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Sales and Marketing Integration: An Interview with Elizabeth Vanneste, CMO of Miller Heiman

This is one of a series of occasional interviews with top practitioners on topics of interest to B2B lead generation, marketing and new business development professionals.

 Elizabeth Vanneste, CMO of Miller HeimanMy guest today is Elizabeth Vanneste, Chief Marketing Officer, Miller Heiman, a global leader in sales performance solutions with more than 30 years of documented results. Elizabeth has led successful marketing and sales efforts at a number of prestigious companies including MFS International and Level 3 Communications.

Elizabeth, during a recent webcast I attended, you talked about sales and marketing alignment impacting sales results. Please clarify what “sales and marketing alignment” means.

First, sales and marketing need to be focused on the same goals. That sounds obvious but often the new business and base customer growth goals assigned to sales don’t translate easily into the lead generation and customer retention and satisfaction goals given to marketing.

Second, sales and marketing need to agree on common language and definitions. Who is our Ideal Customer? What is our target market? What is a "sales-ready lead?" How do you define customer satisfaction and loyalty?

Once you’ve agreed to common definitions you need to agree on your key messages – What is your value proposition? What is your elevator pitch? Key brand messages?

Finally, there needs to be an agreed business process or meeting rhythm that will keep the two groups in alignment. If sales is finding that the messages are not resonating with clients or the leads deemed "sales ready" are not a good fit, or marketing determines that the customer relationships are not as profitable as they should be, then the two groups need to revisit the definitions and messaging to make sure that they are being effective. At Miller Heiman we have a bi-weekly call with the sales team to review the new leads, understand what resonated with the prospect and gain insight into how well the prospects align with our Ideal Customer profile. Sometimes the action items from these meetings lead to new campaigns or a change to a definition.

The impact is dramatic. In the most recent Miller Heiman Sales Best Practices Study 90 percent of the World-Class Sales Organizations (those are companies that were more likely to report growth in key metrics such as customer retention and sales quota attainment) agreed that sales and marketing are aligned, versus 30 percent for all other organizations.

Please tell me more about this research study.

Miller Heiman’s annual research study of sales practices, success metrics, and World Class Organizations – the Miller Heiman Sales Best Practices Study – has become recognized as the largest continuous research project dedicated to sales performance in the world. Since the study was launched in 2003, more than 23,000 sales professionals have participated. The research results support benchmarking exercises that enable companies to understand how they compare to their peers and how they can better identify areas for improvement.

You’re welcome to download the executive summary of this year’s study: Driving Sales Results in Any Economy.

Back to marketing and sales alignment, Elizabeth, what impact does this alignment really have?

In these days of tight budgets and scarce resources, being aligned improves productivity. According to our study, World Class Sales Organizations report better close rates.

In fact, the study found that more than half of those World-Class Sales Organizations reported a close rate of greater than 60 percent, compared to just only 16 percent of others.

What do marketing teams need to do in order to reach this level of alignment?

A regular (weekly/bi-weekly) lead huddle meeting is a great vehicle. Review all the new leads and the initial conversations with sales. What do the leads have in common? Why are they interested in your company? What are they trying to accomplish? Let marketing ask sales questions about the leads to understand quality and understand common challenges.

Elizabeth, what else can the two teams, marketing and sales, do to better collaborate, to get out of their respective silos?

Sales and marketing can also collaborate on proposals and deal support, internal communications to share success stories, and external communications and public relations.

Is there anything else marketing professionals should know about to help drive sales results for their company?

In addition to understanding customers, marketing needs to understand how salespeople think and how they work. A marketing professional who has walked in a salesperson’s shoes has a unique respect for the pressure and the challenges faced by salespeople. Marketing professionals who respect the sales role are better able to provide the tools and support needed to ensure that sales is successful. Of course, savvy salespeople know they will be well supported when they respect their marketing colleagues as well.

Elizabeth, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and the executive summary of the Miller Heiman Sales Best Practices Study.

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