don’t show that interest and trust in building that with the sales team and vice versa, we want them to also be interested and ask us what we’re doing too. I think what it really comes down to is that the communication is key. We all have the same goals and at the end of the day.


This has been a great conversation. We so appreciate you coming on Brett. This has been fun.


I really appreciate you guys. I think this is good conversation. I think getting below the typical sales and marketing talk points is really where the value is. So I think it was good. I really enjoyed it.


Thanks for joining us on The Demand Gen Fix, a podcast for HR tech marketers brought to you by GrowthMode Marketing. We sure hope you enjoyed it. Don’t forget to subscribe from more perspectives on demand generation and B2B marketing strategies. Plus give us a like, tell your friends, we’ll see you next time.

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