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Sales & Marketing Alignment: When Does Marketing Hand Off to Sales?

26 May 2010

I’m publishing a series of Q&A excerpts from my interviews with Sales 2.0 leaders, which will appear in my next book. This excerpt is the third and last in a series featuring David Satterwhite and Mark Hamilton, whom I highlighted last year in a post titled, “Avoiding the Blame Game Between Sales and Marketing” (Feb. 9, 2009). At the time, they were a terrific twosome at newScale, a company that offers IT service catalog and service portfolio management software solutions. David ran Sales; Mark ran Marketing.

They’ve since left newScale (David went on to run sales at Genius and is now executive vice president of sales at Yammer, and Mark is starting up a new company to bridge B2B marketing with social media), but I had the opportunity to talk to them both again about their collaboration and their views on collaboration in general.

Anneke: Where does Marketing’s responsibility for prospects leave off and Sales’ ownership begin?

Mark: Traditionally, Marketing has thought about its job as getting a prospect up to a certain point in the cycle and then Sales taking them from there. To me, it only matters when the deal closes at the other end. Marketing can run the best campaign in the world, but if it doesn’t result in business, who cares? Marketing leaders need to understand that in order to be relevant to Sales.

David: Every function in the company is trying to get more streamlined; it’s our constant goal — trying to focus on doing more with less — so spending a lot of money on marketing you can’t attach to revenue is something that doesn’t make a lot of sense. You need a lot of collaboration at the top around your strategy to make sure you can tie revenue to marketing activity. Mark might come to me and say, “I’m thinking of an awareness campaign; how do you think it will help a sales person when talking to a prospect?” You have to have these conversations so you can throw the strategy up against the reality of the sales cycle.

Mark: Marketing is a portfolio of programs you run: You have awareness campaigns, direct lead-gen campaigns and others. If you don’t have alignment between Sales and Marketing, the balance of those different pieces of the portfolio can get all messed up. So the conversation with Sales might be: “I want to do an awareness campaign, but it’s hard to tie that to leads; let me show you how it all fits together, and how we’re trying to balance the portfolio of investments.”

Anneke: Is there a specific time or place Marketing should hand off a lead to Sales?

David: It can happen in multiple places. It’s really about what the buyer is telling us. At Genius, we found viewing certain web pages and spending 15–30 minutes on the site correlated to buying, so we handed those leads off to Sales at those points. On the other hand, we found downloading certain white papers didn’t correlate to buying, so we didn’t hand off at those points; we kept them in marketing for nurturing.

There are no hard and fast rules, though. In the world of Sales 2.0 and marketing automation, we monitor the process all along, and we learn from the monitoring process. Sales development or lead qualification plays a critical role, engaging buyers who are qualified enough to go to Sales but not yet qualified for a quota-carrying salesperson.

Mark: There’s no magic answer. To me, it depends on various factors such as sales reps’ personalities, skills levels, and the time of the quarter or month. Some reps can handle high volume without getting overwhelmed, and focus on building territory. Others don’t want to talk to a prospect until they are ready to buy. There’s no way Marketing can make a unilateral decision regardless of personality. We can give a rep the ability to dial it up or dial it down. This can change during the last 30 days in the quarter. Some reps can close sales in 30 days, so they need leads even in the final month. For new people or people who are building pipeline, we’d have a different process.

Also, as the marketing guy, you have to be really cognizant, check in with Sales, ask how you’re doing and if the program is tied to revenue. You have to be careful in that discussion, because it can come off as pointing fingers or blaming. I work really hard never to have it perceived that way.

Read the other excerpts of this interview series,  “New Age Buyers: Are Your Customers Changing?” and “Sales & Marketing Collaboration: Driven by Culture or Technology?” or find the full interview in the Resources section of this website.