This post was contributed to VENTUREAPP by Natalie Nathanson, president of Magnetude Consulting, a full-service, Boston based marketing agency that specializes in working with tech startups and other entrepreneurial SMBs.
We all know sales and marketing go hand-in-hand, but for many small B2B tech companies, sales often enters the picture first, as it should in many cases in order to confirm product/market fit and drive early revenues. So what (and when) exactly is the right way to bring marketing into the picture in order to support sales activities and meet growth targets?
Marketing can serve many functions to help support growth and build pipeline. From demand generation programs to influencer engagement and sales enablement activities and materials, there’s no shortage of opportunities to engage marketing resources to help reach your customer acquisition goals.
A key consideration in determining when and how to wisely engage marketing should be driven by your current sales structure.
Structure 1: Founder/CEO-Driven Sales
Many founders know the value of doing their own sales at the start—it really can be the best way to understand your market and how your solution fits within the ecosystem (no matter how much you might dread the task at hand). But founder/sales hybrids are uniquely challenged given the number of hats a founder wears on any given day and the competing priorities associated with it.
Bringing in marketing for demand generation support can generate valuable leads that keep the founder focused on what counts—talking to prospects.
- Be realistic about your capacity to follow up, and schedule campaign activity accordingly.
- Build campaigns that allow you to test the market if you are still at the stage of identifying your sweet spot. Marketing campaigns can be used to test messages, audiences, and offer resonance.
- Enlist an inside sales resource (in house or outsourced) to qualify leads, or work with marketing to build a more robust lead nurture and qualification program to bubble fewer (and more qualified) leads to the top, if and when the marketing-generated lead volume becomes too demanding.
Structure 2: Single, Senior Sales Leader (in a Sales-Driven Environment)
For some B2B firms, this structure is the starting point until they grow larger and hire to broaden the sales team. However, for many smaller tech firms where a lower volume of clients (e.g. dozens, not thousands) suffices to sustain the business, often a single sales person will sit at the helm, manning LinkedIn, sending emails out of the CRM, managing channel relationships and working their rolodex.
In these cases, marketing can provide similar benefit to the support provided to a founder, and also a bit more. Marketing can help drive extreme efficiencies in prioritizing lead follow up, keeping prospects and client engaged with low-touch efforts, and maximizing any channel/partner relationships with joint marketing explorations.
- Schedule a regular meeting (weekly, monthly) between marketing & sales to review metrics and provide closed loop feedback on the quality of leads and the nature of sales conversations.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment with marketing-led pilot programs focused on specific sales targets. Lean on marketing to develop creative programs to target specific accounts, industries, etc., leveraging a variety of channels.
Structure 3: Single, Senior Sales Leader (in a Marketing-Driven Environment)
For companies requiring high lead volume, such as many B2B SaaS firms with a fairly low-touch or self-service model, a single sales lead might be all that is needed (or can be afforded) at the start, as there is a greater reliance on marketing leads for driving sales and revenue.
In this scenario, marketing should be focused on driving scalable, predictable leads at high volumes, generally through inbound marketing and then followed by the support of various nurture programs and/or drip campaigns. Sales should pick up where marketing leaves off—focusing on the high value, high growth potential accounts, and building relationships to create stickiness and growth. During the process, collaboration is important, but it’s more important to look at the metrics aggregated and adjust programs accordingly.
- Focus on implementing marketing programs that, if successful, can quickly be scaled and/or cost effective (ideally both). For example, paid search campaigns can be scaled up quickly; content syndication programs can be scaled up cost-effectively. But trade show sponsorship? Not as much.
Structure 4: Small Field Sales Team
Small sales teams will likely be segmented by region, product, or industry focus. Marketing can help support sales efforts differently based on sales territory assignments.
A mistake companies often make is trying to be fair and focus on the ‘one size fits all’ marketing campaigns. Don’t feel obligated to give all sales segments (or reps) equal play with marketing programs but think strategically about where marketing can have the greatest impact on driving awareness, demand, or pipeline.
For example, marketing can be leveraged to educate a market segment with a lesser understanding of your solution; they can focus on lead generation campaigns for a niche segment to accelerate growth, or support a greener sales rep who didn’t come with a rolodex to help drive demand.
- Assign a single marketing and sales lead as the primary points of engagements to discuss campaigns, needs, and market feedback while still bringing the team together as a group on occasion. Creating too many points of contact can drive inefficiencies at a time when resources are likely scarce and time is precious.
- Ensure you have the right tracking and measurement in place on the sales and marketing fronts (and ensure that these systems are being used properly and consistently). Setting this discipline when your team is small provides valuable insights to help you grow and establishes rigorous measurement as the expected norm.
Structure 5: Inside Sales Support
If you have an inside sales rep or team, you’re likely looking (or should be looking) for a greater volume from marketing-driven lead generation programs to make inside sales efficient and productive. Digital marketing programs can be an exceptional way to drive a steady stream of top-of-funnel leads.
Having inside sales support means that marketing can focus on a larger number of leads as well as slightly broaden their targets (i.e. titles). For example, if a company is having a hard time getting to the appropriate executive decision maker, marketing programs can be used to target lower level folks in the organization and inside sales reps can then follow up and work their way up within the organization.
- Select marketing programs that can be scaled effectively so that once you hone in on the programs producing the best results, you have the ability to scale the marketing effort (and possibly augment with additional inside sales support).
- Ensure close communication between marketing and inside sales. Marketing should be briefing the inside sales rep/team regularly on upcoming campaigns and offers, and inside sales should be sharing feedback on what’s driving interest and appointments.
To map your best-fit marketing program based on your sales structure, its recommended starting with a marketing assessment to analyze your current marketing and sales efforts and results, and use those insights to build a near term marketing plan while building towards longer term goals.