Stay Close to Sales
Marketing is about selling more. If you’re not connected to the people who do that every day, you’re not doing your job.
In my career I’ve been an Account Executive, a Consultant, a General Manager, a President, and a CEO. When I started at Actifio I’d never really been a client-side marketing guy, let alone a CMO. As I was settling into the job, I made a point to try and meet with some of the more prominent CMO’s in town, just to pick their brains and get the benefit of their experience.
The most impactful of these conversations began with my buddy Jim Crowley. I was whining to him after I’d taken the gig, over an Emma’s Pizza in Cambridge. “I was always a marketing-driven CEO, but I’ve never really done the CMO job,” I confessed, “especially at a company that wants to go public, on the back of a product I don’t really even understand.”
“You’ll be great, “ Jim responded, “and I know the guy you should talk to to get started.”
It’s worth saying that this simple gesture is an essential part of any startup ecosystem. The ability to quickly and easily network your way over someone who’s dealt with whatever you’re about to deal with is invaluable to an entrepreneur, and the broad availability of this resource is among Boston’s great assets. It’s come about as a result of the bigger social events we’ve been having lately, arguably starting with the DARTBoston TechStars After Party back in the day, then the TechProms, 1000 Pirates, Ruby Riot etc. Big events like that build bridges across the small tribes we congregate in naturally, and increase the probability of happy accidents down the road.
A few e-mail exchanges later I found myself pulling into the finely manicured campus of PTC in Needham. Strolling into the stylish but efficient main lobby I was greeted by a fast-walking attendant, who parked me in a conference room with a warm smile and a cold soda.
Rob Gremley arrive on time, a courtesy I’d earned only through my association with Crowley. After the usual niceties he asked, “So why don’t you tell me a little about yourself, and what I can do to help.”
I’ve noticed that people who “get it” do this a lot. They ask semi-strangers how they can help, earnestly, because they know we all walk around with a balance sheet of professional courtesies that follows us throughout a career. I gave him the short version. Then I asked, “If you could give me one piece of advice going into this thing, what would it be?”
He paused, then began, “That’s easy. It’s the same advice someone was kind enough to give me when I started here…” What followed had nothing to do with branding or positioning, PowerPoint or Twitter, people or politics.
“Stay close to sales,” he said. Simple, but profound.
“Do you mean measure everything, make sure I can hold the team accountable for results delivered to the sales folks?” I asked, perhaps trying to complicate things and wash the taste of Duh out of my mouth.
“Not really,” he continued.
“Let me make a prediction for you. You’re going to do that, because it’s who you are. At some point you’re going to find yourself in an executive team meeting, making your case for the great job you and your team have done, with great slides and lots of graphs moving up and to the right. When you’re done, you know what’s going to happen?”
“Applause?” I said, hopefully.
“No,” he said. “What will happen then is that your CEO will turn to the guy running sales, Jim or whatever, and say ‘Is that right Jim?’ After that Jim is going to say one of two things. If Jim says, ‘I guess so, he’s the marketing guy,’ then you or your budget are going to get cut in the next 6 months. But if Jim says ‘Yes, absolutely, I can’t make my number this quarter or next without the work these guys are doing,’ then you’ll know you’re doing a good job.”
Sales and marketing are like a scalpel and a machete. Both cut, but neither is good at what the other does best.
Their relationship works both ways, when it’s working right. The business case for marketing — especially in sales-driven enterprise technology cultures — boils down to one of sales productivity. If your marketing efforts aren’t enhancing the marginal productivity of the sales folks in the field who constitute a huge share of a company’s total expense line, then why bother? Conversely, if you’re designing marketing communications programs without the benefit of the ground truth sales is connected to every day, you’re ignoring the single most important data point in understanding what moves your target customers to action.
The CMO role is one of synthesis, more than invention. Staying close to sales helps me spot patterns in the dots of our successes and our failures. Those patterns form the basis of our marketing messages, and help us evolve with the market, instead of in the direction of our own wishful thinking.
Stay close to sales, folks. It’s great advice, and all too often ignored by executives focused on “marketing” for it’s own sake.
In my next post I’ll explain how to get started, click “Follow” if you’d like to hear more…