Guest Blog

Align We Must, But With Data We Trust

The view of the beautiful Tampa Bay was so distracting that I could hardly focus on the slides that were being presented at the regional offsite back when I worked at one of the largest software companies in the world. But when the Marketing team stood up to present their contributions from the just-ended fiscal year, it was hard to not pay attention.

I, and the rest of the sales team, paid attention not because we were in awe, but because we were in shock. The Marketing team’s slides were decorated with three types of metrics – vanity, unverifiable and aggregate. Several sellers had missed their target and here was Marketing standing proudly with some bold claims.

This is more common across companies of all shapes and sizes than I knew back then. Many readers might be able to relate to this as it’s nothing new.

What is new is that we don’t have to settle with status quo. Before I elaborate on that, let me share what has led to the current state of misalignment.

Most Marketers rely on two types of data to decide what to do and to infer what they have contributed. The first and major data source is the tools that Marketing owns – web, social, Marketing Automation, etc. The second data source is what’s reported by the sales team. Because there’s a huge gap between what’s reported and the reality, Marketing is left with no option but to rely more heavily on the data that they own, despite its significant limitations.

Marketers work hard and need metrics to track and report their progress. They make the best of what they have, literally and figuratively. The metrics chosen by Marketing end up being those that they have easy access to, and can easily be measured and influenced by them.

Metrics such as MQLs, event attendance, email campaign clicks, web and social traffic are available in abundance. Imagine Serengeti National Park in spring. These metrics, however, are viewed as vanity metrics by Sales. Metrics such as total revenue influenced are considered unverifiable and inflated because they are often based on vanity metrics.

Sales, on their part, either exhibit indifference to Marketing (especially when revenue numbers are looking good) or exhibit scorn when numbers are down and someone needs to be blamed.

There’s a better way.

Instead of simply thinking about metrics that are easily reportable, if both sides started thinking in terms of ‘Data that aligns’ vs ‘Data that divides’, we can bridge this gap that has separated the two sides.

Here are five steps I recommend –

  1. Use a test like asking the following question to ascertain whether a piece of data will align or further divide the team – will presenting this data help us move forward or will it simply prove how one side is better than the other, how one side did its job but the other didn’t?
  2. Reduce the number of vanity and unverifiable metrics that you report. It will help you earn more street cred with Sales as they will pay attention and give more respect. Fewer words of more substance carry more weight than lots of talk.
  3. Reframe some of the currently-available metrics. A good example is MQLs. When reported as an aggregate as part of a typical Business Review report, MQLs are treated with contempt and indifference by Sales.
    1. But if reframed, MQLs can become data that aligns. This can be accomplished by dissecting and sharing data on MQLs that converted and those that didn’t. Instead of simply claiming credit for generating some quantity of MQLs, Marketers can more proactively and at an individual level ask sellers to help increase the conversation rate by guiding and overseeing MQL generation process for a month.
    2. Another example is event or webinar attendees. Simply reporting whether Marketing achieved the attendance target or that Sales didn’t drive enough attendance is a divisive metric. Reframing it with context (and examples) of how many contact attempts led to what action (e.g. 3 emails + 1 phone-call led to an event RSVP) becomes data that aligns the two sides.
  4. Add modern, sales-oriented metrics to your mix.

ABM and Account-based Analytics is the first step in this direction. But simply looking at ABM metrics based on existing Marketing-owned datasets might not produce significant results. You need to augment the ABM mindset with higher-resolution data from the Sales team since that adds the layer of trust of that’s missing from marketing-owned datasets.

Don’t let lack of data hold you back anymore.

There are several ways to get data from the Sales team. Marketers buy external datasets all the time.  Consider buying internal datasets by offering incentives to Sales reps. Talk to your Sales Ops team who might have more valuable data and reports beyond the CRM. Evaluate a tool that can automatically do this for you.

When the data is trusted by both sides, there’s a real path to alignment.

Align we must, but with data we trust.