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Chief Revenue Officer: The Emerging Role

by Trish Bertuzzi on Wed, Sep 05, 2012

Keith Nealon  
I'm always excited to speak with senior B2B execs that really get both sides of the revenue coin (meaning sales & marketing). From time to time, I’ll interview such an Executive and bring you their perspective.

Today, I am with Keith Nealon, Chief Revenue Officer of M5 Networks, a provider of cloud-based business phone systems.

I’ve known Keith for a number of years as he has built, led and scaled winning B2B organizations.

Trish:        Keith, you’ve mentioned that the integration of sales and marketing is critically important now more than ever. What makes you say that?

Keith: Three main reasons. First, buying has changed. It used to be marketing’s job was really about creating awareness and sales would create opportunities. That has been changing. Since buyers do more online before talking to sales, if they ever do, marketing plays more of a lead gen and intelligence gathering role in partnership with sales. Sales also needs marketing’s help deeper in the funnel to differentiate their solutions and manage their volume of opportunities.

Second, it’s easier than ever to measure literally everything across the customer buying cycle. That data needs to be shared and reacted to in real-time, bi-directionally across both groups.

Finally, market conditions change rapidly with most industries being up-ended by disruptive technology, or the barrier to entry being low by the use of SaaS technologies, so we need the factors and the people that drive our revenue funnels to respond faster to these dynamic conditions.

Trish:     What are some challenges you’ve seen in the past from having sales and marketing separated?

Keith: There is often misalignment over what constitutes a lead or there might be no standardization on how to process and distribute leads. Essentially, the efforts of both departments are not oriented to a single goal and set of metrics.

Trish:     How might that impact revenue?

Keith: Imagine, marketing is creating materials based on their view of the solution and isn’t necessarily using language that resonates with buyers. Sales, on the other hand, isn’t providing adequate feedback on leads being generated. So animosity is growing while improvements and corrections aren’t. There can be politics and personalities at play that can be destructive. 

Trish:     Currently, you’re responsible for both groups. What have you done to get in front of those issues?

Keith: I’ve made hires from companies where they are used to working in an integrated fashion, with definitions and SLA’s around lead quality and handoff processes. Also, the ability to interchange roles across departments has become more fluid. For example, sales operations can get involved much earlier in the lead gen process. You can place a marketing hire in sales enablement - where creativity can play an important role in a more process-oriented space.

Trish:     How about day-to-day? How are you instilling a culture of alignment?

Keith: At M5, Senior sales & marketing roles attend every one of my strategy meetings and thus are consistently on the same page and more aligned than in silo’d organizations. The interplay of great ideas feeds back and forth across those lines. We can more rapidly update all integration points - like updating our ideal customer profile or how to qualify a lead, based on new product innovations or competitive threats.

On a more anecdotal note, I think sales members bring helpful process and structure to the marketing function and marketing members brings exciting creativity to the function of sales execution.

Trish:     In your view, does an executive have to have spent time in both sales and marketing roles before taking ownership of either?

Keith: It’s helpful if they have. However, there is too much to learn these days and things change too fast. So it’s about bringing in the best people, who are focused on a common company cause, not a personal cause, and who understand that it’s about focusing on ideas, methods, tactics and strategies that drive results.

As long as that executive understands how buying has changed and is familiar with what a truly aligned sales & marketing org can looked like (even if the roles had been separate), then by providing the appropriate strategy and hiring strong managers they will succeed.

Trish:     What if someone doesn’t own both groups?

Keith: It’s not essential to own both. There are many successful orgs where they are not aligned. I’m simply saying it’s more efficient.

Trish:     What advice would you give to CEOs, or any exec, who might look at their sales & marketing groups and find them in conflict?

Keith: I’d offer a few pieces of advice:

  • Do not accept anything other than a very tight, trusting relationship between these leaders. If that’s not happening, fix it.
  • Measure everything. As the old saying goes “In God we trust, all others bring data”. Data is truth. You can’t hide from it.
  • Define an Ideal Customer Profile with sales & marketing participants. Review it semi-annually.
  • Define an SLA for lead handoff. Review it quarterly.
  • Twice a year, organize sales & marketing off-sites. Have well-defined agendas, review results to date and check for updated needs both sides have of the other.
  • Measure sales & marketing leaders on common goals (topline growth, SLA’s, win/loss ratios)
  • Have each leader step into the other’s role for one quarter.

Trish:     Keith, thanks so much for this. I appreciate your taking the time to talk to us.

So dear audience, what say you? Are we making progress in the area of sales and marketing alignment or are we still in the dark ages?

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