How to Succeed at Aligning Sales and Marketing
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Erik Host-Steen, Founder of SMP Alignment, shares his best practices for aligning your sales and marketing teams. From effective handoffs to qualified leads and using technology to smooth out the process. Erik talks about how to get your sales and marketing departments to work together.
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Mike Montague:Welcome to the How To Succeed Podcast, the show that helps you get to the top and stay there. This is how to succeed at aligning sales and marketing. Erik, welcome to the show. Tell me a little bit about sales and marketing alignment and who should be paying attention today.
Erik Host-Steen: Sales and marketing alignment. This episode is for people who might be having that feeling that they’re in a round canoe, and that feeling is like this. You and your teammates are in a canoe that’s round; everyone has a paddle, rowing hard, and not going anywhere. That’s usually a sign that the sales and marketing team are not playing from the same sheet of music and not going at the same goals.
Mike Montague: Yeah, that’s interesting. I guess there’s a lot of challenges in sales and marketing alignment. Marking people promote whatever they think will get the lead generation in, but they’re not necessarily worried about the qualifying of the leads or converting those into dollars. Salespeople sell whatever the customer wants, not necessary what marketing or customer service wants them to deliver. Are there any other major challenges that you see with organizations and aligning sales and marketing?
Erik Host-Steen: Yeah. That sums up a lot of those common problems that happen a lot. Right? The sales teams are bringing in deals that the company can’t necessarily execute on, or the marketing team is generating leads that the sales team isn’t able to close for one reason or another. What do you get in return? Lots of finger pointing, lots of friction, unsatisfied customers, unhappy team, and just a mess.
Mike Montague: Yeah. Let’s talk about the ideal attitudes then here and the ideal situation. What works or what are sales and marketing thinking when things are working correctly?
Erik Host-Steen: Right. I put some thought into this before this podcast, and when it comes to the attitude, I thought of three things. The first is about customer-first, so really having a clear understanding of who your ideal customer is and putting that ahead of particular sales or marketing objectives.
Mike Montague: Yeah. I like that. I’m thinking about probably revenue first for the company. I think sometimes people fight over credit or what they’re trying to accomplish, but both departments here are on the business development side. Right?
Erik Host-Steen: Ultimately this is going to get to some of the behaviors and techniques that we’re going to get to later, but having that common goal is important. Revenue, of course, is important, but all revenue is not good revenue. Right? It needs to fit in with the types of business that the organization is good at and wants to bring in the front door.
Mike Montague: Yeah. I think obviously profitable sales are a huge part of that as well. Let’s dive into sales specific here attitudes. What as a sales team should you be doing or thinking about to make sure that you’re benefiting the marketing team?
Erik Host-Steen: Me coming from a lot of my time in my career from the marketing standpoint, the sales team for me was always a huge resource regarding having the front row seat in the trenches with real customers in the real market to know what’s going on. That information to an open-minded marketing person is super, super valuable because the sales team gets the perspective that the marketing team just can’t get.
Mike Montague: Then, flip that for me. If you’re the marketer, how are you helping the sales team?
Erik Host-Steen: I think about this as that classic photograph of the elephant and three blind men standing around trying to figure out what they’re touching. It makes me think of this element of sales and marketing alignment. The marketing team, we get to see things that the sales team doesn’t get to see. We look at competition from a different view. We spend more time looking at more holistic market type dynamics and have the ability to bring that back to the sales team to help them look at their sales calls with a more healthier, more complete perspective on what’s going on.
Mike Montague: Yeah, I think that’s perfect. Now that we move over to behavior, what are some things that you need to do? I guess there’s probably three people here, so if you’re the CEO or somebody higher up in business development that’s trying to align these two departments, what can you do? Also from each perspective, what are your keys things that benefit the company and the alignment? Let’s start with the leader first. If you’re trying to align two departments, what do you have to do here?
Erik Host-Steen: Be crystal clear on the elements of strategy, which is what game you’re playing, how you’re going to win, and how you’re going to get there. There’s a recent Harvard Business review article that talks about this problem in most organizations. This particular professor states that more than half of CEOs in the world can’t articulate the vision or mission or goals of the organization, and it goes to follow that if he or she can’t, no one else in the organization can. The consequences of that are, well, I’m going to make it up.
Mike Montague: Yeah. Setting a vision is a huge part because both of them need to be pulling in the right direction. If you’re setting the goals and the plan and where you want the company to go, both of those teams will pull in that direction. If you don’t, as you said, they make up their directions and go their separate ways. Let’s start with sales again. If you’re a sales VP and you’re trying to align these departments, you’re trying to bring the most value, what are some of the things you need to do to make sure that these departments are creating synergy, not antagonism?
Erik Host-Steen: Right. Part of this also is having a clear delineation between what things the sales team are responsible for and what things the market team is responsible for. Modern organizations things are starting to shift in a way that marketing is becoming more and more responsible for decisions and nurturing leads earlier in the process, and sales is getting them later on. Right? Think about it like a relay race at a track meet and that baton transition. Right? If it’s not well timed, that baton is going to drop on the ground. Right? The baton is sort of like the customer, and then the customer gets all bumped and bruised along the way.
Mike Montague: Yeah, I think that’s great. Where would you draw the line these days, because we may argue a little bit about this, but I think like you said marketing is becoming one-to-one marketing on social media, but to me, a one-to-one conversation is a sales thing? These lines have gotten blurred. What do you consider a sales qualified lead, or what’s an ideal handoff based on your experience?
Erik Host-Steen: Right. You hit on a big one. The jargon in the industry, which is sales qualified lead SQL and marketing qualified lead MQL. I think the point is is that there is no right or wrong, but what’s critically important is that both teams agree to what those things are because if not, the baton gets dropped.
Mike Montague: Good. Is there anything I guess just to close the loop on this one, is there any specific marketing behaviors if you’re a marketing VP that you need to do to make sure you’re creating synergy with the sales department?
Erik Host-Steen: Sure. I think they’re a couple of things, and this goes toward the sales leadership, the marketing leadership or the CEO, and that goes to some of the things that are taught in Sandler situations which is the importance of active listening and communication and that feedback group and really having empathy for the other person or group. Trying to walk a mile in their shoes. That goes a long way for people to say, “Now I appreciate where you’re coming from and why you do the things that you do,” and sets up healthy dialogue for changing the way you do things to encourage alignment.
Mike Montague: Now as we move over to technique, I’m guessing that this is where it’s going to get interesting. How do we pull this off? Do you have any tips, tricks or tactics for people on how to align their sales and marketing departments?
Erik Host-Steen: Yeah. One thing, that’s going to sound crazily obvious but doesn’t necessarily happen in enough organizations, is having common goals and common metrics. Right? The old saying is you measure is what you get. If your sales team is getting measured only on revenue, and your marketing team is only getting measured on leads, that’s what you’re going to get. If you’re able to set up both teams with common sales targets and even tying marketing’s performance to whether or not the sales team can close the leads that are coming in, it’s going to do a lot to start forcing the right behaviors, to get people talking and communicating, and getting wound up.
Mike Montague: I like that. I guess what comes to mind when I was thinking about technique for me is I see a difference in technique between marketing and sales technique that … Sandler, we teach people to go for the pain, talking about their problems and challenges, get it emotional and get people involved. Obviously, you want your marketing emotionally engaged too. However, nobody likes pain statements and stuff in their marketing. They like more the blue sky gain side of things versus pain. Do you have any advice as a Sander trained marketer that would help us balance between whether we’re talking about bad stuff or good stuff in our messages?
Erik Host-Steen: Yeah. That’s a whole other set of nuances. Right? A traditional marketer and even a traditional salesperson loves to talk about features. If you go to so many websites, ask yourself this next time you do that. How long does it take you to mow through a website to figure out what that company can do for you? It’s not even so much talking about pain outright, but more about changing that message on the marketing side of things to here’s how we help the customer solve a particular problem or pain or issue rather than, hey this is our company, these are our founders. We were founded ten years ago, we’re successful and X, Y, and Z, but get that messaging targeted to how you help a customer solve a particular problem.
Mike Montague: Yeah. That’s good stuff. Then, my mind also goes to technology here under technique. I see a ton of stuff from marketing automation and CRM systems trying to manage the amount of leads. I think also those departments get to pick their tools, so sometimes they don’t talk to each other. Do you have any advice or tips on working technology into the sales and marketing departments?
Erik Host-Steen: Certainly, technology is getting better and better every day. It starts a lot with first identifying what your process is going to look like, what your typical buyer’s journey looks like, how many touchpoints you want to be making along the way, whose job is it to make those touchpoints, and how cleanly do your customers go through that buyer’s journey. More and more often they bounce around, and so you need to have a technology platform that’s able to reflect or work with the real buying process that your particular company or industry goes through.
Mike Montague: That’s awesome. Anything else you want to add on this topic on how we tie all of these together, make sure that we get aligned and that they stay there? Any other common problems that you hear with your clients?
Erik Host-Steen: Yeah. Again, it’s common goals and common metrics and talking, and I have this other concept that I call conference room marketing, which might become obvious, which is that’s where your marketing team does all their work from the conference room. Get them out with the sales team. Get them out in front customers so that they can hear the real problems, the real language that customers use, and then bring that back to the marketing team and put that into the messaging.
Mike Montague: Wow, perfect. Once again, we’re talking with Erik Host-Steen. He is the founder of SMP Alignment. That stands for Sales Marketing and Product Alignment. They’re out of Denver, Colorado. Erik, let’s get to know you a little bit better. How to do you define success at this point in your career?
Erik Host-Steen: Yeah. You know what? Success to me, my favorite definition and the one that I’m still striving toward is that definition of success where you’re able to get up in the morning and do exactly what you want to do that day. That’s having the fulfillment, the balance and the fun, the enrichment in life. Still working on it, but that’s my goal.
Mike Montague: What was the biggest lesson learned or hurdle you had to get over in your career?
Erik Host-Steen: I’m still re-learning this one every day, and it goes back to one of the Sander-isms, right? People buy or make decisions emotionally and then justify intellectually. It is hard for me to keep in mind because I love to solve problems, get right to the answer, but got to make sure the person on the side is ready for it.
Mike Montague: Good. If you had a superpower or skill or something that you lean on when you need to be successful, what is it and how did you get it?
Erik Host-Steen: One of the things that I think keeps me out of trouble is being able to stay cool under pressure and go back to the fundamentals. I’m not sure how I got there, but I guess I’m just blessed with that and it tends to work out in my favor.
Mike Montague: We may have heard it on the question previously, but do you have a favorite singular rule?
Erik Host-Steen: All of them, yeah. The one that I think applies most to this is rule number 13, which is no mind reading. It gets back to that idea of making sure you’re communicating. Make sure you’re looking for those wishy-washy words and getting clear definitions so that both teams or anyone within the organization knows exactly what the others are thinking or doing.
Mike Montague: Good. I like it. Let’s wrap it up for everybody. Based on aligning your sales and marketing departments, what’s one key attitude you would like people to have?
Erik Host-Steen: I’m going to put the customer first. Put the customer, or the market needs, in front of everything else you’re doing and lot’s of good things are going to happen.
Mike Montague: One key behavior you would like people to do?
Erik Host-Steen: Get on the same goals and metrics.
Mike Montague: What are the best techniques to use?
Erik Host-Steen: Let’s see. I’m going to go with making sure you’re doing great active listening. Check to make sure you’ve got a full understanding of what the other folks are talking about, marketing team, sales team, and of course the customers, and that’s going to get you a long way.
Mike Montague: Awesome. Anything else you want to add or tell people where they can find you and who should reach out?
Erik Host-Steen: Sure. Anyone who’s listening today that said, “Wow. That sounds like us.” I’d be happy to talk with you. You can reach me from my website www.smpalignment.com and be happy to talk to anyone.
Mike Montague: Erik, thanks for being on the show. You can find more about Eric at smpalignment.com. For more on this topic and much more, you can follow us at LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter at Sandler Training or download any of our free resources at sandler.com. As always, you can subscribe and leave us a review at iTunes or Google Play. Thank you for listening, and remember whatever you ware, be a good one.
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