How CMOs Can Save Themselves and Sales from Data Drowning

Last month, I completed my first swim camp. I learned more in 6 days than I have in 30 years of swim practices. I am more tired and sore than I can ever remember. At times, I felt victorious and attribute my progress to coach Scott. At other times, I became frustrated and blamed him for my pain and suffering."Lisa

Love/hate relationships can happen in high performing Sales and Marketing teams too. If there has been one constant I’ve experienced throughout the past 30 years, it has been the persistent tension between Sales and Marketing leadership teams. Sales professionals are the swimmers, and Marketing often plays the role of coach Scott.

Today, the rifts between Sales and Marketing rise to the water’s surface as an increasing number of my chief marketing officer (CMO) clients are assigned sales quotas. This leads to missteps and unnecessary tension across selling channels.

While early successes with marketing automation have enabled higher sales lead quality, prioritization, and buyer understanding, the four aspects of data—data definition, interpretation, ownership, and availability—still prevent CMOs from earning the respect of their revenue-producing counterparts.


The first Sales and Marketing friction point is data interpretation. In many cases, Marketing and Sales are operating based on multiple views of the truth.

Brian Kardon, CMO of software provider Lattice Engines, notes that “when the CEO wants to accelerate the company’s rate of growth, she might call a meeting with the head of sales, CMO and CFO [chief financial officer]. However, the VP of Sales, CMO and CFO are typically referring to three different systems to assess where they are. The VP of Sales brings in data from the CRM [Customer Relationship Management system]. The CMO uses data from the marketing automation system…and the CFO presents data from the company’s financial system. Very often, these three systems give very different pictures of where the company is. This makes it virtually impossible to determine what the challenges and opportunities are.”

As a result, each executive delivers their own murky, incomplete view of the big picture.


Data ownership also creates tension. In B2B marketing circles, several CMOs have established sophisticated (and often overly complicated) models to track and improve how they create demand. The model typically shows the different ways a lead can be generated: by a salesperson, through inbound marketing or an effective piece of marketing content, or as a “bluebird.” It also includes terminology that tells you whether that lead was generated by Marketing, Sales, a channel partner who qualified the lead, and so forth.

Unfortunately, the process model does not make it easy to juggle the sheer number of handoffs between Marketing, Sales, and Customer Service that naturally occur during the life cycle of any customer. In some instances, companies allow Sales and Marketing to jointly claim ownership of the customer relationship. (I equate this to companies who firmly believe in hiring co-CEOs. I think this is rarely a success.)

While the demand creation process model is a noble attempt at aligning teams around the customer, it ignores the surging importance of marketing throughout the customer life cycle. It obsesses with hitting a revenue goal, not with making it easy for a customer to do business with you.


Data definition can also fall adrift. In many companies, Marketing defines sales leads one way, and Sales defines them another way. Charles Gold, a seasoned CMO based in Washington, DC, observes that “When sales and marketing define target markets, leads and 180407746Editopportunities differently, then everyone loses. I’ve seen the scenario where marketing proudly reported that they generated 1,000 leads, and sales argued that they weren’t actually leads, but rather names. Then both parties pull out different reports with different numbers to argue their case.”


Data availability, or a lack thereof, also contributes to choppy waters between Sales and Marketing. When a company creates a new market category, Sales and Marketing often lack historical insights into the way buyers behave when they buy. In some circles, this is also known as the buyer profile or buyer persona. In these scenarios, Marketing’s role is more chaotic and less formulaic than for companies selling into an established buyer community. It could be easy for Sales to become frustrated with Marketing’s “test and learn” approach—yet they often have no choice. This is particularly true in small and emerging growth organizations.

Mike Troiano, CMO of data storage company Actifio, faces this challenge on a regular basis. “Our primary marketing challenge is that we solve a problem most customers don’t yet know they have. Our marketing needs to work on two levels, and the first is an umbrella effort to educate the market about the ‘copy data storage’ problem. Building awareness of that problem simply takes time.”

Modern marketing leaders can choose to either dive head first into the perilous sea of data, or step back and re-visit some basic questions, such as:

  1. Who is our ideal customer? How do we describe them in ways other than job function, geography, or demographic?
  2. How do they like to be treated along their experience journey with us? What do they value during each step of the journey?
  3. How can we align and reward our respective teams around these customer experience milestones?
  4. How will we get everyone to agree on the true definition of a lead?

These are the questions that every marketing athlete needs to ask before diving into the deep end of the selling pool.

Which additional questions would you add to your next marketing and sales planning session? Share your comments below.

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Copyright 2015, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.

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