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Our CEO, Gary Smith was a recent podcast guest, talking about the importance of aligning sales and marketing activity.  In the podcast, Gary talks about the critical importance of alignment in boosting revenue. Listen to the conversation; or if you prefer, read the transcript below.

“This is Jeff Davis (JD) on the Sales & Marketing Alignment Podcast where we explore sales and marketing alignment strategy for B2B businesses.  

“Today’s guest is Gary Smith (GS) Chief Executive at the Gary Smith Partnership (GSP). GSP is a sales and marketing consulting firm that specialises in process change  and enabling disruptive technology implementation. In our conversation we’ll discuss:

  • The most compelling reason why sales and marketing must align right now.
  • How to build the business case for alignment and get support from the CEO.
  • Five things steps to start on the path to sales & marketing alignment.
  • The importance of business culture in successfully being able to achieve alignment.

Let’s jump into the episode. Gary thank you for joining us today on the podcast.”

GS:  “You’re welcome Jeff. Looking forward to it – it’s an exciting thing you’re doing with this podcast.”

JD:  “Thank you so much. It’s a passion of mine and I really want to help our sales and marketing leaders as well as CEOs out there figure this out from a strategic standpoint. So let’s start. Tell us who Gary Smith is and why you came to this point of sales and marketing alignment being a focus for you.”

GS:  “Well, my name is Gary Smith. I’m the co-founder and Chief Executive of a the Gary Smith Partnership. We help companies in what would now be called Sales Enablement – but in old money would be called People, Process and Technology Change. And we continually come across this whole question of ‘how do sales and marketing get better aligned?’ How do they make two plus two equal five; and how do they start to collaborate effectively?

 

“In other words, how do they produce a synergistic relationship? It’s something that more and more of our customers are talking to us about? And it’s taking more prominence in the press and media; your podcast is an example, Jeff. In fact our most ever shared blog post is Five Powerful Best Practices To Achieve Sales & Marketing Alignment.

“So it’s becoming increasingly prominent in the conversation. We’ve done a lot of thinking about it. We’ve done a lot of practical work with customers to help them better align and produce even better revenue results. So it’s a topic of interest and a topic off importance to us.”

JD: “So it sounds like from what you’ve shared with us you’ve been working on this type of work for quite some time and you have a body of work to speak from.

 Is that correct?”

GS:  “Yes. It’s something that we really evolved into.

“We are a CRM technology implementer; but to really get the best of any CRM technology and increasingly marketing automation application, you absolutely have to address the process, the people and you have to look at the importance of organisational  culture. Business executives demand results from their investments and that’s really where the need to align Sales and Marketing comes from.”

JD: “Thank you. I’ve had the chance to read book by Traey Isler and Austin. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to read it but they really have put a business case together that specifically talks about sales and marketing alignment. And one thing I thought was interesting in the book – there are many – but they came up with this mantra called ‘sales can’t do it alone’. Marketing exists to make sales easier. I want to help frame the conversation on why today sales and marketing alignment is so important for B2B CEO aand executives to really pay attention to what is happening in the market.”

GS:  “Well, I think what has changed over the last few years is the buying process, the journey that buyers go on. There’s that well-known statistic that buyers are 57 percent of the way through the buying process before they actually engage with a salesperson.

“So, if organizations are attempting to influence the buyers through that 57 percent, they need to get engaged with buyer early and they need to make those buyers favourably disposed towards their own sets of solutions. However, if it’s not the salesperson doing that communication, who is it?

“It’s really marketing doing that communication. I think organizations have found it increasingly difficult to get salespeople in front of buyers early. Unfortunately for the sellers, buyers are often far down the journey when the salesperson does get involved. However, to sell effectively, it’s imperative for those selling organizations to get involved in the process earlier. That means effective marketing communications. It’s that recognition that has really led to this topic taking on the prominence it has at the moment.”

JD:  “That makes a lot of sense.

“I think a lot of companies are starting to feel that but I don’t know if everybody in the leadership really understands how to approach it. I found through talking with folks like you, doing research and my interactions with customers, that the CEO really needs to be on board in order to really make this work. So how do we start to build the business case so that we can say dedicating resources toward this type of effort is worth it? How do the VP’s of sales and marketing convince the CEO?

“How do we start that conversation?”

GS:  “Well, I found there are essentially two things you have to do.

“First you need to produce a quantifiable business case.  There are various frameworks you can use to do that. We help companies identify the benefits, the business capabilities they need to deliver those benefits and the things that they needed to do to produce the deliverables.  Also what things needed to change in order to achieve the business capabilities. There are ways that you can quantify those benefits.

“But the second thing you need to do is go to the leadership with a story or an anecdote. Provide a provide a successful  example.

“For example, I was recently talking to a prospect of one of our customers. Our customer had failed to win a deal with this prospect. The prospect had told our customer that the reason was they were too expensive; they said that was the reason that they didn’t go with their solution.

“I asked the prospect if this was true and he said, “well that’s what we told them but the reality was that if we had really wanted to work with them, we could have gotten around that somehow. But, the truth is, we didn’t want to work with them. The salesperson was too anxious. Every time we asked a question he interrupted me. They were too quick to submit their proposal. They didn’t teach us anything. They didn’t give us any insight. They were just too keen to drive the sale through.”

“So the prospect said it was just easier to tell them that there were too expensive so that nobody got fired. ‘We didn’t want to have an argument. It was just a graceful way to turn down the deal.’

“Our customer had spent the last six months tinkering with their pricing strategy to increase sales volume, but to no avail. Now, when I took that anecdote to the board, they were shell shocked. There was a deafening silence.

“Incidentally, when anybody does that research you have to do it anonymously in the sense that you don’t tell your client who said what about whom.  You just aggregate the feedback to avoid a ‘blame game’ exercise.

“Eventually the CEO broke the boardroom silence.  ‘Maybe we do need to change. Maybe we do need to produce content that gives insight to people. Maybe we do need to change the way our sales process works.’

“At that point, they realised increased focus on sales pipeline velocity was driving the sales people’s behaviour with prospects through the sales process. This underlines why you must include a qualitative element in your business case and provide real life anecdotes.”

JD:  And I like the fact that you say you have to go with this two part approach right. It’s one thing to come with a quantifiable business case. But I think obviously for any CEO it’s extremely important. Like you said if you don’t bring in those stories of missed opportunities or things that we can do better. So I’m glad you brought that up because some people may miss that second part that’s important.

GS:  And I think the way you get those stories Jeff, is you have to go to ‘the horse’s mouth’. You have to go to the customers and the prospects and find out what is important to them.

What I see happening time and time again is that the companies say, ‘right we are going to align sales and marketing’. The first thing they do is they get a bunch of salespeople and the marketing team in a room together.

And the marketing guys ask sales ‘okay tell us what the customers really want? But as we have seen from our anecdote, the salespeople don’t always know what customers really want.  So yes, you have to break the mould.  You have to step outside the paradigm. Break up that blame game and go and find what is truly important to the customer. I think that’s so important.

JD:  So you make me think of something really interesting right. So we get sales together, we get marketing  together but there are those opportunities that we not only talk to our current customers but we talk to customers that we might have lost business from and understand the real reason why.

GS:  Well, you learn I guess like most things in life so much more from failure than you do from success. There’s a very good book by Matthew Syed that’s called Black Box Thinking.  It’s about how you learn from failure and that the reason you have to go and get that research – real qualitative information from customers. You have to break that mould of sales and marketing blaming each other.

Then, look jointly at the customer priorities. Work through the customer buying process from the very start of that journey.

You have look at each point in the in the buying process. Ask what could we have done at this point 1 percent better, 2 percent better? And what are the things that we didn’t do, that buyers say we should do? And you have to adapt those things not to accentuate a blame process but to treat them as an opportunity to create a marginal gain.

Once the clarity of the business case is accepted many customers ask me where to start and what are those first steps to moving the organization forward to alignment?

In my view, there are five things you have to do. As I’ve illustrated, the first is understanding what is truly important to customers and prospects. Get that qualitative feedback.

“The second thing you have to do is implement an internal, feedback loop from sales to marketing. Every lead that is transferred from marketing to sales needs to be tracked.

“You have to get quantitative and qualitative information on the output and what happened from sales. You do that in order to create a learning cycle.

“This is where technology can now come in to support this process. If people are using a CRM system such as salesforce.com, you implement a robust process by using the functionality in the system such as Chatter (an electronic internal communications tool) to share qualitative feedback from sales.

“And it’s really only when you when you start to do create the feedback loop that the third thing you do is get Sales and Marketing and in a room together and say ‘right, let’s take a deal that we lost and go from the very beginning of the process.  Let’s look at everything we did. What are the things that we could have done better. What are the things that we could have done a little bit differently, or even that should we not have done at all.

“Now you’ve got qualitative feedback and you’ve got some metrics about what actually happened. And you use that then to start analyzing the process. Looking at a deal you won, you go through five or six different deals and you start to say how do we change and what patterns are emerging that tell us what we need to do.

Marginal Gains

“The fourth thing you do is you look for all those things we could do to make marginal gains.

“If you do lots of things 1 percent better that will add up to a significant improvement in your effectiveness in the end-to-end sales process. So you look for those you look to see how you aggregate those marginal gains

“What you do every day is you  rigorously implement a process of marginal gains to make small incremental improvements that add up to a big gain over a period of time.

A Step Change

“Whilst we can constantly suggest and make marginal gains daily, the fifth thing you do is to make a step change at an organizational level. The step change might be a new piece of technology. It might be a marketing automation system, a new CRM system it might be something else it might be an organisational a cultural change or it might be a significant change in your sales process.

“But, those are the things that you do occasionally as they come after a large-scale business review and much senior consideration – as well as usually requiring substantial investment.”

JD:  “And speaking about that step change. You mention the culture. Let’s talk a little bit about that because I do think that culture has a huge impact on alignment efforts. What are your thoughts about that and then who owns changing that culture?”

GS:  “Well I think often it does need to change. There’s a very good book by Carol Aronson and University Emeritus Elliot Aronson and it’s called ‘Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)’.

“I think that that sort of attitude pervades a lot conversations between sales and marketing. How often have you heard sales people complain that the ‘leads we get from marketing are rubbish’ and marketing say, ‘well you never phone the damn leads we give you!’

“You have to get over that and collaborate, working on the same side for the customers and prospects. You have to break that combative culture or everyone loses.

“And yes I do think that it’s important to jointly take on board the external feedback as it is difficult to argue against it.  You have to instill that change and I think it’s something that is difficult to say that one person owns it. I think that the are mobilizers that you can use in the organization very often to to drive a cultural change. It’s obviously something that we help and we advise companies and we try to motivate them to make that change but ultimately it’s something that business has to want to do.

 “And that one’s either comes from sometimes it comes from declining market share sometimes it comes from a static pipeline sometimes it comes from some pressure some city pressure to grow revenue wherever it comes from there’s got to be something that compels people to want to change and to want to look outside their existing paradigm in order to make that change.”

JD: “So it sounds like then the leadership need to rally around a vision of the need for change and that will ultimately start to pour people’s hearts and minds into buying into this process of working together better for the survival of the business or whatever that vision is for the company.”

GS:  “Yes I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there Jeff. I think that that these sort of programs I guess you could say about any compelling change in business people have to see the need to change and sometimes that might be the there’s a it’s clear there’s a market opportunity to be exploited.

“Sometimes it’s if we don’t change we’re going to be in trouble sometimes we’re in trouble. So there needs to be something whether it’s in life or in business. Often the some external motivation that’s causing us to look afresh it might simply be a new VP of Marketing or new VP of sales. It just brings a fresh approach.

“But usually there’s got to be got often there’s got to be something. I’ve spoken to an organization the other day and said we’ve we’ve been in a largely monopoly industry which has been taking orders for 40 years but suddenly that industry has been deregulated and everybody is saying well we could be out of business in a couple of years if we don’t change. So that so in that organization there is a there is a compelling desire to change. And yes I do think there’s got to be. I think you used the word vision Jeff and I think it’s a very good word to describe but you’ve got to paint that vision.

“Sometimes that comes from just looking at the customer journey and say how could we do this better. We have to do it better. And I think that’s that’s the catalyst that brings sales and marketing together.”

JD:  “Great. Well before we close out our time together I want to ask you one key takeaway that you would give for our listeners what is that one thing or theme that you feel executives should always keep top of mind as they’re going along this journey of alignment for the organization if you only do one thing go and speak to the customers and the prospects who buy and don’t buy your goods or services.”

GS: “Find out from the horse’s mouth what truly needs to change. And as you go on that journey of change continue to validate that change and check it’s making a difference to the people that matter.”

JD: “Perfect. Gary thank you so much for your time today. I really really appreciate it Jeff.”

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