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Is Marketing Claiming Victory While Sales Are in the Red?

December 04, 2017 | By Ross Graber

  • To be viewed as an accountable business contributor, marketing must report in a way that’s aligned to business performance
  • Misalignment is commonly the result of marketing focusing on performance timeframes that are not matched with the purpose of a specific review meeting
  • Marketing leaders must balance reporting to reflect end-of-quarter requirements of stakeholders and the longer time horizons required to run marketing

Picture it. You’re the head of marketing sitting in a monthly business review meeting with the executive team. The CSO is presenting the forecast and things aren’t looking good. The pipeline isn’t full enough. Multiple regions are underperforming. The slides are covered in red numbers. The CSO then breaks the news that end-of-quarter targets are going to be missed. The mood of the room turns sour. Is Marketing Claiming Victory While Sales Are in the Red?

Now it’s your turn to present the marketing results and you’ve already started sweating. Marketing-sourced pipeline is up. Lead conversion rates are ahead of target, and spending is in line with expectation. You came ready to tell a success story, and now you’re looking for the nearest exit. Few things would be as inappropriate as celebrating marketing’s achievements after that sales update. Sales and marketing are in this together, right? So, how could the marketing numbers be so good while the sales numbers are so bad?

The number one disconnect I see between sales and marketing reporting is caused by reporting timeframes. Whether we like it or not, sales and marketing execute at different rhythms. In complex buying situations, b-to-b marketing begins engaging with buyers months (if not years) before a deal will close. When marketing reports its own performance, a common default is to look at what marketing initiated (created) within the current or previous quarter.   

However, in-quarter reviews typically focus on how much business can be expected to close by quarter’s end – that’s what sales is being held accountable for. And that stuff that marketing just initiated? That’s looking into the future; it’s a conversation that only happens after there’s consideration of how to get the current quarter right.

To put it simply, sales takes a “landings view” of reporting (what’s expected to come in as business in the time period), and marketing favors a “create view” (what was started in the time period).

So, what’s the fix? The following steps will effectively introduce marketing reporting to a monthly business review:

  • Match the timeframes. When it comes to reporting, context is critical; the context here is a monthly review with the executive team and is focused on how to hit the end-of-quarter revenue number. The reporting timeframe must match the intent of the meeting – and to mirror sales, it should take a landings view of performance. Marketing may report on how much of the pipeline projected to close they sourced. It can also show how much of the pipeline due to close that was marketing influenced. However, to actively establish relevance in this meeting, and to demonstrate that marketing’s end-of-quarter priorities are aligned with those of sales, consider moving on to pipeline acceleration measures that look at the portion of the pipeline that marketing has engaged with it and historical success rates.
  • Pivot the discussion. While the primary focus for this reporting forum is business that will close by quarter’s end, marketing cannot report using exclusively a landings view. After addressing the landings view of marketing performance, transition the discussion to one that is forward-looking. Describe what has been created in the current quarter that serves as an indicator for expected overall performance improvement looking into the future; offer best estimates for how far in the future recent efforts will make an impact. Taking this approach requires that time is allotted for discussion of this future-looking view. Work with the meeting chair in advance to secure the time. And if this isn’t possible…
  • Create longer-outlook reporting forums. Set up additional meetings dedicated to discussing a future outlook. Marketing organizations that perpetually operate in reaction mode can’t see past the end of the current quarter and struggle to make longer-term improvements. Where meetings have a longer-term outlook, they will be more conducive to focusing on the create view of performance and better aligned with how marketing builds value. The sales role in such a discussion shifts toward a view of what preparations are needed for the future.
  • Manage marketing’s motions. Run intra-marketing performance reviews centered primarily on what marketing has created in the time period. While current quarter business performance may set the backdrop for the conversation, it’s not possible to manage the business of marketing by looking in the rear-view mirror. To manage marketing, concentrate on what has been created and how that compares to goals and objectives. This keeps the marketing teams focused on what must be accomplished.

Sales and marketing alignment requires the respective functions to work toward the same goals and share accountability for reaching them. However, alignment doesn’t require that the functions exclusively use the same reporting. The burdens of fostering alignment and managing its own performance rests on marketing. It must support multiple reporting timeframes tuned to different reporting forums. This is essential to demonstrating that marketing is accountable for business performance – and not just an out-of-touch bystander.

Ross Graber

Ross Graber is a Senior Research Director of Marketing Operations Strategies at SiriusDecisions. He brings over 15 years of b-to-b marketing experience with focus spanning marketing measurement, demonstrating ROI, data management, process development, marketing technology, customer marketing and sales enablement. Follow Ross on Twitter @rossgraber.

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