Marketing success is no longer simply measured by filling the sales pipeline.
Marketing teams are increasingly responsible for revenue generation. Businesses that can align their marketing and sales efforts will succeed, and those whose teams are misaligned will suffer and fail.
How can you ensure alignment and, ultimately, growth? Our guest, VP of Global Revenue Marketing for ActiveCampaign, Jenny Coupe goes in depth on the topic. An expert in the area, Jenny shares insights, examples, and steps you can take now, including:
- How to approach sales and marketing alignment
- What are the problems an alignment can solve
- How to create a common set of metrics to measure the success of the relationship
- How to maintain the partnership to create a long-term impact
- And more
Make sure your marketing and sales teams understand their common goals and complementary roles and responsibilities. Don’t let misalignment mistakes hold back your business. Listen now!
Mentioned in this episode:
Voiceover: This is Performance Delivered. Insider secrets for digital marketing success with Steffen Horst and Dave Antil.
Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host, Steffen Horst. The topic for today’s episode is sales marketing alignment. Here to speak with me is Jenny Coupe, who is the VP of Global Revenue Marketing at ActiveCampaign, a customer experience activation platform that helps businesses to engage meaningfully with their customers. The platform gives businesses of all sizes access to 500 plus pre built automations that combine email marketing, marketing automation, and CRM for powerful segmentation and personalization. Jenny, welcome to the show.
Jenny Coupe: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Steffen: Now, Jenny, before we talk about how to align sales and marketing, tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself. How did you get started in your career? And especially how did you end up in marketing?
Jenny: Yeah, it’s a interesting story. I actually graduated with a political science degree. And everybody said, What are you going to do with that? And I said, I don’t know yet. So I moved to Silicon Valley where I had some roots from a family connection and started working in Silicon Valley. And I got exposed to lots of different opportunities at a large company called Silicon Graphics, which was sort of the the Google of Mountain View at the time, and eventually stumbled into a pretty exciting project in the mid 90s, where we were partnering with Time Warner Media, and America Online to actually deploy the first what you would call video on demand in homes, what we now take for granted as on demand through your cable box. And so I was involved in that exciting adventure. And we ended up deploying, and I really got the bug for for marketing. And since then, it’s been a love affair ever since.
Steffen: Have you always been kind of more b2b marketer, or have you switched between b2b and b2c?
Jenny: No, I have been predominantly b2b. But later in my career, there was definitely a flavor of b2c in some of my later career roles. Particularly when I was at a company about five or six years ago, we actually sold into a lot of big box companies that had large websites, but also sold into smaller companies that relied on their website to operate at a particular performance level, because their entire business was an online business. And so we sold into folks who maybe were smaller shops, but were dependent on their website to actually be their revenue engine.
Steffen: Okay. How did you end up in b2b? Was that a choice by accident? Or was there something specific about the b2b marketing side that kind of really pulled you in that direction?
Jenny: Yeah, I think it was really more of a byproduct of being in tech, and a lot of tech in the Valley is b2b. And so I’ve spent my last 25 plus years here in Silicon Valley, and worked in industries, like storage, networking, security, kind of all those classic technical sort of product areas. And so I think it’s just a natural byproduct of being in Silicon Valley, where there does tend to be a fairly heavy b2b focus.
Steffen: Now today, we want to talk about sales and marketing alignment. What does that mean to you?
Jenny: Yeah, it’s, it can mean a lot of things depending on I guess, you know, the context. But at a high level, I would say that it’s really about kind of singing off the same sheet of music in terms of what are we driving toward, from an outcome perspective? What are the business goals? And how is marketing and sales kind of marching down this path together? And that’s a combination of goals, roles and responsibilities, and accountability.
Steffen: Okay, and for me, why is it important to align those two disciplines as two departments within a company?
Jenny: Yeah, I really look at this as a partnership. And so these are really the two critical departments of the company in order to drive revenue and scale the company. And so if these two constituencies aren’t lined up on again, how we’re looking at the business, how we’re driving toward revenue, there’s definitely potential to not just conflict with each other, but not get economies of scale, not get leverage, and ultimately not be marching down the same path. And so if there aren’t, again, common goals and aligned outcomes, then the partnership does not yield what it should for the business, which is scale and revenue.
Steffen: So you mentioned common goals obviously. If they’re not there, obviously that’s that’s when misalignment happens. Are there any other causes that you see that lead to misalignment between sales and marketing? And if so, what are they?
Jenny: Yeah, I think it starts from, again, what is the role of each department from a revenue responsibility perspective. 10 or 15 years ago, my title might have been Vice President of marketing or Vice President of demand generation. It is by design, Vice President of revenue marketing. So if my job is not to create revenue that ultimately results in close one business, then I’m not contributing to the ultimate goal of the business. And so if I’m not partnering with sales, to understand how marketing plays a role in that, and how we contribute to sales success, then that’s not a recipe for success.
And so it’s a combination of looking at, well, what are we contributing from a quote unquote, pipeline perspective? How are we defining a lead? How are we operating with them to ensure that we are driving not just the right quantity, but the right quality. And so understanding your ideal customer profile, or understanding your target market, to ensure that everything we’re doing in marketing is driving toward the company goals, and those ultimately, are also the sales goals.
Steffen: Now, that’s however, where I quite often see problems between a marketing team and a sales team driving towards the common goals, because every team seems to interpret that differently. When you talk to marketing they say, well, we are supposed to generate leads, and they are they are they are leads. You sales are just not converting them. So that’s not our problem. You need to look at your end, why they’re not converting. And sales might say, hey, you know what? You were sending us a lot of leads. First of all, we can’t even follow up because there’s so many, but second of all, they’re unqualified, and we just can’t convert them because they are not sweet spot leads. What are your thoughts on the statements of those two sides that, as I mentioned, I hear quite often.
Jenny: Yeah, I think 15 years ago, for example, we just didn’t have a lot of the tech to understand what was happening in the full lead to deal lifecycle. And so 5, 10 years ago, it was fairly acceptable for marketing department to deliver a lead number and sort of move on, right? We’ve, we’ve checked the box, now it’s on you sales to figure out how to convert and make the number. I think, over the last five to 10 years, as we started to have more tech to understand what’s actually happening. What is that customer journey? What is happening between a marketing qualified lead, to a sales accepted lead, to a sales qualified lead, to pipeline, to revenue is a fairly scientific process. Now that gives you really important insights to understand what’s really going on. Is this a bad lead to begin with, is it actually a good lead? But we have a sales efficiency issue? Or is the pipeline quality and we have other issues, perhaps around product or competition?
So I think we now finally have a way to understand what that looks like. But again, if you’re not agreed upfront on things like what is the definition of a sales accepted lead, versus the definition of just a marketing qualified lead, and you haven’t aligned on conversion rates, and what the accountability is to close at a particular rate? Or what that definition looks like, then you’re constantly going to be talking over each other and comparing apples to oranges? So again, I think up front, if you’re sitting down with your leaders, and agreeing on those definitions, and understanding what does that customer journey look like, then it’s pretty easy to identify what the accountability is, across that journey, and hold folks accountable.
Steffen: Now, a second ago, you mentioned tools that, you know, many moons ago, they weren’t available and and therefore it was much more challenging to to achieve an alignment and move information back and forth to to reach better results. Now, what would be a good setup from a tool perspective these days to get visibility on, you know, how good leads are how far leads make a down the funnel? And which leads have a higher value, which leads have a lower value for a company?
Jenny: Yeah, there’s a lot of companies out there that help you understand kind of the full funnel of terms of what, you know what sort of getting stuck where. I think when it relates to marketing and sales alignment, there’s lots of tech that can solve that problem. But I think what’s important in the alignment conversation is just to understand what those triggers are. So for example, if you’ve got a technology that helps you understand what is triggering something from an MQL to an SAL, for example. Or what is the key patterns, or call it buying signals that are leading to particular actions, then you can start to draw insights and create what I would call an ideal customer profile.
And so these tech solutions allow you to kind of reverse engineer, if you will, your pipeline and your customers to understand what is triggering what, and what is the cause and effect of what you’re doing. And then you can actually sit down with sales and say, hey, it looks like 50% of our customers, open these emails, go to this page on our website, download this piece of content, or start up, you know, start a free trial, you know, some combination of key actions. And that will allow you to actually score and provide more higher value leads, because you’ve now worked with sales to identify what those buying signals are. And then ultimately, over time, it becomes more of a sales quality. And you can start to basically filter out the noise and less becomes more.
Steffen: Now with an existing or established company, it should be easier to develop an ideal customer profile, because you have already data available if you track that properly. And then you should be able to slice and dice the data to come up with that. How would you go about that? Identifying ideal customer profile, when it is a younger company that doesn’t have that much data available?
Jenny: Yeah, I think at the end of the day, any customer, I’m sorry, any company is actually trying to solve a problem. If you’re not, then you’re probably not going to be successful. And so understanding what problem you’re trying to solve, and how you’re helping in our case, businesses grow and scale. That’s it’s got to start there. And so I think even with understanding your target market, or looking at your competitors, for example, if you are new, it’s pretty simple to you know, use data, even if it’s not your own to understand what problems your target market is having. But even as early as one year into it, you can start to look at your own data to understand where are you getting traction from, say, a name to a marketing qualified lead.
Where are you getting traction from a marketing qualified lead to a sales accepted lead. And so having a lot of irons in the fire to understand what is happening when, is important. So for example, you can track what’s happening on your website, you can understand what emails you’re sending are resonating, you can start to allow folks to almost self qualify based upon their behavior. And so the quality of your pipeline is going to depend on who they are and what they’re doing. And you can start to identify both demographic and behavioral traits that will allow you to collectively understand who your message is resonating with more out of the gate.
Steffen: Now, you obviously are not just targeting one profile. You’re going to segment that ideal profile, because you know, you have people that might use the software or the product that your company is offering, selling. Then you have the people that actually sign on the dotted line or that part of the decision making process. How do you go about breaking those bigger profiles out into smaller sub segments?
Jenny: Yeah, we have actually a pretty diverse set of customers. We actually don’t have what I would call an ideal customer profile per se. We know that most of our customers enjoy certain features and functions in our product based on what problem they’re trying to solve. So for example, we have a lot of customers in ecommerce, that want to use our software, because it’s an easy way to deliver segmented relevant email marketing to their customers. And then we have some integrations that allow them to manage this through a CRM. And so we know for example, what functionality in our product resonates with ecommerce. And so we can start to align, again, the functionality, the product and the value of the product to deliver a more relevant message to that particular market, depending on the market they’re in, who they’re selling to, and what problem they’re solving.
Steffen: And I think that’s, that’s something really important I believe, that I talk a lot to our clients about. It’s like, really tailoring the messaging, and the information you share and content to each individual profile is important. Otherwise, you are generic to most of the people that you’re targeting and just very specific to one particular group that really feels talked to with a message that you send out at the end of the day. Now what other problems, we’re pulling ourselves back out to sales and marketing alignment. But what are the problems sales and marketing alignment can actually solve?
Jenny: Yeah, I think A big part of it is just having a complimentary what I would call operational motion, right? So, so creating that common set of metrics to measure success so that, you know, every week or every month, you can hold each other accountable for what you’re responsible for. So looking at KPIs weekly, and monthly to identify, you know, where the gaps are. And that could be everything from how many leads did we did we deliver? How many leads were accepted? How are our conversion rates? How are they trending? Where are we, with our pipeline and revenue? We look at a couple different layers to that. But I think, you know, coming into that with an agreed upon sort of metric and holding each other accountable to that.
So building, that framework has to be the foundation of that. And so, if you don’t have a common framework of how leads are passing through all the way to close one business, there’s an opportunity to have a disconnect. And that could be anything from, hey, we thought we were going to get more leads than we got, or we were thought we’re going to get better leads than we thought. And so, again, aligning with that out of the gate and identifying what is good look like. And what are the outcomes that we are agreeing on now are going to lead to the collective goal, which is ultimately the business goal.
Steffen: So you mentioned I think a few things already, that go into the direction of how to align sales and marketing. Can you can you from your perspective, walk through a little bit more on how would you approach aligning sales and marketing? What are the steps you go through? What what are you going to talk about with your, with the sales leader in your company?
Jenny: Yeah, I mean, it all starts with, what are the revenue goals for the company? And then understanding what role does marketing play? And what role does sales play? And ultimately, what are the revenue streams that are going to collectively help the business deliver on that goal. So it starts with accountability, it starts with ownership. And so generally, what we will do is sit down and decide if the goal for next year is to deliver $100 in business, how much of that is going to come from marketing, and how much of that is going to come from sales. Now 10 years ago, I think marketing was accountable for perhaps leads in pipeline.
But in the last five plus years, in the case of ActiveCampaign, marketing is actually responsible for revenue. So being able to have a number, just like sales, be in the trenches with them, and be accountable for the same deliverable, which is revenue, I think, in itself, builds alignment and synergy between marketing and sales. So today, for example, if our goal is $100 next year, and we say okay, marketing, you need to deliver 30% of that sales is going to deliver 30% of that the rest is going to come from partners and organic, then you can start to reverse engineer, what does that look like from a pipeline perspective? And what does that look like from an overall lead flow perspective? And most companies will have an inbound and an outbound motion.
And so understanding well, what are your conversion rates for inbound versus outbound? And how does marketing support those differently? And so aligning with not just the goal, but the motion of sales, so that marketing can provide the right support, depending on the goal. So again, we have different programs that help support the inbound motion versus the outbound motion. And then again, I can’t stress this enough, but just, you know, every week looking at the numbers to understand how are we tracking the goals, and identifying where you have gaps, and where you need to make pivot.
Steffen: You just mentioned numbers, Jenny, once you establish kind of the framework for how sales and marketing should be aligned, and how they should kind of work towards a common goal, it requires obviously measurement to see whether you’re on a road to success or not. How do you create a common set of metrics to measure the success of that relationship? And to measure whether you’re actually moving the needle towards the goal that was set?
Jenny: Yeah, that’s a great question. And it’s actually an area where a lot of companies have a disconnect. And so it was a common conversation, you might have heard in the office two years ago, in the hallway with, hey, we ran this report, and we got, you know, this number. Well, we ran this report, and we got this different number. And so that is a common gap in terms of how you’re curating and interpreting and actioning the data. And I do think it has to come from a common set of not just KPIs, but common dashboards, so that everybody is singing off the same sheet of music.
And so we have dashboards that we build that we look at weekly, monthly, quarterly, and aligning on the filters and criteria and parameters behind the data is really important. And it’s very common to, again, even with the common dashboards to interpret the data differently, and so the context is really important. So it’s not just about looking at the data, it’s about talking about the data, aligning on the interpretation of the data. And then finally, and maybe most importantly, is aligning on what actions are we going to take collectively to either do more of what’s working or do less of what’s not working.
Steffen: I love that notion about do more of what’s not working, or do more of what is actually working. But how do you get there? Right? So how do you how do you feed back information, especially from the sales side? Because, you know, as we discussed prior to the recording, you know, a lot of companies go about like, well, let’s maximize lead and push them through the sales funnel. And then the sales team is like, gosh, we are completely exhausted, because there’s so many leads, but the quality is really low. And there’s, I always feel like there’s no communication between the two teams to actually feedback on what works and what doesn’t work. How do you go about with with your marketing or with your sales team, to get the right feedback on what works and what doesn’t work? What to hone in on? And what to basically disregard?
Jenny: Yeah, I think it’s important to make sure that you’re not delivering too much, or you’re not delivering, you know, not enough. And so there’s a lot of factors that we’re going to, that are going to impact that it kind of depends on the business. But for example, at ActiveCampaign, a lot of our business comes from our free trial. And so that will ebb and flow depending on a promo we’re running, or it might depend on a marketing campaign that we’re running. And so ensuring ahead of time, that capacity is there from sales, so that if we do dial things up, or dial things down, that we’re in alignment with them on what to expect. And so one common thing is we will talk with them every week or two on, here’s the campaigns we’re about to run. Here’s what you can expect from a lead flow perspective.
Here’s what we think that will look like from a conversion perspective. And then ultimately, here’s the revenue that we’re forecasting to actually come from this program. And so aligning with them on those types of dynamics are very important. And then just making sure, for example, that you’re aligned with capacity as it relates to overall goal. And so it’s very common, for example, to have too many leads coming in because the capacity can’t handle them. And there’s also the other side of the coin, which is perhaps sales grew faster than was expected and marketing has to play catch up. And then marketing is in a state where sales is saying we need more. But I think looking at the quality of those leads is important to ensure that you’re aligned on what the conversion rate is.
And so one common sort of step toward that is perhaps not looking at the leads that are coming in, but looking at what are the sales accepted leads conversion rate. And that can help you understand, oh, it looks like we’re actually getting our best conversion rate off leads, or campaigns that look like this. Well, great. Let’s dial that up a little bit more and see if we can, you know, double down there, versus looks like when we run these campaigns, we get a lower conversion rate. And so constantly iterating on that is important. It’s not a set and forget, and things will change a lot. The landscape changes the competition changes. And so it’s got to be a bi directional ongoing conversation. Because again, things are constantly changing.
Steffen: Now from a from a planning forecasting perspective, what’s the frequency that did you go about that? Is that is that a quarterly activity where you, you know, obviously, you get information from leadership that says, you know what, we’ve seen this, this growth so far. But next quarter, we need to grow this. You take that number, then basically do the calculation, the backend based on you know, the KPIs that you have, and you know, okay, you know, what, we need this amount of leads to achieve this amount of sales, and then that’s communicated with sales. Is that on a quarterly basis? Or do they do that more frequent?
Jenny: We do a first cut at the beginning of the year, and then every quarter, we realign and then every week we hold ourselves accountable. So every week, we actually look at, here’s what marketing said they were going to deliver. Here’s how that is progressing through the pipeline. Here’s the conversion rate that we expected from sales. We look at other sales efficiency factors. And every week, we’re kind of checking ourselves against that forecast. And in some cases, we adjust the forecast depending on like I said, all those factors that could potentially impact, you know, the quality or the quantity of the flow. Perhaps if you lose a couple sales people and your head counts down, and marketing is still delivering the same number of leads, you’re gonna have a capacity issue, right?
So there’s alignment that’s going to need to happen there. But we look at these numbers every week, in terms of how we’re tracking, and then every quarter will readjust, given what we’ve learned from that quarter future forward. And so it is important to kind of understand as you move forward, hey, was that a realistic forecast? Doing that post mortem is really important. Did we actually deliver what we expected to deliver? And how well did we do on our forecast. So we will actually grade ourselves at the end of the month to say, here’s how marketing did in terms of their forecast from the first week of the month to the close of the month. And if we’re not within 5% of that, across the board, then I think there’s an opportunity to have a conversation around, maybe we’re not forecasting in the same way and in the right way.
Steffen: Interesting. Now, even with the best framework that you set up, over time there could be a misalignment happening, and how do you avoid that? How do you maintain the alignment over time to have a long term impact?
Jenny: Yeah, I think it’s really about just reviewing things on a regular basis. So for example, we will review our triggers and scoring and criteria, at least once a month to make sure that if we think that we’re going to deliver a and get b, and that’s not happening, then we need to make some adjustments, for example, we might have a trigger that says, if these four things happen, skip the MQL process and deliver this lead directly to sales. Because our diagnosis says that this will actually convert at a faster rate. And so constantly checking with sales and understanding what’s happening in as relates to what we thought was going to happen is really important. So we will audit ourselves monthly, to make sure that we are aligned with what we think is going to happen, versus what’s happening actually happening.
And so getting that feedback from sales is really important, and understanding with them and sharing with them, what we find that data is really important. So for example, we have an outbound team. And we’ve been doing a lot of post mortems on very specific campaigns to understand things that we think would have triggered success or triggered an acceleration in the sales cycle, and then auditing that with them through reports. For example, one point, our sales team said, we think it takes about, I’m making these numbers up, we think it takes about 30 days to close a deal. Marketing’s coming in and saying, well, we actually think it takes, you know, 35 days, or 25 days, whatever it is, because we’re seeing this.
And so if you haven’t aligned with your sales team on what are those touch points? And what causes what, then I think it’s really common to maybe have false positives or false negatives on where you’re getting success, or where you’re getting failure. And we’ve had some common scenarios where the sales team, I’d say, hey, we think we should do more of these promos, because we think that they’re yielding really good results. We’ve come back and said, well, actually, what was driving that was not this, it’s something else. So if we’re not sharing information with them, and aligning on what the data means and helping guide them on where we think the opportunity is, then we’re not doing our job.
Steffen: Jenny, before we before we come to the end of today’s podcast episode, can you share any before and after examples where you saw success when aligning sales and marketing?
Jenny: Sure, so probably four and a half years ago, I joined a company called SOASTA as the Vice President of global customer acquisition, and they were going to a little bit of a reset, we had a new VP of sales, we had a new VP of inside sales. I’d actually worked with both of them at a previous company, which is how I landed there. And we were trying to do everything. And we were doing a lot of mistakes, I would say where we weren’t focused on the outcome, the revenue, and we were not focused in our marketing. And so we came in, and we did some analysis, and we audited the business. And it was pretty clear that the opportunity for the business was in what we would call the top internet retailers at the time. We concluded that because we had 45 of those top 100 internet retailers that we knew we could get credibility.
And our goal, quite frankly, was to get all 100 of those top internet retailers. And so rather than trying to do a lot of different marketing, and run a lot of different programs, we’ve basically created a program where we put everything behind that focus. And so again, aligned goal aligned motion, aligned success with sales. So over the course of the next three to six months, we had a very targeted goal with sales to get those remaining 55 internet retailer companies. And so everything we were doing was focused on that. The messaging, the outbound marketing, the sales enablement, the branding, the PR, the website. And so marketing shifted into more of an account based marketing approach because we knew that that’s what sales would need to actually accomplish that goal. And so we pivoted the marketing tactics, we pivoted the sales motion.
And we really were able to kind of get on the same same sheet of music to, to really focus on that. And so over the course of the next three to six months, we were able to go from having 45 of the top internet retailer companies to 78, 79 of that list. So we were almost able to double where we started. And that was, again, because we had a common focus, we realigned our tactics to really focus on that goal. And we were, we created a partnership with sales to get there. And that really put the company in a very high revenue motion, and ultimately led to the acquisition by larger company, based upon the success of the product that we were marketing and selling to a very focused set of customers.
Steffen: Great example. Jenny, thank you so much for joining me on the Performance Delivered podcast and sharing your thoughts on how to align sales and marketing. Now if people want to find out more about you and ActiveCampaign, how can they get in touch?
Jenny: Yeah, you can find me on LinkedIn. I’m also on Twitter at Jenny Coupe. I’m currently at ActiveCampaign so you can find me through ActiveCampaign, but pretty socially active, feel free to drop me a note through LinkedIn or Twitter.
Steffen: Perfect. Well, thanks everyone for listening. If you liked the Performance Delivered podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital, you can visit us at symphonicdigital.com or follow us on Twitter at Symphonic HQ. Thanks again and see you next time.
Voiceover: Performance Delivered is sponsored by Symphonic Digital. Discover audience focused and data driven digital marketing solutions for small and medium businesses at symphonicdigital.com