How Marketers + Sellers Can Become Best Friends Forever

Natasha Sekkat

VP of Global Demand Creation at Acoustic

Learning Objectives

In this discussion at Connect CMO, Natasha Sekkat, VP of Demand Creation at independent marketing cloud Acoustic, will draw upon her two decades of “smarketing” expertise to describe why the traditional sales process dominated by the MQL acronym is antiquated and ineffective. Natasha will detail how the sales & demand creation teams at Acoustic partner to drive pipeline, and will thoroughly explain: A process for delivering “sales-ready” leads, why MQLs simply won’t cut it in an inside-sales company environment focused on growth and why it’s imperative that both sales and marketing leaders are aligned on the notion that value beats quantity when it comes to leads and lead targets.

"You don't just want to tailor your investments but you also want to go where people are spending money. "

Natasha Sekkat

VP of Global Demand Creation at Acoustic


Hi, everyone. Today, I’m going to spend the next 15 minutes or so talking about one of my favorite topics. My name is Natasha Sekkat. I’m the VP of Global Demand Creation at Acoustic. We’re the world’s largest independent marketing cloud provider. I have a pretty extensive background managing sales and in sales leadership for technology companies. At Acoustic, I’m over on the Marketing side. Today, I’m going to spend some time talking about how exactly can you become best friends forever with your sales counterparts.

It’s kind of the running joke that we have. When I was on the sales side, there was always complaints about our marketing peers. When I’ve been on the marketing side, there’s always complaints about our sales peers. The image that immediately comes to mind for me is Rocky. He goes up against all of these great opponents. Google says that Apollo Creed is the number one, so I did the number one opponent for Rocky here.

Many professionals, unfortunately, still see each other in this light, where there’s two people in a ring battling out, only one can become the champion, and you just beat the crap out of each other until someone emerge victorious. How many of you have seen battles happen within leadership meetings? How many of you have seen this happen in front of the board? I’ve sat on panels talking about sales versus marketing. It’s definitely still prevalent within the market.

Now, in my view, I really think that the relationship should look like this. I really think that sales and marketing should become best friends forever. There’s more common ground than there are areas of conflict, especially as companies are moving into this concept of revenue operations. I’m not sure how many of you have heard about talking about the revenue org, but it really starts to break down some of those natural organizational silos where you have to pick this myopic view of the either I’m driving sales, and I have a revenue number, or I’m within marketing, and I’m talking about leads, campaigns, and things like that.

My question really is, why wouldn’t we focus on revenue? Everyone contributes, teamwork, team environment. So that’s what I’m going to speak a little bit more about today. What happens is, when you haven’t embraced this revenue operations or revenue organization mindset, you end up with this massive chasm.

I think, up until very recently, it was reasonably bearable to have this chasm between your sales leadership and your marketing leadership, because there was enough money to go around, there’s maybe enough staff to go around, buyers weren’t using the internet as much as they used to, there were still healthy dose of on site engagement that the sellers would have. You could sort of excuse the sins, you could wipe those sins away a little bit through budget and resources and customer buying behavior. Even though there was this sort of chasm underneath the surface, it didn’t necessarily impact company’s ability to hit their revenue targets, to grow their profitability, and continue to retain their customers. So you have this great chasm and what’s happening now within that chasm.

What I would propose is, first, there’s this great convergence. You have sales that’s adopting tools, like a sales loft, like an outreach that are really automation of out of contacts from the sellers. One could argue those are really marketing email campaigns that are executed by sellers. At the same time, you have marketers that are playing sales reps. You get marketers that are on phones, they’re taking more prospect calls, they’re trying to channel their inner sellers. So you have this Freaky Friday type thing where each of us have been putting on each other’s hats, we’re putting on each other’s clothes, we’re acting like each other a little bit. What that means is it’s more and more confusing which side of the aisle you’re on.

The second part that I think is contributing to this chasm is the MQLs are dead. There have been a lot of very controversial, provocative articles and headlines that you’ve seen over the last five years about MQLs being dead. I’m not sure that they’re completely dead, that’s my personal view. Certainly, what’s dead is a single buyer within an organization that is solely responsible for making any type of IT, martech, or technology decisions. More and more in all the research from foresters, serious decisions, others drift, it’s all about conversational marketing, it’s all about buying groups in these demand organizations, demand groups that are making decisions where I think the last count I read was 48. Decision makers are present in every single deal.

When you think about marketing, my job is to create MQL, which is, by definition, one person who is the person that sales needs to talk to, yet quite frankly, that’s antiquated. That’s the skeleton sitting at the desk waiting for those MQLs. It’s not the way the business is done. It’s not the way that customers are buying anymore.

Third thing, we’re now approaching the year anniversary of COVID. You’ve got sad Keanu sitting on the bench, eating his lunch. Business is tough. It’s the toughest it’s ever been. I think most business development teams are seeing at least a 50 to 60% decline in their connection rates, which means marketing is on the hook to get more information, more people for them to call. Marketing budgets are getting sliced as opportunities are pushing. Sales isn’t hitting all of their numbers. When you start to really think about it, there’s this proliferation and saturation that’s happening. It’s making it that much more difficult for marketers to get their messages out. Buyers are getting fatigued by the level of communications they’re getting from vendors. Sellers are frustrated because close rates have been dropping across the industry as well. So business is really tough.

The last point on this is, my belief is there’s no single baton pass anymore. I remember when I first kicked off my career as a business development rep, you were so excited to get that spreadsheet of leads for marketing that you could call. That was it. Like, that was the engagement. Once a week, I got the spreadsheet, single baton pass, and then I knew what I needed to do. That’s not the environment that we’re working in. Marketing and sales actually should be passing the batons back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. I’ll get into that a little bit later on some of the things that we’ve been doing at Acoustic to make sure that we’re continuing the dialogue and continuing the conversation and insights that we’re seeing from prospects and customers. But for sure, there isn’t just this lob things over the fence from marketing to sales anymore. That dynamic is very antiquated.

I’ve just teed up this beautiful view of this chasm where there’s confusion around our roles. MQLs are dead or tried and true methods are getting more and more difficult as business is becoming more tough. It’s more complex because there’s not just a single baton pass. Now, what are we going to do? At Acoustic, there’s really five fundamental pillars that we’ve put into place. I’ve been on board since the end of May. These have been sort of the tried and true things that we’ve been focused on in order to build a bridge across that chasm, and ultimately build the relationships with our sales counterparts.

The first thing, and I love this one, is talking to each other. Everyone usually says, “Well, I talked to sales,” or “I talked to marketing,” there’s talking and there’s talking. The type of talking I’m referring to is not just as simple as joint planning sessions, making sure that you have documented exactly what it is that you’re on the hook for, that your counterparts are on the hook for, but it’s also about pre selling your plans. It’s also about having giving a voice, and giving the opportunity to your counterparts to actually weigh in and change their minds. In some cases, several times before you land on what you’re actually going to do. What that means is we need to think differently about it’s not a one or done exercise. Talking isn’t I’m gonna just let you know, it’s actually being inquisitive, it’s asking questions, it’s clarifying, it’s confirming, and it’s ultimately nailing down agreements that you can say definitively, “This is what our plan is over this period of time.”

The other thing that we’re doing through Slack is I’ll just ping my counterparts on a regular basis if there’s something that comes up during one of my meetings, if we have a new idea of something that we think might work, I’ll just ping them and say, what do you think about this, what about that, or if I have a heads up on certain things, we’ll do that, and vice versa. It’s really about both formal and informal dialogues. Making sure that you’re not just taking things at a surface level, but that you’re really digging into what are the fundamental drivers, what are the fundamental needs, and making sure that you’re coming up with solutions that are going to work across across both sides and both functions.

The second thing is agreeing on focus. Same thing, right? The focus is driving pipeline, sure, but when you really think about it, there’s a lot that goes into driving pipeline. For example, is there a definition of an ideal customer profile that’s perfectly clear? Do you have vertical definitions? Do you have employees size? Is it revenue size? Is there actually a named prioritized list that you’re going after? Is the focus on getting volume because your VDRs are hitting their full productive capacity? So you need to flood the BDR team to do work, or is it really about quality? We’d only want to have three sales calls because we’re limited on AE staff. We want to have three sales calls in order to get a forecasted opportunity. There’s all these different dynamics, so you really need to understand the business overall but you also have to come to an agreement on the focus.

One of the big areas that we’ve focused on is getting to an account list that matters. So we have an agreement on a certain number of accounts. We have specific rules, specific guidelines, and specific programs that we’re doing, whether it’s data acquisition versus paid media campaigns, versus ABM, versus whatever. But we’ve really agreed on the specific focus and prioritization of those areas.

The third building block on this is aligning investments. You have in this video, the tracking stubs to work, and just trying to blow things up, and he doesn’t have his tracking mechanism anymore. For us, this is really about knowing where we’re aiming our target. Specifically, once we’ve agreed to the focus, we’ve then later layered on as a demand creation team, the alignment of our investments. So specifically, what are we doing for search? From the sellers, are we hearing that certain words are coming up in their conversations with prospects? Are we hearing certain competitive terms? Are there different ways that customers are talking about use cases? We need to incorporate into our programs and campaigns. This could be our search engine marketing, this could be our content syndication programs.

Making sure that we’re putting our money in the right places, but also thinking about this back to the MQL versus accounts. We really are taking more of an account level view as well. It isn’t just about, I want as many leads as possible or as many downloads as possible, we’re saying, we want the top for buyers with these titles at these specific companies, and that’s what we want to engage with, and that’s what we want to do. We’re really sharing things that we’re seeing from our program performance with the sales leadership team. They’re sharing the feedback on what’s happening with those calls as well. But ultimately, making sure, with the limited funds that we have, that we’re aligning investments in the right way, and we’re maximizing the return ultimately on that investment.

The fourth one is going where the money is. I don’t know how many of you watch Duck Tails. It’s one of my favorite cartoons back in the day. You have to go where the money is, especially in this environment and the macroeconomic conditions that we’re in. For us, what this is really getting to is buyers are leaving these little crumbs everywhere they go. There’s companies that are specializing in intent data, there’s companies that are focusing on surging accounts, there’s information that you can find on websites.

What we’ve really been doing is investing a lot of our people resources in manipulating intent data to identify what accounts are searching. Then, we’ve spent a lot of time figuring out on our own. We were home growing all of this. We don’t have a third party tool. We figure out how do we deliver that to the sellers and manipulate it in a way that it’s timely deliverable that we’re able to get contact information as much as possible. But again, back to this sort of targeted, focused investment. You don’t just want to tailor your innvestments but you also want to go where people are spending money. So that’s the fourth thing that we’ve been doing.

The last one is providing timely and robust insights. Building on those points around going where the money is, you have information about which accounts are visiting your website, you have information around people that are hitting specific pages on your website, you have content that’s getting downloaded, you know titles of people, and you can start to see this like surge and triggering that’s happening amongst content syndication, among search engine, or amongst your peer to peer review sites. There’s this almost infinite amount of data that’s out there that marketing can have access to that, typically, sellers don’t.

The last pillar of this is really around providing timely and robust insights. You got math lady here, that’s like, “What are you talking about?” It’s not just about throwing data across the way, but it’s also about harnessing and delivering it in a way that sales is going to quickly understand. I think many of us are in these volume based models, where they’re not going to spend an entire day sorting through data, trying to figure out the trends and the themes of it. It’s really up to us, as marketers, to distill that information down into intelligence and insights that they can use to know, my account looks like it’s at risk, because we’re up for renewal in three months. They’re now starting to hit our competitive pages on a peer to peer site. I should make sure to give a call so that they know why we were better and what investments we’ve been making into our platform that this competitor hasn’t.

There’s many, many examples of how that happens. But how do you really tee this up? How do you make sure you’re thinking about relevant buyers, relevant personas, contact information, ideally, but looking at it across the multitude of insights and platforms that marketing has at their disposal?

Those are really the five things that we’re doing and just to leave you with us. My suggestion is, don’t try to go at it alone. It’s time that marketing and sales reach across the aisle can give each other huge hug. There’s really more things that we have in common than not. My suggestion is go out today, try to make a new best friend with your sales counterparts. Really excited for you. Hope that you’ve enjoyed the content that I’ve gone through. Thanks so much for the time.

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