Why You Have a Bad Relationship with Sales—and What to Do About It: Interview with Peter Isaacson

Glenn Gow: Peter, welcome!

Peter Isaacson: Hi Glenn, thanks for having me.

Glenn Gow: It’s a pleasure to have you and you and I were talking earlier about the connection between sales and marketing teams, we would love to hear some of your thoughts on that topic.

Peter Isaacson: Sure. The alignment between sales and marketing continues to just be one of the most vexing issues that, I think, B2B marketers face today. The marketers that I talk to feel like they are working so hard and so focused on doing the right thing and delivering what sales needs and it’s just incredibly frustrating for them to have deteriorating or unsatisfactory relationships with their sales counterparts and as I’ve spoken to a lot of them one of the conclusions that we’ve drawn here at Demand Base is that marketers, even in B2B, they tend to focus on individuals and the volume of leads and then get a mass volume of leads and show a bunch of charts to the sales guys and throw those leads over the fence and kind of clap their hands and feel like they’re done. The sales guys, they are not focused on individuals, they are focused on accounts.

Glenn Gow: Interesting, because in theory, at least, there should be an agreement between sales and marketing before something gets “thrown over the fence” that it is qualified. So sales, in theory, should be happy about what they receive.

Peter Isaacson: Absolutely, absolutely, but the sales guys they are focused on accounts, whether it’s target accounts or named accounts or vertical accounts, but they are focused on closing accounts and when they get leads from individuals that are outside those target accounts, you know, sometimes there is gold there and a lot of times there is not. That creates a misalignment between marketing and sales and to a certain extent the two organizations are like ships passing in the night. One group is talking about individuals and the volume of leads and the other is talking about accounts and there is not a strong connection between the two.

Glenn Gow: Ah, ok so this has to do with creating alignment between sales and marketing around sales based marketing.

Peter Isaacson: Well, exactly. I think what we’ve seen is when marketers start focusing on accounts and line up just, not only their terminology, but the focus that they have, from a business perspective, on accounts rather than individuals, then they can really start making an impact and start speaking the language of their sales counterparts. They can start focusing on accounts and actually sharing with their sales counterparts kind of what they are doing and what they’ve been accomplishing against the accounts the sales guys care most about.

Glenn Gow: And how does marketing handle a new account that is coming in if sales isn’t aware of that account yet?

Peter Isaacson: Well, there’s always going to be a need for leads that are outside, say, a salesperson’s named account list because lots of sales organizations are divided into named accounts or vertical accounts but also territory accounts.

Glenn Gow: Right.

Peter Isaacson: So that’s always going to be a part of the story, the problem is that that has always been the exclusive focus for too many B2B marketers out there.

Glenn Gow: Ok, ok. So, what does marketing do to shift to adapt the approach that sales is using that’s called account-based marketing?

Peter Isaacson: Yeah, well I think one of the things that is interesting, just to kind of put a point on the problem, I was just out at the GE Digital Marketing Summit in New York, which was a great event, GE brought about 400 GE Digital Marketers together in New York and invited some folks like Demand Base to come in and we got a chance to talk to digital marketers across the entire spectrum of GE; power and water, energy management, transportation – kind of these big multi-million dollar businesses and every single person I spoke to I asked the same question: “how is your relationship to sales?” and every single person had just about the same answer. First of all they said, “oh you mean me personally?” and I said, “Well, yeah, maybe you personally, but also just the organization, the marketing organization, how is the relationship with sales?”

Glenn Gow: Right.

Peter Isaacson: And each one of them said, “Eh, not very good” I said, “So why?” they said, “You know what, we just can’t get on the same page, we can’t kinda connect, we feel like we’re doing all this great stuff but there is not recognition from sales.” And once I started talking to them about account-based marketing and the idea of targeting specific accounts and how that creates a dialogue that is just incredibly productive between sales and marketing these light bulbs went off in their heads.

Glenn Gow: Hmm, Hmm, interesting. So do you think they are going to make that shift and realize that to serve the sales organization they need to start thinking and approaching things differently?

Peter Isaacson: Absolutely, the receptiveness to these kinds of ideas is so strong because no B2B marketer wants to have a bad relationship to sales or a negative relationship or feel like at the end of a quarter sales doesn’t recognize or value the contributions that marketing has made. You know, we all work too hard to have those types of relationships, so once you start defining account-based marketing and the value you can add to your sales team, it really does create a ton of interest.

Glenn Gow: Ok good, well let’s talk about what marketers need to do to become more effective in account-based marketing.

Peter Isaacson: Sure. So we obviously, at Demand Base, we focus our own marketing on account-based marketing. We just went through his process with our sales team and it started with just selecting the top accounts that we felt from marketing and sales were the best opportunities for us to close business.

Glenn Gow: Uh huh.

Peter Isaacson: So we jointly created a list of about 1500 accounts and identified them as based on the pipeline that we have and the closed business that we’ve won, the most likely types of companies that would do business with Demand Base. Each of our sales guys now has between 100-200 or so of these target accounts in their territory and we were able to go through marketing and sales and even including our SDR’s, our sale development reps that do some of the lead qualification, we were able to sit down with each one of the reps and go through a specific marketing plan targeting the accounts in each account rep’s territory.

Glenn Gow: So, that must have been exciting for the sales rep.

Peter Isaacson: Oh, I mean, it was like a therapy session.

Glenn Gow: [Laughter]

Peter Isaacson: It was so welcomed that, you know, the comments that we got back from them was like “Wow, I never had so much focus just on my own success, I’ve never had a team rally to support what I’m trying to accomplish, like I just saw here.” You know, effusive praise for just rallying a team, not just generally saying, “Hey, we’re going to go to a couple of trade shows and we’re going to go do a little bit of advertising” in just kind of a generic wash that hopefully does something to rise their business, but specifically, for 150 accounts that you care most about, here are the specific marketing activities that we are going to engage in.

Glenn Gow: That’s really fascinating, you can apply this to virtually any kind of sales organization, whether they are account-based or not. What you did is you went in and you said, “help us understand how you approach development activities and we want to support you in the same way” and that’s what I think I heard created that alignment.

Peter Isaacson: Absolutely, absolutely, really getting in and saying not, “this is how we do it and let’s see how marketing will fit into what you guys do,” but really “what is most important to you from a sales perspective and here’s how marketing can support it” and turning the conversation on its head like that just has paid huge dividends for us.

Glenn Gow: And I also find it fascinating that you used the phrase account-based, but in fact some reps are going to be territory-based and what you did is you pulled out the relevant accounts within those territories and that’s how you were able to align them – did I get that right?

Peter Isaacson: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. So, most large companies have a combination of named account reps but also territory account reps that are more generally kind of focused on a region.

Glenn Gow: Right.

Peter Isaacson: That this can be applied in both scenarios, if an account rep has ten named accounts that they are focused on exclusively, well, then you have an obvious path to supporting them with those ten named accounts. If you’re working with a territory rep, they still have specific accounts in their territory that they have identified as great prospects for them.

Glenn Gow: Right.

Peter Isaacson: Now you drop them into a specific named account list that you can do account-based marketing against and you’ve got sales marketing alignment.

Glenn Gow: Alright, well let’s talk about – that’s fantastic by the way, congratulations, it’s a great story and I hope our listeners will learn from this – let’s talk about where technology fits into this. So, as you and I were talking earlier we were talking about the mass number of companies that are now available to marketers to help them with their marketing and so if we can get on the same page with the sales organization and get them excited about working together as a team, how do we fit technology into this picture?

Peter Isaacson: Like you Glenn, I’ve been to a few different events and conferences and panel discussions this year and it’s interesting, a lot of people talk about how we’re in the midst of a golden age for marketers.

Glenn Gow: Mhmm.

Peter Isaacson: It’s never been a better time to be a marketer and while I fundamentally believe that is true, I think the flip side to that is there has never been a more overwhelming period for a marketer
possibly in the history of marketing.

Glenn Gow: It’s a double-edged sword isn’t it?

Peter Isaacson: Yeah, there’s both good and bad to it and I think the tough part for marketers right now is when you look at the lumascapes and the marketech slides and you look at 1400 different niche companies

Glenn Gow: Uh huh.

Peter Isaacson: all providing some type of technology for you to segment or reach or target or advertise to, etc. Accounts or individuals, it’s really difficult for individual marketers to figure out what the right path is.

Glenn Gow: Right.

Peter Isaacson: Adobe came out with some interesting research a few months ago and I think put together it tells an interesting story. One of the data points is that 60% of marketers said that they will invest more in digital marketing technology this year. That same study also showed that only 34% of those same marketers thought that their company was highly proficient at digital marketing.

Glenn Gow: Interesting. So the investment is ahead of the learning curve.

Peter Isaacson: Exactly, exactly. So there’s this innate belief or understanding that digital marketing is an important part of their go-to marketing strategy but they are not getting as much out of it as they need to, and that’s processes and people and just kind of being able to successfully implement technology.

Glenn Gow: Right, right. Yes, we see that a lot where the technology is there and there’s a lot of investment and change management and training and understanding how to take advantage of the tools that are now available to marketers.

Peter Isaacson: Exactly. All of this creates big opportunity and big challenges and maybe most interesting from that same study was that they asked the question, “as a marketer, how concerned are you with the following issues” and the top issues were 82% said reaching customers, 79% said understanding whether campaigns are working, 77% proving campaign effectiveness and 75% demonstrating ROI. I mean, if you go back 100 years into marketing, those are the same concerns that marketers have had likefor forever.

Glenn Gow: Oh yeah, I’m amazed actually, that’s what 79% are still trying to improve the value of their campaigns or trying to understand whether or not they are working? That’s

Peter Isaacson: Yeah!

Glenn Gow: That’s amazing to me!

Peter Isaacson: And that’s after literally billions of dollars invested in marketing technology and advertising technology. So, we’re putting more money and there are more opportunities to solve these but, marketers still have those same challenges. So, there’s been a disconnect in terms of resources available, technology available, solutions available and marketers ability to really solve their own fundamental problems with it.

Glenn Gow: Mhmm, very interesting. Well, that is one of the reasons why we are talking, right? To help educate people on the possibilities, help them understand what they should be doing better.

Peter Isaacson: Absolutely.
Glenn Gow: Peter, tell me a little bit about where you see the future, let’s use a short time frame, one-two years out, for the digital marketer and some of the evolution marketing that you think is going to be available to marketers.

Peter Isaacson: Sure. Well, I think there is, you know, getting back to the idea that this is a golden age for marketers, I do fundamentally believe that this is a great time to be a marketer because you know, when you think back to ten years ago, literally the idea that marketers would be able to adopt technology quickly and put it to use was almost farcical.

Glenn Gow: Right, right.

Peter Isaacson: Right? Typically marketing was kind of last in line, even after HR, in terms of working with the IT department to deploy technology, we just were not on the radar.

Glenn Gow: Right.

Peter Isaacson: And that’s one of the great developments of the last ten years for marketers, the introduction of cloud-based technologies, where we could say to the IT Department “look, we want to work closely with you, but we’re going to implement this and it’s going to come through a browser and we’re not going to have to have the software on our servers and you know, we’re going to be able to deploy this in the next five days.”

Glenn Gow: Right, that’s a scary thought for an IT person.

Peter Isaacson: Yeah, and you know, it’s created challenges in working with IT, but it created this world of opportunity for marketing because suddenly we could start deploying things and implementing things and testing things and you know, abandoning and moving on very, very quickly, so, I think that is going to accelerate and I think there is a bit of crossing the chasm going on here

Glenn Gow: Yeah

Peter Isaacson: where there are a lot of early adopters who are kicking the tires on a lot of interesting pieces of technology and there are going to be some winners and going to be some losers but very quickly things like predictive analytics and website personalization and account-based marketing through advertising are going to very quickly rise to the top and go from a “yeah, I’ve heard of that and I think I want it” to kind of a check-the-box “I’ve got to have that as a digital marketer now.” I think that’s going to be the fundamental transition as we go from early adopters to truly the late majority and early majority to really start adopting these new technologies.

Glenn Gow: And we’re seeing the same patterns as well and I think one of the ways that marketers can be more effective in doing that is building that relationship with the IT organization, because one way or the other they need to work together more closely as a team, even if it isn’t at the system-level because it’s cloud-based, which doesn’t exclude IT, but it can, but at the data-level the two organizations have to work together.

Peter Isaacson: Absolutely, absolutely. So, it really is important, it’s interesting that just the relationship has changed, now it’s a, this is happening,” IT, how can you support it?” Rather than “we’d like this to happen, where does it line up in your queue?”

Glenn Gow: Right. That’s right, because marketing has really become a leader.

Peter Isaacson: Absolutely, absolutely, it’s really an exciting time.

Glenn Gow: Well, Peter, thank you so much. I learned a lot from today’s discussion, I hope the audience did too. I really appreciate your time.

Peter Isaacson: Thanks Glenn, I appreciate you having me here.

Glenn Gow: Alright, we’ll talk to you soon.

Peter Isaacson: Bye-bye.

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