Thomas Young - Conflict between technology, marketing and sales
Thomas Young is the owner and CEO of Intuitive Websites, as well as a Vistage speaker and published author of several books.
With 25 years of experience in driving business initiatives, often centered around marketing and sales, Thomas truly has his finger on the pulse when it comes to conflict and alignment between sales and marketing.
In this episode, we explore this conflict more in depth, with an additional dimension of technology and digitalization. We discuss the impact of digital technology and Covid on sales and marketing strategies, how brands are adapting their digital strategies to keep up, and what to do about leadership approaches that negatively impact alignment.
Links & mentions:
“The leadership is responsible for setting the strategy, the processes and the people. So leadership has to look at their own mindset around sales and marketing. And what we found in doing consulting work is that leaders bring their own perspective to the table and then tend to dump that on everybody.”
Welcome to the Agile Digital Transformation podcast, where we explore different aspects of digital transformation and digital experience with your host, Tim Butara, content and community manager at Agiledrop.
Tim Butara: Hello, everyone. Thanks for tuning in. Our guest today is Thomas Young, founder and CEO of Intuitive Websites. He has 25 years of experience in driving sales and marketing initiatives. We have some really great topics for you today. We'll be discussing the conflict between technology, marketing and sales, and we'll be focusing on a couple of specific issues and key considerations that are especially relevant in this day and age, you know, kind of transitioning out of Covid and whatnot. So welcome, Tom. It's really great having on the show today. Thanks for joining us.
Thomas Young: It's a pleasure to be here.
Tim Butara: I think we should just jump straight ahead to the questions. Do you agree?
Thomas Young: Sure.
Tim Butara: Okay. Let's start with maybe since this is a topic that's more oriented toward technology and digital transformation, maybe let's start off with, how is digital innovation and technological innovation affecting this relationship or the balance between sales and marketing?
Thomas Young: Well, I think number one, it's put more pressure on the three. So because of the uncertainties in Covid and what's happening in our new reality, there's a lot of pressure on technology, marketing and sales now, and I think it's really important to identify one key part of this triad of people working together, is that we're very different. The technology, marketing and sales are very different and how they approach things, how they solve problems and how they get work done.
But here's what we want to do. We want to embrace those differences and use what we have and how we're not alike to make us stronger, because it's the differences that when coming together in a team, make us stronger. So there has to be great alignment between technology, marketing and sales by embracing how we're different and embracing the strengths we all bring to the table to be stronger as a team.
And I think what happens with a lot of companies is we focus too much on the differences. We use those differences to create conflict and to create bad communication and poor situations and meetings. We need to realize, hey, we're here to accomplish a mission and we're bringing the skills that we can to the table. And I think that what needs to happen among these three teams is we have to understand, where is our role most useful? What is the key role for the sales team? What is the key role for the marketing team, the key role for the technology team, and keep us each aligned around those key roles.
And to do that, I think it's really important that we understand that, for example, when you talk about digital marketing, digital marketing involves a lot of technology. But this is a marketing function. So marketing has to drive that, technology has to support that. And then technology has to be great at finding solutions that make the most sense given the current business climate and the environment within the company. And they have to drive those initiatives. Right. And the implementation is set up and so forth.
And then sales, of course, have to drive customer relationships. They have to be the advocates for the customers. They have to ultimately close the new business. So if we stay focused on those key sets of skills and get alignment between these three teams, we can do great things. And it's just really important to not let the pressure of what's happening right now with Covid get to us and cause problems on the team.
Tim Butara: Yes, that makes a lot of sense. And some really good points to kick off the episode here. Maybe kind of continuing on from this, what have you seen to be the biggest challenges in kind of achieving this alignment? And maybe as a sub question, how are things different between B2C and B2B brands? I'm sure there are some challenges that are the same, but obviously not all of them are the same.
Thomas Young: That's right. Well, ultimately, an organization has to drive sales. For most organizations, the sales have to continue to come, the revenue has to continue to come. And the conflicts and the issues start to happen when sales are down. When there's a challenge to get sales going. And the biggest issue is marketing will say, look, we're giving you leads, and sales will say, the leads aren't the kind of leads we want. So, yes, we're getting the leads. But the quality is not there. And marketing then will say, well, if you learn to sell better, you'll close more deals and then sales will go, well, no. If you get us more qualified leads, we'll close more sales.
And then technology has to be there to support that whole process, whether they're running their CRM platform, their marketing automation platform or generally, or just the general communication platforms in a company. Right. Technology has to support that as well. So I see technology really as being the lubricant that keeps everything running smoothly.
But this conflict between marketing and sales around the leads. The biggest solution that has to happen is number one, marketing sales has to come together and realize they're on the same team. They're not on two different teams. There has to be collaboration and communication and meetings around what makes a good lead, what makes a poor lead and the two teams have to work together.
So generally, what happens is marketing and sales work in a vacuum. So there is no communication or no communication at the level that it needs to be from sales to marketing. Here's a good example. So when a salesperson has a call with a qualified lead or even an unqualified lead, how that call goes needs to come directly back to marketing. That information has to flow back to marketing. And then what is happening in that call has to be included in marketing’s messaging. And this tends to be a missing piece in getting leads to be qualified.
And the same thing for marketing; marketing will generate a lot of data. In today's work, for marketing teams, a lot of data is created, and it starts with website visits, conversion rates, landing page visits, interaction with emails and so forth. That data also has to get to the sales team. And then that's where the magic starts to happen because the sales team will communicate, look, this is what we're hearing in sales calls. People want this. And then the marketing team can include that, and the marketing team can say, look, this is what people are clicking on. This is what's important to them in the content. And you'll start to find missing gaps there.
So that's really important in how these teams work together. B2B and B2C are different in several ways. B2C tends to have a shorter sales cycle, so information has to go faster. So if you're in a B2C environment, you might be having daily stand up meetings between marketing and sales. Because things are moving fast. In B2B, they tend to move slower. So that's more about the negotiation process, the proposal process, and the follow up.
So that's a big differentiator between the two, B2C tends to be a lower price point. So the sales cycle is faster, and in many cases, B2C relies more on technology and usability. Because those sales are going to happen online, they’re going to happen on a website or if they're happening on a website, they're there also to support sales in a retail store.
B2B, on the other hand, is more involved in a longer sales funnel. A longer buyer's journey, which means marketing automation is more important. So technology has got to play a role in the fact that you've got to have an easy to use platform so that sales automation can work well in the buyer's journey. Marketing has to strategically define the buyer's journey, set up the milestones in the funnel, and then the sales team has to report back on what they're hearing from customers as people research.
One of the biggest trends that has happened in the time of Covid, and I'll tell you what's caused this to happen in B2C and B2B. But the biggest trend in Covid right now is people are more anonymous than ever. So what people want to do more than ever is research solutions before they buy. And so that makes the role of the sales team very, very tricky because now they're very bottom of funnel. There's less of a role in sales in the middle of the funnel. Marketing has to be involved more in the middle of the funnel, and technology has to also be involved in the middle of the funnel because they're not going to reach out and contact you, so your automation has to be working really well.
And what's happening in B2B is that marketers have had to get a lot better with how they use technology to market, because people are just not raising their hands sooner in the process. And in many cases, in B2B, the customer knows more than the sales rep when they get the sales rep on the phone because of the research they've done. That's a big change. And it also means that customers are more likely to be ready to buy before they talk to sales.
In B2C, we've seen an explosion in online sales. There has been a higher growth in online sales in the last two years than there has been in the previous ten and the previous ten years were not shabby, there's a lot of growth. But if you look at the growth in the last ten years, it went pretty steady. But in the last two years it spiked incredibly, because of Covid, because we've been stuck in our homes because a big part of the population is still very concerned about Covid, not going out, not shopping in stores and so forth.
What has this done to sales and marketing alignment with technology? It's made the stakes all the more higher. If your company is not aligned well in these three disciplines, you're missing huge opportunities and your competitors are taking advantage of that, and they're raking in the sales.
We manage hundreds of Google Analytics data points for clients. And we saw during this time of Covid, the data points changed dramatically. The companies that had their acts together, they rode that wave and they grew during Covid, and the ones that struggled either were in the wrong marketplace or did not have their act together, and they really struggled. So I really recommend that your teams have to come together to deal with this. And one of the ways they do that is by making sure that your CRM talks to your marketing automation.
So the days of having separate CRM systems not integrated with the rest of your company - can't do that anymore. Your CRM must be integrated with your email marketing, your marketing automation, your database, the whole ball of wax, because you've got to have that dashboard and that platform to see what these anonymous buyers are doing in this time of Covid.
Tim Butara: So definitely there need to be some changes made to business strategies if they want to accommodate and if they want to succeed, if they want their sales and marketing to be as successful in the Covid era than previously. You just mentioned that we saw a huge acceleration of online selling, of ecommerce. And I bet that's reflected in the digital strategies of the brands that are succeeding right now.
Thomas Young: Absolutely it is. In fact, what you're seeing is the best ecommerce brands. Brands like, well, of course, Amazon has always been good at this. Amazon does it well, brands like Fender Guitars, for example, who's experiencing a big growth right now. They are just awesome at seeing what's happening with the anonymous shopper and then targeting them with emails that are so relevant to their search. That has to happen along all lines of business.
And it doesn't matter if you're a software technology company or if you're selling office furniture. All of these things have to be aligned with that anonymous researcher and what they're doing. And then the sales team has to be ready for bottom of funnel discussions. Because what really turns off a customer is when they've done all this research, they know so much and they get on a call with the sales rep and the sales rep’s taking them backwards and just nowhere near as knowledgeable as they are.
So sales teams have to be bottom-of-funnel oriented, and it's not hard to do that. You don't even have to be a product expert. The best way to be bottom-funnel oriented is by asking questions as opposed to talking. So this is where sales reps make a big mistake. They feel like they have to come in and be the experts. You don't have to be the experts. You have to be the facilitator of the customer's buying journey, and you do that by asking questions, being really involved in what's important to them.
Marketing teams today have to be excellent in understanding the pain or the game. What's the pain people are experiencing that they need to solve, or what is the gain they're trying to bring to their life? How are they trying to enhance their life? Fender Guitars does a great job of this. So guitar playing saw this big boom during Covid because we were stuck at home and people finally said, I'm going to learn to play guitar. So guitar sales had boomed. And what Fender has done is they're so in line with the intent of the type of guitar you're looking for. So they nurture that research.
So let's say you go look at a certain type of electric guitar on Fender. Well, now you're going to be getting follow up emails on that guitar. When new versions of it come out, you're going to get an email. When an artist demos that guitar, you're going to see a video of the artist playing that guitar - that is enhancing someone's life, and it's nurturing that sales process. This can happen in any type of business. B2B or B2C.
Tim Butara: And, I'm so glad, Tom, by the way, that we're talking about guitars and Fender because I actually got my first Fender guitar just a few months ago. So really awesome. And I read the Strategy and Business article by the CEO of Fender where he talked about what strategies they use and how they were adapting during Covid.
And another really cool thing that they did. I think I'm not wrong here is that they started offering some kind of free trial for their guitar lessons app with some purchases or something like that. So they kind of used this multi-pronged or this kind of multifaceted approach to their sales and marketing, not just selling you stuff, but kind of making you more likely to sell in the future because of the campaign.
Thomas Young: They do all of that. And they've done some beautiful marketing. They have an app. The app, on your phone, relates to your experience on the website. They bring in artists to play new guitars, and all they do is they put a video camera on an artist, they put him in a studio and let him or her play. Then they record it and put it on YouTube that's it. It's powerful because it's enhancing someone's lives.
But here's what Fender is doing that we can all learn from. They are involved in the buyer's journey. They understand the needs and wants of the buyer in that journey. And they set up milestones for the buyer. And they also understand the power of getting more people to play guitar because what happens, and Tim, you'll experience this, as I have, you buy your first guitar, then you buy your second, then you buy your third guitar, and then you buy your fourth guitar. And I don't know how many I bought today, but my wife has said, no more guitars.
And Fender knows that Fender knows that you get hooked, and in and many ways, Fender is probably fine if you even buy other brands. And it's interesting to look at another iconic American guitar company and that's Gibson Guitars. And Gibson Guitars, they're way behind in their marketing. Now, their product is fantastic, but their marketing is not up to scale with Fender’s, so you can see which company is striving and which one is struggling.
Tim Butara: Yup, again, I'm really glad we not only brought up Fender and Gibson, but actually dedicated a major portion of the episode to these brands. Totally awesome.
Thomas Young: Yeah, they're good. They're great marketing companies.
Tim Butara: Yeah, definitely. And as we just said, Fender especially proved itself to be a marketing expert or to be full of marketing experts in the past year and a half.
Thomas Young: They have. And from a technology standpoint, anyone listening to this podcast, who's in technology, go look at the clean and simple design of the Fender website. And as you work on your design for your apps, your websites, or whatever you're doing, keep in mind that clean and simple and direct always works better in the eyes of users, and that becomes a competitive advantage.
Tim Butara: Yeah. Key point of advice. Now, I actually want to move a little bit away from the digital and the technology side for a few questions, because these are some really interesting ones. We talked about this previously and let's just dive into it. So have you seen it happen often that sales and marketing teams kind of start working against each other and kind of start to undermine each other's work? And how can you even spot that? And what can you do about it?
Thomas Young: It's a great question. So we talked earlier about the lead controversy. Give me more leads, well, we're giving you leads, well, give me quality leads, they're not quality leads. All that. That's a big part of it. But I want to talk about the role of leadership. And I know you have some questions around leadership here. A lot of this starts with leadership. So leadership is responsible for setting the strategy, the processes and the people. So leadership has to look at their own mindset around sales and marketing.
And what we found in doing consulting work is that leaders bring their own perspective to the table and then tend to dump that on everybody. And leaders can have interesting perspectives on sales or marketing. A lot of times, a leader can be a salesperson. It's been super successful or through their company through selling. And then they become the leader of the company, and they may not give as much value to the role of marketing, right? So that could be an issue.
Leaders also can come from their perspective of finance. And so then they also can cut marketing and cut sales without realizing that they're cutting something that's producing. Right. And so those are two fundamental things. Marketing and sales getting along starts with leadership. And my advice to leaders. Number one is throw out your personal agenda. It's not about what you bring to the table. In your perspective, you have to see sales and marketing from a perspective of ROI and from the perspective of your team and the disciplines in your team.
Number two, as a leader, you have to ask yourself this question, am I building collaboration between marketing and sales, or am I building conflict and I don't even know it? And one of the ways that you build conflict, and this happens all the time in companies is you have a director for marketing and director for sales. They report to a CEO, and before you know it, the CEO is pitting them against each other.
You have to have enough self awareness to understand if you're doing that and we got to stop it. It's a collaborative effort toward a mission. And the best way, like I said before, to overcome this is to open up the channels of communication, have integrated meetings between marketing and sales. And the leader, their role is to work toward the common goals of the company, the common mission of the company, and to set values of cooperation between the two teams. Now that's my reality. That's what I think works for me. Other companies might feel like it's a dog eat dog, go after it. And it's super competitive. I think companies that have those values will struggle against companies that don't have those values.
Tim Butara: Yeah. Especially right now, with everything becoming more and more competitive, with the digital or digital experiences no longer being a competitive advantage, but being a kind of given for customers.
Thomas Young: That's right. It's a given. Absolutely. And I'll tell you right now, if you have a culture in your company that is kind of that dog eat dog, super competitive; people will leave, and they're leaving now more than they ever have, because it's hard to find really good sales and marketing professionals. They're going to leave. They're going to go to your competitors.
So, yes, you can be competitive and it can be dog eat dog, but that's against your competitors, not within your company. So sales and marketing teams have to come together and work together. And it takes that awareness. And I think what you'll find, and we've seen this with our clients, within sales and marketing teams there are all kinds of skill sets. And in today's world, the customer journey needs those skill sets.
You'll find sales people that are great at content. You'll find marketing people that are great at sales. Let's collaborate and let's find out who's got the skill sets. And in some ways, don't worry so much about the job titles, worry about the results they can bring in that buyer's journey.
Tim Butara: Yeah. I couldn't have put it better myself. And I have nothing to add here because you just put it perfectly awesome, Tom.
Thomas Young: Thank you.
Tim Butara: Maybe since we started speaking about leadership and how maybe leadership decisions or attitudes can have a negative impact on sales and marketing alignment. Maybe what about issues or organizational biases, such as, for example, the HiPPO bias, so, the highest paid person's opinion - how can something like that affect alignment? And what can you do about that?
Thomas Young: It's a great question. And you see this often on sales teams. So, on sales teams, quite often there's a handful of people, sometimes only one person that generates lots of sales, makes a lot of money and so forth. I would come back to this idea of what are the skills that they bring, and let's leverage those skills. And one of the biggest mistakes companies make is they'll take that high performing salesperson and make them a manager. That can be a huge mistake, because generally the skill sets that make somebody great in sales will not be the skill sets they have to manage and lead a team.
So this is why I think having great sales and marketing meetings are going to be super effective. And this is where the role of the leader once again comes into play and is so important. The leader's role is to make sure the right people are on the right seats in the bus. And it's more important to identify what those seats are on the bus first than it is to say, well, this person does this, so let's create a seat for them.
And in many cases, when you have that highest paid person or the person, a lot of times they’re not even the highest paid, they just have the strongest ego in the room. When that person starts to call the shots and direct the shots, the leader has to take a time out and say, well, let's look at the seat that you're in and the role that you're in. And let's find ways to collaborate that are constructive.
But, yeah, that happens all the time. The thing, too, that you'll find in digital marketing, and we've seen this with our clients. That highest paid person a lot of times has gaps in their performance. They can't be all things to all people. So sitting down with them and letting them know the new consumer today expects all these things. If you can say that to this highest paid person, I think you'll get some more buy in from them. And I'll give you an example of that.
There are many sales reps out there now that are doing great and selling and creating business for companies, but they may not be good with certain parts of technology. For example, they might not be good at automated calendar apps. They may not be good at texting, they may not be the best at email follow up. Right. So those type of top producers need support from technology and maybe even marketing staff so they can leverage what it is they do really good with technology.
And we've seen sales reps now struggle with the fact that many consumers don't want to talk to a sales rep. They want to schedule an appointment. And on the surface, that sounds easy. We'll just schedule an appointment. But in reality, it's not easy, because when you start to schedule times for busy people, you have a lot of factors at play. And for the most part, people will request times on his calendar that aren't good times. But that calendar request is still a lead. And if you ignore that lead and it doesn't work, they're going to go somewhere else. They're going to go to a competitor. So, in many ways, this highest paid performer, let's ask the question, what do they do really well, how can we leverage technology to support them and how can we communicate so that they understand their role and their strength in the team?
Tim Butara: Also, this got me thinking, if, on the one hand, we have this need to support the HiPPO, so to speak, if they lack performance in certain technological areas, is there also a danger of adoption of digital technologies not going as smoothly as possible because somebody in such a position is not comfortable with using them, and so might be kind of more reluctant to have their teams adopt it even?
Thomas Young: Absolutely. That's happening all over the place right now. And this is where technology and marketing have to come in and support them. And technology and marketing teams support them because it's good for the organization, and in many cases, it may be the lifeblood of the organization.
One of the things that we find in working with clients is that most of our companies tend to have what I call the rainmaker. Sometimes they have rainmakers, but there's the rainmaker there, there's a person that can just close sales and make things happen. That person needs support from marketing and technology. And there's different ways for that to happen. And there's different mindsets and different ways to approach it. But for the most part, everyone needs to come around that mission and support this person.
Tim Butara: I think we just made a really strong point and an excellent showcase of the importance of this alignment between technology, sales and marketing. Really awesome way to bring kind of the discussion home. And maybe just before we wrap up the call as a final question, what would be your top tips and advice for sales and marketing experts if they want to be more future ready and kind of continue driving alignment in this period, which is super strange, marked by not only upheavals to work but super fast digitalization, digital transformation?
Thomas Young: Oh, it's a great-- there's lots of resources out there. So I'm working on a book right now with Carl Becker. It's in the final stages. The book is called Sales and Marketing Alignment. It gets into all these issues we've talked about and it provides a roadmap for teams to come together.
But I think that the most important thing is, number one is get leadership on board with this around the strategy, the processes and the people, start having open channels of communication so that marketing and sales teams are meeting and talking and communicating back and forth, they're hearing each other and we're taking each other seriously.
I think also, it's critical that you look at the buyer's journey and you share those milestones across both the marketing and sales team. And really good marketing and sales teams understand where are the pivot points and where do things come together between the marketing funnel and the sales funnel. The marketing funnel is the buyer research and the sales funnel is the sales follow up, what happens in sales follow up. You must have your technology be comprehensive and inclusive. CRM systems cannot stand alone. It all has to be aligned with tools like Salesforce or HubSpot or Marketo where everything is brought together.
And I think if you start to do these things and then assign people to the different milestones in the funnel and track that data and develop a scorecard, review the scorecard in meetings. This is what will make this work and bring these teams together. And this is what we cover in our book. So if you are interested in that book, you can reach out to me, email@example.com. And we will be sending out preview copies for anyone that's interested in reading a preview copy and putting a quote in the book. So that's another thing that we're working on as well.
Tim Butara: Tom, thank you so much. I'm sure that our listeners will have gotten a lot of invaluable tips and insights from this episode. I know I sure have. Thank you so much for being our guest today. I really enjoyed speaking with you.
Thomas Young: Thanks, Tim. It was a pleasure being here.
Tim Butara: Well, to our listeners. That's all for this episode. Have a great day, everyone and stay safe.
Thanks for tuning in. If you'd like to check out our other episodes, you can find all of them at agiledrop.com/podcast as well as on all the most popular podcasting platforms. Make sure to subscribe so you don't miss any new new episodes and don't forget to share the podcast with your friends and colleagues.