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As product marketers, we’re all aware that communication gaps can exist between marketing and sales - sometimes between marketing and everyone in the org - and something needs to be done about it.

We have the power to fix it, as PMMS, and in this article, I’ll explain how to bridge the divide using tried and tested communication tactics, and share my top tips on building partnerships with sales going forward.

My name's Maggie McCann and I'm going to talk to you about the communication gap that we know exists between all marketing and sales, sometimes all marketing and everybody else, or all sales and everybody else.

I'll dive into a little bit about building a partnership and what you can do to bridge that gap we all know exists and we as product marketers have the power to fix.

In this article I'll be talking about:

  • The importance of communication,
  • Building partnerships, and
  • Creating cross-functional teams.

About me

I am the Director of Product Marketing at Centro, I have been on the Chicago tech scene for about 10 years now. I've worked all in tech, I've supported sales teams from two people to 100 people.

I have quite a bit of experience with lots of different types of sales teams so I like to think I have a little bit of credibility talking on this subject.

Centro

Maggie McCann is the Director of Product Marketing for Centro, a digital media company based in Chicago.

I work for Centro, we are a digital advertising technology company with the goal of making the lives of marketers easy. We sell to marketers, digital marketers, we sell a product called Basis, it is the most comprehensive and automated digital media platform.

Centro is a digital advertising company aimed at professionals in the marketing industry.


We try to make digital marketers’ lives easier.

Communication

When we fail to communicate, we fail. This is something I always thought was a famous quote but I did some research this weekend and I think my grandpa just says it all the time. He gets plaques printed and gives them out to people.

When we fail to communicate, we fail

This is true. It's super simple but super true.


When we fail to communicate with our sales teams, we are going to completely let them down.

Consistent monthly updates

Our team has some really cool things that we have the opportunity to do every month that get us in front of sales which I want to share with you.

Marketing update

The first one with our consistent monthly updates is the marketing update on the all-hand sales call. We are very fortunate because we have 10-20 minutes every month to get in front of our sales team and talk to them.

This is our chance to tell them anything, it's me on the call every time talking to them about any new product updates we have, any new sales tools that are available to them, and then any awards, accolades, news, or events.

This is our chance to get it all in front of them, tell them in person, let them hear our voices, and communicate with them that way.

But we know everybody learns differently and in reality, nobody's paying attention when you're talking to them on a phone.

Seller newsletter

So we follow up with a sales enablement and seller newsletter. This newsletter covers everything we talked about on the call, and then any other important updates.

This is all-encompassing for marketing, it always starts with the product updates, because we own the newsletter, and we're the product marketing team. Other than that we have any new and pertinent marketing information.

Consistent monthly updates are core to strong communication.


This is their one source of truth every month, they know if they have a question about what's going on, what events we're going to be at, what we're doing next month, what we did last month, the seller newsletter is their place to get it.

Product training

I'm a big believer in product training, and I'm a big believer in top-down training. I know that if you can build consensus at the leadership level, it's going to be much easier at the seller level.

Top-down training

I take that on myself with the top-down training, I make sure if we have a product or feature being launched, an initiative, at any time in the year, if it's super important and we really need sales buy-in I make sure I take time to train our VPs and directors.

This can change depending on your company size but for us, we have four regional VPs throughout the country, directors underneath them, and a bunch of sellers underneath them.

If I can make our directors super confident in having those conversations with their sales team, that's going to make my team's life a lot easier and it's going to make the business a lot more successful.

So we do a lot of top-down training to make sure they're comfortable, it gives them a forum to ask questions without all of their sellers in the room and it really gives us a good chance to have a conversation about what we're rolling down the pipeline, and what questions sales might have with that.

Besides top-down training, we do recorded video training in our learning management system for every major product/feature/initiative release.

Consistency is key

We try to keep communication with sales very consistent. So just like the consistent monthly updates where they know every month, what time of the month, what they're going to get, and who they're going to get it from - we also do that with training.

These are the questions that are answered in every single product training.

Product training is a leading form of sales enablement for companies.

Our team knows when they're learning about something, these are the things they'll know the answer to. They don't have to ask questions about these things, these are the core things they're always going to get information about.

In addition to the trainings which they take online in their own time, we also have:

  • A quiz afterward to test their knowledge.
  • We provide them all the sales materials after this as well including:
  • a detailed FAQ, confluence pages, if they want to read through them, and,
  • as much information as they want to access, they will be able to access.

But we make sure every single salesperson at our company gets what they need to be successful in a format that they can digest and understand.

You might be thinking, depending on how your company works, this could be an insane amount of product trainings so how do we control that?

Tiers

We tier every single thing we launch. This is an example that has been updated and changed many times, we have a PDF that lives with our product teams, with our marketing teams, and with our sales teams.

Tiering systems are commonly using in companies for product launches.


But on a quarterly basis, we get together with a cross-functional group, take a look at our roadmap and assign every single thing on the roadmap a tier.

  • If it's tier one, they're going to get a lot more information, there may be an event around it, there's for sure going to be PR, they're going to get formalized training.
  • If it's a tier four, they may not even hear about it.

But at least this way, they know what to expect with the communication from our team with every single product and feature and initiative that we roll out.

We want to make sure we're not doing a massive data dump on them. Especially for things like enhancements or things that are market standard, you may not go into as much detail in the training, again, have all of that detailed information accessible, you may have people who really want to learn that way.

But this gives us the core for what you need to know about every feature at every stage in the process.

Communication; best practices and tips

The content we share with our sales team is only shared through links that lead back to our sales enablement tool. We really like tracking the data, we really like being able to tell sales there's one place to go for all the information, we're not hiding things from you.

We're not trying to make them difficult to find it is all right there so even the newsletter links right back to highspot, our sales enablement tool.

One source

Everything they need to know comes with links from the same person with the same subject line every month. I am the person who communicates their monthly updates to them.

We've got an awesome team, I have some of the best marketers in the business on my team but it's important that sales have a consistent message from a consistent person because they're getting hit from the other members of the team with all kinds of things, requests for case studies, requests for customer references, ride alongs, all that kind of stuff.

But they know when they get an email from me, on the second Wednesday of every month, it is your newsletter and you should open it.

Roadmap

We update our roadmap monthly and that lives in our sales enablement tool. On that roadmap, we have an internal version that has the tiers for each product and feature that's coming out so sales know exactly what they're getting - they don't come to us and ask.

Training consistency

Training follows a consistent schedule, again, communication - constant, consistent communication is the key to us with our sales team.

They always have the relevant information and we always try to give it to them in multiple ways so everybody is able to consume that information.

The content process is streamlined at Centro. Consequently, each member of the team is clear of what the expectations are.

Building partnerships

We're all super good at building partnerships within the organizations, product marketing especially has to be, but how do I do that with sales? Sometimes they're our toughest customers.

Get out of the office!

The number one thing I can stress is to get out of the office and I can't stress this enough.

Not just 'Let's grab coffee for 15 minutes so we can learn more about each other and I can figure out how to better support your team'. But in an actual get out of the office kind of way.

The best relationships I have built with our sales team came from finding things out we have in common. Getting out of the office, volunteer events, sales conferences, different things. I travel with the team too.

We have teams all over the country. The Denver office is the one I'm closest to because I was randomly there on a day they played kickball, and we had the best day.

This team now comes to me with all of the information they're getting from the field. They reach out when they have questions, concerns, when they're curious about things. I get more insight and intel from the sellers that I've spent time with outside of the office with non-work-related activities than anybody else.

I'm not a big networker, not a big post-work socializer, I've just found this works very, very well. Get to know them.

Getting out of the office and getting to know your team socially is critical.


People like to be included

People get excited when they have a stake in something.

Create cross-functional teams

One of the really good ways we've done this, and I've done this in various companies is to create cross-functional teams.

When you're launching a product, when you're talking about launching a product, when you're ideating on a product, get people from sales involved in that.

We typically have a customer success person, account management, finance, all of the other core groups. At least in my experience, we don't often ask sales what do you think about this? What do you think the messaging should be from the beginning?

These are the people that are out in the field, they have all of that information, they have all of that insight. We don't always listen to them or we get sick of listening to them so we move on to the next thing.

But these are important things and they really do have the insight. Getting their buy-in when you're building a product will mean they're super excited about it when it's getting to launch. That means you have an advocate in the field, you have someone at the ground level helping you, and really being an ally for this product.

Ask for help in building the story

We're doing something right now, we're talking digital TV buying which is huge everywhere. We're trying to figure out what our TV story is.

We've enlisted four different salespeople who've had a lot of success selling TV to come help us build that story. They know what they're talking about, what's going on in the market, what people are saying, and what they're asking for.

Naming can always be a brainstorm

Naming is the third thing that I've had some fun with for getting sales involved. You can do this with various parts of the organization, depending on your corporate culture and how formal it is.

But especially for internal projects, let groups name them, especially for internal things, let them come with some crazy ridiculous names, but that gives them some ownership in the product, the feature, the initiative when it does go to market.

Include your people in the process - it excites them and motivates them in their work.

Hold people accountable

The sales team needs to be using the tools, content, and collateral that you're giving them. So here are the four things I recommend.

  1. Have a tool that tracks the online training and the quiz taking,
  2. Have a tool that gives you visibility into all of your sales collateral, the usage, views, downloads, individual basis, team basis, all that,
  3. Track the emails that are sent in your communications, who's on the calls, all that good stuff, and
  4. Track your demo sites, see which sales members - if you have sales teams that do demos - are logging in, how long those demos are taking, all that good data.

Use the data

Hold sales accountable, but use that data for good not just to hold sales accountable. If you have collateral in there that's never been touched, you're not doing something right so take a look at what your side of the house is doing on marketing and adjust.

Use that data for that, if you have collateral that is the most highly downloaded for one product, it's probably a good idea to create that for another product.

Always provide updates

Always provide them updates, going back to building relationships, people are going to start coming to you, people are going to ask you questions, people are going to give you suggestions.

They'll stop that really fast if you say "Oh, yeah", and then never follow up with them about anything. They need to know you're listening, actually listening, and you value their feedback.

Provide them updates, even if that means something's not going to happen, tell them why, tell them what else was prioritized, they'll appreciate it.

Deliver what you promised

This goes back to our communication and my big need for consistency with that. Our sales team knows when we're launching something new exactly what that means, exactly what the cadence for timing is, exactly when they're going to be trained, and exactly what collateral they're going to get.

Delivering what we promised has built trust, relationships with us, and we expect them to deliver what they promise as well.

If you're a salesperson that is taking all the trainings, understanding everything, providing us market feedback, you should be successful and we will vocalize that throughout the company and become your biggest champion as well.

Make sure each member of staff, including yourself, is accountable for their actions.

Actionable takeaways

Use sales enablement tools

One place for everybody to look for anything for communication - that's our sales enablement content management tool.

Publish a newsletter

One place for them to reference everything new - that's our seller newsletter, they know every month this is where everything that's new goes and lives.

Create habits and consistency - that goes into everything.

Introduce a tiering system

They know exactly what they're getting with each product feature for each release.

Know staff away from work

Get to know them, keep it informal, out of the office is always good.

Create cross-functional teams

Give them ownership of things - people get excited, people will fight for things when they feel a part of them.

Prioritize

Keep your team accountable and consistent - when sales ask for something, deliver it. My team uses Microsoft planner, we have all kinds of planner boards and that's how we know where prioritization is.

It's company facing so if a salesperson wants to log in and see what my team is working on they absolutely can.

Gather the data and report it

Report on what sales might need some help with, some pushing in the right direction, what may or may not be working on that end.

But also what may or may not be working on your end and highlight the people doing what you want them to be doing.

If you have some awesome sales people on your team shout it from the rooftops, salespeople shockingly like recognition. The more they hear their name, the more they'll want to be up on that leaderboard, the more they'll want to be in your sights and the more successful everybody will be.

That's all I have, thank you.

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