Pipeline masters: Sales and marketing alignment in action

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Cisco’s Mark Phibbs explains the advantages of better sales and marketing collaboration: for the pipeline and maximising qualified leads.

The customer journey starts with marketing, moves through to sales and then onwards to customer service. An excellent customer journey – the sort of experience that contributes to conversion, loyalty and advocacy – has no bumps through each of those transitions.

Marketing and sales have historically operated with their own goals, culture and values. This can open up divisions. But the departments should work from the same playbook.

“Fundamentally customers don’t care about divisions between sales and marketing,” says Mark Phibbs, Vice President of Marketing (APAC) at Cisco. “They want to have a great experience with whichever brand they’re dealing with.”

Taking control of the pipeline

Digital disruption has changed the customer journey. It has become commonplace to research online before buying. Often, this means marketing owns a large part of the customer journey and experience before handing over to the sales team, so the two need to work closely to gain new insights, optimise pipeline, and find and use more qualified leads.

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Cisco’s Vice President of Marketing APAC Mark Phibbs

“Depending on the stats you look at, between 50 and 70 per cent of consideration happens before anyone speaks to a salesperson,” Phibbs says. “So sales and marketing need to work more closely than ever before. They need to respect each other’s roles, they need to be doing the right function at the right time and then there needs to be the right handoff between that consideration process and the sales process.”

“Every quarter I release a marketing impact statement to everyone in sales so that they understand marketers are not the fluffy people who decide the colour of the logo.”

While marketing has ownership of a large part of the customer journey, without alignment the two departments can’t take a holistic view of the entire pipeline and remove inefficiencies. In other words, alignment means gaining new insights, an optimised pipeline, more qualified leads and, vitally, increased use of the strongest leads by the sales team.

“For example, when you develop leads as a marketing organisation, you’ve got to think about that from the top of the funnel right to the conclusion of the sale. There’s no point in spending all this money on marketing and then the leads not being dealt with quickly and effectively.”

Data needs alignment

Alignment can also provide better data for more accurate predictive analytics. For example, data that informs predictions about how much revenue a specific campaign will raise. “It’s not about digital marketing anymore, it’s about marketing in the digital world and to do that successfully marketeers need to have a better grasp on the data than anyone else,” Phibbs says.

At Cisco, Phibbs has set up a market insights and optimisation team made up of analysts and data scientists. “We can now tell how customers in some of our largest accounts are interacting on Cisco.com, and we can see when they’re surging on a particular topic,” he says.

The team uses the data to adapt content based on how customers are reacting to it. This means the content excites customers and cuts through an inundated audience. This data can also, for example, show when a target account stops visiting Cisco websites and instead visits a competitor’s website. “That’s an early-warning indicator to our account team that their tender bid’s in trouble and they should do something about that,” Phibbs says.

“When marketing can get to that point in conjunction with sales, both functions get much more credibility with the CFO.”

How to foster understanding between departments

Phibbs has worked in both sales and marketing, something he sees as an “advantage”. “Many marketers don’t understand sales and many salespeople don’t understand marketing,” he says. “You’ve got to respect both sides of the equation. So it’s an education process, but then there’s a trust and respect process as well.”

To build respect and understanding between sales and marketing, Phibbs suggests that both departments should discuss their yearly strategies together. “Every quarter I release a marketing impact statement to everyone in sales so that they understand marketers are not the fluffy people who decide the colour of the logo.

“We’re driven by data and we’re proving our impact on the business. Everyone always needs to put on the hat of, in our case, what is best for Cisco, not what is best for sales or marketing in Cisco.”

Phibbs takes this a step further – beyond reporting on impact to having each team walk in the other’s shoes. Having the marketing team sit in on sales calls with customers every quarter means marketing can learn about the sales team’s issues and keep close to their customers.

“That cross-pollination is very important,” he says.

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Further reading: Cisco’s chief change officer

Photo: Troy Williams on Unsplash

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