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Top 3 Strategies for Building Alignment with Sales and Marketing

Hosted By: Renee Yeager Guest: Julie Jones VP of Supplier Marketing at Tech Data

Julie Jones is the VP of Supplier Marketing at Tech Data where she is responsible for defining and executing supplier and solutions focused marketing strategies that accelerate growth, expand market share and deliver measurable return on investments for Avnet’s suppliers and customers.Julie joins host Renee Yeager to share her “Top 3 Steps for Building Alignment with Sales & Marketing Teams.” The disconnect between sales and marketing is a very common problem not exclusive to the tech industry. Oftentimes, the two teams set goals the other is not aware of or does not agree with. These pitfalls can negatively impact productivity, team morale and a company’s bottom line.

In this podcast, Renee interviews Julie to find out how listeners can start defining goals that are mutually beneficial to both teams, implementing recurring communication cadence and committing to improvements. Plus, Julie shares insights from her more than 18 years of global business management experience including strategic marketing, strategic planning, product management and sales in the technology industry.

Read the Transcript

Speaker 1: From Jaeger Marketing, this is the Top Three For Tech Marketers podcast, where we discuss trends, challenges, successes, and plans with today’s most innovative technology marketers. Here’s your host, Renee Jaeger.

Renee Yeager: Hello everyone, and welcome to the Top Three For Tech Marketers podcast. Joining me today is Julie Jones. Julie is an accomplished executive with more than 18 years of global business management experience, including strategic planning and marketing, project management, and sales, in the technology industry. She’s currently vice president of supplier and solutions marketing at Avnet, and she’s also held a number of other roles there, including VP of enterprise strategic planning, director of marketing and sales acceleration, and prior to Avnet she was the VP of marketing at Insight. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience and we’re thrilled to have her. Welcome, Julie.

Julie Jones: Thanks Renee.

Renee: Before we get started, for our audience, if this is the first time you’re listening to the podcast, on each episode we talk with today’s most innovative technology marketers about a specific topic, and narrow it down to three focus areas that they feel are most interesting or really important. Today we’re talking with Julie about her top three strategies for building alignment with sales and marketing. If you’re ready Julie, we can jump right in.

Julie: Let’s go.

Renee: Marketing and sales alignment has been a continuing challenge for organizations. Have the challenges evolved or changed, and what are companies facing now?

Julie: When we think about sales and marketing alignment, the challenges in that notion of the alignment, the challenges themselves still exist. What has changed is the landscape around us. Working in a technology industry, it’s a very fast-paced changing environment, so we don’t get to control that obviously. We also are exposed to marketing trends such as digital, we talk about digital, social marketing, whether it be LinkedIn or other resources. Just as we’re exposed to new tools and innovative ideas, sales organizations are as well. It’s really the landscape, the tools and the resources around us, that have changed, but inherently the challenge of sales and marketing alignment still exists.

Renee: It’s almost blurred the lines in a way, between marketing’s role versus sales’ role. It seems there’s much more overlap today than there has been in the past.

Julie: Yeah, when you look at a sales organization, they have a goal, and their goal is to hit their revenue targets, or their quota if you will. On the marketing side our goal may be to deliver a certain number of leads, or to drive a certain amount of revenue tied to a lead. Both organizations continue to have goals, and they don’t necessarily see the overlap, or see how those goals can in fact be mutually beneficial.

Renee: As far as your top three strategies go, the first one you mentioned is exactly that really, having defined goals. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Julie: Sure. I talked about the fact that sales may have a goal, and I used the example, it’s to hit their quota, or hit their revenue. Marketing’s goals may be number of social followers, number of leads, revenue. What’s really important here is making sure that the goals that are defined are mutually beneficial up front, and that you create those goals together. That’s really what drives the alignment, and then I’ll say less blaming, or less friction, between the two.

What does that really look like in practice? If you were to take your goal and simply say, combining sales and marketing in a very simple example here, “We’re going to achieve a revenue target of X from which marketing leads contribute X number of dollars or X number of leads to our pipeline,” that type of a goal is not what we see today Rene. You can hear what I said, there’s a responsibility and an accountability for both marketing and sales in that goal, and more importantly they both agreed to that goal up front, and they both understand each of their accountabilities in that goal up front.

Renee: What goals do people talk about in both organizations, that aren’t really met? Have you experienced anything like that?

Julie: I think back to your question [inaudible 00:04:40] around change, when I think of what hasn’t changed, it’s the infamous, sales misses their number and so they’re going to blame anybody including marketing. Marketing has goals, and will have goals, that are intended to help support sales, that are intended to help fill the pipeline, be it lead, be it revenue, it driving awareness. We talk as though we’re talking in two different languages, I talk of my marketing goals, they talk of their sales, but we’re missing that mutually beneficial link. Because you hear in what I just said that if you put those two together they actually help one another, but we just don’t talk about them in that way.

Renee: Yeah. It goes back to, and we’ve talked about this before, the whole idea, marketing people and sales people are different in many ways. Often times, from a personality perspective, marketers can be more introverted, where sales people can be more extroverted. Or how they’re rewarded by their organizations. Being gauged on efficiency, marketers are typically gauged on efficiency in terms of what they get out of their marketing dollars, versus sales are gauged on effectiveness, what their contribution to revenue is. They’re inherently very different organizations aren’t they, so coming together is so important.

Julie: I never overlook the attribute of innovation. You’ve met salespeople that like to be innovative, and we know what marketing people are like when they’re innovative, and both parties can be innovative but still achieve the desired outcome. It’s about coming together, and defining it together, and reviewing it together.

Renee: Yeah, definitely. What do you see as the biggest misconceptions between the two teams? I know defining a lead is something that has bee talked about over and over again, and how do we get really crisp on what a lead is, but are there other things too?

Julie: I think that the lead piece still definitely rings true, so the easy out, and by far probably the oldest one, is, “That was a bad lead.” And marketing can say, “You didn’t follow up on the lead.” I don’t think that that lead conversation has changed.

I would highlight two other things. Marketing still is very much labeled, or attributed to, events, so it’s often times viewed that marketing does a lot of fun and cool events, but you can’t today work for a fortunate 100, or even a fortune 500, company and execute events without showing ROI behind them. The second piece is really around social media. Social media isn’t just for marketers, but from a marketing perspective we do utilize it in a capacity whereby we’re making investments, we’re measuring our returns, and our counterparts, in a sales capacity or otherwise, may be using it as just a reference point or a source of information. Here again, both roles using the same tool or the same resource, but speaking two different languages, and if they came together it could be mutually beneficial.

Renee: Yeah, definitely. An interesting side note since you brought up events: We’ve talked to a lot of marketers about what their event strategies are, and to your point, how do we get more ROI and optimize those event dollars? Because they’re so expensive to do. Then, being able to see line of sight between what happens at an event to an actual sales lead that closes can be challenging.

Julie: Yeah. I think once upon a time we would say that an event is just, by definition, a point in time. There was a ton of preparation that went into that, we executed a one-time event, and we all walked away and went on to our next marketing tactic or plan or priority. Today, when I look at successful events today, and how they’ve grown and changed over time, and we’ve done to drive that return that you referenced, is very much the activities that are wrapped around the event. After a large event we have a social media campaign that follows. We have two webinars that follow, that go deeper on the topics and the content than may have been presented at that event. Today it’s very much no longer a one-time, really fun cool event. Maybe a great event experience, but it’s all of the activities that you wrap around it to really help drive the return. That’s where we’ve seen the most change, and yet the most success.

Renee: When you talk about what a marketing qualified lead versus a sales qualified lead, getting those trade show visitors who came to your booth to a sales qualified lead is going to take much more than passing them on to the sales team, and they won’t want to follow up on them because they’re not really qualified at that point. Yeah, that makes total sense.

Julie: Yep.

Renee: Let’s jump to your second strategy, which is implementing a recurring communications cadence. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Julie: Sure. It probably goes without saying, and many folks could acknowledge the fact, that if you’re in a sales role, you build a sales plan, and you go back to your desk and do your day job, that you have to keep that sales plan. On the marketing side, the same exercise. We built a marketing plan, it’s on a piece of paper, and we’re off and running. That opportunity, that situation, there, in and of itself, is what drives misalignment and-or lack of alignment. It’s because the two organizations created their plans separately, and did not come back together to revisit it.

By establishing a reoccurring cadence to review the progress against the goals … Remember, I talked to my last point around those goals, and if you establish a reoccurring cadence to review that progress, it ensures not just a mutual commitment ,but also accountability and teamwork. It says that these weren’t just plans or goals on a piece of paper, but more importantly, it also enables the ability to change the tactic, the activities, the behaviors, midstream, when the group, the collective group, sales and marketing, is not on track to achieve their desired results. While this may sound like an obvious step, it is very overlooked. We each go about our day to day business, our day to day priorities, and don’t think about coming back together, sales and marketing, one team, on a regular basis, to review our progress, to both be open to making some changes if and when we’re not achieving the results we agreed to.

Renee: Yeah. Have you been in a situation where sales goes and defines what they’re going to achieve for the quarter, or half year, and then they bring that to marketing, and together they kind of define what that marketing process is? Or do you see that as still handled very separately? There may be alignment, but do the two teams traditionally go off and do their own thing, and then maybe come together for these cadences?

Julie: I’ve seen it done both ways. I can think of a real-time example. With our business units, we’ve taken a business unit led approach. Having the opportunity to sit down with them up front and understand, what is the business strategy, what are the revenue targets associated with that business strategy, what are your expectations of marketing, what marketing are we doing today that’s working well, that could support this, having that discussion up front has really helped. Because this is a launch for us, so it helped, Ill say, launch us on the right foot. It also enables conversations. You may think that a realistic pipeline is a million dollars, and I’m in a sales capacity and I’m telling you that a realistic capacity is $5 million. If you don’t have those discussions up front, and plan together for that up front, you will always be misaligned on the back end.

Renee: You’ve worked for a lot of big companies. Is that a challenge, doing that in a large organization? How do you navigate that?

Julie: It’s a great question, Renee. I think some of the folks that’ll listen to this podcast would say, “We’ve done that, and it still doesn’t work.” I feel very confident, to your point, having worked for several large organizations, that when you have a gap, or a challenge, of sales and marketing alignment, it’s in one of the three areas that we’re talking about today. Can you honestly say you defined your goals up front together? The answer is usually no, because one person disagreed, there was a disconnect in the goal process.

The communication piece is where large organizations can sometimes struggle. The reason for that is, we’re a large organization. We have a lot of priorities, we each have a lot to do each and every day, and this can very much be perceived as yet another meeting. It takes a strong and committed leadership team to say, this isn’t another meeting. The sales leader comes to the table and says, “This matters to us,” and the marketing leader comes to the table, and they accept that cadence through their own commitment, and that tone goes down to the rest of the organization, I’ll say. I think that that’s important. You could do all three of these things and still have some challenges, and that’s probably a separate podcast discussion. When I’m out talking to marketing leaders from other large organizations, our challenges lie in one of these three areas.

Renee: It makes sense that it has to come top-dow. I think as marketers, if you’ve grown up as a marketer and you’ve worked your way up through the ranks, you’ve been part of a marketing initiative that didn’t have sales buy-in at the leadership level, and it probably failed miserably. I think all marketers can attest to that experience. Yeah, top-down really does matter, doesn’t it.

Julie: Definitely important.

Renee: Yeah. Let’s touch on your third strategy for marketing and sales alignment, and that’s committing to mutually beneficial and specific improvements. Are you talking about process improvements, or what specifically do you mean here?

Julie: Yeah, it’s great. When you think about improvements, they look different whether you’re in sales or whether you’re in marketing. I’ll start with the marketing one because that’s the easier one here. We as marketers may think we have the most innovative idea, or the best design, or the best copy, in a true marketing sense. I should say, from a creative standpoint. Really, we sometimes inadvertently, by pride or otherwise, attach ourselves to our ideas. When sales comes along and says, “That copy is not going to resonate with my customer and here’s why,” sometimes we marketers don’t like that. We know what we’re doing when it comes to copy, and that sales person doesn’t know what they’re doing. We inadvertently, or indirectly, deflect that feedback, and we’re showing that we’re not open to others’ ideas, or in this case improvements. It then, sticking with that same examples, it then sets a tone for the sales team, who will in turn deflect, and not support feedback or new marketing activities. You’re kind of setting yourself up for a spiral there.

Those improvements could be, sales may need to acknowledge that they need to respond to leads in a more timely manner, to follow up on them; the creative team may need to maybe not be … I’ll say not as focused on what their portfolio looks like, or what their pride of their role is. You can still be prideful in your role and deliver great work, and it becomes even better when you open up to others’ feedback and ideas and bring that into your work. It’s a very simple example, but we all operate in a role where lead generation, or demand creation, doesn’t always work. We need sales to help make improvements in that example, but we as marketers have to acknowledge too, in the case of lead generation, maybe we need to refine our target audience. Maybe the offer wasn’t compelling enough.

By both parties acknowledging how they can improve in each of those examples or situations, they both realized a mutually beneficial outcome, because going forward on future marketing activities, they’re both [locked 00:17:46] in together.

Renee: Yeah. I think as marketers we have to keep in mind that sales is going to continue the conversation that we start at the beginning from a marketing standpoint.

Julie: Yeah.

Renee: Having them bought into what we’re saying, and the way we’re saying it, is critically important, so that they can really follow up on those leads in a cohesive way. The worst thing is when you have a salesperson following up on a marketing lead and they don’t understand what the offer was, or what was communicated. We can lose a lot of momentum there, yeah.

Julie: Yep.

Renee: Let me just ask you this. Why do you think it’s so hard for sales and marketing people to work together? It’s pretty prevalent in many organizations, isn’t it?

Julie: It’s pretty prevalent, and I find myself often reminding my own team, “This problem’s not exclusive to our company. It’s a very common problem.” The reason that I highlighted these three areas is, when I go out and talk to my peers and their colleagues, these are where you find the challenges. Sales has established goals that marketing may not be aware of in some cases, or may not agree with. Sales might even set a goal around leads, or something else that we feel belongs to marketing, and where’d they get their data from? The pitfalls that continue to impact the alignment between the two is very much in these three areas. You could take this and apply it to any other industry.

By the way, it’s not limited to size of company either. A small company’s going to have these same challenges that you and I are talking about. Where I have seen success, Renee, is, I’ll tell you, we haven’t perfected it, but our focus is in these three ares. Because if I can come back and say, and I would challenge anybody, if you can come back and say that you’re doing these three things, and that you still have challenges, I have not had that conversation with anybody yet.

Renee: Yeah. Do you recommend having a written plan mapped to these, that everyone has a copy of and agrees upon at the beginning of the quarter, or whenever it is? Actually writing it down? I say that just because of different personality types that exist in marketing and sales.

Julie: Yep. I think some people definitely respond better when there’s something visual. They could pin it up in their cube or their office, or they just like to keep it electronically filed. The two teams coming together to define that, that are going to come back and agree to it, need to have the same document, or whatever your output’s going to be, that plan that they are reviewing together, because otherwise it becomes one or the other. Marketing’s come into the sales meeting to get an update on their plan or vice versa, whereas “No, this is the plan we created together, we’re going to review this together, we’re going to make the changes together, nobody’s changing data or anything behind the scenes.” It shows, to my earlier point, from a leadership level, we have a responsibility to demonstrate that we committed to this. I committed to this, our sales leader committed to this, and we’re in this together, and we’re going to stick to this.

Renee: Yeah. That’s a great reference document. As you look back on the quarter, what can we learn here, what did we do well, what didn’t we do well, what can we improve upon for the next quarter. Having that kind of marketing and quarters cohesive plan documented is probably a good strategy.

Julie: Yep.

Renee: That was my last question Julie, and I think you have provided our audience some really, really great examples and a good structure for how they can better align their marketing and sales in organizations. I have one bonus question for you if you don’t mind.

Julie: All right.

Renee: What’s your favorite marketing book, or what are you currently reading?

Julie: Wow. As I look around my office, it’s interesting, I do read a fair amount, and there’s two books that stand out for me. One is around presentations, and good leaders don’t use presentations, in terms of actual slides. There’s a couple different books that feature that, but I find myself referring to that book a lot lately from a development perspective, because people are dependent on PowerPoint, and we want to learn to tell a compelling story without those slides.

Then the book which is actually not a new and up and coming book, but if you go back to my comment at the beginning of this discussion, Leading Change, by Kotter. We work in, again, a fast-paced, changing industry. I pick up this book on a regular basis, Rene, and there’s always something in there that I’ve read before, that I need to remind myself and-or my team of, time and time again. I lead a large organization, and everybody adapts to and leads change differently. You can’t look past the importance of that in helping people get through that change together. His book has some very fundamental principles that get overlooked on a pretty routine basis, so I find myself opening that book more and more lately to remind myself of what the organization and the teams need of me as a leader when it comes to leading change.

Renee: That’s great. Don’t you love books like that. He’s such a leader himself, and prolific. That’s great.

Julie: It’s interesting, because there’s a lot of great marketing books out there, and for me it keeps right now coming back to the basics. The book, the one around presentation, I think I failed to mention, it’s called Talk Like TED, so how do you deliver a presentation TED style, TED talk style. Talk Like TED and Leading Change, although neither of them are specific to marketing as a practice or a function, they are two books that I always recommend to any marketing leader, especially in the industry and the times that we’re operating in right now.

Renee: That’s so great Julie. Thank you so much for being on the podcast today, and sharing your insights and wisdom. To everyone listening, if you’d like to ask Julie any questions, we’ll have a way for you to do that on the podcast web page, and you can always reach out to me directly as well. Thank you Julie, and thank you everyone, and we look forward to seeing you on the next Top Three For Tech Marketers podcast.

Julie: Thank you very much.

Renee: Take care.