Preethi Sundaram and Ashraf Kamel, Tech Vertical, LinkedIn
Preethi Sundaram and Ashraf
Kamel, Tech Vertical, LinkedIn
06 Minute Read
Over the past two years, Preethi Sundaram and Ashraf Kamel have joined forces to grow a customer-first B2B tech strategy at LinkedIn. It’s vertical-focused, with mutually agreed objectives and KPIs, and it shows what can happen when sales and marketing operate as one unit. It’s something they’re continually building and developing, more important than ever in a fully virtual world.
Director, Technology Vertical, EMEA and LATAM, LinkedIn Marketing Solutions:
The first time we met was when we interviewed Preethi, ahead of her joining LinkedIn two years ago. I was truly excited when she started with us. All of the asks and pain points from our tech sales team in Europe had pointed towards this need for a vertical marketer.
Three big things were driving that need from a sales point of view. We wanted to be able to localise research and insights to make sure they were addressing our EMEA markets specifically. We wanted somebody we could partner with to think about new narratives that we could take to customers and would help us inside their organisation. We wanted to scale our events – but also wanted to transform them.
Head of Industry Marketing, EMEA and LATAM, LinkedIn Marketing Solutions:
It’s really interesting that the demand for my role came from sales. That’s different from most businesses in my experience. Usually, marketing roles come from marketing, and you’re then trying to retrofit that role into what sales want. Because the team was asking for this role, I came into it knowing that they were invested in making the partnership a success.
And that ultimately makes a big difference on alignment. Because the intent is there, because sales had asked for my role, I was immediately more integrated into the team. I’ve never felt like I’m having to focus on proving myself to sales at any time – and that’s actually a big difference.
Ash is really good at communicating and makes sure that the team understands what I do and what they can expect from me – and I ensure that I understand the pain points his team are facing and that we align and prioritise around that. Ash is also very good at involving Sales Ops. He works closely with them, and he shares the metrics with me.
If you’re looking at the sky and trying to see the universe, Sales Ops is the telescope. They help you to make sense of it all. They don’t just give us data; they give us insights on what’s going on so that we can understand the different markets.
Let’s say that Preethi talks to the sales regions and comes to me with the view that we need to double-down on mid-market accounts because they need more development. Sales Ops then comes in and shows me that mid-market is our fastest-growing segment and has potentially the most room to grow – so now we have the intent and the opportunity. Then the insights from Preethi and the team come together, and that becomes a logical priority for us. My job is to get everyone behind it.
With strategy and tactics, we’re tightly aligned. There’s never going to be an event or a piece of research that Ash doesn’t know about. And because we align on key performance indicators (KPI) for the tactics we’ve settled on, it removes a lot of the stress. Once we decide to do an event, then we discuss the strategy, objectives and the measurement KPIs that are needed to make it happen. We have an organised kick-off with the team and create a dashboard so that we’re clear on what everyone needs to do, and we can see anything we need to address.
I actually prefer the term ‘enablement’ to the term ‘alignment’. Sales are here to enable marketing and marketing is here to enable sales – with the customer being the true north in all of these conversations. Our ultimate goal is to make them successful.
We have a very rigorous planning process. We spend a month and a half thinking about our big clients and how we can add value to these accounts. It’s an opportunity for Preethi to join meetings, be close to how we approach our customers, what’s missing, which obstacles need unblocking, and what are the asks of marketing and our other cross-functional partners. Preethi also brings some great macro industry knowledge to these sessions.
We come together on strategy, which we present to the leadership team. That gives us objectives with clear points of accountability. The way we work, we don’t own an objective together. Either marketing owns the objective, and we’re an enabler/ supporter, or it’s the other way around. We each know what we have to deliver and we can go off and deliver it.
That’s a big difference to a lot of businesses. In many cases, there’s some strategic alignment where Execs sit down at the board and talk about what they want to achieve. However, the two teams then go off and plan separately, and when they come together to activate an activity, they find themselves a long way apart. If you’re not careful, that’s where the customer gets lost in two processes which don’t talk to one another.
I think what’s helped us is that we’ve figured out how to do things together first, and then built a process to measure that effectively. A process doesn’t replace the fact that you have a shared strategy or a shared methodology. It has to complement it. I think many companies are obsessed with the process first and foremost: they start with a CRM and then try to figure out what they’re going to do with it. You hear people saying, “I don’t work well with this person, and it’s because we don’t have this dashboard or CRM system.” Actually, I think it’s the other way around.
That’s right. It can too easily be a case of throwing an application at a problem and just hoping that it solves something.
Because of the complexity of today’s tech buying journey, we can’t just have one linear way to communicate with our customers. We have to think about the different ways that we can activate an account because people at a senior level require something very different to those at practitioner level. Interviewing a CMO as part of our content strategy helps us access an important decision-maker that we wouldn’t necessarily reach through an email or an invitation to an event. We also need to think about different touchpoints for different clients. A lot of mid-market clients, start-ups and pre-IPO businesses don’t have experience of how best to use LinkedIn for a business their size – and don’t have agencies to help them. We need a range of content to address the needs of different types of clients.
In our latest research which surveyed B2B tech buyers and decision-makers, The Age of Agility 20/21, we found that 70% of potential buyers have already researched a company before they reach out. From a sales point of view, we need to recognise that we’re only ever talking to a small percentage of the people who influence things - the anonymous buyer is here to stay, and we need an agile and informed sales and marketing strategy to reach them. We can’t assume that we’re covering everyone we need to, just because somebody is telling us that the buck stops with them and they make all the decisions. Sales have a lot of influence, and if we come in and say to marketing, “I only want you to focus on these people I’m talking to,” then we’re missing the bigger picture. The real opportunity is for salespeople to cover the key touchpoints, and then enable other functions in our organisation to cover everyone else in a way that’s productive for us and creates value for the contact.
Every piece of content that I’ve created has come from Ash’s team telling me about an issue their clients face. I never ask them, “what content do you want?” but I always ask, “what problems are your clients facing?” If we want clients to come to an event, for example, they need to have an issue that the event is addressing. I can’t have an invitation sent out that’s not relevant to them. They might not know it, but those clients influence every bit of our content.
It’s not about sales inputting into the content creation itself, but about enabling the process that identifies what content is needed. We need to bring the voice of the customer and articulate their needs in a way that makes business sense.
I feel really close to the sales team and not having them around is one of the things I miss most about not being in the office due to Covid-19. Normally, it would take two minutes for me to go to someone on Ash's team and ask if they've seen a particular issue. A lot of our meetings are just over coffee downstairs. Working from home is difficult as we all know. A lot of that easiness is gone.
As an individual, my life is much less stressful working from home – but reflecting on my relationship with Preethi, I do miss the casual chats and jokes, and the important visual cues that you get from seeing one another in the office. When you work virtually, the human context is missing. Because we know each other and have a lot of history, we can build from there. If we'd never had the chance to spend time together, we might be effective, but I don't think we'd be as aligned as we are on so many different levels.
When you believe in and know the person behind the work, when you know who they are and where their priorities lie, it means that much more. For us, it means that we both go out of your way to support each other and our clients.
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