Research shows that 70% of all marketing content remains unused by sales. If you’re a marketer, this statistic is sure to make you squirm, and if you are in sales, you’re probably nodding your head and saying, ‘that’s about right’. There are innumerable examples of sales and marketing activities that don’t align. Such misalignments are often at the core of many broken organizations. So, how do we bridge the gap and make these two strategic activities to focus on a common goal? That’s here.

Jennifer Robinson is a Sales and Marketing Alignment enthusiast with over 20 years of hands-on experience in sales enablement. In her current role at Veeam software, Jennifer leads Global Sales Messaging and Engagement and converts complex technical information into easy to understand positioning that helps sales in street level customer conversations. 

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SUMMARY

  • There are many different definitions on what sales enablement is and where it sits.
  • To be successful, you have to be able to take sales, product marketing, the sales methodology, and the sales training, and have all of those different functions working together to produce content, to produce tools, to produce job aids, to produce training, to produce marketing materials.
  • Improve the messaging and enablement around your product
  • Think through each of the marketing materials and do an audit of those marketing materials
  • If you are a strong advocate and you are giving them a service or a material that they really feel can help them then they will be much more inclined to want to give you attribution for that.
  • Do your content audit, be ruthless and make sure that every single piece matches up with a customer touch point and it does move the customer from point A to point B in some way.
  • Consider creating a sales advisory council and make sure that it is run by a third party or somebody who is not invested in the materials that you were going to be reviewing in the sales advisory council
  • Alignment is a culture and you can see right through the company if it isn’t there.

 

WHY DON’T YOU START WITH A BIT OF YOUR INTRODUCTION?

My current role right now is the Senior Manager of Sales Engagement. I have a long history in sales and marketing, starting out in sales and then quickly transitioned into enjoying sales and marketing role for a number of years. And that was in and on tech area. My entrance into the tech vertical came in about 15 years ago and when I made that transition, I actually made the transition into tactical competitive intelligence, which seems like elite, but, all of these things are congruent. So I went into competitive intelligence and that’s where I got a real passion for understanding the street level fight that our sales people are going through every day and the content that they need and that assists in the conversations that they’re having with customers; it’s not just a one off that they’re emailing to maybe keep the customer busy for a little bit. It’s what is actually getting the customer from point A to point B in their motion. And that made me really want to learn more. 

So I dug into a lot of different research and took as many classes and whatever I could find, read as much stuff as I could find about sales, alignment, sales messaging. And that propelled my career into the sales alignment piece. I had a sales alignment team within product marketing. Now at the company, I am tying sales engagement with sales enablement and training. And how do we leverage all of those things together to align sales and market.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE THE SALES ENABLEMENT ROLE AND WHAT ARE THE MAIN CHALLENGES OF IMPLEMENTING ANY ENABLEMENT STRATEGY?

You’re seeing a lot more focus and attention on sales enablement. The part that I find interesting and frustrating at the same time is that there are many different definitions on what sales enablement is and where it sits. I’ve seen it sit under marketing, I’ve seen it under sales, I’ve seen it under HR, and each one of those areas are going to give it a little bit of a different flavor. I’ve also seen it as a separate entity completely separate reporting up to the CEO. And it also changes the definition of what sales enablement is. In many areas, I see that they’re defining sales enablement as sales training and those being equivalent. However, when I ran the sales alignment team and I thought about the direction that the things are going and what we really need to start focusing on, I realized that it’s bigger than that.

To be successful, you have to be able to take sales, product marketing, the sales methodology, and the sales training, and have all of those different functions working together to produce content, to produce tools, to produce job aids, to produce training, to produce marketing materials. And all of those things need to be aligned for all of this to work and be embedded and ingrained in the company culture, which is a huge task. And of course, it takes a lot of steps and a lot of buy in from the top down to get that accomplished.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON CUSTOMER TRAINING CONTENT NOT BEING ALIGNED WITH WHAT YOU’RE SAYING IN THE MARKET?

This will be my own personal opinion. I think that the alignment role is a separate role. And when you start getting down into the weeds of it, it’s a big job. A team is there to work with all the other teams to make sure that all of these things are aligned. And not just the materials that create the customer buying cycle where we have those customer touch points, but also through the sale and after the sale and through support.

In fact, one of the initiatives that I took on about a year ago was to improve the messaging and enablement around our product launches for the company I work at now. And we started with an enablement team and that included somebody representing every single audience that we need to touch. So we had somebody from support there. We had somebody from distribution, from the reseller group, from our cloud group, from our training customer training group. Every audience that you think of that needs to be informed of something happening was on this call. We would do a weekly check in leading up to this launch and make sure that we’re all aligned on what are we saying, how are we pushing this product out and we did the first pilot of this new format last year. It was a huge success.

The numbers were great on adoption of the new version. Now, whether that has to do completely with the enablement activities, I’m not going to take full credit for that, it was a great product. But, having everybody singing out of the same hymnbook creates that consistency of a message and that consistency of just the feeling of the company for the customer which is huge because as we all know, customers buying decision is not a logical thing. And sometimes those perceptions of I’m talking to one company, I’m hearing from one company, these aren’t separate companies before the sale and after the sale is not different companies. While I’m talking to this person, and while I’m talking to that person, it brings everything together for the customer.

CAN YOU GIVE SOME EXAMPLES OF MISALIGNMENTS THAT YOU OBSERVED HAPPEN ON AN EVERYDAY BASIS THAT GENERALLY GO UNNOTICED AND IF ANY OF YOUR INITIATIVES LIKE THESE HAVE ACTUALLY RESOLVED THEM.

When we’re talking specifically about sales and marketing, there are two things that jump out at me. One is, as you mentioned it before that most marketing material doesn’t get used by sales. And if you ask marketing, who they’re creating the material for, they’re usually going to say sales and the cognitive dissonance that it takes to continue to create the same materials knowing that people aren’t using them is something that has fascinated me for 15 years, but running on that hamster wheel that we’ve talked before, about how much product marketing has to do and how many hats they have to wear and how many things they have to know. And they’re just running as they can and marketing, a lot of times then get as this is the way we’ve done it. We’re going to push it out. Sales can pick it up and use it. It is now a sales tool. That is a basic fundamental misalignment right there to me. Because again, if you’re expecting salespeople to use this material, we know the reality is they’re not. So we have marketing spending a lot of time on materials that aren’t being used. And we have salespeople spending a lot of time creating marketing materials. So in both areas, we have inefficiencies and people spending time on things that don’t need to have time spend on them. Something that I did in a previous role was, and something that I really encourage is to have a sales advisory board. Just like you have a partner advisory board or a customer advisory board, have that group of salespeople that you can have this conversation with.

And the second part of that is to think through each of those marketing materials and do an audit of your marketing materials and be able to go through and say, if every piece of marketing material and every asset had a job, what would that job be? If it was to take a customer from point A to point B, what does that look like? What is point A, what is point B? And I have asked that question more times than I can count. I have almost never gotten an answer because they don’t know. They just don’t know. Well, it just can be used whenever that that’s not a good enough answer because the point of creating an asset is to make a change on the buyer’s behavior. Why else would we be creating an asset? So if you’re not doing anything for the buyer, you’re not doing anything to move the sales process forward then why that asset is being created. And the flip side is what those things are that salespeople are creating and they feel is stronger than the marketing material that’s created. So many times I’ll do a call out to my sales groups to say, send me what you’re creating. I want to see it. I want to see how it’s different than what marketing materials are going on and doing again an additional audit.

HOW DO YOU MEASURE THE SUCCESS OF YOUR SALES ENABLEMENT EFFORTS?

That is an interesting question. Because, you have your own levels of measurement, your levels of success that you can try to track down. We’ve been trying to get creative with this. So you have your obvious: How many people have attended training? How many downloads does the document have? What is the length of time when somebody stays on a call or watches a recording? Those are pretty standard, but then you get into the more complex measurements. We’re talking about maybe a confidence index. So what was the confidence in a certain area before you took this training or use this asset? What was your confidence after? Where’s the white space in knowledge? So we measure the white space by using a pre test and a post test.

What is the gap in knowledge before? Now, let’s take this training or use this asset and do a gap measurement after to see if we filled that. Then, of course you have the financial measurement, which is where you get really tricky, because we can directly associate enablement and any of its forms to revenue, one is deals, two is size of deals, any of those monetary measurements. One thing that I did when I was in competitive intelligence was get a little bit creative with how we were measuring success as in revenue, success. Tactical competitive intelligence is a very hands on role. So you’re literally walking somebody through closing a deal many times when you’re in that competitive back-off. So what we did is do a survey, a phone survey with a large portion of people that we know. We had people who had utilized the competitive intelligence team to assist in their deals and then we had with people that didn’t. What we did was do a phone survey and ask questions about if they were to put a percentage on the amount of help that contacting the CI team gave them in influence in closing their deals, what would it be? And while that is a very long tedious process going in and calling a hundred sales reps, it definitely takes a lot of time and effort but what we got back was really interesting. We also logged some of the comments. We had a research team in house which made life a lot easier for this particular effort and what qualitative information they were giving back to us. So we were able to get an average of that percentage of all the people that had used the resources that competitive intelligence team had given them.

We could say they told us that it influenced their deal closing by 30%. And if we took that deal closing number and took 30% of it, that was the direct revenue association that we could apply to the CI team existing. So it’s tricky, but the same thing could be done for enablement. 

I’ve also found that if you are a strong advocate and you are giving them a service or a material that they really feel can help them, that they will be much more inclined to want to give you attribution for that. And that’s a process of making yourself known to the salespeople, making them understand that you’re the one, you’re in their court, that you’re their advocate, that you’re their champion and, and giving them good stuff, giving them good training, giving them a good materials, good assets, good, good job aids, et cetera.

And this is slightly off topic, but when we’re talking about sales materials as you had mentioned, getting things in front of them at the right time. And of course salespeople are just in-time learners. One thing I also found was interesting though, if they find a piece that really helps them move a customer from point A to point B, they will hold onto it forever. I haven’t had salespeople come to me with content that they had from six or eight years ago that had completely wrong branding. And, the messaging wasn’t even correct. It was for a product release that was 10 releases ago, but it worked and they wouldn’t let it go. They would like to hold on to that thing for dear life. So when you do produce something that works for them, they will advocate for it.

ANY LAST WORDS OF WISDOM THAT YOU WOULD WANT TO TELL AUDIENCE THEMSELVES?

I would say, do your content audit, be ruthless and make sure that every single piece matches up with a customer touch point and it does move the customer from point A to point B in some way. When you create a sales advisory council, assuming that you are, make sure that it is run by a third party or somebody who is not invested in the materials that you were going to be reviewing in the sales advisory council. Because it’s really easy to go down the road of asking the questions in a way that’s going to get you a positive answer and salespeople don’t like to hurt people’s feelings either. Just like any of us, we don’t want to tell the person that spent 20 hours creating something that you’re not going to use it. So you have to ask the right questions to be able to get underneath the real answer.

And a lot of times that is, when have you specifically used this, or when specifically, would you use this with a customer and what result do you expect? And then the third thing that I would say is give some thought to how do you make some of this alignment institutionalized? What does that mean to your company, depending on the size of the company and how you’re set up, it could be easier or it could be hard, but how do you make alignment an institutionalized effort and be able to bring all of these groups together to be on the same page and singing out of the same hymnbook so to speak. And what steps does that take in and how much buy in do you have from the executive team all the way down, where you can say, we’re not just saying that we’re aligned with sales, but marketing is at every QBR. We are doing group meetings, we’re doing advisory councils, and we are interfacing constantly with all the different stakeholders for all the different audiences, making sure that all of those things are just not a onetime event. It is the way you work and the way you live and the way you breathe within that company. 

Alignment is a culture and it is a culture and it’s amazing. In a very simple way, you can see misalignment, you can just see through it in any company. QBR is such a simple way to see how the company is aligned, walk and watch how people are talking in that QBR. If they’re still arguing with each other, start in a QBR that means they’ve not done any alignment exercise.

They have not talked to each other. They have not figured out what the product road map needs to be. Whether it makes sense how a sales is going to be selling it, how marketing does the marketing actually believe in that roadmap? It is just to observe those things when the people who are on the table are marketing or not. And if they are, how across multiple groups that are interfacing and that just reflects people are not talking and they’re not communicating enough to figure these things out before they come to QBR. 

It’s a difficult problem space, but one step at a time that can be taken to bridge the alignment gaps across all customer touch points and to enable sales, to vent the street level fights, creating a corporate culture around alignment and certainly build consistency across the company and to reinforce our customer spot.


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About Author

Ashish Jain
Ashish Jain

Sales & marketing enthusiast, entrepreneur, who is passionate about technology to business alignment. Ashish excels at creating simple yet compelling stories out of complex ideas; and is committed to driving organizational growth by aligning sales, product, and marketing around customer needs. He has over 15 years of experience in leading marketing and product strategies of software products in the networking and telecom industry, and training sales teams to outperform the competition. He is an expert in next-generation telecom and networking technologies (VoIP, Unified Communications, Cloud Communications APIs, 4G/ 5G small cells, VoLTE), IoT, and enterprise Wi-Fi), and leveraging inbound sales and marketing technologies tech stack to drive business impact. Ashish holds Masters in Computer Science from University of Texas. He is CEO & Co-Founder of KAIROS Strategic Consulting – a MarTech agency that provides product marketing and sales enablement solutions to startups and Fortune 500 B2B technology companies.

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