2021 Sales & Marketing Unification: Dreamed, Defined, Delivered (Q&A)

ABM Behind the Scenes, a Chat with Peter Isaacson and Jay Tuel

For this installment of our blog series ABM Behind the Scenes, Peter Isaacson, Chief Marketing Officer, and Jay Tuel, Vice President of Sales Development, came together to discuss the virtues of Sales and Marketing unification and its trajectory in 2021.

While the accepted ethos of B2B Sales and Marketing teams is that they must be of one accord to effectively resonate the value of their brands across their audiences, it’s a topic for which Demandbase continues to beat the drum.

Why? Because while Sales and Marketing unification is necessary, it’s not so easy.

Teams have different needs and priorities, so there is a natural push and pull. Additionally, evolving company goals in response to internal and external elements and technological advancements can affect the fabric of a company’s growth and retention approach, requiring Sales and Marketing to continuously come to the table to re-imagine and rally behind their account-based programming.

We explored this push and pull during the interview.

Why is Sales and Marketing alignment something for which we continue to make a pitch? Why isn’t it old hat?

Jay

Six, almost seven years ago, when Peter and I started at Demandbase, we understood the value of aligning Sales and Marketing, but we were still in the educational phase of why it was important. At the time, not a lot of people had aligned teams. I think over the years, people have seen the value connecting their Sales and Marketing teams and getting people on joint goals. A lot of the reason we talk about it is that we’ve seen it work very effectively here.

When I first started, we were very inbound driven; we weren’t generating a lot of buzz from our target accounts. But then, when we had this dedicated focus and asked:

As a Sales and Marketing org, which are the accounts that will get us to our revenue goals and have our Sales team happy to be working?

That’s when we saw our pipeline numbers shoot up. We saw our revenue grow at a crazy level.

As people adopt this practice, and they see success, they know that it works. And they know they want to invest more in uniting their Sales and Marketing teams.

Peter

I think everyone’s a proponent of Sales and Marketing alignment and of having teams working together. I’ve never spoken to someone that’s an opponent of Sales and Marketing teams getting aligned and working together effectively. But the reality is that it’s hard.

It’s just very easy to develop different motions, different objectives, different metrics, different paths. Quite often at bigger companies you’re not only not sitting in the same building, you’re not even sitting in the same state. Sometimes you’re not even sitting in the same country. And that creates challenges.

I think Sales and Marketing working effectively together is, quite honestly, like a marriage. It requires work and constant growth and attention. When you do that, it’s great. It’s awesome. And when you don’t work at it, and you neglect it, and you take it for granted, then things can start falling apart.

Continuing with the metaphor, what is one key thing that Demandbase does to keep the Sales and Marketing marriage happy?

Jay

I would say that communication between the two teams is really key. Our leaders meet on a weekly basis and talk about what’s working and what’s not. And we’re not afraid to say what Marketing campaign or Sales outreach isn’t working. So we can adapt and try something new that will work.

Being open to change, trying new things, and having open communication between Sales and Marketing has been really key for us to pivot and try new strategies. In turn, we have a more repeatable process and focus on the tactics that we know work.

Peter

That’s all true, but also, we naturally operate as a Sales and Marketing-unified team because of the fact that we’re account-based. So by definition, we all share the same ethos and we are all practitioners of Sales and Marketing alignment. We work together to actually identify, target, and coordinate our activities against the specific accounts that are going to make the biggest impact on our business.

Where do you find challenges in actualizing alignment, and do your experiences resonate with other B2B companies?

Jay

One of the things that I hear in talking to a lot of our customers, and even what we’ve experienced internally, is that Sales leaders need to be able to allow for the possibility that not all of the leads that come should or will be acted on. It may be because the lead isn’t in the ideal customer profile, or the Sales rep just can’t work the lead fully. Or maybe the Sales rep doesn’t want more leads and wants to spend more time researching and having personalized outreach for a land-and-expand approach to their target accounts.

You know, I think teams should feel free to say that a lead or group of leads is just not something that they have time to work. And that goes both ways. Marketing can come to Sales and say that a particular channel isn’t worthwhile and they don’t see a lot of success in it, that no matter how many salespeople like it, it’s just not an effective approach.

Those kinds of conversations go both ways and you have to find the middle ground.

Peter

I would also say that conflict is a sign of a good and healthy exchange. Because when one team is just nodding their head and just saying OK, OK, OK, that doesn’t necessarily equate to buy-in and passionate alignment, which is key for a successful strategy.

So conflict is actually a good thing and kind of a regular occurrence when you’re collaborating on something like an account-based strategy.

I can point to three areas where healthy conflict takes place. And quite honestly, Jay and I have had discussions on all of these. They are: (1) Working out who should be on the target account list and how big it should be, (2) Identifying the segments of your ICP and how they should be prioritized, and (3) Prioritizing what channels should be used for which accounts.

For instance, should we direct account-based ads to high intent accounts, to low intent accounts, or to accounts that are in pipeline? There was a time that Marketing would not want to hear an opinion from Sales on something like that, but with the need to coordinate activities across teams, these are now exactly the discussions you should be having.

Better for there to be visibility, discussion, and even conflict on how to do these things than for Marketing or Sales to not even enter into a conversation, which is what used to happen in the bad old days.

Does a company’s Sales and Marketing alignment ever reach a state of maturity, or is it a continually evolving process?

Jay

The market changes so often, and tactics get stale. You always need to be looking at what is the next best thing, asking how do we shine and get creative and find ways that are different and new. You always have to be looking forward.

Peter

Just look at what we’re going through right now. If we were executing the tactics that were working in January, we’d be screwed. In Marketing, we’ve had to adjust our approach while being in unison with the Sales team.

Another thing to consider, aside from external changes, is that in any organization, people come into and out of it, whether it’s Marketing, or Sales, or SDR teams. So you can’t just bank on the fact that there’s some institutional knowledge. You may get a new leader who comes in that doesn’t know your company’s history, what’s been going on, or how you work together. And that person can bring new and creative ideas.

So you’ve got to constantly review what you think you know. Because there’s always an opportunity to try something different in response to the moment you’re in right now and where your industry might be in the future.

You’ve got to be working at it constantly. It is a journey, not a destination.

Sales and Marketing work so closely together, have you ever thought of stripping away the names Sales and Marketing and bring both units together as one team under one leader?

Peter

Some companies have put Sales and Marketing under a single leader below the CEO. In the past, that typically was a Sales leader. That model has gone away, in large part, even in enterprise companies, because Marketing and the technology supporting it became so sophisticated. It’s very difficult for an individual that isn’t steeped in Marketing to actually manage that consolidated team effectively. The reality is that there are other things that the Marketing team has to be focused on: the brand identity, brand awareness, analyst relations, and other very top-of-the-funnel types of stuff.

I do know that companies have had success creating pods of marketers and salespeople so that they go after specific segments, a vertical market, for instance. And rather than having separate teams, they will form a pod consisting of a couple of Sales folks, an SDR, and maybe a Marketing person or two. That’s a good example of where teams can come together as a single unit.

Jay

I agree with Peter on this one. Having one leader guide one team down a certain avenue takes away from that productive tension, that give and take that is the beauty of Sales and Marketing unification. You need these different opinions to see what’s the next best thing.

I want to get to a point where our revenue teams are all celebrating as one, but we have different leaders and ideas that move us towards that. That’s the key to really good Sales and Marketing execution, which will translate to pipeline and revenue.

What’s your prognostication for Sales and Marketing unification in 2021?

Peter

To date, technology has let us down in terms of bringing the teams closer together. So a lot of the things that you see teams doing to work more effectively together are analog approaches, like more consistent meetings, weekly planning and goal-setting emails, and things like that.

What we’ll see in 2021 is better technology that brings the teams together. For example, a technology that we’re building at Demandbase will allow our customers to work off of a single source of data. So, across the two teams, everyone is focused on the right intent signals together—orchestrating and coordinating activities together. In that way, our customers will have more power to push their accounts across the buyer’s journey to their closed/won conclusion.

Jay

Teams definitely have to be more data-driven. Coming to the table with a position held together with the words “I feel this way” just can’t cut it. You need the technology and the data to be able to make tactical and strategic decisions about your revenue programming.

Numbers don’t lie. I think it’s going to be even more important in 2021 to equip both Sales and Marketing orgs with technology that powers smart data.

It’s well accepted: Sales and Marketing need to come together at the round table. The question is how well can we effectuate successful collaboration. It can be easy or it can be hard. But when a company’s growth strategy is grounded on an account-based approach, then the alignment is, well, much easier. Sales and Marketing unification is woven in the fabric of ABM, from the principles that support it to the technologies that demonstrate its value.

How well is your company unified for revenue success in 2021? Check out our Sales and Marketing Unification toolkit. Plan now to reap the rewards later.

Vice President, Sales Development, Demandbase

I have been leading high-performing outbound Sales Development teams in the SaaS/martech space for over 10 years. My primary responsibilities are training, coaching, and mentoring Sales Development reps to become high performers that get promoted throughout the revenue organization, and developing a quality pipeline for Sales and operationalizing account-based selling. I believe that one of the most important functions of Sales Development is to be the bridge between Sales and Marketing, to help achieve both pipeline and revenue goals. Prior to joining Demandbase, I was a Demandbase Platform customer twice over, and I am a firm believer that going account-based is what drives success for both Marketing and Sales teams.

Chief Marketing Officer, Demandbase

I have over 25 years of Marketing experience in job responsibilities ranging from Branding and Advertising to Corporate Communications and Product Marketing. And I have deep experience in both B2C and B2B Marketing and managing large teams across international markets. At Demandbase, I'm responsible for overall Marketing strategy and execution, including Product, Corporate, and Field Marketing. Prior to joining Demandbase, I was CMO at Castlight Health and held leadership positions at Microstrategy and Adobe. I got my start in Advertising, working at agencies in New York on accounts ranging from Procter & Gamble to Compaq computers.