“Alignment. We’ve all been talking about it for a long-time, but now you have to do it. Everyone had to put down their swords, get in a room and figure it out together.”
Craig Rosenberg, Distinguished VP at Gartner, was talking to us last year about the new reality for B2B marketing and sales in a world where the customer journey is digital, from the top of the funnel through conversion to post-sales service. It’s also a journey controlled by the customer, based on his or her own research and needs; no longer a linear journey, and arguably no longer well represented by the concept of a funnel.
This led us to ask what this all means in practice for marketing and sales and the interaction between them. Sales technology vendors, of course, are tracking these trends closely. We wanted to find out who owns the customer journey, who owns the technology which supports it, and how marketing and sales teams are responding to the new reality.
We spoke with Dennis Fois, CEO at Copper, the CRM software solutions company, and Mark Kosoglow, VP of Sales at Outreach, , the sales engagement and automation platform which also has its ear close to the ground through its ownership of Sales Hacker, the B2B sales community. Their emphases were different, but they both discussed the foundations for authentic alignment.
Your go-to-market is no longer stable
“We’ve been talking about alignment for, I feel like, decades,” said Fois. “What we are seeing still with our clients and partners is that there is still a divide in the funnel. We’re still treating the funnel as if it were a linear thing where there’s some sort of hand-off somewhere in the middle.” On this familiar model, marketing is responsible from the top to the middle of the funnel, then hands the journey over to sales. There’s only one problem. “It’s not how people are buying, and we’ve known that for a long time. People are well informed, the time they engage sales gets later and later, and they like to try a product before they buy it.”
Fois argues for radically rethinking the funnel. “We should be cutting the funnel vertically, not horizontally. Instead of saying there’s a hand-off in the middle of the funnel, sales and marketing are responsible for the whole journey.” It’s important to recognize, he said, that, whatever they may intend, most most go-to-market organizations do not have a repeatable sales and marketing process. Especially over the last 12 to 14 months, businesses have had to pivot constantly in response to external circumstances — changing how they market and sell, who they market and sell to, how their teams are deployed, and sometimes even what they are marketing and selling.
“Because of all these iterations and changes – the definition of what an MQL is, the definition of what a prospect is, how they should be counted – organizations are making constant changes to the way we acquire customers. We’re treating it as if it’s stable, and I think that’s the fundamental problem of why the misalignment exists,” said Fois.
Does marketing own the whole customer journey?
Research published earlier this year by Copper and data connector platform Outfunnel carried the usual depressing message about the state of marketing/sales alignment. In a survey of over 300 marketing and sales professionals, almost half found alignment lacking; nearly half of marketers thought sales didn’t understand what’s important to marketing (sales was more optimistic that marketing understood sales); and more than one third of respondents were unsatisfied with the technologies designed to support alignment.
All this against a key background statistic: revenue growth is 73% more likely to be found in businesses which report good alignment.
The view of Fois is that this situation just has to change, and he predicts marketing taking the reins. “By and large, what’s going to happen is that the role of marketing is going to be much greater across the funnel as we evolve into more and more online buying information being available,” he said. “It’s an extremely important thing that the information gets to a front-line sales operative much faster than it does today.”
Or is it truly owned by operations?
Kosoglow had a slightly different perspective on who would own this fast-evolving digital journey. “I don’t think it’s marketing, I think it’s operations,” he said. Probably right now yes, more marketing people are making the decisions, but I think it’s waning and operations is accelerating. There’s only one group in the entire company that understands the entire landscape and what needs to plug into what.”
Initially, that might seem to just change the focus from marketing versus sales to marketing operations versus sales operations. Kosoglow admits that separate ops teams are frequently found. But: “The progressive companies I see are consolidating, and I think that the siloed sales and marketing approach is going to hurt companies. I think it is hurting companies. In the more progressive companies, marketing and sales are a lot tighter because there’s this ‘Switzerland’ between them that has all the tools and is making sure everything is coming together — versus the marketing ops person who says, I don’t have time to integrate with the sales stack because I have to deliver these marketing reports.”
That ‘Switzerland,’ that neutral space where a single operations team is responsible for the whole funnel, is increasingly known as revenue operations, or RevOps. “Outreach has a RevOps group,” said Kosoglow. “I can spend more time thinking about the creative, artistic part of sales and less about the scientific, operational part. I think marketing leaders would say the same thing.”
He doubled down on the separation between his executive sales role, and the supporting role of his RevOps team. “Honestly, vendors reach out to me and my reaction is, I don’t care what tools we use, I don’t want to evaluate tools, just go to my ops people. Back in the day, bringing on a technology that increased productivity is something that would get you promoted. Bringing it on now is a pain the butt: it increases complexity, we have to prove ROI, we have to replace another partner, we have to think about all the people who are going to use it. I want ops to deal with that kind of stuff.”
No function is more important than operations
For Kosoglow, the importance of operations can hardly be over-stated. “I think operations doesn’t understand the power it wields yet. If you take sales out, there’s still a model in which you can make money and grow as a company, through self-serve and that kind of stuff. If you take marketing out, there’s still a way to generate demand. Without operations, nothing happens — the whole thing breaks down. Operations is the most important function in a company, if you ask me.”
As for IT: “IT’s role is like the TSA at the airport. They make sure there are no guns or explosives coming on board, and everyone gets on the plane in an orderly fashion. Operations is the airline ; they’re figuring out the flight schedules, the layovers, all that kind of stuff.”
Although Fois underlines the increased responsibility of marketing throughout the vertically divided funnel, he also sees a role for RevOps once a business has reached a certainly level of maturity. “As you see the role of marketing growing in a company, you have the question about whether you drive marketing operations and sales operations as separate groups, or whether you create a revenue operations group,” said Fois. The revenue operations group then becomes responsible for the funnel.”
Is RevOps a widespread trend? “What we’ve seen is a trend in talking about it, he said.”
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