An Act-On Conversation: Blurred Lines – What Sales & Marketing Will Look Like in 2015

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Act-On Sales & Marketing ConversationsEditor’s Note: Ryan Porter is Act-On’s Director of Global Sales Enablement. Ryan came to Act-On from Cisco WebEx and has extensive experience in sales and sales leadership, especially when it comes to building high-performing sales teams. Janelle Johnson is Act-On’s Director of Demand Generation.

This blog post is an edited transcript of the Act-On Conversation Ryan and Janelle had about the sales and marketing evolution: what the status is today and what these complementary roles will look like in 2015.



2014 saw increased cooperation

JANELLE:        Thank you for joining us today, Ryan. Let’s start off with what the status of sales and marketing is now, since 2014 is coming to an end. What do you think?

RYAN:               We saw an interesting shift in 2014 where organizations started to realize the value of sales and marketing alignment, and we saw the lines blur a little bit between sales teams and marketing teams. So marketing teams started to do activities that typically were under the umbrella of the sales teams, and the sales teams started to do a little more of what marketing teams do.

JANELLE:        Yeah, I’ve definitely seen that. So why do you think the lines are blurring?

RYAN:               I think it’s a natural outcome of smarter marketing and smarter technologies. If the goal is to increase revenues by 2X or 7X or whatever, aligning the two teams is a way to capture that revenue number, because they’re both held accountable for reaching it.

Janelle JohnsonJANELLE:        One of the questions I get a lot when we talk about sales and marketing alignment is, “Are the two teams just becoming one and the same?” because, as you mentioned, marketing is getting in and doing more sales and sales is doing more marketing. But in my view, the teams serve two completely different functions and needs. Yes there’s some blending, but there are also very clear lines of what marketing is responsible for and what sales is responsible for. And I think that it’s very important for the teams to be completely honest about their roles and especially their goals, and then figure out how they are going to work together to hit the overarching company goal.

RYAN:              I couldn’t agree more. I think that the skill sets of the two groups are distinctly different. So when we talk about the blurring of the lines, I think it’s more of a co-mingling at the edges … having better communications between the two teams and, from the strategic standpoint, having strategic goals aligned. That’s what we see in the best-performing companies.

JANELLE:       Yeah, absolutely. It used to be that the teams were set up to be offense versus defense. But now maybe they’re more like the marching band (laughs). Everyone plays on the same side, so to speak, but you need the brass and you need the percussion as well.

RYAN:             (Laughs.) Absolutely.


2015 is about increased accountability

JANELLE:        So, what do you think is going to happen in 2015 for marketers and sales teams?

RyanPorter_tmbRYAN:               This is a really interesting time and I see distinct differences in 2014 versus 2015. In 2014, we saw organizations really start to embrace the idea of aligning better with the sales and marketing teams. Specific to marketing, I was asked recently if I thought the CMO’s role was going to become obsolete because articles out there are talking about the death of the CMO. Um, no. In fact, I couldn’t disagree more with that sentiment. The CMO’s role is actually becoming more important.

It used to be that marketing was all very top-of-the-funnel, and once a lead was identified, marketing passed it completely over to the sales team, and they would take it and run it to close. And then at that point, the new customer was passed over to a customer adoption or a customer support team to manage all the onboarding stuff. And that was it.

JANELLE:        And they’d lose a lot of potential sales because if the lead didn’t close, sales would often consider them duds and marketing often wouldn’t get to re-engage with them because there wasn’t good communication between the two teams.

RYAN:               That’s right. But best-performing companies understand a need to nurture that lead all the way through the cycle, from top-of-the-funnel to becoming a lead, then a customer, then an advocate. And as organizations look at who is the best to nurture a lead or a customer relationship over that time, the clear answer for the top performing companies is marketing. They have the skill set of knowing how to reach out and put timely messages in front of the audience, motivating them to do a specific action.

So in 2015, I believe we are going to see the trend of aligning sales and marketing continue. But I believe that marketing will need to also align with customer success and customer support to create those advocates, especially in the social media world we live in now.

JANELLE:        I think that’s a really good point, Ryan. If you look at most companies, marketing is the side that can influence buyers all along their lifecycle. Sales obviously gets involved once a lead is a lead, and they certainly stay through and have regular communications with many leads and customers. But marketing is the organization that can “get them” … they can attract them to the company when they’re not even a prospect, then help them learn about the company as a whole, and also uncover the challenges and the problems they may be facing that you can help them solve.

So attraction, lead capture, nurture, conversion, and expanding post-sales customer relationships … those are all stages marketing plays a big role in. But I totally agree with what you just mentioned, that the next frontier of cooperation has to be between marketing and customer success. It’s super important that everyone is looking at each customer and asking themselves, “How are you going to support that customer and make sure you are connecting with them in a way that makes sense for their needs?”

RYAN:             Yup. Because it takes a hell of a lot more time and money to get a new customer than it does to keep an existing one. Which brings up the whole “accountability” thing. I think 2015 is going to see even more importance placed on marketing’s contribution to helping sales meet quotas and generating revenue.

JANELLE:       We’ve obviously seen this getting more important in the past few years, but I agree that it’s only going to grow. So I think 2015 will see marketing metrics play an even bigger role. Making sure that marketers are being held to MBOs [management by objectives] and that they have concrete measurements on their impact to revenue.

But also as we look at the full lifecycle, both marketing and sales have to look at not just bookings but at customer success – and that includes churn – to really know what we’re doing to impact the overall revenue numbers. And that intelligence and learning needs to be shared and wrapped back into our processes.

RYAN:               You better get busy. (laughs)


The best advice: it’s always about the customer

JANELLE:        So Ryan, can you leave us with one piece of advice that you would give to someone who has your same role at another organization? Maybe, let’s say it’s your best customer. What would you tell them?

RYAN:               I would tell them that to perform and maximize revenues in 2015, egos need to be checked at the door. Working in silos has to be a thing of the past. It’s got to be more about the customer than ever, meaning sales and marketing need to look for ways to strengthen interdepartmental relationships so that they truly are looking at the same goals and working in concert to maximize customer engagement and performance.

What about you?

JANELLE:          I would say to start from the point of view of the customer. What do you want your customers’ experience to be, and how does your organization fit their expectations? Then figure out your role in making that happen. As marketers, we have a tremendous opportunity to impact prospects and customers at every level of their buying cycle. So I’d recommend focusing on what the ideal messaging strategy is for each type of customer, how we can delight them, and then how we can work with the right departments to ensure that at every step our prospects and our customers are delighted with what they are receiving from our brand.

RYAN:               I agree. I would encourage businesses to keep the concept of the “combined arm strategy” in mind. That’s where you allow the strengths of each part of the organization to fill in the gaps – the weak parts, because we all have strengths and weaknesses. The benefit is that all arms are intertwined and connected and strong and supported. This lets you create the best company message all the way across, from very top of the funnel right through to advocacy, and ultimately have your customers be the ones selling your products for you.

JANELLE:           That’s the goal.


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