Sunday, February 25, 2024

Unifying to Win: How to Evolve the Handoff Between Marketing and Sales

If you’ve ever been to a conference, then you know what it’s like to be bombarded by vendors the second you leave. “Hey, I see you showed interest,” the sales development representative (SDR) says. Or emails. All because you attended a webinar, which, according to the vendor’s scoring system, makes you a lead. But more likely than not, you’re not who sales want to be talking to. It’s a wasted call (one of many), and yet another byproduct of an antiquated system: marketing and sales on different aspects of the funnel, going through the traditional marketing to sales handoff.

Too often, those handoffs are more about helping each team claim attribution separately, rather than doing what a handoff is supposed to do: create a good pipeline that turns into business, which is bad news for contact and conversion rates (and kind of awkward for waylaid prospects).

How then do we create an environment in which sales and marketing continually optimize toward business goals, instead of KPIs? 

I can think of three good places to start:

1. Create a Unified Vision of What It Means to Win

We see it all the time in the traditional marketing to sales handoff: marketing chases one audience, while sales chase another. Here you’ll find that hallmark conundrum so many teams struggle with: sales doesn’t act on most marketing-supplied leads, and marketing struggles to tie its demand gen KPIs to actual revenue.

The first step is to unify the two teams around what it means to win. To sit down and say, here is the group of individuals that we want to turn into pipelines, opportunities and closed-won deals

It sounds simple, I agree. But it’s not easy, especially in organizations with entrenched silos and codified KPIs. But if the two sides can be clear about who they will and won’t sell to, alignment around the right next activity will happen more naturally.

Gong Did It Right

Gong is a terrific example. To activate their commercial team, they aligned around specific target personas and then produced a ton of awesome content to engage them. They shared first-party research and data points and kept it all ungated. 

Since the content was designed for specific personas and was easy to consume, engagement was high. From there, I assume outbound sales knew that when they reached out to people at a certain level of engagement—subscribed to the blog, read articles, etc.—they were likely reaching out to the right people. 

I’d guess they were having much warmer conversations, too.

2. Change the Mindset

From where I sit, not very many teams are activated in supporting engagement within prospect buying groups with the traditional marketing to sales handoff. Why? Obviously, it’s harder to measure. It requires a change in thinking, too. Less of a focus on leads from, say, form fills on gated content. More focus on levels of intent and engagement. 

After all, you might wait a long time for a target contact to reach a certain engagement score. Why not flip it and see what the prospecting conversion rates are for individuals who have, for example, clicked on an ad? What about individuals that have seen a dozen? And those that have done nothing?

Focus On Intent and Engagement

Those rates can inform both teams on what good pipeline actually looks like (even if it might not jive with the traditional scoring system most teams are used to). I know from personal experience that a sales team would much rather see this kind of breakdown of engagement and intent, rather than being handed a lead and a script. 

When intent and engagement is the name of the game, diversification becomes a far more workable strategy. We know that the more media types you target a prospect with, the higher the contact rate. If marketing is targeting that prospect while an SDR is too, that increases the different touch points throughout, which can significantly increase conversions.

3. Lift the Silo Wall

It all comes down to creating visibility into the other teams’ activities. When things are clicking, sales usually have a line of sight into the campaigns, ads, etc. that marketing is running—including persona and engagement data. On the flip side, marketing can see how sales is interacting with prospects, the shape of those conversations and the status of related deals.

Work Together to Activate Revenue Channels 

Typically, that closer collaboration lends itself to working together to activate revenue channels. For example, can marketing start layering touchpoints on top of what SDRs are doing? Are there areas where a marketing initiative could ease friction in the revenue funnel? 

For example, shoring up poor conversion rates on a specific channel, or driving expansions within an existing customer group. Identifying and acting on these and other incremental gains is only possible if everyone’s aligned and working together on execution methodology throughout.

Handoffs Shouldn’t be Goodbye

Clearly, the marketing to sales handoff itself isn’t going away. Some handoffs are easy, straightforward and necessary (like when a prospect requests a demo). Problems arise with handoffs that happen without the customer in mind, or that are earmarked solely for attribution.

Does the level of engagement reflect actual readiness to discuss something? Or is it really a reflection of some KPI that marketing or sales must hit by the end of the quarter? 

It’s time for teams to come together behind unified revenue goals that yield flexibility—and that accurately reflect how buyers really buy and move through the lifecycle. 

It’s time to swallow our pride, too. 

At the end of the day, what we’re trying to do is get enough good pipeline. Period. It doesn’t matter if that comes through a form fill, outbound or a referral. Nowadays, the way you do that is by creating more engagement with the personas that matter within your target audience. 

Otherwise, you’ll try to be everything to everyone, which means you’ll soon be nothing to no one. 

Joe Mcneill

by Joe McNeill, Chief Revenue Officer at Influ2


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