Sales Leadership Advice for Aligning Marketing & Sales

I’m publishing a series of Q&A excerpts from my interviews with Sales 2.0 leaders, which will appear in my next book. This is an excerpt from my interview with Mark Burton, former VP of sales at MySQL (acquired by Sun Microsystems), where he was responsible for growing and managing MySQL AB’s entire international corporate sales force, indirect channels and partnership alliances. He has been involved in enterprise-level sales leadership for 30 years. 

Anneke: What were your “failures,” or things that didn’t go as well as they could have? What would you tell another executive about what not to do, or what to learn from your past experiences?

Mark: Failures: We’ve had lots of them. Processes and systems are so important. It took us a long time to work with a team to figure out everything we really needed to manage this environment. Marketing tends to be more positioning- and messaging-oriented, and more about just putting it out there. That whole idea of what a qualified lead is, and having something that ends up in the hands of sales that they want to deal with — it’s a big chasm between those two functions.

Get a very objective and measurable set of definitions, processes and systems to do some system-oriented scoring, and then have a very clear and written description for what becomes a sales lead. Get the marketing organization on board with forecasting and measurement of conversion rates, and make sure this is an activity that is worked monthly to continually pursue conversion rates that drive the company to profitability. This is a big change for most marketing and sales organizations. I wouldn’t call it a failure, but I will say it takes a long time to make sure everyone understands this end-to-end process, and what is involved in managing and measuring it. That was hard work with a lot of iterations and false starts.

Anneke: I see that changing rapidly, though, in many Sales 2.0 companies, where success depends on marketing and sales being aligned and collaborating. Do you see that working? How are companies bringing sales and marketing closer together?

Mark: It’s still a challenge for many companies. One of the first thoughts is, “Great, we’ll just give sales and marketing to the same person.” It’s unusual to have any one person who really understands sales and marketing well enough to add value across both functions through the Demand-to-Close process. There also aren’t many CEOs who really understand it. I would say this is still developing. My suggestion is to get advice from others who have successfully implemented the new model. This can be accomplished through a combination of outside consulting and benchmarking with companies that have successfully implemented such models.

Read the full interview with Mark Burton.

Anneke Seley
Anneke Seley is CEO and Founder of Phone Works and author of Sales 2.0. This post appeared originally on her blog.

Are Sales Reps Just Complaining, or Is Lead Quality Really Down?

One of the first complaints a sales leader will hear from an underperforming salesperson is that the leads from marketing are not up to par. “It’s not me — it’s the leads. They’re terrible.” The next thing you know, all your other salespeople are also convinced that the leads are terrible, and suddenly you’ve got an entire sales team demotivated to perform.

For a long time, there was no way for sales leaders to assess the accuracy of complaints about sales leads. Are the leads truly low quality? Or has the rep not been trained properly on how to deal with this particular kind of lead?

This is a sales leadership issue that has bothered me for years. But at HubSpot, we’ve been as proactive as possible in taking the subjectivity out of the issue of lead quality by using data and metrics.

One framework for lead intelligence data is demographic data (for example, company size and revenue) versus engagement data (for example, how many times the prospect visited your site and/or downloaded materials). We use this kind of information to develop our lead quality score. We can then have more quantitative discussions about lead quality. For example, as opposed to “the leads suck,” we can gather feedback such as: “The percentage of B2B companies with greater than $100 million in revenue has dropped by 24% in the past week. This trend is problematic, as these types of leads close to customers 37% more than the average sales qualified lead”.

The other aspect of lead quality we examine is salesperson performance on specific lead segments across a broader set of salespeople. When a segment of leads is under-performing, typically this result is either because the sales team is not adequately trained on how to handle these leads or the leads are in fact not a great fit for your offering. If you find that all your salespeople struggle with the lead segment, then the leads are probably not a great fit for your offering. But if, say, four salespeople performed well with the lead segment and 11 did not, then you have a sales training issue. Your next step would be to look at the four reps who are doing well, find out how they’re approaching those leads, and get the rest of the team trained on those techniques quickly.

A good example of this at HubSpot is our non-profit leads. Our reps used to avoid selling to this segment like the plague: “Don’t give me nonprofits – there’s too much red tape and they don’t spend a lot of money.” The data showed a different story. In fact, nonprofits did have a longer sales cycle, and it took a deeper qualification process to find out who the decision makers were. But when you got them to sign up, they became phenomenal customers, which made its way back into the salesperson commission plan.

It’s amazing how often the data differs from the gut feel of the salesperson. If you make that data known, reps stop complaining and instead start figuring out what they need to do to translate leads into deals.

Mark Roberge will share insights about lead quality and sales and marketing alignment on September 20, 2011 in a webinar sponsored by Selling Power. To register, click here.

Mark Roberge
Mark is responsible for the entire sales function at HubSpot, having grown the team from 1 to 80 employees in five years. Prior to HubSpot, Mark founded and/or held executive positions at start-ups in the social media and mobile sector. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter