Tips From the Experts: Maintaining Sales and Marketing Alignment through Rapid Growth
A few a months ago, we brought together sales and marketing leaders from some of the fastest growing SaaS companies for our Go-to-Market Forum. At the event, executives from Engagio, Drift, Toast, Zuora, JetBlue and more shared with us their experiences and advice on how best to align sales and marketing throughout the challenges that come with rapid growth. In reflecting on the event, here are the top four lessons learned that you can apply now to your own SaaS business.
1. Company strategy should be delivered to customers as a compelling story
Companies need to be thoughtful of how they deliver their go-to-market strategy. The very best companies have a relatable story to tell their customers. That story doesn’t just dictate how they speak to the market, but it is what the entire company rallies around internally.
Andy Raskin, Strategic Messaging and Positioning Expert who has helped refine the narrative for numerous companies including Intel, Uber, Mashery and Exinda, provided a framework for developing a story that aligns high growth teams.
Raskin stressed that within the first three elements, there is absolutely no mention of yourself or your company. All too often he sees companies start the conversation about them, rather than the customer. He takes it a step further to say at the beginning, “We are trying to earn their trust. We need to show that we understand them.”
Only once you have achieved that trust and understanding, should you introduce how your company can help prospects achieve that promised land. The promised land is the highly attractive, yet difficult to achieve future that you commit to delivering to your customers. As your company evolves, Raskin reminds us, “every message you send and product you launch better be tied to your ability to take customers to the promised land.”
2. Your team and their processes will make or break you
Leaders at fast scaling companies spend an exorbitant amount of time on hiring. We have all witnessed the immense amount work that goes into scaling high-growth sales and marketing teams. Two enterprise sales leaders with a proven track record of hiring and scaling successful sales teams, Mike McGuinness, the EVP of Sales at Veracode and former SVP Sales at PTC, and George Roberts, a Venture Partner here at OpenView and former VP Sales at Oracle, shared what they’ve learned. Here’s the top advice they had to offer:
Understand employees’ weaknesses: While the strengths of a candidate may shine through in an interview, McGuinness stresses the importance of understanding their weakness from the start as well. This is especially critical when bringing on sales managers to build out new teams. Their number of direct reports can go from 1 or 2 to 10 in a matter of months or even weeks. By understanding their weaknesses, you can managers grow and set them (and, by consequence, their team) up for success. As McGuiness states,
“I always have this little rule that says anybody’s faults will be multiplied by the number of people who work for them. Everybody has faults. So, figure out what they are because if they’re managing six people, you’re going to have that fault times six.”
Drive towards simplicity:Your goal as a sales leader should be to keep things simple. This should be your mantra across all elements of your sales organization. It can be applied to territory design, the sales process, comp plans, etc. As your organization scales, there will be the need for further sophistication and segmentation, but you must be diligent to only do so with simplicity. As Roberts has learned,
“Complexity is easy. It’s everywhere in our lives. Simplicity is difficult. But simplicity is the key to making things scale. You’ve got to get the friction out of everything. Your job should be to make sure you’re getting friction out of your people’s lives to go do their jobs to the best of their ability. You want to focus on keeping things as simple as possible, as easy as possible so your teams can do their jobs versus adding complexity.”
3. Continuous rapid improvement
The SaaS landscape is undoubtedly competitive. The companies that continue to thrive are the ones that embrace change and are never satisfied. This culture of continuous, rapid improvement needs to instilled across all departments and levels.
Toast’s CEO, Chris Comparato, explained how this never satisfied mindset is at the heart of their company strategy and is a primary reason why they have become one of the fastest growing tech companies in the US. Comparato made the clear distinction that all change isn’t good. It is just as important for the leadership to say yes as it is to say no in order to stay laser focused and ensure changes are in the best interest of the company’s long term strategy.
Toast’s results prove that this strategy is working for them. They now have hundreds of employees and made the 2017 Forbes Cloud 100 list. And they show no signs of slowing down. This summer they raised over $100M to continue to fuel that growth.
“We challenge ourselves at Toast to always ask ourselves how do we think bigger, how do we go faster, and how do we execute in a continuous improvement way, instead of thinking we have already solved the problem.”
4. Everything starts and ends with the customer
“The customer” shaped up to be the common theme throughout our forum this year, as marketing and sales leaders recognized the importance of utilizing customer insights to not only help drive the product roadmap, but to align sales and marketing. This theme is certainly not unique to the SaaS industry.
Our keynote presentation was delivered by Jamie Perry, former VP of Marketing at JetBlue. Over Perry’s 7 year tenure at JetBlue his team has continuously leveraged customer insights to keep JetBlue as one of the most beloved airlines in the industry. Not an easy feat for sure.
Perry provided insight into how customer data shaped the launch of Mint in 2013. JetBlue made a shift from its one-size fits all approach flying when they noticed that their most loyal customers were flying less and less on their transatlantic flights. The shift in flight patterns led to in depth customer research to understand the specific elements that the most loyal customers valued and were willing to pay for. Here’s his advice:
“Organizations that put their customers at the heart of their strategy are going to succeed. What is at the center of what you do, if it’s not the customer? The companies that put their customers at the forefront are on the right track. Then it is just a matter of figuring out how quickly you can achieve the company’s strategy.”
What’s your best advice for aligning sales and marketing? Let us know in the comments.
The success of our businesses will largely be determined by our ability to let go of old assumptions and habits, many of which have served us well, and create the dynamic conditions that allow us to speak to our customers in ways that are personal and important to them.