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Beers with Sales: Wingman Buys

My very first post was "Hey Marketing, Be Sales Wingman." It focused on relationship that needs to exist between sales and marketing for organizations to truly thrive. As it happened, I had just finished that article and was interviewing for the head of marketing position at Equilar.

 I remember a very spirited conversation with the company's head of sales, Niranjan Samant who had read the piece and pretty bluntly said, "If you aren't blowing smoke up my butt and can really be my wingman, it's exactly what I need!" Of course, I said I'd prove it and a week later joined the company.

Niranjan and I connected on other levels since we both came from the enterprise software space. Niranjan was previously the head of sales at Serus and I ran global corporate marketing for Tibco. It's also worthy to note, that in a difficult 2009, together, we helped Equilar achieve substantial revenue growth in a record year for the company.

So, after eight months, I thought, who better to call me on the advice I dole out and provide some much needed perspective then him. We sat down for drinks (not the first time and won't be the last) to talk about being his wingman and the relationship between sales and marketing. Here's what we discussed:

Scott (AKA - ME): Niranjan, 2009 was wild and we were both pretty new to the company. I think I suckered you on the whole "wingman" analogy. After eight months, what do you think? Did I live up to that promise?

Niranjan: No question about it. This is the best relationship I've ever seen between marketing and sales.

Scott: Let me drill into the mind of a sales leader. I think it helps marketing folks a lot to know how sales thinks. So, here goes. If you could talk to yourself 10 years ago, what would you say?

Niranjan: I'd tell myself to better focus on expectation setting up front. Be a more effective communicator on what I want and drive to that goal. I see the same with our sales guys today and it reminds me a lot of myself. I see a lack of communications and expectations. I thought I knew all the answers. Perhaps I'd tell myself to shut up and learn. Finally, I'd advise a younger me - know thyself and kissing up to the boss is only a short-term thing.

Scott: What do marketing people not know about sales people?

Niranjan: The pressure and urgency. Sales can be thankless. It's defined so much by "yes or "no" (for deals). That drives a lot of pressure on the spot. When you do a lot of deals, it just creates higher expectations. It's a double-edged sword where you are damned if you do, damned if you don't. Most in marketing don't know about the day-to-day pressure. Sales folks need avenues to vent. That is why they can live extreme lives. The better you do, the more everyone expects of you in the next month, quarter, year.

Scott: When a new marketing person meets the head of sales for first time, what do you want to hear?

Niranjan: Share with me how you are compensated. What's your hiring plan? What gets you and your people fired up? Leave the door open so I can come back to you with thoughts on how to help me achieve my goals.

Scott: What about when a new sales person meets the head of marketing? What should he/she say?

Niranjan: What are your plans to cover my territory and get more inbound leads? How can you get us more awareness? How can you help me create an impression that what we sell is a must have?

Scott: When are you frustrated with marketing and want to kill us/marketing?

Niranjan: It drives me crazy when we are not in sync. I want to really know what sales are generated from marketing. I want an affirmative answer.  I hate grey areas; I can't plan for the grey. I need accuracy in planning. Sales people have a tendency to claim all the deals they close are because of them start to finish.  That doesn't promote harmony and I can't give good guidance based on bravado of sales.  I really want to know and translate the marketing impact on sales so that when we plan for growth and I make commitments to the CEO, I can also be clear on the required level of marketing support. It does me no good to pretend that marketing doesn't have an impact, in fact, it just would serve to shoot me in the foot.  So, marketing needs to be stronger with sales and make them accountable for program leads. Don't be afraid to say "what did you do with the leads we gave you?" Many times, when sales gets close or to quota, they are happy to be at the bar drinking at 5pm. So, while you might have generated 50 good leads, if sales only needs 10 of them this quarter, it might only look like 10 of them panned out, so you have to hold our feet to the fire. I hate seeing wasted leads.

Scott: When do you want to kill your own people?

Niranjan: When they sandbag. As I said, I hate grey areas. I like black and white. I don't like and can't plan on ifs, butts or trust me's, etc. I want supporting facts on deals. I can deal with someone being upfront about missing their number, but tell me early. Don't wish on the business. Don't play the cheerleader game hoping deals come in. Don't plan on bluebirds.  I hate it when salespeople don't plan for a week, month and even a quarter ahead.  I want salespeople that say "I'm clear on what my number is and here's the plan. Here's how many calls I need to make, how many demos to book, how many opportunities, etc." I want them to be proactive if assumptions are not aligning.

Scott: When do you love marketing?

Niranjan: When they do special programs to help us meet goals. When they bridge the gap between where we are and where we need to be. When because of something they do, a bluebird comes in. When they put in place programs 4-months out and share that with us to provide clarity.  With that, we can plan training and forecasting. Mostly when we are on the same page and especially when they are my wingman!