How to Train Your Sales VP
A survival guide for marketing execs – Part 1 of 3
Everyone is in Sales!
Of all the teams in a typical high-tech company, Sales seems to be the only one with its own slogan.
(Have you ever heard the VP Development exclaim that “everyone is in programming!”? Or the CFO start his monthly cash review with a cry of “everyone’s in A/R!”? Of course not.)
Revenue is the fuel every B2B product and services company runs on. We exist to make and sell stuff, hopefully at a profit. If you’re like me and ever had to make sales quotas, you know the job can be very demanding. Facing strong competition and busy customers with little time to hear a pitch, the sales team needs the best support from every other department to get the best results for the company.
This is one reason why, in the life cycle of high-tech companies, they tend to become sales-driven with 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 long-term, sustainable revenue growth and shareholder value.
CEOs have long recognized that marketing is one of those essential functions. In many companies, this has resulted in the elevation of marketing to a role on the executive leadership team. That creates a competitive dynamic with the sales leader, who now must share power and influence over such things as the budget, product priorities, messaging, and interaction with customers.
Marketers, when you reach this level, recognize that now you are running with the big dogs. To maximize your value to the company, you must be ready and able to compete effectively in this environment.
Here are several tips about working with a strong sales leader, to help you survive and thrive and to become an effective partner to Sales.
1. Avoid the “tactical” trap.
Sales leaders are transactional by nature, driven by the pressure of numerical goals with deadlines. What is the main thing they want from marketing? To produce great leads that create new customers as quickly as possible.
Marketing people tend to be service-oriented, detail-oriented and accustomed to giving sales what they want. As tempting as it may be for you to try and impress the VP Sales with your own lead generation skills, one of the first things you must remember is that you were not put on the executive team to be tactical and micro-manage the marketing operations.
Your role is now strategic. Focus instead on putting the best tactical people in charge of your lead machine. Give them the best tools and the optimal budget to execute. Then be a supportive coach and their head cheerleader.
2. Help them see beyond the deal du jour.
Sales leaders must keep their team focused on the process of qualifying and closing deals. This is a relentless process of moving deals through stages in the pipeline. Such focus necessarily leads to tunnel (or shall we say, pipeline) vision, and the sales leader can be unsupportive of any marketing activity they feel is not equally focused.
Marketing leaders must have the ability to see beyond the deals. Think like the great ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, who said he never skated to where the puck was, but to where it was going next. Become a visioneer who can show the sales leader where their puck is going and why the company needs to fund marketing initiatives that look out far beyond the deal pipeline.
3. Leads suck (and other typical excuses).
The VP Sales was under tremendous pressure from the CEO because we had fallen short of the sales goal for two consecutive quarters. At the next business review, to my complete surprise he tried to pin the problem on Marketing. He literally said to the CEO in front of the team, “Leads suck! We need better leads, or we can’t make our numbers.”
That was the first time I was thrown under the bus by a sales exec. In response I showed the exec team how the quality and quantity of leads were better than the previous year by any metric. Thwarted, the VP Sales moved on to his next excuse, “the product sucks!” The CEO wasn’t buying that one. After a long discussion, we discovered the real problem: we had hired several new salespeople and they were taking longer than expected to become productive.
In other words, sales sucked. The point here is that no one sucked and playing the blame game is like a bridge to nowhere.
As a marketing leader, be aware that your sales leader will sometimes default to the standard, time-worn excuses without bothering to collaborate with you. Never become personally defensive when challenged like this. Respond calmly using data to make your case and always offer to help find the solution.
In the next installments: