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The Biggest Failure of Marketing Leadership

Debbie Qaqish

hands uniting each other in the center of frame

CMOs must unite marketing and sales teams to achieve truly successful business results

Last year I completed a study identifying CMO behavior that helps predict if marketing continued as a pure cost center or rose to be a revenue center. I conducted the study over a nine-month period as part of my dissertation and doctoral process. It contained 68 items for a panel of CMOs to rate in terms of their effectiveness helping the CMO adopt financial accountability.

The top-ranked item might surprise you.

It wasn’t having the right technology, the right skills, making data-driven decisions or the CMO assuming a quota. Those items were important, but the No. 1 item to affect the CMO—and marketing by extension adopting financial accountability—was the relationship with sales. This item received a 5 from all study participants, the only item out of 68 to score this high.

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This data may be from a recent study, but these findings existed five years ago. From my point of view, the No. 1 failing of marketing leadership is not educating the marketing team on how to connect with the sales team and true business results.

The Tie to Sales Enablement

I recently spoke with the leader of a sales enablement team for a billion-dollar company. Sales enablement is a common function in sales that is dedicated to training sales reps to maximize their potential. Her background is in sales and marketing and we discussed how enablement might work between the two departments.

For most marketing and sales enablement teams, collaboration might not ever occur to them. But if the two learn to coexist, a few things will happen: marketing will better learn about sales, form a valuable alliance, increase productivity and potentially boost revenue.

Getting Started

First, the CMO needs to have a conversation with the sales enablement leader to explore a potential partnership. The CMO can explore three key areas:

  1. Messaging
  2. Content availability
  3. Visibility

Messaging

Here’s a test: Ask any salesperson in your company what they think about the messaging from marketing. I bet you that the responses will sound similar to these:

  • “I don’t use marketing messaging; it’s marketing speak, not sales speak.”
  • “I quit looking at marketing messaging a long time ago. I create my own.”
  • “None of the messaging from marketing aligns with my major selling motions.”

Marketing spends a lot of time on messaging; what a waste that it’s not better aligned with what salespeople need in a cycle. If marketing isn’t providing the right messaging for sales to use, it likely doesn’t resonate with prospects looking at your content.

Marketing can improve messaging that resonates in all channels by partnering with the sales enablement team. Quite often, a key element of sales enablement is to train salespeople on how they represent the company and discuss client or prospect needs. A successful sales enablement team is in the trenches with sales to act as a key contributor to messaging. 

A sales enablement team is better than field marketing to represent sales needs and can be easier to access. In this process, you help the sales enablement team shape content they need to train and they help you shape messaging that works. Finally, by working with the sales enablement team, marketing gets a good understanding of the world of sales. It’s a win-win.

Content Availability

Arguably no aspect of marketing requires more time than content production, use and curation. Marketing often neglects to consider how sales can employ the same content across various channels. Just as marketing must consider how content can be distributed to different prospects, sales needs to be added as a constituent.

The pressure-cooker environment of a salesperson prohibits them from spending lots of time digging around to find a relevant piece of content to use as part of a sales motion. The solution? Partner with the sales enablement team to make usable content that matches selling motions and is easy to find and use.

A key part of training provided to sales reps by a sales enablement team is instructing how to position the company, which product or solution to present when, and how to drive an overall sales cycle. If the sales enablement team has readily available content for sales to use, it’s a win for all parties involved.

From a content development perspective, this necessitates adding a cycle to the process. Work with the sales enablement team to understand what happens at each stage of the sales cycle and align content pieces to each stage. Most importantly, make it easily accessible by the sales team.

Visibility

The last thing a sales rep wants to happen is to be embarrassed in a conversation with a prospect or customer. Many reps share unpleasant experiences of prospects discussing marketing campaign details, of which they have no knowledge. This not only creates bad will, but also undermines the efforts of the sales rep.

Beyond embarrassment, major account reps are very particular about what gets communicated to their accounts. They should be—they’re responsible for the relationship and its respective revenue.

The sales enablement team is also responsible for the stream of communications to reps that affects sales performance. Marketing campaigns definitely fit in this category. Work with the sales enablement team to understand standard communication channels that keep reps updated on all things related to their performance. Also work with them on how to communicate the campaign. Again, sales reps have very little time to dig out information, so it needs to be concise and expressed in sales terms.

The Lesson for Marketing Leadership and Career Marketers

Continuing to ignore the chasm between sales and marketing is career suicide. We live in a world where marketing is driving revenue and growth; If you can’t figure out how to make that happen, you may be out of a job, passed over for career advancement or find it difficult to find a new position. 

It has been extraordinarily difficult for marketing to establish a revenue-based relationship with sales. If your company has a sales enablement team, this might be one way you can tackle this challenge. Sales enablement teams are always hungry for content and ideas for how they can improve sales performance. Creating a working relationship might be the best thing you do this year.

Debbie Qaqish, Ph.D., is principal partner and chief strategy officer of The Pedowitz Group. She manages global client relationships and leads the firm’s thought leadership initiatives. She has been helping B2B companies drive revenue growth for more than 35 years.