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Quotable Podcast Episode #67: “Sales and Marketing Alignment Comes from People, Not Technology” with Jeff Davis

Host: Kevin Micalizzi
Many organizations pursue sales and marketing alignment from a pure technology perspective. But Jeff Davis, Founder of the Sales and Marketing Alignment Summit, has a more holistic vision. Join us as he explains the critical first step to achieving organizational alignment: Make your case first to the CEO, and do it right. Then build on your success.

We have to understand how the buyer goes through this journey with us and then adapt our processes to fit that.”

Jeff Davis | Founder, jd2 Consulting Group

Episode Transcript

Kevin Micalizzi: Welcome to The Quotable Podcast. This is Kevin Micalizzi, Executive Producer, and today I’ll be speaking with Jeff Davis, Founder of the Sales and Marketing Alignment Summit. And we’re really digging into why sales and marketing are not aligned, and what organizations need to be doing to create that alignment and drive better business. So Jeff, thank you for joining us today.

Jeff Davis: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.

Micalizzi: Jeff, I would love if you could share with our listeners a little bit about yourself.

Davis: Sure. I have this really unique background that I’ve been blessed with to really work on both sides of the aisle in sales and marketing. So I started my career as a traditional sales guy in the field, working on accounts and calling on customers, and did that for quite some time. And I always felt there was a disconnect or opportunity to better align between sales and marketing. So back in those days, in my early career, marketing was kind of the ivory tower, and what they said went, and we just executed, and that sort of thing.

And so after business school I really wanted to transition into marketing so that I could understand this world; be a part of those strategic conversations; and, selfishly, really advocate for sales folks because we were the folks out in the field actually executing. And what I found in making that transition was there was also a disconnect in those brand team meetings of perceptions of what salespeople were actually doing. And so it really started to kind of get my mind reeling around [that] sometimes sales gets it, sometimes marketing get it.

But what I knew is that they didn’t get each other. And I started doing research in trying to figure out where were the answers, and I just wasn’t finding what I was looking for. At the time that I started the Sales and Marketing Alignment Summit there was a sparse resource out there that wasn’t really tangible. And so my goal was that I wanted to create a forum where sales and marketing leaders could come together.

So not your traditional sales conference or your marketing conference where colleagues are talking to colleagues about what’s going on, but a truly hybrid forum where leaders could talk about how do we do this better because what we do know at this point — that in B2B you have to start talking about alignment because you won’t survive as an organization because things are getting so competitive. And so my focus solely is creating frameworks, having strategic conversations about how do we do this differently so that both sales and marketing can benefit in the long run.

I think what has allowed me to uniquely understand this problem is because I’ve actually done and been on both sides of the fence and get what sales really needs, and also what marketing struggles with, as well.

Micalizzi: You know, it’s funny, you talk about the marketing ivory tower. We just had an interview the other day with Tim Clark, who was our original host for the podcast.

And he was talking about when he shifted from sales into product marketing, he just assumed he could go back and talk to the reps and really give them the right materials to sell well, and he found the attitude shifted completely because he was now coming from marketing. He wasn’t a fellow sales rep anymore. I find it fascinating because I think that may be the crux of the problem, but really one, I think, created over the years with that whole ivory tower mentality.

Davis: Yeah. And I would agree 200%. I think one of the things I’ve always tried to do as a marketer is to try to gain net credibility with sales. But I think that, historically, since a majority of the people in marketing management — and I would even say sales management have grown up in that environment — they continue to sell those same stories that perpetuate those thoughts and feelings and angst that really no longer are servicing the business well. So we have to start changing the stories that sales and marketing tell about each other.

Micalizzi: Right. I know a lot of what you talk about is really aligning at the executive level, which I think is something that a lot of companies miss. You may have some collaboration between the sales leadership at a lower level, but not really full buy-in across the company. Would you kind of set the framework for us at how you look at this?

Davis: Yeah. So it’s a great point. So one of the things I realized very, very early in my work is that there is a plethora of great B2B solutions, right?

There has been all these tools that allow us to do this. But what I found lacking is, as a CEO or executive, how do I know which one is right for my business? So my goal is really to pull us up from having tactical conversations — which obviously are necessary and great, and I’m glad we’re having those, and those are the things we’re going to have to use to be able to actually make this reality — but to really start having strategic conversations and talk about frameworks because what we need to do is empower these CEOs and executives with how to think about their business.

Every business is unique. Every industry is different. And so while these tools exist, we need to help people understand which is right for them and which combination of things is right for them. And so I would add to that what I found is initially people were talking about getting the CMO and the VP of Sales together and collaborating. And that’s a great start. But the more and more I do research, Harvard Business Review came out with an article earlier this year called “How Aligned Is Your Organization?” and there’s been some other publications since that really all tie back into: You have to get the CEO to sponsor off on this type of initiative.

It is not able to be effectively employed into the organization until the CEO is onboard. In order for that to happen, we then have to come with a strong business case to say why we should be allocated resources to an effort or initiative such as this.

Micalizzi: So how much of that do you think is the whole — some people lead with technology, whereas you really need to be solving a business problem and really need to know what your outcome is before you find a technology to suit that. How much of that do you think is, we’re just going after the wrong problems because we don’t have that alignment?

Davis: I think the majority of it is going after the wrong problem. So when I really pull back the onion on this Sales and Marketing Alignment thing — and I would probably say going into it, I was like, eh, let’s get the CMO and VP of Sales on board, and things will start moving [in] the right directions. But the more and more I do research and talk and speak and connect with other colleagues, I have determined that this really is a people problem, right? And so if it’s a people problem, then we need to talk about business transformation because one of the executives I had at my summit this year, she said something that was really, really interesting.

She said the reason that it’s a people problem is because people actually use the technology. So if we’re only focused on the technology, and we have the best technology in place, well, it’s being used by people. And if those people don’t have the right motivations and the right line of sight in order to why they’re doing what they’re doing, it’s still going to fail. If you really want to look at the root cause of this, if you really want to make a significant change in the organization, you have to fix the people thing in order for everything else to work right.

Micalizzi: Right. Until we reach that day where robots are selling to robots, it’s still always about the people. How much of this is a process problem? How much is information sharing? I’m assuming, if we’re talking about needing the CEO to be more directly involved, there’s probably different levels of alignment across the company that we’re not doing, that we need to be.

And I was just curious, like, have you found it’s in certain areas where we’re not sharing information properly, or we’re not setting the right targets organizationally, or what motivates the challenge here, or what creates this challenge?

Davis: Well, I think you could argue there, it’s a lot of misalignment throughout the organization, so it’s not just sales and marketing, right? I think and feel that sales and marketing, because they’re the two largest customer-facing parts of the organization, that those two have, I would say they are the most interdependent groups in the organization and probably have the biggest impact.

If we get that right, then the other departments will fall behind, and we’ll have a better chance of getting those aligned. When I really think about high-level, what is the real crux, it’s really about, again, like I said, people in communication because when you look at the B2B market now, unless you have a really unique solution that no one else is doing, which is usually far and few between, there’s people that have similar products or the exact same. And so then it comes down to getting that market intelligence, getting it back to marketing as soon as possible, processing that thinking, iterating, and then getting it out to the market so that it’s actionable by salespeople.

So that’s a communication thing. So if you look at, kind of, Eric Reese, his build-learn-measure kind of methodology of we’ve got to do this stuff, get it out in the market, have sales implemented, see what’s working, what’s not working, get it back to marketing as soon as possible, iterate, and then change. And that’s really going to be the way that you keep a competitive edge over people. And so that is really about communication, whether it be a CMR, whether it be a formal feedback loop, whatever it is that you can elicit a better process for folks to communicate effectively.

That is where you’re going to start to see that alignment because a lot of the breakdown on that is that people don’t know what’s going on. The right hand and the left hand don’t know what each other’s doing.

Micalizzi: How deeply involved does the CEO need to be in this process?

Davis: So I think when I look at sales and marketing alignment from an executive point of view, this is really about enterprise transformation change management, when we’re looking at it from that point of view. We step back, right?

And any time you’re going to do a major transformation — because this really has to get everybody to say we are turning the ship because it really is that big. It’s really, I think, about the communication and showing support that this is an important initiative or important imperative for the business. Do I think the CEO necessarily needs to sit in a quarterly business review with sales and marketing? I don’t know that it needs to get that tactical.

But why the CEO needs to be involved is that you’re going to inevitably get people, especially those probably in middle management, which you don’t want to rub anybody the wrong way, that are going to be resistant to change because this is the way we’ve done it for 20, 30 years. This is the way the organization has always done it. Why do I need to do it differently? And in order for those folks to get on board, it has to come from the CEO. It has to have clear communication. This is important. This is the way we’re going. Everybody needs to get on board. And so that is why the CEO has to be involved as a sponsor. Do I think it needs to be on the ground level with going to meetings, being out in the field with reps?

I don’t know that that necessarily is necessary. But the narrative needs to be set. The tone needs to be set by the CEO that we are doing this, and this is the direction in which we’re going.

Micalizzi: So if I’m the sales leader in my organization, where do I start?

Davis: Well, I really think it is, it does go to having conversations with the CMO, or with a colleague at your level. I think that building that business case comes from sales and marketing starting to work together, understanding that the reason that we’re not hitting our revenue targets is because we need to better align.

And then starting to work through how do we align goals and that sort of thing, and really having that story and that narrative down before presenting to the CEO to say this is what we need to do. Here are the business implications of misalignment. And then depending on the organization, sometimes you just have to say, if we don’t do this, here are the negative impacts to the business. And I think that the best way to present that to the CEO is the CMO and the VP of sales coming in together to say this is where we need to go, and we need your support as our leader to say this is the direction that we’re moving the organization, and here’s why.

Micalizzi: So I know sometimes, especially in large or small organizations, these kind of initiatives don’t — they make it off the ground, but there really isn’t the follow-through to completion because there isn’t a clear owner. In your mind, who should be owning this? Should this be the head of sales, head of marketing? Who should really be the one driving it and owning ensuring it’s completed?

Davis: Yeah. I think it’s a great question. And so really I go back to: It has to be owned by the CEO, right? Depending on the organization and the industries, VP of Sales may leave, CMO may leave, whoever.

And obviously CEOs can leave, too. But you’re going to have to have somebody in the organization really hammering this to completion and really pushing this through the organization. And so it has to be from the CEO because I think that what inevitably happens is, if sales takes it over, right, the VP of Sales, it skews sales. The CMO takes it over, it skews marketing. And so then there’s always that kind of like, who owns it? Is this a sales initiative? Is this a marketing initiative? No, this is a business initiative, so it needs to come from the CEO.

Micalizzi: Right. So you really have the head of sales, head of marketing collaborating together to make that business case, bring it to the CEO, and really get the CEO on board to drive this. Now, once you get kind of underway, I know — I swear I use this language in almost every podcast here: What gets measured, gets done.

How do you adjust or realign how you’re measuring sales and marketing to ensure that you’re actually setting targets for both that are compatible, that you don’t have marketing going after a strict, let’s say, lead count that doesn’t necessarily account for quality or account for hitting, finding leads in certain segments, or whatever criteria needs to be met? How have you found companies are realigning their overall metrics and how they measure?

Davis: Yeah. So this is really important, as well. To make this successful and in order for this to really permeate the organization, you’re going to have to move to shared metrics across the organization. And so for me, I always make it very simple. It is percent to revenue, or however you talk about that. And so now that becomes the marching orders for both sales, which they’re completely used to, and now marketing, which is a new thing for them. And so marketing really has to start then having conversations about ROI because now simply it’s not we have a 25% increase in the number of leads.

It is, as much as we can, what is the quality of leads, and have they contributed to the bottom line in pushing revenue? And so that’s a very different place for marketers in the CMO to be in, and it’s going to take some time to get there. But I think that, when you look at these shared meetings across sales and marketing, the first goal that we should be looking at should be revenue, period, across the board. And then we get into what are those top-of-funnel, middle-of-funnel, end-of-funnel metrics that are the most important and the most indicative of business success.

And then after that obviously you’ll go into your subsets of those nuances of marketing, those nuances of sales. But if I were a CMO or a VP of Sales, and I was coming into a joint meeting, the meeting would all — oh, I’m sorry. If I were the CEO coming into this meeting, the meeting would always start with where are we, percent to revenue, and then go through the funnel to see where opportunities exist.

Micalizzi: So we kind of made our business case. We have a better idea of what we’re going to measure. What else do I need to be looking at for my organization?

Davis: As a CEO, I think that once we — so I look at it as kind of three big buckets of moving toward a better aligned organization. And so I look at this “taking a unified view of the customer” as one bucket. And so that’s — whether you call it journey lines or however you want to do it — but becoming a customer-centric organization. And so no longer is it just like: Sales does this and then hands off to — I’m sorry. Marketing does this, hands off to sales. Sales said this, da da da. We have to understand how the buyer goes through this journey with us and then adapt our processes to fit that.

The second one for me is ensuring that we have some kind of formal feedback loop between sales and marketing, whatever that is, whether that be just based on our CRM, that’s great, or if we need other external things. And then thirdly, as we said before, looking at these shared goals to make sure that we are developing a dashboard that has that percent to revenue at the top, and then those other metrics that we feel are indicative of business success. I think that’s really where we start to look at how do we move this forward?

And then I would layer on top of that the CEO. Then again, is there — to really make the cultural change, because this is a cultural change — like, if you have a organization where sales and marketing have historically been combative or have a toxic relationship — the CEO is going to have to shepherd getting that out of the organization and really supporting intragroup success.

And so maybe that’s the awards around a marketing campaign that sales did a great job with pulling through and really helping those stories bubble to the top so that we can see that we do get awarded for and incentivized for working together.

Micalizzi: Our audience is somewhat split between our sales managers and leaders and the reps, those actually out in the field every day. If I’m a sales rep, I don’t have a lot of direct control over how the organization runs. And we’ve had some guests who would argue they have almost no control over how things are done.

But what would you recommend? If I’m in an organization like that, I see just it’s so blatant to me that we really need better alignment, and that sales and marketing are not executing well. What could I do? What should I do?

Davis: I think when I was a rep in the field you’d be amazed at how much you can really leverage marketing to actually help you sell more. And what I mean by that is, even if you don’t have a direct relationship with marketing, or marketing’s not really hitting the mark, so to say, of what you need, it’s really about finding the work that they’ve done that you can use in your favor to drive business.

So things like, if there’s a new marketing campaign or commercial, making sure you’re aware of that, googling it and that sort of thing, and bringing it to your customer. I used to use it all the time. Whether I agreed with the marketing piece or not, I would bring it to my customer and say, hey, this is a new thing that marketing came out with. What do you think about this? And that was an opportunity for me to open a dialogue and to learn what were the objections coming from my client, and I could do it in a way that I’m leveraging marketing, and I’m not coming to the customer and saying, this is what marketing told me to tell you. I’m saying, this is what we got from our team.

What do you think? Does this resonate with you? Do you agree? Do you not agree? And then, as a salesperson, I can then take those objections or whatever I’m getting, the feedback I’m getting from the client, and turn that into a great conversation about why our product should be used, or take that back and do some thinking to figure out how do we customize a solution or whatnot.

I would also encourage, depending on the organization, reaching out and finding somebody on the marketing team to have a conversation with over the phone, 15, 20 minutes, to say, hey, I don’t really know much about you and what you do on the marketing team. But I’m interested to learn more about you and how I can help you out here in the field. Things like that, like people love to share what they do.

Micalizzi: Right.

Davis: And just I think, by you learning more about how marketing thinks about your business, what a lot of sales reps will find out is, it helps you to be more strategic because everybody knows that the most valuable asset to a salesperson is time. And marketers are very good at being strategic in their thinking.

And I find that the best sales reps not only tell great stories and really engage their customers, but they’re also very strategic with their territory and understand who is the biggest bang for their buck, who are their low-hanging fruit, where do I get my ROI, what is this customer concerned about? Those things, ironically, are also the way that marketing thinks. You just now have to add the execution arm to it to be a salesperson.

So I think a lot of salespeople would be surprised how much they can learn from basic marketing strategy of how they can apply that to their territory. And so that’s why I would say, as a rep, to start leveraging the way marketing thinks to help you to run your business.

Micalizzi: It almost creates the opportunity for that kind of grassroots collaboration because, if you’re doing it, and obviously sales reps love when another rep’s doing something that’s making them more successful. There’s that, I wouldn’t say “peer pressure,” but there’s that desire to duplicate it, to replicate it, and take advantage of it.

Davis: Yeah.

Micalizzi: So you’re creating the potential there for starting what could be a sweeping change for the organization. So I wanted to ask you, I don’t know, about a year ago — I’m going to borrow a term from John Barrows in an interview we had done last year. And he talked about embedded marketing, so really having someone on the marketing team sit with the sales team and really function day to day with the sales team. Are you finding organizations are doing that to try and bring that alignment closer? Or even get a better feel for the customer, since sales is on the front line and really interacting every day.

Davis: I don’t know 100% whether or not I’m seeing an increase in that trend. I would agree with it 200%. It still surprises me when I meet, not only entry-level marketing professionals, but directors and CMOs, that don’t go on sales calls with their salespeople. I think it is the easiest way to get real-time feedback on whether or not strategy is working. I have always told sales professionals your cheapest, easiest, fastest market research comes from sales.

They are in the field, talking to the people every day. And any time that I launched an initiative, a pilot, a program to the field, I would go out with reps and just listen because what I wanted to understand was what the strategy in my head that was I thinking being delivered, and what was the feedback from that because what you’ll find is that it may be a delivery issue, which maybe we need some retraining, or we need to communicate better what the purpose of this program is.

But it may be you just missed a mark, and the customer doesn’t care or is just not reacting in the way that you’d want them to or need them to. And then you have to retool the strategy. But I’m not going to get it as quickly as just sitting on the phone or going out in the field with salespeople.

Micalizzi: Makes total sense. We kind of started out talking about the marketing ivory tower, and I’m sure that does not account for why there’s such an ongoing misalignment between sales and marketing. What have you found is really causing this?

Davis: It’s a great question. I would bring up the Harvard Business Review article that came out early in this year. And the reason that I want to bring it up is because it talks about what causes misalignment in an enterprise, period. And so as I’ve said before, if we really want to raise the level of a conversation from tactical kind of things, let’s figure out, again, what’s that root cause for misalignment? So it came up with four different things. And the article was titled “How Aligned Is Your Organization?”

And number one was, enterprise leaders are unaware of the risk of misalignment. And so this gets to the point of us talking about sales and marketing having to come together and build a business case for the CEO to understand what’s going on. It also talked about nobody owns the misalignment in the enterprise. So finding that person, I usually suggest it’s the CEO or a combination of the CEO/VP of Sales and Marketing. The complexity of the enterprises today was their third reasoning.

Large organizations, one of the reasons they struggle with this is just a lot of, you know, it’s a complex sale, it’s an enterprise sale, etcetera. And then, last but not least, they mention — which I think is truly important to end on — is that activity is mistaken for progress. And so a lot of people — and this is coming from Harvard, so this is not me saying this.

Micalizzi: Yup.

Davis: But I think it’s truly important to make sure that we’re not just doing stuff, but we’re doing stuff that matters, and it’s moving the organization to better alignment and driving revenue. And so that’s why we’d like to start a conversation as we start to have these high-level conversations with our executives.

Micalizzi: Just because we’re doing it doesn’t mean we’re making progress, though.

Davis: Exactly.

Micalizzi: Such a tough point, but a very valid one. So, Jeff, let me ask, for those listening, when they’re done whatever it is they’re doing, cooking dinner, going to the gym, driving on their commute, as soon as they finish, what’s the first thing they should be doing?

Davis: If you want to make it a grassroots effort, and, like, what can I do tomorrow: Invite somebody from the other team to one of your meetings.

I was talking to one of my panelists at a social media company, and he said that their new VP of Sales came on board and said, “I want to invite you to my sales meeting. We have a sales kickoff meeting. We’ve never had somebody from marketing come in. And just tell what you do. Tell what you’re doing, talk about the initiatives, tell us just so we can understand how we can partner with you and better understand what you do.” And I thought it was a great idea. Why isn’t marketing being invited to these sales kickoffs to explain how we’re supporting you, or to give feedback on all of that stuff that we ask you to do, whether it be putting data into the CRM?

Here are the results of that, and this is why we needed that data in this. This is the outcome of that and why we’re helping you to sell more. I also think as we go into the end of the year, and we’re starting to talk about Q1 goals, why don’t we have that be a joint meeting where we talk about marketing, where are you at; and sales, where are you at? And maybe in Q1 we don’t quite get to that unified dashboard when we start moving toward that and start to see, like, where is the overlap of, like, okay, you’re looking at this, we’re looking at that. Great.

Let’s start to build this out. In Q1, let’s do a QBR — quarterly business review — and see where we are and start to move that way. And then thirdly I would say, this is for my marketing colleagues, just get on the phone with sales. Get out in the field. Do some planned field rides just to see what’s going on with your own eyes because it’s one thing to get feedback from senior leadership, sales leadership, I should say. But there’s another thing to be in the field and the car and the phone with a rep and actually seeing it happening.

So I would say at the least, inviting each other to meetings, having those strategic goal conversations, and then getting on the phone and getting on the field. Those are super easy things that don’t take a lot of preparation. And we’ll start to, I think, open people’s eyes about what is really going on and so that you can get an idea of where you really are and then be able to turn that into, okay, here’s where we are. This is where we need to be.

Micalizzi: All right, Jeff. So let me ask you the lightning-round question. If you could take all your knowledge and experience you have now, go back to the beginning of your career and give yourself one piece of advice, what would you tell yourself?

Davis: I would tell myself to connect with those in different departments and understand what they do and how I can leverage it to do my job better.

Micalizzi: That’s definitely great advice. I would agree. And I’ve tried to do it as much as I can in my career. So, Jeff, thank you so much for joining me today.

Davis: Yeah, thank you. I appreciate it. I think it was a great conversation. And as you pointed out toward the end of our conversation, hopefully those nuggets are things that both sales and marketing professionals can do, starting tomorrow, and really start the conversation in the organization toward moving toward alignment.

Micalizzi: Definitely doesn’t cost you anything to start that conversation.

Davis: Nope. Those things are free.

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