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Driving Sales and Marketing Alignment During Planning

Don’t you love when meetings collapse into finger pointing and frustration?

Me neither.

One of the common mistakes you can make during the planning process is to assume sales leadership is on board with your plan.

And if that alignment never happened, looking back at the end of the quarter can be painful.

Sales & Marketing alignment is essential—and it can pay dividends:

Companies with aligned sales and marketing generated 208% more revenue from marketing.” – HubSpot

With Q4 planning in full swing, let’s dig into some tips on how to align and work toward a common goal.

Be Efficient Yet Effective

Sure, we all know that end of quarter is tricky for Sales: they’re busy closing business and don’t have time for marathon planning sessions.

While it’s important to communicate the marketing plan, don’t forget the pressure they’re under.

As things settle down, Sales will appreciate that sensitivity and (should) return the favor by engaging in a plan review.

During the review session, cover the following:

  • Revenue Targets
    If you’re not in alignment on revenue goals for new business and/or expansion business, stop what you’re doing and see to that.
  • Personas
    Brush up on your target personas and key accounts. Make sure your plan aligns to targeting and converting the right people.
  • Themes
    Don’t go over your plan in painful detail, and avoid jargon and acronyms. We’ve mastered MQLs, TQLs, SQLs, and AQLs, but no one else has. Instead, focus on the larger campaigns and themes you’re focusing on, any events you’re participating in, and expected outcomes at a high level.
  • In-Quarter Check-Ins
    Establish a bi-monthly or monthly check-in to discuss progress, lead quality, and where any adjustments are needed. Better to avoid surprises at the end of the quarter when it’s too late to turn it around. Use Sponge to measure progress against your plan and share relevant reports with Sales.

And this: be vocal and confident. You’ve been respectful of time constraints, but that doesn’t mean to give up communicating.

Communicate the plan with confidence, iterate when it makes sense, and don’t rest until you get sign off.

Do those things and you’ll avoid fraught meetings at the end of the quarter.

Set (and Reset) Expectations (Early & Often)

There’s nothing worse than having to make constant changes to your plan because you aren’t meeting Sales’ expectations.

And you’ll definitely hear about it if they think they’re light on leads. So set expectations up front about marketing’s contribution to revenue, lead and opp targets, account engagement, and other key metrics—and continue to reset those expectations throughout the year.

Zach Benard has outlined a few key questions:

  • Does each department have the same definitions for the terms you’re using? For example, when you say “leads,” what do you mean?
  • Do your marketing team’s goals line up with your sales team’s goals? Do they also mesh with your company’s goals?
  • Does anyone have questions about SLAs? Clarity is a must-have, and any gray areas should be addressed before moving forward.

And here’s something else that tends to get overlooked: outline what you’re going to need from Sales throughout the quarter (or year, for annual planning).

For example, lay out a time frame during each quarter that looks like this:

  • Assumptions we made
  • Where we hit targets
  • Where we fell short
  • How we’ll adjust

When changes need to be made, be forthcoming about how these changes will affect the plan.

If leadership requires a shift of focus, strategy, or marketing budget, be very clear about how any changes will impact lead flow, opportunity targets, or planned campaigns.

No one else in the organization understands this better than marketing. Outline exactly where and how any changes will be experienced in “real life” and how they’ll impact the marketing plan.

Sign Off & Own It

As mentioned, it’s critical to ensure Sales & Marketing are on the same page—and have taken ownership of SLAs and responsibilities.

And you can’t do that until you’re sure both teams are working from the same sets of numbers.

Sales has a spreadsheet to come up with their quotas, and you probably have a spreadsheet to come up with lead goals. Compare those numbers!

In the name of all that is righteous—make sure everyone is working off the same set of numbers. Otherwise your Sales & Marketing check-ins will devolve into spirited debate over who has the right data.

Here at Sponge we work with clients of all shapes & sizes, and the question of “the right data” is one of the most common problems we see.

Organizations typically have disparate data from their marketing automation platform, CRM, and a slew of other data-generating systems (including SQL or some other database, where that one super nerd presents numbers that no one else in the company has ever seen).

Take the time to straighten this out (or drop us a line and we’ll do it for you), so that Sales Ops and Marketing Ops are working from a common set of numbers and tracking the right KPIs.

Frankie Say, Relax

One last note: be honest with yourself and never sign up for an unrealistic plan. There’s just no way that can end well.

Once you’ve achieved true alignment—and you’ve crafted a plan your team is comfortable with—you’ll breathe much easier during the quarter.

According to HubSpot, “When Sales & Marketing are in sync, companies increase their closing rate by 67%.”

We’ve all seen how tumultuous the relationship between Sales & Marketing can be, but we’ve also seen what happens when both teams work together productively.

Focusing on alignment and building a strong relationship will always result in greater success for everyone.

 

Want more on alignment and revenue marketing? Don’t miss this on-demand webinar:

how revenue marketers own their metrics

Staying on Top of Your Metrics

Marketing plans vary so wildly from team to team, it’s amazing we have a common language at all. Yet how we codify our roles and our contribution to an organization are very similar—whether we’re B2B, B2C, or in entirely dissimilar industries.

What’s one thing we all have in common? The very real need to change quickly when we have to.

Marketing goals are tied to the goals of the business: if leads are lagging or not converting, you need to spot the problem and make changes. Access to real-time metrics is key to data-driven, agile marketing.

When planning for the year ahead, any marketing team should consider flexibility. Let’s say you plan to roll out two big campaigns in the first half of the year with multi-channel programs rolling up under those campaigns.

What if your campaigns are on track, but you’re not hitting the number of leads you planned? Your goals and themes won’t change, but your channels and strategies might have to—and that’s what agile marketing is about.

Apply the 80/20 rule to your marketing plan: 80% of your campaigns and activities should be planned in advance, while the remaining 20% can be committed later as you test, learn, and iterate.

For example, if social is proving ineffective for driving leads, you’ll need to rethink your social strategy or consider replacing it with another tactic to close the gap. A tight relationship with sales and a pulse on real-time metrics are key—if something’s not working, you need to react quickly to turn things around while there’s still time to impact pipeline.

The diagram below shows an example of opp targets, lead targets, and two BACs (big ass campaigns), with channels for promotion:

Your marketing plan will most likely include an estimate of how many leads you’ll generate from each channel for each campaign.

But what if the leads you bring in from content syndication don’t convert? And what if you hit a snag in your email marketing due to list exhaustion or a blacklist? Take it from experience, it can happen, and when it does, it’s ugly. You’ll need to find a way to close the lead gap as quickly as possible.

Looking back at the end of a quarter with a shrug, “Welp, that didn’t work. Should’ve done something else,” helps no one. But using the 80/20 rule, staying on top of your metrics, and planning for agility can. It’s your best bet at staying on track—no matter what comes your way.

What key metrics should you measure? Why should your marketing plan start with company revenue goals? Here you go: The Modern Marketer’s Guide to 2017 Planning.

An 18-Month Playbook for Building Your Lead Generation Machine

“These leads suck. We need 100 qualified opportunities with the right people who are ready to buy this quarter or else we won’t hit the number. What are you going to do about it?”

Sigh.

Whether you’re new to marketing or an industry veteran, chances are you’ve had this conversation before. I remember the first time it happened to me, and I immediately went into panic mode: Have we just wasted a ton of time and money? What can we pull off in the next week to turn things around? The second time, I admit I was indignant. Since when did marketing become sales? I wondered. Why isn’t anyone asking what they’re going to do about it? And the third time, I laughed. Okay, let’s dig in – where are things going wrong, and what can we do to fix it?

Because like it or not, marketing drives growth. And unless you work at a company that has superhero salespeople who love prospecting and want to know what they can do for you (in which case please email me so I can send you my resume), a big part of your job as a marketer is lead generation.

To generate leads consistently – month over month, quarter over quarter – you need to have a plan. But a good marketing plan is more than a collection of slides, documents, and spreadsheets that describe a long list of things you’re planning to do. In sales, the playbook is a common framework to help account execs follow a repeatable selling process, but in marketing, we have no such guide. I’ve talked to hundreds of marketers over the years about what it takes to “build the machine,” and I can tell you that many of us are piecing things together and making it up as we go along. While there are aspects of marketing that are an art, building your lead generation machine is not one of them.

After leaving the company where I ran demand gen for six years (while supporting 92% of the sales pipeline and growing revenue 4X), I decided to document a process through which marketers can systematically build a lead generation machine to drive growth at any company. I’ve taken my experience and combined it with everything I’ve read and learned from others to create The Marketing Machine Playbook, a step-by-step guide to predictable revenue over the course of 18 months.

Why 18 months, and not 6 or 12 months? Because this stuff takes time – time to launch, time to learn, time to refine. This is not about dabbling in blogs and social media, or sending out a couple newsletters per month. This is about defining your marketing strategy, and setting up the systems and people you need to make it happen. It’s hard work, and it takes discipline, creativity, and a certain level of scrappiness to “build the machine,” but over the next few months, I’ll show you how it’s done.

Each week we’ll cover one month in an 18-month action plan to build your marketing machine from scratch. By the end of the summer, you’ll learn how to:

  • Set the right goals and build a marketing plan to support sales
  • Expand your marketing mix and develop new capabilities across different channels, including email, online advertising, telemarketing, social media, events, and more
  • Choose the right tools and set up your marketing system so that everything works and you can track what’s working and what’s not
  • Improve your relationship with sales by setting clear expectations and consistently delivering what you say you will

Sound fun? It totally is, but let me warn you that it’s also a lot of work. It’ll be messy, chaotic, and disorganized long before it’s functional, organized, and awesome. There will be times when you want to quit, or worse – settle for the status quo. But if you stick with it and focus on incremental improvements, you’ll be able to look back at the end of 18 months and see how far you’ve come. And as I learned from The Bachelor, it’s all about the journey. Are you here for the right reasons, and are you ready to make your marketing awesome?

Join me in an epic journey to build a marketing machine and drive growth at your company. By the end of the summer, you’ll have everything you need to level up your marketing and support sales through 2016 and beyond.

Sign up here: The Marketing Machine Playbook series