How Cross-Functional Collaboration Saved A Marketing Strategy
“Sales + Content + Product Marketing Monthly Sync” — the dreaded calendar notification. As if Freud himself were watching, my unconscious mind triggered an eye roll so aggressive that it would’ve made Taylor Swift smirk. “Oh boy, here we go again,” I thought to myself.
But let’s be honest, we all have them — those recurring meetings that we wish we could put out of their misery. They stay caked on our calendars despite providing little to no real value. This is a story about one such meeting, with marketing and sales front and center to boot. But don’t worry, this story has a happy ending. This is the story of how I, as a product marketer, realized the value of internal knowledge, and made a dent in the fabled disconnect that often exists between marketing and sales teams. This is the story of my journey to leading product marketing at Guru, and it all started with that eye roll-inducing recurring meeting at my previous company between sales and marketing.
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Cross-functional collaboration and the great divide between sales and marketing
Sales and marketing leaders love to talk about alignment. The dynamic at my previous organization at the time of this story was no different, but as much as we preach alignment, the reality is that there will always be some amount of disconnect between the two teams. For us, this meeting had a special way of drawing it out.
On the day of my “aha moment" as a product marketer, we were doing our usual dance in the monthly sync. Marketing would say to sales, “Look at all these leads we got you,” and sales would say, “These are not the kind of leads we need,” and neither of us could understand where the other was coming from.
We used Guru at this organization to house our marketing materials so that the salespeople could easily find and share them with prospects. Because marketers are usually measured on things like the number of case studies and data sheets written, those were the types of knowledge my team focused on. During this particular monthly sync, I took a look at the analytics in Guru to prove the value of the work we were doing to the sales team, and found something surprising.
Our most-used piece of knowledge wasn’t a case study or a data sheet or anything marketing-manufactured to be sent to prospects. It was an internal-facing card that gave the sales team language to talk about one small piece of our business. This popular knowledge article didn’t mention any of our core features or the overall value we delivered. So why was it sales’ most-used piece of knowledge?
The sales leader in our meeting tapped a rep and asked him to explain the dependency on that particular knowledge. “We get asked about that feature all the time,” said the rep. “On almost every call. The language on our website is geared towards that periphery use case.”
I was floored. The way we talked about our product on the website led prospects to believe that this one small feature was core to our offering. That language was what was attracting all of the “wrong leads” that the sales team didn’t care about. These prospects were coming to our sales team with a very specific idea of what we did, which wasn’t what we wanted it to be. As a result, our sales team was utilizing a ton of internal knowledge around that one small feature.
Not only was our positioning off, but so was our entire content marketing strategy. Truly a product marketer's worst hell.
This meeting is what opened my eyes to the importance of knowledge in cross-functional collaboration, and what ultimately led to me to transition to running product marketing at Guru. In that fated meeting, we used the analytics around knowledge as a means to understand how our content marketing and positioning was off, and that changed my perspective on what knowledge truly means – and how powerful it can be.
What product marketers may not understand about knowledge
Cross-functional collaboration is always going to be tested by a lack of explicitly differentiated goals. Central to the disconnect between sales and marketing is the adage, “Show me how I’m measured, I’ll show you how I behave.” As I mentioned, product marketing, especially in circumstances like these, is often measured by executing on external-facing resources.
Naturally, if that’s the outcome we’re driving towards, that limits our lens into what “success” looks like. Is our emphasis on external assets really driving sales rep productivity? Even if we’re measuring how and where that asset is being used, how does it help my sales reps drive deals forward? Content is only as good as the conversation that precedes it, and all content will result in closed-won or closed-lost deals at some point, so the scope of success is really limited. More importantly, the sole focus on external content limits the scope of what I can measure as a marketer. This is where the difference between the two roles really comes to the fore.
Let me further illustrate this point with another example: Let’s rewind the clock: It’s the spring of 2018 and GDPR is coming up in May. You’re a product marketer tasked with “enabling” your sales team to handle questions and objections from prospects around security and GDPR. Your sales leader is asking for training and collateral, so you put together a training session with your resident security expert and create a data sheet. You help your security expert execute on the training session and focus your time and attention on the data sheet. Done and dusted — you’ve executed on the outcomes asked for.
But here are some questions to ask yourself:
Are people engaging with this data sheet?
Is this data sheet actually generating closed-won business for my revenue teams?
Now, there are a lot of tools out there that help marketers answer these questions. But are these really the questions you should be answering? Or is this just what “sales enablement” vendors who focus on external assets just want you to think you need? Are they serving the needs of one team? Or are they truly serving cross-functional team needs? I must admit, up until my “aha moment" with knowledge management, I didn’t know any better.
Here are some questions to start with instead:
What is driving my rep to send a specific piece of content?
What questions do our prospects have in response to this asset? Does that asset include everything it needs to?
How do I know what to write about next?
Did the training actually succeed? Are my reps now empowered to handle security objections that could be stalling deals?
This is where the fascinating interplay of internal and external knowledge/content comes into play, and opens up a world of opportunity for product marketers everywhere.
If we go back to our GDPR example, a product marketer with a sales asset management solution or a means to track the success of the data sheet may find that it’s being used in all closed won opportunities because every prospect has questions about security and every one is receiving that sheet. What you won’t find is the knowledge behind those analytics. Just because the data sheet is included in content sent to closed won deals, does that mean that it’s helping answer prospect questions? Does that mean that your training worked? Or does it just mean that most prospects are concerned about GDPR and this is all that you’ve armed your sales team with so they send it off left and right? You don’t really know, do you?
If as a product marketer you broaden the scope of what knowledge means to extend beyond external assets, you might be able to glean more information. Remember me looking up that most used card in my previous role? It was an internal-facing piece of knowledge that gave reps talking points. Imagine in the GDPR scenario that you also create an internal piece of security knowledge in addition to the training and the one-sheet.
If you were to see, like I did, that the internal knowledge piece that includes an explanation and key talking points is being used every time a prospect sends the one-sheet, doesn’t that tell you that either A) the training was insufficient because the reps are still not sure how to talk about GDPR, or B) that the one-sheet is insufficient because reps still need internal knowledge to answer prospects’ questions? The content alone doesn’t tell you the full story.
Understanding that internal knowledge and external knowledge have a compounding effect on cross-functional collaboration
As soon as I witnessed the value of knowledge first hand, it changed the way I thought about product marketing and sales enablement forever. When it comes to empowering sales teams to speak about your product, content alone is not enough. It’s not enough for the reps, and it’s not enough for product marketers, because content alone doesn’t give us the full story. Being able to see that reps need additional context beyond the data sheet you made tells you so much more than being able to see that that data sheet itself was shared. It’s the context around content that helps reps close deals and informs future content strategy.
When you compliment content efforts with internal knowledge, you get a full lens into the customer journey, and can start to think more strategically about your overall content strategy, as well as how to empower your revenue-generating teams.
And for every product marketer that’s ever said to themselves “I wish I could be on every sales call,” having insight into the sales knowledge exchanged with prospects (beyond just the assets) is a really, really powerful way to get similar value.
1 + 1 = 3
Knowledge management and asset management are often thought of two different categories of products. Interestingly, both can looked to to solve a “sales enablement” problem. And while the former solves a sales problem, the latter solves a marketing problem — despite what any vendor tells you. Here’s the kicker for you product marketers, though: when you solve both problems, together, the results compound into something incredible — not only for sales, but product marketers, too.
It’s time to fundamentally rethink the interplay of these two categories. As product marketers, let's leverage both internal and external knowledge, and get a clear lens into the customer journey and every piece of internal end external content a rep leverages in these situations. The outputs here will ensure we’re doing everything we can to empower our revenue generating teams to deliver amazing customer experiences.