What events can teach digital marketers about alignment with sales

Sales teams are often a lot more enthusiastic about events than digital marketing strategies – here’s how to close the gap

January 22, 2019

What events can teach digital marketers about alignment with sales

I recently celebrated a year as a digital marketing manager at LinkedIn – and it’s a role I’ve loved. I’m part of a great team with an opportunity to make a real impact on the success of our business. My work is constantly interesting, and it’s helping me to build my hybrid marketer skills across a range of different areas. But there’s one thing that I found I missed in my new role compared to my old one: my relationship with sales.

You see, I spent my first year and a half at LinkedIn working in event marketing. And there’s no getting away from the fact that as an event marketer, you have a very different relationship to sales than you do as a digital marketer.

When I worked on events, sales team members were closely involved with everything I did: generating ideas, offering to present at the event, working with me on the invite list. When I presented our strategy for an event to our reps, their eyes would light up immediately. It was a great feeling. I remember the first few occasions when I presented my new online marketing strategy to my sales colleagues. Things couldn’t have been more different. I couldn’t make it through a full presentation before my audience started challenging and pushing back. Sometimes I would struggle to get past the third slide.

What do events have that digital marketing strategies don’t?

As marketers, it’s important to ask ourselves why this is the case. Why does a marketer working in events often have a more positive relationship with sales than one working on digital marketing campaigns? And what can we learn from the relationship between events and sales when it comes to driving closer alignment across the business as a whole?

It's tempting for marketers to put sales people’s preference for events down to persistent stereotypes about their colleagues: they are extroverts who like the limelight, love entertaining, and only value marketing when it leads to an obvious and immediate sales opportunity. However, these stereotypes are wide of the mark. There are valid reasons why sales teams find it easier to get enthusiastic about events – and harder to get enthusiastic about your digital marketing strategy.

Why internal marketing needs a higher priority

The first is visibility. Events are high-profile projects and they make it easy for sales stakeholders to see exactly what you’re doing for them. As digital marketers, most of our activity doesn’t have these natural awareness levels. We have to work harder, and more proactively, at building that awareness.

Selling the concept of an event to sales was easy because I was always talking about objectives and benefits that had obvious relevance to them: a self-selected audience of interested prospects, the opportunity to demonstrate products, have a lot of relevant conversations in a short space of time, and close deals. Digital marketing strategies, in contrast, tend to be a few steps removed from the results that sales are really interested in. That means we have to work that bit harder to tie our activity to their targets.

Cutting out the jargon and inviting collaboration early

The vocabulary of digital marketing doesn’t help. In the early presentations in my new role, my sales colleagues would often pull me up for using jargon that didn’t have a clear meaning and value. They didn’t want to hear about Google Analytics or my Google AdWords strategy. They weren’t interested in me proving that I knew all of the right digital marketing lingo. They were interested in what my digital marketing knowledge meant to them.

Because events were so closely related to sales objectives, it was easy to get the sales team involved in the planning of them. When I moved into digital marketing, I found that this kind of instinctive collaboration wasn’t there. Because there’s less shared understanding, digital marketers tend to invite less input from sales – and sales are less active in making suggestions. As a result, sales feel they are less invested in the digital marketing strategy – and have less control over it.

Why sales teams trust event marketing leads more

The final key difference comes down to how the different types of marketing activity flow through into leads. At an event, sales reps on the stand can qualify leads first-hand, meeting people face-to-face. As a result, they have absolute confidence in the leads they walk away from an event with. Contrast that with the discussions sales and marketing often have about lead quality, and you understand why events are valued so highly by our sales colleagues.

Those are the reasons why I believe that digital marketing struggles to have the same relationship to sales as events does. If we want closer alignment between sales and marketing then we have to address these factors. The question is, how?

Taking an events approach to selling digital marketing strategies

It all starts with a more focused approach to internal marketing: developing a strategy for selling my strategy rather than assuming my colleagues would simply buy into it. I’ve made more of an effort to seek out opinions, feedback and content ideas from sales early on in developing a marketing plan. I try to relate everything I’m doing back to my sales teams’ targets, and all my presentations now start with an executive summary that explains why the success of a campaign matters.

We’ve started sharing our digital marketing campaigns on an internal microsite, pre-launch, to ensure sales have visibility. And we no longer expect our marketing results to speak for themselves. Every two weeks, I sit down with senior sales managers to review our funnel performance and analyse the impact our activity has on both the quantity and quality of leads.

Account-based marketing (ABM) represents another big opportunity to involve sales colleagues in campaign planning. Because we’re developing a list of target accounts together, sales can have event-like levels of confidence in the value of the opportunities we’re working towards.

There’s no point in digital marketers like me resenting sales’ apparent preference for events. It’s on us to identify the reasons and work to close the gap. If anything, digital marketers can point to stronger evidence of ROI and a longer and more regularly flowing pipeline of leads than colleagues working solely in events. We need to work out how to leverage these assets more strongly. If we get it right, then events will no longer stand out for the enthusiasm they generate among sales. That’s because we’ll be aiming to generate the same level of enthusiasm in everything we do.

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