The best demand gen marketers love sales.

And no, not just the “seeing new business number go up” or celebrating “closed won” pipeline. Those are easy to love, if you see your job as influencing the number.

The best demand gen marketers actually love the sales process, their sales counterparts and the good, bad and ugly of what goes into growing the business. They want to nerd out about what goes into closing business, they listen to sales calls, they love brainstorming with the team about objection handling … they’re passionate about helping a prospective customer find a solution in their product or service.

And why is this so important?

Because “sales and marketing alignment” is back in the zeitgeist and this time it’s all about what actually goes into demand gen. We’re on the precipice of another shift in how these two teams work together because it feels harder than it has in a long time:

  • Google and Apple privacy updates makes tracking and attribution models more difficult to maintain
  • The surge of closed communities and B2B communities makes apparent that buying cycles were never linear and no one “moves” through a funnel
  • Inbound, outbound, ABM, demand and category creation, lead scoring, multi-touch … we’re swimming in tactics that are the “next big thing” but aren’t sure how they all fit together

So, yes. In order to cut through the noise, marketers need to care about the ins and outs of what makes their closest partners in the org successful. And they need to be accountable to that same numbers.

In other words – marketers need to “carry a bag”. They need to be directly aligned to revenue.

Simple MQL and SAO definitions are no longer the right approach

Built in a different era of digital marketing, marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and Sales Accepted Opportunities (SAOs) helped marketing and sales draw a line between where one team’s responsibility started and another ended. Marketing created leads. (and we “qualified” them with scoring models and data appending). Sales worked suitable opportunities. It was binary and clean. Buyers flowed through a nice funnel and we could tweak the dials to get the perfect mix. Predictable pipeline. Paint-by-numbers lead gen. Neat, right?

But the rise of social – and specifically the increase visibility into B2B executives and buyers conducting their research on LinkedIn, in closed / gated community spaces or through their networks has shown us in digital form what was always true: no one “moves” through a funnel. Buyers aren’t waiting on the edge of their seat for the next drip email to hit so that they can “convert”. Our magical lead scores aren’t capturing the majority of buyer research and intent data, which happens before they hit our funnel.

We need to modernize where we’re meeting and helping buyers.

Which means demand gen marketers need to modernize their definition of success.

New models for marketing attribution

Instead of starting to measure a buyer’s intent as soon as they take an action that we want them to take (filling out a form, signing up for a newsletter, downloading a piece of gated content), marketers should start further out. Our efforts start by reaching buyers where they are, rather than forcing them to be where it’s easy to measure. This means demand gen starts in harder to measure territory. With things like:

  1. Speaking opportunities on podcasts, at conferences and in the spaces deemed credible by our buyers.
  2. Social-first content, that educates and builds credibility with your buyer around the unique problem you solve and how you solve it
  3. Downloadables, value-add resources and the types of resources that you share with others in internal Slack or Teams channels, through screenshots or email attachments

And if we move our efforts further up the funnel and out of our measurable ecosystem, how do we measure impact?

By trusting buyers, and making demand capture more compelling and measurable. If marketers’ helpful, relevant and brand-building content leads to more credibility and higher recall for our buyers, when they are on our website they need more compelling and valuable ways to self-convert and raise their hand. And we should be creating them for every intent stage of our buyers:

  1. Things like newsletters and podcast subscriptions for exploratory buyers
  2. Interactive and high-value resources for buyers who are more problem-aware
  3. Real, relevant and easy conversion points for buyers are have done their research and are ready to vet your solution. Demos, trials, sandbox accounts and sales-assisted discovery meets buyers where they are and creates a more delightful buying experience.

Does this mean that demand gen marketers should be working with your brand building team? Yes.

Does this mean that the “top of the funnel” is no longer an easily attributable, and therefore harder to game, metric for marketers? Also yes.

a graphic of marketing's role in establishing revenue KPIsSource: Vladimir Blagojević on LinkedIn

 

These trends are both disruptive and exciting. It means that marketers can step away from “tweaking the dials” that were never real to begin with and get back to a few of those core Marketing “P’s”.

And we can do that by:

  1. Doing deep audience research, to more narrowly define your ICP. And not just what they want, but where they live, who is involved in the buying process and how to best help them even before they need to buy your product or solution
  2. Creating the content and experiences that fit their needs, and not ours. Go social-first. Stop gating anything and everything that moves. Trust your buyers to know when to raise their hand and stop forcing them into a funnel that doesn’t fit.
  3. Measuring demand capture and tying it back to revenue.

This last one is important. If the funnel isn’t linear or neatly measurable, demand gen marketers need a grounding metric. Something to use as their measure of success. Flip the table on your current metrics and start measuring revenue. 

Marketing and Sales Alignment: the dawn of a new partnership

So if marketers are responsible for revenue, what does that mean for how they “split the work” and track progress with sales?

If you’re like a lot of marketers, pipeline meetings have become more challenging. For both marketers and sales reps. What we want to be predictable is harder to quantify. Inbound and outbound strategies are starting to overlap. 

So how do we make this alignment more productive? 

A few cool ideas I’ve seen in the wild:

  • BDRs on the marketing team: making marketing responsible for “pipeline” and sales responsible for “revenue” allows you to get creative with what types of roles live within each … and marketers more aligned to the type of outreach that works for sales teams further up the “funnel”
  • Social-first sales dev: whether it’s marketers or quota-carrying sales reps, point team members at creating connections and value at the places where buyers live. In this case, on social.
  • Ungate everything: from blog content to worksheets and reports … there’s a lot of gated content that creates friction and can lead to false indicators of intent. Some orgs are doing away with content gates at all and building their brand credibility and reach by offering it all … for “free”. Not for everyone and not for every type of content. But organizations who are taking an “ungate first” approach are able to better determine who content is for and how to best share it.

Sales and Marketing can make the most of this new era of buyers fully controlling their buying cycle by up-ending the processes that weren’t totally working before … and looking for a new way.

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