On April 28th, Akmazo Capital will host its latest CEO Roundtable, focused on how to optimize your marketing and sales pipeline, and build a predictable demand generation engine. This event is the latest in a series of conversations we’ve hosted with key leaders in the SaaS sphere.
This month, we’re excited to sit down with Mike Lewis—the Senior Vice President of Marketing at JRNI, as well as an author, speaker, and professor at Clark University—and Joel Rosen—a veteran marketing executive and board member with extensive experience in B2B enterprise software applications.
Before Mike and Joel sit down with the Akmazo team, we wanted to give you a taste of the many topics they’ll be covering, the insights they’ll be sharing, and why you should tune in to this roundtable.
We’re all really excited for your participation in this roundtable. Before we address your presentation, is there an area of marketing about which you’re each especially passionate?
Mike Lewis: I’ve been in the SaaS Space for over 20 years and have always been either on the marketing or sales side. I’m really passionate about leading marketing teams. I’ve been at both publicly-traded companies, and companies that were going IPO or that were acquired by larger competitors. I think the big thing that I’m most proud of at all those companies is putting together high performing teams, number one. And two, building a marketing engine that produces results, both in terms of pipeline and closing on business.
Joel Rosen: I’m especially passionate about positioning: how to position a company’s products to really show what we, particularly, bring to the party. And I’m also very passionate about value-based sales marketing, really expressing the value of what we’re doing, making sure we’re communicating that.
JR: Our overall theme is building a predictable demand generation engine. The two foundational aspects of a really predictable demand generation engine are having the right level of coverage versus the sales quotas at the beginning of each quarter, and then generating enough pipeline each quarter so that you have the coverage for the future quarters. So, we’re going to talk about the underlying steps for doing that.
This is really important because, ultimately, pipeline is the life blood of a sales engine: if you’ve got enough pipeline and you can do the right things in sales. And if you don’t, you have to do a lot of unnatural acts, and it also becomes hard to get your numbers.
I’m sure most businesses would agree on pipeline being the lifeblood of their sales engine. But, what are the common blindspots you’ve seen when it comes to demand generation, even among businesses who recognize the importance of the pipeline?
JR: I think one thing is that the pipeline is math, right? So you really have to fundamentally establish the right targets based upon your underlying goals, your conversion rates, and those sorts of things. A lot of organizations forget you need to constantly be making sure you have the right math in place for the right metrics, what your goals are and how you’re performing versus those goals.
The second thing that companies often struggle with is sales and marketing alignment. It’s a very classic picture where marketing turns to sales and says, “You’re not following up on any of our leads.” And sales turns to marketing and says, “These leads suck.”
ML: I think the other thing is that marketing’s often focused on the wrong things. They’re focused on activity metrics or the fluffy marketing stuff: how many campaigns we did, how many leads they generated, etc. It’s not really focused on the results. How many of those leads are converting to pipeline? How many of those pipeline opportunities that you generated are actually converting to close on business? What’s working, what’s not? Especially at early stages, companies tend to really struggle with that.
There are a lot of opportunities where marketing will run a campaign just at the wrong time at the end of a quarter, right? And sales can’t follow up with them directly; sales can’t do the right thing or they’re just coming in at the wrong time. They could be great leads, but leads grow stale really quick.
JR: There’s a Harvard Business Review Study that says that you’re seven times more likely to be able to reach a decision maker, if you follow up within an hour of that person having had interaction with you.
Homing in on the problem of activity metrics, do you think there’s a reason why marketers obsess over those, despite them not being all that valuable?
ML: This is my perspective. I actually started my career as a salesperson. So, I was used to having a quota. I was used to having numbers that I had to hit. I think, in general, marketers haven’t been trained to have those types of numbers. So, when they come in, management will tell the marketers to focus on “how many leads are we going to generate? How many campaigns are we going to get out?” And so that’s where they hang their hat on. Or even worse,they might be told to focus on, “how many social media followers do we have? How many website views do we have?”
Those are all important top of the funnel metrics, but it’s really important to see how they’re flowing through the rest of the cycle. And I think that’s an area where a lot of companies start to struggle. Are you focused on the right things?
JR: I’d just add that I think that people want to find ways of prematurely declaring victory. So, if your day to day job is to run marketing campaigns, then when you see there are leads coming from them there’s a tendency to declare victory. “Hey, I ran these campaigns, and look, I got a whole bunch of leads.”And leads are fantastic but they don’t pay anybody’s payroll. The only thing that pays people’s payroll is when leads translate out into sales.
Once a business has identified that they have alignment issues between marketing and sales, like those you’ve described, what are the best strategies for addressing them? What are the best ways to ensure you align for the best possible demand generation strategy?
ML: The first one for me is that it’s really important to sit down and define what is a quality lead. What does that mean? Having those definitions in place and really understanding what that is upfront is essential to marketing and sales alignment. As the company evolves and the market demands change, you may define what a lead is differently as you move forward. But having that in place, up front, is key.
JR: I’d say a second one is routinely meeting together. It’s amazing how, in many companies, the marketing team and the sales team don’t actually meet very often. And maybe individual marketing managers meet with their regional sales managers, but you really need the marketing leadership and the sales leadership. And I don’t just mean the top leaders, I mean every layer They need to meet, in my opinion, weekly.
I’ll add a third, to make it an even three.You need one common set of truths. Oftentimes, marketing’s looking at one set of numbers,and sales is looking at another set of numbers. One team is saying, “Oh, this is terrible,” and the other team is saying, “This is great.” It may sound really simple, but a lot of companies do not have one common set of truths for what’s actually happening.
Not to give too much of your presentation for the roundtable away, but do you have any anecdotes or case studies you could share with our readers, just to see these ideas in action?
ML: A big part of the presentation that we’re going to be giving is a narrative on a company and our experience, but I’ll save that story for the roundtable. I can give you another personal narrative for a company I worked at.
When I walked in the door, we weren’t doing much for social or digital. So, I immediately got the marketing team, and said “No, we need to do everything social, digital. Outbound is not the way of the future, let’s focus on this.” And, pretty quickly, I realized our audience was all CSOs and government employees. None of them had LinkedIn profiles. Most of them weren’t on Facebook. They didn’t like to tweet. They didn’t want to give information out there.
Until we got into the corporate side, those channels just didn’t work for us. Yelling after the government audience, the digital channels weren’t as effective as getting someone’s email or calling them directly. So it’s also about, who’s your audience? What are they looking for and how do they get it? And that’s something that you got to look at right upfront.
Do you have anything to add, Joel?
JR: You’ve got to really keep the customer at the center of what you’re doing because they’re who really matters. I’ve definitely seen examples where the more you can personalize, the more effective your demand generation will be.
I was at a company where we’d send out emails specific to each customer. For example, we would say, “Do you know what your website looks like on a mobile phone? Here is what it actually looks like!” And we built a tool where we could send you something that gave you a score and said, “This is what your website looks like on a mobile phone. You scored a 50/100.”
The more your marketing and sales strategy can speak to the individual pains of a company, the more people will respond, and the more valuable the leads you get from that will be.
Mike and Joel’s combined expertise in sales and marketing make them ideal speakers on the challenges of creating a strong demand generation strategy, and the opportunities that lie ahead when you do. This conversation is just a sliver of what they’re excited to share at our upcoming roundtable, and all of us at Akmazo are excited to hear the rest.
We hope to see you there!
This interview was edited and condensed for length and clarity.