Sales and marketing teams often disagree on what is a qualified lead, especially in B2B settings. However, when they do manage to work together instead of butting heads, the benefits to the bottom line are obvious. So how can marketers eliminate the struggle to communicate with their sales teams and nurture a more collaborative effort?
According to Pam Didner, clarity around goals is critical but often overlooked. In this episode we’ll look at how to clarify what your sales team needs in a lead and how to get there.
Rich: My guest today is a B2B marketing consultant, writer, speaker, podcaster, and author of three books; Global Content Marketing, Effective Sales Enablement, and The Modern AI Marketer. She’s given future trends, content marketing, and sales enablement presentations and workshops in the U.S., Europe, South America and Asia. Her forte is to create successful global marketing plans that meet local marketing and sales team’s needs. She is strategic in nature and tactical in execution.
She also specializes in sales, marketing, and internal and external communications consulting, keynote presentations, corporate training and planning session. Her clients include Intel, 3M, Sunstar, Cisco, TE Connectivity, Southwest Airlines, just to name a few. She shares marketing insights at her own website, and contributes articles to The Guardian, Huffington Post, Content Marketing Institute, and other publications.
Today, we’re going to be looking at how to optimize B2B sales and marketing and execute demand generation campaigns with Pam Didner. Pam, welcome to the podcast.
Pam: Thank you so much for that completely overrated intro. I really appreciate it, Rich.
Rich: I was just giving it my all, I felt you deserved it. So I’m kind of curious how you got into sales and marketing for B2B companies. What was your path there?
Pam: You know, wonderful question. I worked in a big corporation for a long period of time, and when I was in the corporate world, I was doing enterprise and small business marketing. And in order to actually do enterprise marketing, a part of that marketing scope is actually to enable and support a sales team. When I talk about sales team, that means the indirect salesforce and also direct salesforce. The indirect salesforce in a lot of tech industry tends to be channel partners and distributors. So they are selling your technology, but on your behalf. But they are channel partners.
So one part of my job, if you will, in addition to running campaigns and demand generation is actually work with sales directly. And that’s how I got into working directly with sales. And I love that part of it. I, myself, is never a salesperson. I’m not very good at it. But I’m very good at supporting them and understanding what their needs are, and then find a way to accelerate the conversion or increase the deal size.
Rich: All right. Now this was not one of the questions I had planned on asking, but I do know that a lot of people in B2B struggle sometimes when it comes to digital marketing when their number one customer are channel partners. So do you have any advice, when you’re trying to create marketing campaigns that are ultimately going to be used by some end-user, but you’re really trying to attract more channel partners? How does that look differently than maybe a traditional B2B digital marketing?
Pam: So there are two types. Okay. I want to talk about that kind of support, supporting channel partners or getting more channel partners as one topic. And also training channel partners as a separate topic. Another one is, how to reach out to the end user or your end customers as a channel partner.
So when you are working with the channel partners, there are two types of content that you need to pay attention to. One is the training materials that you need to train the channel partners that’s [inaudible],too. And then you will have the content that specifically that channels can pass through to the end customers.
So supporting channel partner usually has two layers of complexity. And a lot of times the marketers tend to be very confused. Is our audience channel partners, or is our audience the end customers? The answer is both. So when you are working with channel partners, you have to think what are the materials and training information that you need to train the channel partners better. And then the other piece is, what is the information that you need to give to the channel partner as a kit so that he knows how to actually sell on your behalf? Does that make sense?
And also different channel partners have different needs. In the bigger enterprise, they tend to classify channel partners based on the number of dispense and type of products they sell. And a lot of time in the big enterprise and they have a lot of channel partners. They have a premier channel partners and also have a regular channel partners, and that depends on how much revenue they brought into the enterprise. And the different channel partners also have a different perks. So with that being said, you also have to understand that your channel partner structure and the different perks, you probably have a different tier type of support. And depending on the perks, you’ll also set up a different marketing help as well.
Rich: Absolutely. Yeah. So those are all great. Like when you’ve got channel partners and how you want to market to support them. But do you have any tips around trying to attract new channel partners at the same time that you might be managing ones you already have? Is there a different approach that you would take when it comes to digital marketing if you’re looking to grow the number?
Pam: You know, that’s actually a great question. Attracting channel partners, it’s kind of like a push and pull. And let’s assume your product is very hot, and then the channel partners will reach out to you proactively. And if that’s the case, that’s a good problem to have. But if you are trying to reach out to channel partners, you really have to think through in terms of what kind of package or what can you offer to the channel partners to make their job easy.
So, if you want to reach out to them, for example, a lot of time the compensation plays a critical role. Like what kind of compensation they’re going to get. And another thing is, can you also offer some sort of co-marketing dollars to them that they can actually do the promotion on your behalf? So, I would say in addition to the product that you offer, the product is the most important thing. In any kind of B2B technology segment, the product needs to be solid. If the product is solid, it makes salespeople stop easy. It also makes marketing’s job easy. At the same time, it will also make the channel partner’s job easy. So start with the product.
You know, it’s very hard to put like lipstick on pigs and they say, “Oh my God, this is a sexy pig”. Anyway. So starting with a good product, that’s always the one thing I tell my clients. And then second thing is, if you really want to attract new partners, you have to understand what kind of package you can offer and that’s compelling enough, but at the same time you don’t lose money, you know? So there’s a balance that you have to kind of walk.
Rich: All right. Excellent. Thank you. Now you help marketers support sales teams, getting back to our original theme here. In enterprise level, these are almost always different departments, but that’s not necessarily true with your SMBs, your small to medium-sized businesses. How in those cases, do you differentiate the roles between sales and marketing people?
Pam: That’s actually a very good question. And I know if you are listening to this specific episode, if you ask small business, chances are you wear multiple hats. And if you are the enterprise, your job, they are different functions supporting sales. Sales operations, supporting sales. Compensation, supporting sales. The certain marketing function supporting sales, such as events, such as the content creation. And then also product teams are supporting sales.
So in enterprise specifically, big enterprise or even mid-size enterprises, there are many different functions supporting sales. And so sales always feel frustrated because they have to work with a different function to get things done. And so that’s not necessarily a good thing, honestly. So a lot of time on the enterprise level, it’s nice to actually have a one point of contact, like really supporting sales. Like sales enablement’s role is actually supporting sales through content. And they will coordinate with the different functions to get things done.
But on the SMB, especially a midsize growing company or small business that’s also growing, that you don’t have that many function, and you don’t have that kind of budget or resources to support sales. With that, my biggest recommendation is the marketing needs to stay very closely with sales, or anybody who’s creating content, or sales ops. That needs to stay very closely with sales.
If you are a small company, you need to think through in trends of your marketing objectives, what are you trying to accomplish. A lot of times the CEO or the founder will say, “Okay, we need to build brand awareness for our products.” So because we have to build brand awareness for our products, that will take away the resources and budget to support a bottom of the funnel, which is what sales really needs. And that is not necessarily wrong. If you are really, really growing like 20x, 50x, maybe doing a brand awareness is a good thing. But a lot of time you’ll have to think through that with the limited budget and limited resources that you have, how much should we allocate it to the middle of the funnel and also the bottom of the funnel, which is sales support.
And my recommendation to my clients tends to be like, well, let’s look at, is it possible we can standardize some of the supports? There are certain kinds of content that sales always need at a certain stages. There are certain types of templates that sales always needs when they talk to prospects. Can we standardize some of it? But the key things that I always educated my salespeople, when you get the standard templates from marketing people, don’t take it as it is. High performance salespeople, they always take the standard stuff and they customize a little bit to add their personal touch.
So my recommendation to salespeople is that marketing will give you the stuff, but you also have to meet marketing halfway. That means you have to add a little personal touch to everything that marketing gives to you. Does that make sense? So if they give you a standard sales pitch, well, depending on what your customers are asking you to do, you might need to modify the pitch a little bit. So in terms of supporting the small business and the midsize company, my recommendation is what are some of the standard things that marketing can do to actually help the sales, that’s at a minimum level.
Rich: So I want to just make sure I understand what you’re saying. So what we’re talking about here is marketing, creating materials for the sales force to go out and be able to close sales. But you’re saying that yes, they can give you the bare minimum or the basics of it, but if you’re a good salesperson, you’re going to add more to it. So you’re going to add things to it that make it more maybe nuanced, or more tailored, whatever it may be, for that individual client that you’re talking to.
Pam: Exactly. The thing is, the marketers are not talking to your customers directly or all the time. You are the one, the salespeople, are talking to the customers. You know the nuances, you know what makes them tick. So marketing can give you the information you need, but you also need to add a little bit of touch to it, to address the questions that you actually receive from you prospects or your customers.
Rich: I would also argue that it needs to be a two-way street. So in a situation like that, I would expect that the sales team would come back and be like, “You know what I’m hearing, Rich? I’m hearing that these are the concerns that they’re having today. And ever since this happened, now they’re dealing with this.” And then it would be back onto the marketing team to update that content to create new content. Correct?
Pam: I will 100% agree. And remember when we’re talking about bare minimal level, and then you are taken down to a next level. Which is the salespeople bring the feedback to the marketing team, and then marketing actually optimizes it to make it better. And I love that.
We can also take it to one level up, and bring marketing people to your sales discussion at some especially strategic account, right? An account that you know you’re going to close, and you need a lot of customized support. And if your marketing people are good, bring them in. They can actually help you create and customize the content for you.
So Rich, between you and me, we are talking through there’s different levels of support, right? The first one is the bare minimal standard. The other one is like sales come back with additional feedback. And the next level is basically like, hey, let’s work together even more. And for strategic accounts, for the high dollar accounts, let’s close to them together. What are the things marketing needs to do to customize and personalize that for you, so you guys really work as a team. Hey, this is a good conversation!
Rich: So what we’ve talked about so far in my mind feels like marketing material. Obviously, we’re digital marketers, or we’re talking to digital markers here, so we’re often talking about the funnel. So what do we need to do in terms of creating a funnel in digital, that’s going to help support this sales team even more? What are some of the things that you think are effective or critical to our success?
Pam: So, I have given a lot of thought about those questions, and this specific question can be answered in many different ways, Rich. And there is no one answer for it. Let me explain to you why. It depends on your products and also the length of purchasing cycle. If your product is very transactional, things can be closed within days, the product is so easy for people to understand, they can make a decision very quick, the dollar value is very small. And the way that you are going to set that up is different than – say your product is enterprise focused and the product is whole lot more complex and requires some demos, and requires multiple decision makers to make a decision – the high dollar value is very high and the purchasing cycle. Does that make sense? So to me, when we talk about funnels, you have to think about your products, and also your customers, and also the transaction value in dollars.
If it’s very quick and you want people to make a decision right away, the dollar value is not very big, SaaS-based platform, $20 per month, it’s not huge deal, the total is $240. People can make that decision very quickly. Then the information that you share is you always have to push, push, push, push people to make that call. Because once they’re aware of your product, which is top of the funnel, immediately everything that you do is try to close that deal very quickly. So all of a sudden the content, that means the purchasing cycle from the middle to bottom should be very short, and all the content that you are going to do, it should be the call to action, close, close, close, buy, buy, buy. Right? Not in a bad way, but you know what I’m talking about.
But if you’re looking for the products that actually have longer purchase cycles, then all of a sudden you have to stretch your purchasing cycle a little bit longer. You have to look at it a little bit differently, that if the purchase cycle is 18 to 24 months, you need to actually stay very closely with your sales team. During that 18 and 24 months, you have to look up the sales stages, right? What kind of sales stages that usually your salespeople engage with the prospects or the customers to close that deal? And the different sales stages, there’s different moves that salespeople will do – they call it ‘game plan’ – so you need to understand what that game plan is, and then you determine how you’re going to support that game plan.
Sometimes it’s 100% on sales side, but sometimes you can create content. Or sometimes you can think through in terms of, okay, we have to sponsor a golf tournament, can we also invite them? Or Christmases is here, can we send a very tailored gifting? They call it ABM, account-based gifting. Can you send a specific type of gift that wows them, so all of a sudden that can be a conversation opener that sales people can reach out to them and say, “Hey, we sent you a little package and we just want to check that you received it. By by the way, do you have any specific questions?”
A lot of times that long engagement is really salespeople need to kind of find a way to stay top of mind. And what you can do is what can you help to keep that conversation going. As long as the conversation is going, there’s a hope. If the conversation stops, it’s hard to get that back. So it’s depending on the company. And some companies I work with, they were like, “Marketing is your job, come up with multiple ideas so I can engage with them.” But I don’t believe that. I think sales needs to have a game plan in terms of what they want to do, and then marketing can actually support that.
Rich: Okay. Sounds good.
Pam: I’m sorry, that’s a long answer. I apologize.
Rich: No, no. That’s great. We have all the time we need, Pam. So marketing people often have one definition of what a lead is, a good lead is, and sales has another definition. So what’s the difference, in your opinion, between a marketing qualified lead and a sales qualified lead? And maybe how we can close that gap?
Pam: Exactly. That’s actually a great question. It’s also a source of friction and the tension between sales and marketing. Because the way that they define a lead is very different between sales and marketing. And the sales in many companies, the way they define a lead is like, oh, they haven’t come to my website, or they satisfy a certain lead score because you provide different types of lead scoring. Based on what kind of content they create, they read or consume, or how many pages that they actually go through your website or whatnot, you have a lead scoring.
And then from a sales lead, most salespeople tend to focus on the lead that is readily available to buy, or they have a good orientation to buy. So if you are thinking about the lead definition, marketing’s lead is more on the top of the funnel. You’re consuming content and you’re looking at things. And the salespeople are basically saying, I want somebody who is ready to talk to me. So there’s a huge gap right there.
And it depends on the company. My recommendation on this, is make the MQL, which is marketing qualified leads, definition so clear, there is no confusion. What I mean by that is, rather than doing the lead scoring, is it possible that the lead that is coming to the website is basically we call it ‘hand raiser’. That they raised a hand and said, “I want to see the demo”, they raised a hand sand said, “I want to talk to a salesperson”, or they raised a hand and said, “Send me a pricing guide”. So you define the marketing qualified lead very clear. It only fits say two or three criteria, and that criteria is incredibly action driven and the there’s no confusion. But that has a huge impact on the marketing side. If you make it so clear, that means the quality is up, the number of leads is going to go down. So you, as a salesperson cannot say, “I want 1,000 leads per month”. Maybe the lead is 50, but it’s good quality leads.
So a lot of time, what I have come to realize is sales wants high quality and also high volume. My take on this is, unless you have huge marketing dollars and the solid marketing team to support it. And with a finite marketing dollars, sometimes you cannot have both. Then is very important for both to come together to determine that the MQL is very clear. There’s no confusion what that is. It’s basically a request for a demo, or hit the 1-800-CONTACT number. And make it so clear that nobody needs to explain it.
Rich: Right. And then marketing’s job is to make sure that everything they’re doing is getting people to that point, right?
Pam: Yes. Yes. If you look at salesforce.com’s website, you can tell it’s very important to them that MQL is to hit the button, say a 1-800 number. So when you look at salesforce.com’s page and they have a 1-800 number on top one, a 1-800 number on the bottom. When they have a popup, they have a 1-800 number as well. So you can tell right there, the MQL is very, it’s that people need to dial that number.
Rich: And I find this all the time. I find in working with clients, a lot of times they have very vague definitions of what a lead is. They want more leads, but they don’t know what that means. Is it an email signup? Is it this, is it that? And one of the things we try and focus on is let’s choose just one, two, or three things that are considered to be a lead or a conversion, whatever it is, that’s what we’re going to get for you. And this is a critical thing. And we internally talk about this with our clients all the time. It’s like, let’s just make sure that we are in alignment over what you are going to consider a lead. Because we’ve had other clients in the past, you learn from your mistakes, and it’s a little fuzzy and we think we’re doing a great job, but then they’re like, “You didn’t get us any leads.” And we’re like, “We got you 200”, but they didn’t, you know, whatever it is. So that’s critical, internally or externally. Yes, 100%.
Pam: I mean, even for the webinar attendees. And they attend the webinar, and the call to action of the webinar is ‘please send us an email so we can set a one-on-one with you with the salespeople.’ In some cases, you can define that as even MQL or SQL. Because if you define that in a way that the the hand raiser is coming from a webinar and they express interest to talk to salespeople. If salespeople agree with that, that’s fine. But salespeople should also know, when the person raised their hand to talk to you, they probably are not ready to buy yet. Then, when you get that lead and you agree with that definition with your marketing, you also have to understand that as a potential consequence and risk. Not everybody is ready to buy. So please don’t have that expectation that the prospect we pass to you is ready to buy. You and I both agree it’s the people who raised their hand from the webinar. So a lot of time, I will also try to explain to salespeople that with this kind of definition, they are not necessarily ready to buy. You will need to do some convincing and persuasion.
Rich: And I would argue with that salesperson right off the bat. I’d be like, listen, if everybody was ready to buy, then I wouldn’t need you. I would just need more automated order takers and we’d be done. So you have some work to do as well. I will get it to this point, and you have to take them to the next point.
Pam: Yeah. I do agree with you. And a lot of time, the contention is always, where should marketing stop, where should sales stop. And there’s always a gap. And those salespeople say, “You know what? I want to talk to somebody who is high quality”, but what’s the definition of a high quality?
Rich: yeah. Definitions definitely make this workable, because otherwise you don’t know where the gears are going to actually connect or not. I would say it’s not even that you need to reduce the gap, you actually should make it more of a Venn diagram. And I would think that in a perfect situation, there would be a little bit of collaborative during the handoff, or something like that, for some types of companies, some types of sales, where the marketing sales would work together.
You had mentioned something about lead ranking or something before. And I believe if I understand it correctly, these are tools that we can use on our website that when people have done enough measurable activities that we’ve decided on, that they become higher qualified. Can you speak to that a little bit and tell us how that fits into everything we’ve been talking about today?
Pam: Yeah, so in many companies… okay, so before I even start talking about that, I want to just share an analogy with everyone. A lot of times when the lead comes to the website, we don’t know the intention. Like when people come to my website pamdidner.com, I don’t know the intention. Sometimes they come just like, oh, checking out B2 content. And sometimes they come just because they are looking for a speaker. Sometimes they come, they are looking for specific types of challenges they are encountering, such as messaging or value proposition. So I don’t know the intent and I don’t know why they come.
So a lot of time, the company will set up a different content and they will kind of say, people will look at this content because they probably need something else. Or they will read this content, probably they are ready to buy. So you kind of look at the older content or the different information that you have on your website, then you give certain things a score. Does that make sense? Like if they watched the video, and the video is really talking about the product and it’s a product demo, you’ll probably give this person who viewed a video a little bit higher score, and you probably will think this person is probably at a stage looking for different options. The chances of them buying probably will be faster than just Pam browsing the content about the digital trends.
So you give different content pieces and different things they do on the website, a different score. And let’s assume that person actually comes to the website multiple times and there is the same IP address, and you can kind of track it and then you can somehow know what kind of score to get. They consume five pieces of the content, and you kind of based on that and say, if I reach a score of 85 and you obviously accumulate this type of score, and you can divide it into like two or three categories of the score. 85 above means this, 60 above means that, and 85 above means this person maybe is very interested in our product, maybe is in the process of evaluating the different options, maybe this person is ready to buy. Therefore we should reach out to them or we should pass this person with a lead score of 85 to our sales. Does that make sense?
So that’s a lead scoring kind of structure, if you will. But the problem is, the challenge right now, Rich, is people are using that to gauge the intention. But that’s not usually right, because we are humans, right? We change our motives all the time. Even if I watched the demo, maybe it was a research reason, but I have no intention to buy.
Rich: Yeah, absolutely. I do that all the time.
Pam: So people who reach out 85, maybe not a high quality and they have no intention whatsoever to buy. So my take on this is, lead scoring is a good way to gauge. But in terms of using that to define your MQL, is questionable from my perspective.
Rich: I see. Okay. So you want to get absolute clarity on MQLs and SQLs. And what you’re saying is this lead ranking, it’s blurry at best. Like it might do some general organization for you, but it’s certainly not going to be as accurate as they clicked on the 1-800 button.
Pam: Right. So I am not an advocate, but obviously many people do things differently. And I’m not saying I’m right. 100%. I’m not ab advocate actually using lead score to define MQL. I feel MQL needs to have a crisper definition then just the lead scoring. But maybe you can use lead scoring as pre-qualified. But it should not be the official definition of MQL. Does that make sense?
Rich: I totally get it. Absolutely. And that’s a good distinction between the two. Because we’re a digital marketing podcast, I do want to ask you a question. And because we’re talking about B2B, LinkedIn is a popular platform for B2B companies. And I’m just wondering how that fits into this whole landscape of marketing and sales and working together?
Pam: Excellent question, Rich. I love all your questions, you’re awesome.
Rich: I work hard at this.
Pam: I just want everybody to know if you are listening, Rich is really working very hard on this. I mean, before he brought me to the whole episode, he actually interviewed in advance to make sure that I was actually fit.
Rich: I wanted to make sure I was fit to interview you.
Pam: Oh no, that’s not true, Rich. But I want everybody to understand that Rich does work very hard at for the client. So LinkedIn is very important on the B2B side, honestly. And let me tell you why, multiple reasons. I want to explain that first on the marketing side, and then I want to explain on the sales side. I love answering questions from multiple different aspects, because I feel that’s how we need to look at the question.
On the marketing side, if you are trying to reach out to leads, depending on how you build out your customer journey to reach out to your customer, LinkedIn can be one of the channels that you use to reach out to them. Does that make sense? For example, if you do outbound marketing to bring the inbound leads, and you probably will do pay media ads, or you probably will do Facebook ads, or you probably do a lot of social media posts organically. But you can also do LinkedIn ads, or you can do LinkedIn email to bring the leads back to your website. So you can use LinkedIn as one of the marketing channels.
On the sales side, there’s a term nowadays, especially in the digital world. Which you mentioned that clearly, it’s social selling, right. And for the longest time, traditionally salespeople much preferred to close the deal face to face or get the leads from events. And by the way, face to face still works very well, even during the pandemic. I’m telling you, that in-person relationship, people are still craving for that. And events in certain industries, it still works very well. But everybody is on LinkedIn. And that doesn’t mean that your customer is on LinkedIn, but if you want to reach prospects, very likely this person might have a LinkedIn profile. So if you reach out to them through LinkedIn, it doesn’t hurt. That can be the first step. And you can also build a certain kind of sequence in terms of how you want to engage with a person on LinkedIn. So there is a term called ‘social selling’, which is basically you can do your selling using your email, using all your sales methodology while you see fit. But LinkedIn can be one of the channels that fits into it. Does that make sense? So it does work on both marketing and also sales.
Rich: Excellent. Pam, this has been fantastic. And you have given us so much to think about and realize that there’s so much more to work on to really improve the connection between sales and marketing. If people want to learn more about you, your books, your speaking, where can we send them?
Pam: Great question. Pamdidner.com. P A M D I D N E R. And you can always Google me. If you want to send me an email if you have specific questions. I love, love, love, answering questions, Hello@pamdidner.com, and you can send an email to me. And I’m actually on all social media channels except TikTok. I have not gotten the dance down, so I need to work on that.
Rich: Good reason. Pam, this was fantastic, and you’re an absolute delight. So thank you so much for stopping by today.
Pam: My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
Pam Didner consults with businesses to help with all areas of their marketing, so they are a more efficient and productive team. Head over to her website and see how she’s helping other businesses bring clarity to their complex sales & marketing pain points. And be sure to check out her three books aimed at helping B2B marketers succeed.
Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.
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