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How to Fix It When B2B Marketing & Sales Declare War

Posted June 9, 2024
Jenn Steele, CEO & Co-Founder of SoundGTM, shares why marketing often takes the fall, the signs your teams are at war, and how to fix it – or tell whether fixing it is even possible.

Jenn Steele, CEO & Co-Founder of SoundGTM, joins our host, Camela Thompson, Go-To-Market Thought Leader and B2B Insights Expert, in this episode of the Revenue Marketing Report. Jenn shares why marketing often takes the fall, the signs your teams are at war, and how to fix it – or tell whether fixing it is even possible.

Today, I’m joined by Jenn Steele. Jenn, day three, welcome back! We’re going to talk about our favorite trauma bonding topic, which is marketing and sales are at war. Now what?

“Yesterday, I said run and hide, and sometimes, you might have to do just that.”

Yeah. True. I think it’s always helpful to share what does and doesn’t work. You mentioned departments, entire sales departments that think marketing is dumb. How do you think we got there?

“More than sometimes marketing is dumb. One thing that marketing leaders lament all the time is that marketers are dreadful at marketing themselves. I am misquoting a friend of mine when they said, well, it’s hard to talk about the ingredients when you are inside the bottle and that’s a rough one. In fact,  even doing my own company. I come from product marketing. I’m a messaging expert. A brand messaging expert. I’m really good at the words. It is the thing that I’m the best at. I couldn’t do it for my own company when I started it.

“I have come into eight different companies. Coming in and re-message the whole thing. No problem. It’s CMO, it’s Head of Product Marketing. It’s Head of Growth, there’s all these things. But, what may have been happening is that marketing doesn’t suck, but nobody knows what they have done or the board might know because maybe the former CMO has done a great job of reporting to the board, probably not, but maybe, There’s been no marketing of marketing. If you’re somebody like me, who has problems with that, that is when you can get help, build rapport with ideally, the Head of Sales, the Head of Product, anything like that, saying, I need your help. Marketing has been doing a crappy job of marketing itself. What do you think of this slide? Or hey, can you do me a favor and can we come into all of your team meetings this week to talk about this? Something like that.”

I like getting a preview with the leadership team. If they are going to call BS in the meeting, you can get in front of that and figure out why they feel that way.

“Yeah.”

I didn’t think we were going to go here, but I think you are going to like it. Setting up your marketing data infrastructure and like Jenn said on day one, tying that to opportunities, to revenue is the only way to back up what you’re presenting because if you don’t have the numbers to back it up, I think there are going to be a lot of departments who have a problem with that, would you disagree? Let us debate it.

“Sales data isn’t always ranked, but sales data needs to be the source of the truth. There are two different things here. Either the sales data isn’t right, in which case, you all need to work together to get the sales data right or right enough. There’s no such thing as fully right data, let us be honest, but right enough agreed upon. Amen. If, assuming sales data is right enough, then anything you report that cannot be verified in the sales data is going to be deemed to be BS. Period.  

“I don’t care if you are a new CMO or an old CMO, very rarely is it anything else since sales data ties to finance data and finance data ties into actual money in the bank. Marketing can’t win that. The question is if Marketo is reporting one thing and Salesforce another, how do you fix that? You turn off Marketo, but that’s just a personal bias. Sorry, I have my issues.

“Yet, fundamentally it does become like if there is a massive leap between something marketing says and something sales says, it is going to be marketing’s job to say, okay, something is wrong over here. How do I start with sales data and work backward? We might not like it, but it is a hard cash currency world.”

Yeah. Jenn is saying this coming from a marketing background. I think many people are upset by the fact that we’re measured against sales and have very little control over the sales itself, but that’s the reality.

“It’s the reality. Measuring pipeline is fine because whether or not you have BDR, wherever all of that lives, pipeline is something you’ve got more control over. Although I’ve said this before, fundamentally the go-to-market functions don’t have control. They’re not like product and engineering where you can fire everyone. You are working with sales, marketing, and customer success, all the go-to-market functions are completely beholden to people who you don’t pay or control. That can be frustrating for everyone, but I have now sidetracked us.”

No. That is great! Humans, I think we have got a theme.

“Humans.”

Oh, goodness! So, aligning on sales data necessitates understanding the CRM and how that data works and understanding that your CRM data structure is a lot cleaner than anything we get in marketing, unfortunately.

“Except that is still mostly crap.”

Agreed.

“Salesforce isn’t a relational database. HubSpot has its own issues since it is like this one pretty screen and getting under it, it’s a pain in the butt, don’t get me started.”

And offline events.

“Yes.”

But then Salesforce online events? No.

“Yeah. Then you look at Salesforce campaigns vs. HubSpot campaigns. HubSpot is dreadful at campaigns and Salesforce is only slightly dreadful at campaigns, slightly better.”

It’s a lot better if you don’t fall into the parent-child trap.

Oh, yeah. Parent-child is truly, anyhow, I’m going to go on this track because I consult and see this way too often. The view hierarchy is pretty, but that is not how your data is summarized at one level that’s all you got. Okay, I’m done with that one. Sorry, I see too many people falling into that.

“The problem is that the data hygiene is hard. The more complex your data structures are, the more incorrect your data will be.”

Yes.

“It is why I like tagging and not folders because tagging is basically flat, but you can have a bunch of tags if you need them. And yes, you should go through them and you should fix them eventually, but on my own product when we’re talking about search, etc, and so on and they’re say, hierarchy and I think, nope. Tagging.”

Yeah, sorry folks, we derailed a little bit, but data hierarchies are the devil. They are terrible, they’re bad. I think we both have battle scars.

“We do.”

I was in a meeting where the CMO and the VP of Sales were trolling each other on social media.

“That is stressful.”

Right, that is a situation you probably cannot fix, and depending on the attitude of everyone else around, one of those people going out of the door and it is probably marketing.

“Well, yeah. I have so many thoughts and they are all trying to come out of my mouth at the same time, which means that I’m essentially sputtering. Think about this, though. Marketing has history. We have the future. We have got ongoing things, even if our pipeline numbers aren’t great, we could maybe make a brand splash. We have got a bunch of stuff going on. Sales has one thing, they make their numbers or they get fired. So you’re a sales leader, your team isn’t making the numbers for some reason, perhaps because it’s 2023 or 2024, just a confiture and your oldest daughter just went to college and you just signed a mortgage on an obscene house since, of course, you’re a sales leader and you’re making literally double what the CMO is making and you can see you’re probably about to lose your job. 

“What happens? What do you do? What do you try to do? This is where as a marketing leader, I would sometimes have empathy for sales because what are you going to do? You can fire your own people and then you can throw marketing under the bus and you are in marketing and things are less provable and sales is directly provable. Unfortunately, because of the provability, the CRO tends to have more trust with sales and marketing is now at the door and that is horrible. Now, I’ve also worked in environments where sales has been very nice to my face and I find out later they were complaining to the CEO about everything and especially me, toxicity. Again, that is back to there’s nothing you can do about it. I have never seen a take all the way to go all the way to social media since that is just unprofessional.”

Hey I agree! It got ugly, but it’s interesting because sales, they make a career out of convincing people and if they’ve got the ear of the CEO, then there is a lot you can do and they probably, in a lot of the cases, they do.

“Again, it comes down to, okay, now I am a CEO and I have got before me some expensive people. One, I can directly tie to whether my business survives and the other, I can only indirectly tie to whether my business survives, who do I fire if I have to?”

Indirect. 

Yeah, it is awful. Unfortunately, it is also true.”

Yeah, but sales, their tenures are as short as ours now and CS is even shorter, so we are all in it.

“Average tenure across sales reps is down from 18 months to 13 months or something ridiculous like that. It’s exhausting.”

I have a lot of empathy for everybody on the go-to-market teams. It is just tough out there, right now. But, I think there are some things we can do as marketing leaders, maybe we can give a few examples. One thing that worked well for me was trying to train the team to be more empathetic and choose their words. If that didn’t work, I would make them sit on sales calls.

“Well, I think any marketing team that’s not sitting in on sales calls, I don’t care where you sit in the organization, if you aren’t listening to recorded sales calls.”

They were doing recordings before. But to be on there and hear someone shut down or watch someone not show up. It’s a little bit different.

“Yeah. That works better if you’re selling to marketers because it’s weird to have, here’s our content manager and you are selling cybersecurity. But yeah, the need to watch calls is so important. I didn’t know this, so I changed careers into sales and marketing when I started at HubSpot about fifteen years ago. I had never sat on a sales floor. I had run IT departments at law firms, which is why I care a lot about data.”

Which is why we get along so well.

“There you go, but I was shocked. So I got to HubSpot, I went into their amazing sales training program that even back fewer than one hundred employees they still had. Then, I sat on a sales floor and I thought, holy crap! This is sales. Granted, before I’d been on the buy side of enterprise sales so it was a little different overall. But every month, their goals reset. Every month. I admire sales people so much because of their tenacity because they have to be micromanaged and some of them thrive under it for their ability to get through their day and hear, no, constantly. 

It’s hard. I’ve done it, but thankfully not as the frontline person with an upline manager. I’ve done it as Head of Sales and it is a dreadful job. They quite frankly earn every penny of that very high salary that your marketing team is dreadfully envious of because the amount of stress they deal with on a day-to-day basis and the amount of rejection is bonkers, unfortunately. However, what I don’t like about this is why are the owners always on marketing. Well, it is because sales directly ties to the bottom line. I realize I already answered that question, but it’s so frustrating to sit with a marketing team who cares so much about the company and say, yes, you’ve got to do all of the emotional labor. I don’t have a solution for that.”

Me neither. I do feel we’re expected to bend over backward a lot and if we do that too much, we don’t get to our core job and then we are in trouble again. It’s a cycle that you have to be careful to balance well.

“If we push back too much, then marketing sucks, or they’re uncooperative. Perhaps there’s something wrong about the way we are treating marketing, but I don’t know what it is. If I knew what it was, that is the company I would be founding to fix it. However, instead, I’m going to try to help with pipeline.”

I look at B2C and marketing has a lot of control and responsibility there and that sounds really stressful, but I think we’re headed in that direction.

“When I was in my one year of B2C marketing, granted, it was not representative. It was at Amazon and I was in what was at the time, the centralized marketing team. It was called the traffic team and I was  responsible for driving sales.”

You own the p and l. You figure out everything. You have a ton of responsibility. I feel like since the sales cycles are shorter, it’s easier to tie things together. I am from a data perspective.

“Oh, absolutely!”

Nevertheless, I feel like in B2B, we need to get more disciplined around, can we figure out a gold standard that everyone uses, instead of everybody reporting on different stuff, maybe it’s possible.

“I’ll go with something we can agree with inside of a single company. Let’s go with that. Let’s agree inside because I don’t know about these goals. I’ve worked in an attribution platform, having noticed you have as well. It’s hard.”

Even with all the data in the world, it still usually falls down to what the leadership team feels and not what the data proves. We want to fix that.

“We still have founders out there who went to sourced, marketing source vs. sales source, which to me is one of the most BS metrics I’ve ever encountered in my life. So I thought if multiple people still believe that, oh, my gosh, we’re so far from a universal solution.”

Yeah. it’s the pits. What can you do? I guess you can do a few things. It does feel like we are bending over backwards. There are sales leaders I’ve spoken to that say, hey, why isn’t sales also responsible for this? Those people I like a lot.”

“I had a sales leader who I liked working with, who just said, outbound drives inbound and I thought, inbound drives outbound. As long as we understand that, it was like a circle, we could work together.”

I think that’s the thing. Behavior is changing. More of it is online. Marketers are going to have to be very talented and savvy with numbers. I think we’re headed there. I am not really an optimist.

“Well, it’s okay if you’re not the whole package. Yes, You need to be savvy with numbers, but you also need to know your ICP absolutely cold and be able to talk their language, pretending I can speak the English language. But it doesn’t have to be all you. If you’re the CMO, you have to know how to hire those and then how to catch them if they’re BSing. Otherwise, you don’t have to do it all. It is the same reason I’m watching people panic about AI. You don’t have to be an expert in AI. You just need to know how to use it or at least, how to hire somebody who knows how to use it and how to gut-check it, which if you’ve been in marketing long enough, you know when things smell fishy.”

Oh yeah. I can tell you which websites were written in ChatGPT and I can’t tell the ones that were written in it and then edited.

“Right!”

All you need to do.

“Well and even if you aren’t a data whiz, you can probably look at something and think that smells fishy, I don’t think the campaign produced that kind of result.”

Yes, pattern spotting.

“Yes, patterns. You don’t have to know how you got there. You just have to be able to see it as a leader and know how to push back.”

Wonderful!, well, Jenn, thank you so much. I really appreciate it!

For more content on B2B marketing trends, listen to the full Revenue Marketing Report episode at the top of the article or anywhere you podcast.

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