How to Train Your Sales VP
A Survival Guide for Marketing Execs – Part 2 of 3
Many companies go through a growth phase when they become sales-driven, resulting in a very strong sales culture from the top down. If not carefully balanced, that culture can become so dominant that it hinders the development of other functions which are essential to creating sustainable revenue growth, profit and shareholder value.
CEOs and investors have long recognized that marketing is one of those essential functions. Stocks of companies where a CMO is part of the top management team have been shown to produce significantly higher long-term returns than portfolios lacking CMO emphasis.1
To marketers who have reached the C-suite, you should also be aware that CMOs have the shortest average tenure of all C-suite roles. Frustration with the role is cited as a key issue for CMO failure.2 As a marketing exec who worked for five CEOs over my career, a consistently frustrating aspect of the job was the effort to develop a co-equal partnership with the sales VP / CRO.
Part 1 of this series covered the importance of being strategic and avoiding tactical traps, helping Sales to look beyond the deal of the day, and how to respond when your sales leader says “the leads suck”. You can catch up by reading here.
Let’s move right into my next tips to help you survive – and thrive.
1. ROI is King – don’t be a pawn.
A Forbes survey of CMO effectiveness revealed that 7 out of 10 CEOs think their company wastes money on marketing initiatives. Strikingly, 34% of CMOs agreed!3 It’s no wonder a CMO can become frustrated, working in a role where one must dig out from the bottom of this deep hole.
Demonstrating the positive Return on Investment (ROI) of your marketing spend is the answer. But it’s been reported that over 50% of B2B marketers find it hard to prove ROI of at least 200%. In other words, they can’t show that a $1 million marketing budget generated at least $3 million in revenue. When the average marketing budget is only 10% of total revenue, you won’t last long in the job with an ROI like that.
You must then become a master of ROI measurement. Be aware of two possibilities that can undermine you. Firstly, if you have separate marketing and CRM systems, this can create an ROI credibility gap and lead to fruitless finger-pointing. Negotiate an annual Service Level Agreement (SLA) with your Sales exec that covers the entire lifecycle of a lead through deal close and retention, with specific definitions for terms and system integration. Get it in writing.
Second, you may have to fight for your ROI proof. Don’t assume your Sales leader will help you here. Some sales teams seem genetically wired to claim full credit for every new customer and for new sales to existing customers; even where Marketing can demonstrate the chain of custody. I call this the “Trump effect”, where a leader takes full credit for every accomplishment and fails to credit anyone else who contributed. This is divisive and totally unnecessary because, unlike Marketing, Sales is not measured on revenue origination ROI; only on the actual results.
2. There can be only one message.
The CMO is responsible for the company’s marketing messages. Every message and every pitch that is used externally should be in alignment with the master messaging strategy and template created by the Marketing team in collaboration with Sales. Consistency of messaging is essential to create measurable, repeatable and predictable results for marketing programs.
Every CMO welcomes a strong Sales leader who can add value to the process with creative opinions on how to pitch the products. The problem is that some Sales leaders will also do a bit of freelance work here. This can take the form of some modest tweaks to the approved slide deck which is often needed for situational relevancy. Be flexible on the small things.
But what if Sales makes substantial changes to the master message? At one company, a key strategic goal set by the CEO was to sell more of our software to our hardware customers. We asked every salesperson to include a software pitch in their presentations and sweetened this with a very generous commission booster for every software dollar they added to a sale. At the annual sales kickoff, Sales enthusiastically signed onto the plan.
A few months later, I was in the field and partners showed me wildly divergent presentations that our Sales team gave to them or their customers. The software pitch was completely missing or had been demoted to a minor bullet on a slide far into the presentation. Any outsider could be excused for thinking we had two different companies. Eventually our CEO spoke to several of our top hardware customers, who said they were unaware of our expanded software portfolio. He was not happy with Sales.
If you don’t immediately confront the Sales leader over behavior like this, Sales will continue to spin the message towards what makes them most comfortable. That message may not support the company’s goals.
3. There can be only one product roadmap.
Some CMOs have responsibility for product marketing. This includes ownership of the official product roadmap. You and your product marketing team must always be proactive and take the lead on this. Nature may abhor a vacuum, but Sales loves to jump in and fill one.
Of course, it is vital to include feedback from Sales in every new product release plan. Every salesperson should be aware of where their customers are headed and what opportunities can exist for your company. This is essential data for product marketing. Every release should include aspirational features that lead to new revenue streams.
But do not allow Sales to take control your next release. Sales suffers from “pipeline” vision, a commonly known ailment of near-sightedness that creates a desire for missing features from specific deals, which are typically features the competition has or is assumed to be better at. A sales team that thinks they should drive product direction will produce a mediocre product that never catches up, let alone surpasses, the competition.
Strong Sales leaders can take control of product direction if they sense a lack of confident leadership from you. They often won’t come to you directly and discuss it. Instead they will bring it up privately to the CEO and CTO and undermine your authority. Don’t create an opening: stay out in front by giving regular roadmap briefings to your Sales leader. She will appreciate it in the long run.
See you in next month’s final installment.
1 John Abernathy, Tom Kubick, and Adi Masli, “The economic relevance of chief marketing officers in firms’ top management teams,” Journal of Business & Economics Research 11, no. 12
2 Sarah Vizard, “CMOs have the shortest tenure in the C-suite,” Marketing Week, February 16, 2017
3 Forbes Insights, global survey of 296 senior executives, November 2014