Every company is looking to increase growth and Marketing plays an essential role as a driver of that growth. Marketing is also a critical linkage point between Product and Sales in your go-to-market engine. What can your marketing team do to drive higher company growth?
In this post, I’ll tell you how to get the most bang for your marketing buck, and how to set yourself up for the success that can drive a company to 100%+ growth. I’ll also cover the most common pitfalls that companies can fall into that will shutdown your demand generation engine.
In the first post of this three part series, Go Big or Go Home! How to Build an Awesome Go-To-Market Plan for Fast Growth, I described a go-to-market framework that drove the growth of numerous high-growth tech companies where I was a CEO, CMO or Senior Executive. And I described in more detail the three foundational components of that framework needed to create a high growth trajectory: Product-Market Fit, Differentiated Product Strategy, and Message Platform and Value Proposition.
In this post, the second of the three part series, I’ll describe the key role that Marketing plays in a go-to-market strategy. Marketing leverages the good work done in product, target market, and messaging to generate awareness and demand, create leads, develop those leads into sales opportunities, and deliver them to sales as pipeline. Sounds easy right? It can be! But it’s also a high stakes game, because this is where big bets are placed and big budget is spent on marketing programs and campaigns that ideally work to fuel the demand and create the pipeline needed for high growth. But if they don’t work, they waste time and money and generate nothing but frustration for everyone involved.
You can easily avoid this outcome and crush your pipeline goals by understanding the next three components of the high growth GTM framework: how to optimize your Marketing Mix, nurture leads through Funnel Progression and create tight Sales and Marketing Integration.
Now that you have defined your target market, figured out your product strategy, and come up with compelling messaging, it’s time to promote it through programs and out-reach to your target prospects to see who is interested and engage them into a buying process. This marketing mix can take any one of a hundred different forms, but the key is putting together a well-conceived plan, and measuring everything to understand what works: what works to generate leads, what works to educate those leads, what works to move those leads through the funnel and into a later stage buying process. Every marketing mix will be different and although you can try to intellectualize what will and won’t work, you never really know until you try some things. And be prepared to experiment a little because you never know what might wind up working really well.
Start by meeting the needs of the prospects that are already looking for you or what you do. This is the lowest of the low-hanging fruit. Build a really good website that gives your prospects lots of knowledge and tools for all stages of the buyer’s journey. Think through the journey the buyer has to take, the hurdles they must cross and concerns they must alleviate, and map out content and resources for every critical stage. Have a good SEO strategy so prospects can find your website. Websites and SEO work 24x7. They are always on and are probably the best use of time and money at your disposal. Once you have that, move to more expensive means of generating and developing leads. Too many companies start with the expensive stuff first, such as launching massive digital campaigns or going to expensive trade shows and events, when their website does not clearly state their value proposition or have resources to move prospects thru the funnel. This hurts overall marketing program performance. Invest in things that last: websites, content, success stories and customer videos can be leveraged for months and even years.
Communications, media and analyst relations are huge sources of leverage and lift all campaigns. It’s hard to generate leads when no one knows who you are or what you do. I feel most companies over-spend on demand generation and under-spend on communications. Invest in communications even though leads are tough to attribute to it, they do help campaign performance overall.
While we do live in a digital world, invest in relationships, built through face-to-face interaction with prospects, customers, analysts, media and partners. They can be great references and advocates for your company. People are still a large component of any sale and people buy from people that they like and can relate to.
Another key consideration in your marketing mix is whether you go big and broad or small and targeted. This depends on the ACV (Annual Contract Value) you can get from accounts and how many target prospects there are for your product. If you are selling phone systems to the SMB like we did at RingCentral, a broad-based approach makes sense since every business needs a phone system and there are millions of them to reach. If you are selling talent management solutions for large enterprises, there are likely hundreds of accounts you should target and more focused targeted account or Account Based Marketing approach is probably a better fit. Which is not to say a broad digital or adverting strategy can’t compliment a targeted account approach. All components of the mix feed off of each other. But know which channels are your primary drivers and which are complimentary.
Bear in mind that what worked today may not work tomorrow. Be flexible. Marketing is about grabbing the low hanging fruit as efficiently as possible. And this will change as you capture that fruit and need to move to the higher-hanging fruit. And experiment on a few flyers because you never know what might bear the best fruit.
I always felt that over the course of a year, you could run a hundred different campaigns, but by the end of the year, only one or two would really be break-out campaigns that would catapult the company. The key is to figure out which one or two campaigns have that kind of leverage and nail them. Many times these are out-of-the box campaigns that are vastly different from the things the company has been doing in the past. Don’t be afraid to try some things way outside your comfort zone!
Now that you have the leads, you need to turn them into opportunities that can be handed off to sales. These leads need to be nurtured and developed. Nurturing and developing of leads into opportunities tends to be overlooked compared to lead generation and sales, but it is an incredibly critical component. Map out the buyer’s journey and understand the critical hurdles and issues each prospect will face when deciding to move ahead. Many will face the same issues and questions, whether it is uncertainty about the technology, their readiness to adopt it, the size of the vendor, questions about the expense or tangible benefits. And remember that buying your solution is just the beginning for the customer. They need to implement and use it to achieve their objectives, whatever they may be. So make sure your content has the end goal in mind and does not stop at describing your product. You’ll want to try different nurture campaigns and measure everything to see what works to both sort out buyers from tire-kickers and move qualified buyers deeper into the funnel.
When qualifying and developing leads into later stage opportunities, make sure Marketing, Sales and Sales Development all agree on what you are looking for; a clear definition of someone that can buy your solution and become a long-term profitable customer. Be as specific as possible in defining your ideal target in terms of titles, departments, responsibilities, budget authority, stage of development and more. It is surprising how much disagreement you can get over this definition of what you are looking for. You’ll know you have a problem when many of your Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) do not get accepted by Sales Development as Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs) or get accepted and then quickly closed out.
If you want to better target your lead generation and nurturing campaigns, look at the deals that closed in the last couple of quarters to find out what types of companies they are, what size, industries, regions, use case, appetite for risk, who is the buyer, length of the sales cycle, source of the initial lead, other execs involved in the buying process, etc. The market is not uniform and some types of customers will be more suited to your product than others. Segment the market to determine which customer segments make the most sense for you to spend precious resources on.
Sales and Marketing Integration
Now that you have identified some prospects, engaged them with content and nurture programs, and established that they have an interest in your solution and the potential to buy, it’s time to pass them off to Sales. Warning: a very large percentage of the leads you spent so much time and effort identifying, nurturing and developing are about to die because of poor integration between Sales and Marketing. The hand-off between Sales and Marketing is the most important connection in the whole funnel. It’s where the best-laid plans can go flying off the rails simply because each team is viewing opportunities from a different perspective. And that can be exacerbated by the fact that the two teams might not be on the same page in terms of what they are looking for. This would seem to be a very simple problem to address but remember that Sales and Marketing move at different speeds with different objectives in mind. Marketing has to set pipeline goals that take a long time to come to fruition. Programs take a long time to plan and launch, and ultimately start producing results. Leads take time to nurture into opportunities. The whole process might take a couple of months to launch a multi-channel campaign and then several months of nurturing to develop a lead to the point it is ready to hand off to Sales.
Sales’ preferences can move as quickly as a few non-productive phone calls to the target market. That didn’t work, so they move on to something new. Or it could be caused by some unexpected traction in a new market. So while you may have achieved global sales and marketing harmony at that kickoff meeting, the best laid plans can become uncoupled very quickly with little or no notice. The only way to keep things on track is to religiously monitor your funnel metrics to see which leads are being accepted and worked into later stage sales deals. Data doesn’t lie. When you see leads not being accepted by Sales Development, or being accepted and quickly closed out, you know you have a problem.
And while Marketing has to act as a team in planning and executing programs, Sales can be a collection of hundreds or thousands of individual sales reps, each looking for something little bit different in terms of their target based on their preferences or their territory characteristics. Even though they as a team or their managers have agreed on what an ideal opportunity looks like, individual reps may differ on what they think they have the best chance to close.
As a CMO, I once had a Sales Development leader tell me that they hadn’t been following-up on any marketing leads because they were all “crap.” The lead generation budget was about $10M a year, and we had a team of 50 people working to spend that money effectively and develop MQLs that we sent to Sales by the hundreds, so they could be ignored by Sales Development whose leader thought they knew a better way. These disconnects happen all too frequently.
At another company, a well-meaning Sales Director abruptly switched course away from the agreed upon target market because she didn’t think she could hit her quota with that target in her territory. She didn’t tell anyone but her Sales Development manager to change course and target a different prospect because she “didn’t want to over-turn the whole apple cart”. She already had, but she just didn’t realize it.
All it takes is one person to throw a wrench in a finely tuned machine. Make sure Sales and Marketing are tightly aligned on what they are looking for. And make sure it stays that way by religiously tracking pipeline metrics to identify any disconnects or bottlenecks.
As mentioned in Funnel Progression, make sure every one is on the same page on what you are looking for. Be as specific as possible in terms of type of company, vertical industry, titles, personas, geographies, use cases, domain expertise required, etc. Everyone needs to sign off on what the target looks like or the whole thing comes crashing down.
Set very clear production output goals that are directly tied to compensation for Marketing, Sales Development and Sales. I.e. Marketing needs to generate a certain number of Marketing Qualified leads (MQLs) that become Sales Accepted Leads (SALs) accepted by Sales Development. If they are not accepted, they are not SALs and not counted against the goal. Sales Development Reps need to generate a certain number of Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs) that get accepted by Sales and put on their forecast as opportunities. If Sales deems it not an opportunity, Sales Development does not get quota credit for it. And all opportunities, once accepted by Sales, go on the forecast so Sales Management can review and monitor their progress. These hand-offs and touch points between different groups are critical for the funnel to flow smoothly.
This is the most common place for the demand generation engine to break-down. And it can happen in spite of the best intentions on both sides. In addition to continually monitoring your funnel metrics, send the Marketing team on as many sales calls as you can so they can see how well the opportunities being created fit the target market and value proposition. Find out more about Sales and Marketing integration in my blog What I Have Learned About Sales and Marketing Alignment.
So that’s how your Marketing can drive rapid growth for your business. Find the right marketing mix, efficiently develop leads into opportunities, and build good integration with Sales to smooth the hand-off for further development. Simple!
My next post will cover the final three components of the high growth GTM framework. Find out how Sales should to develop opportunities, close deals and build solid customer relationships that can create sustainable rapid growth for your company.