The relationship between sales and marketing teams is often tumultuous and complicated. They share the same goals, yet they squabble and fight like children. They easily point fingers and tattletale about what the other is doing wrong. Let’s dive into the mind of a salesperson to understand how sales and marketing teams can work together, instead of against each other.
Today, we’re talking to Kris Nelson, head of sales at CoSchedule. He shares what sales teams truly think about marketers and how the two can minimize conflict and improve collaboration. Learn how to avoid pitfalls by following CoSchedule’s techniques.
Eric: It is a tale as old as time. The complicated and often tumultuous relationship between sales and marketing. Now, while they have the same goals, they somehow still end up squabbling or arguing, worst than my kids do over the last bowl of lucky charms, right there pointing fingers, and they’re tattle tailing and they’re quick to point out all the things the other one is doing wrong.
Well, you know what, I’ve had enough of it and so, I wanted to get inside the mind of a salesperson, so I brought in our Head of Sales at CoSchedule, his name is Kris Nelson, and he is going to break down what you’re sales team really thinks of marketers.
How do we get past this stigma between these two teams? How do we minimize conflict? How do you truly collaborate?
And lastly, we’ll look at how our internal team here at CoSchedule, how those two teams interact with each other, maybe some things we can emulate and some pitfalls to avoid. It’s going to be a great one. I cannot wait to dive into this conversation with Kris. I’m Eric, Head of Brand and Buzz Manager at CoSchedule. Thanks for joining another episode of the Actionable Marketing Podcast. All right, buckle up, let’s get amped.
All right, I'm excited to introduce my guest for this episode of the Actionable Marketing Podcast. Kris Nelson, welcome to show my friend.
Kris: EP, my man, good to talk to you bud.
Eric: Thanks Kris, obviously, for those of you that are tuning in to this episode, Kris is our Head of Sales here at CoSchedule. So we are on the first initial basis, EP, is my nickname and actually, this is fun Kris. We worked together, you just reminded me before we started the call that we worked together as interns back at Great Plains and Microsoft. We won’t say how many years ago but a long time ago, right?
Kris: I think I called it hundred-ish years ago.
Eric: That sounds about right give or take. Based on my number of gray hairs by now.
Kris: Yes, exactly.
Eric: Well, good, well, I’m excited to have to you on. This is going to be a fun perspective I think and there’s a reason I brought you on this show, not because of your witty and charming personality. Although that’s part it, it’s really because I think we as marketers, we work in an ecosystem where we have to operate and function with the sales team and work with sales individuals very closely a lot of times in our roles.
I think we’ve had maybe salespeople on the show before but mostly talking about sales-related things and what I wanted to bring you on, Kris, is because I want all the marketers to know what sales people really think of us. I think it’s going to be fun for us to chat about what do the sales team really think of marketers, where if sometimes there are riffs between the two departments and I just want talk to all of it, like I want to dive inside your brain man, which is a scary thought but I want to understand your thoughts on the marketing and how sales in teams need to work together.
Kris: Yes, buckle up folks, this could be fun.
Eric: Good, okay, before we dive in, I always like to start the calls by having the listeners get to know a little bit about their background Kris, you know, try if you can to establish some credibility and then maybe it’s kind of your journey here at CoSchedule.
Kris: Sure, yeah, absolutely. So, I’ve been in sales my entire career; sold a variety of things, mostly in technology. I spent some time selling bank software. I spent some time selling marketing analytic software and then some other things in the non-technology space over the last, we’ll say15-ish plus years.
I’ve been here at CoSchedule for close to two years now. When I started at CoSchedule, I was one of our Sales Executives. So I was just on the phone all day long with potential customers and trying to get more folks to sign up with us here at CoSchedule and since I don’t know, April timeframe I think of 2018, I’ve been heading up the entire team here.
Eric: Awesome and doing a great job at that, and that’s kind of fun. I mean there’s been atypical of a start-up but the sales has really changed, I think here, from when they first started to even to where it's at now, and I think we’ll get into that journey just a little bit. But where I want to begin is, and I wanted to tell a really quick so – I used to work at a Market automation platform and we were at a conference, right?
When you’re at conferences, you’re always trying to think of ways to get people to visit your booth and some other things that we did is we actually talent. We hired this actor and this actress and they walked around the trade show floor and on the front of shirt. It’s a typical marketer for one person and the other person wore a shirt that said typical salesperson.
We basically paid these people to walk up and down the tradeshow floor and argue really loud, like make a scene, and they were arguing about all the things that sales and marketing people typically argue about like, “Oh, the leads you send me are crap,” you know like, “Oh, what’s wrong with all the ones I got you, you're never following up on the leads that I send you," and actually we had our booth number on the back and it’s just kind of a funny thing.
We kind of played out this game but for some reason, there’s at least a stigma, and it's not always true, but there is this stigma that just maybe in reality, for some people listening that sales and marketing teams just don’t get along and I don’t know the history but I would love to start is sort of what’s your experience with that, you know, whether it's in your past sales jobs and then maybe eventually here at CoSchedule.
Kris: Sure, I think that it’s funny is that, the kind of tradeshow example is there’s unfortunately some truth in that. You’ll certainly find a lot finger pointing at times when it comes to sales and marketing and you hit the nail in the head, it’s like, “All the leads you sent me were garbage,” and then the other side of it from a marketing team standpoint, well, it’s apparent that you don’t know what to do with the leads that I send you.
And it’s just kind of unfortunate because you kind of have to remember, and it might be kind of a theme of the podcast here for me today is that we’re kind of all on the same team, so let’s make sure that we’re working together versus working against each other but I’ve certainly been in any plenty of meetings towards the end of month and the quarter where sales teams and marketing teams are pointing fingers at each other trying to deflect blame and trying to figure out how to cover their own backs.
Eric: How in the world then Kris do you recommend that we minimize this conflict? What are things that we can do, like, how do you establish rapport? How do you change your process? I'm sure there’s a bunch of stuff, but in your experience, Kris, what are the things that marketing sales team do to kind of minimize that conflict and work peacefully.
Kris: Yes, I think that’s a really good question and one that might sound really simple and the answer really comes down to communication and I think that communication, the open lines of communication, what they develop is not only that rapport but a developed trust between the teams as well.
So, I think one of the things that we do quite well here at CoSchedule is that there’s always an open line of communication between the leaders of both the marketing side of things and the sales side of things, “Hey, I just got off this call, this was a fantastic lead, here’s why. I just had a few calls today," or maybe not really understanding what we do here at CoSchedule, who we look into where they came from? What email campaign did they come from because we want to make sure—and so does the marketing team, they want to make sure that we’re delivering the right leads to those sales team at the right time. So, to recap what I said, I mean it’s a little bit cliché but open lines of communication to develop that trust that everybody is working the right way.
Eric: So, maybe if you can tell us about a time where there was definite conflict or maybe you just didn’t eye to eye. What were some of the things that caused that conflict and any tips on how to resolve that or what you did to kind of help resolve that for our listeners?
Kris: Sure, I wouldn’t say there’s been a whole lot of conflict here at CoSchedule, thankfully, I think everybody is kind of pro here and everybody is in a sense rowing the boat in the same direction, but I think sometimes even when that’s the case you can run into times where there is conflict of what we’re trying to do and it’s kind of funny because it’s a part of what we live and breathe here which is a really big time ShipIt culture.
If you find something and you think you can get it done, let’s get it out the door and let’s see if it’s going to work. Well, that’s great but sometimes we actually do fall victim to our ready-fire-aim culture in the sense where there have been times where our marketing automation site, I kind of look into an email campaign, I’ve gone, “Whoa, what are we doing here. I just don’t think this is going to work,” so then you just have to ping somebody real quick and you say, “Hey, men, let’s just take a look at this, here’s my opinion on it, I don’t like – I don’t want to say that I hate what we’re going with this but I think we should make this small tweak.
Eric: And that’s why I’m hoping to do a little bit today as maybe kind of pull back that curtain a bit at CoSchedule, how have you established this good relationship with the marketing team at CoSchedule? How are you able to establish this great working relationship? How did you get off in the right foot and then how do you continuing to like, we do love to fail last here, right? We take a lot of chances and risks and that’s part of the startup culture, but then we have to learn from those things. So, if you could maybe just dive deeper into how did you start to work on that dynamic between those two departments here?
Kris: Sure, I mean one way to gain a marketer’s trust is to be really good at selling the leads that they give to you. So, I would say establishing some credibility that you know what you’re doing as a salesperson really does allow you to help the marketing team because they know that you’re certainly on the same side as they are and that you’re really looking to not necessarily tear down the process but more so look to improve it along the way.
Eric: That’s good. I remember one of the things that we used to say because I would help people implement some marketing automation software and a lot of that was – our recommendation was take your Head of Marketing, take your Head of Sales, throw them in a room, lock the door, throw away the key and the hope is after a day of like client scratching and screaming, they walk out of that room with I think realistic expectations and I think at least in my opinion, that has to be a big part of it, right, like what are the expectations that each person is going to deliver with the opportunities in the prospects they’re generating.
Again, if I’m tapping into your brain Kris, what is a salesperson really looking for in a lead band? I know there are acronyms like MQLs and SQLs and blah, blah, blah, but what are you looking for?
Kris: Yes, sure, so all the leads that if you want to go into kind of the acronym terms here at CoSchedule, all the folks that come over to the sale side of things are what we call MQLs or Marketing Qualified Leads. So, we’re saying that these people have certain characteristics within maybe their behavior as far as surfing our site. There are some data on their company that makes us think that this person has some potential to be a good customer here at CoSchedule.
Now, the sales team, what we’re looking for is to evaluate those MQLs, those Marketing Qualified Leads into what we would refer to as sales qualified lead. And a sales qualified lead is someone that we can see being a customer at CoSchedule at a certain playing level and it certainly not an acronym that I made up but one that I've always really liked is the BAND acronym which is a lead that has budget. They take out the cash to pay for it, they have the authority to make the decision, the need is there for the software solution in this case and the timing makes sense.
This is something that they’re hoping to implement in a short-term future, not something that they’re evaluating for, say, 20-20.
Eric: I love that, I love that, so my next question to pry deeper is, so were you involved in the process of establishing what the definitions were for MQLs and for SQLs? And vice versa, was marketing there to help establish MQLs and SQLs, because sometimes they may fall in someone else’s plate and I guess what I’m hoping for is your answer is yes you were but what is the answer?
Kris: The answer is certainly yes, there are a lot of different cohorts of leads and what these people look like and what their behavior was prior to speaking with some other in sales teams that we have tons of data on. And I’ve been a part of the process of kind of diving in and saying, “Hey, to look like this,” no question, they’re a great fit and often times do become those sales qualified leads. Whereas maybe on the flipside of that, these people in this cohort over here, they look like they might actually be a pretty a good lead but in my experience, they’re less so.
Lots of feedback and lot of iteration to try to determine what good MQLs are versus what okay MQLs are and even what may be necessary bad MQLS might be for lack of a better term. It’s been really fun actually working with some of the marketing leads here on helping define what a good MQL is and then from there I help them understand what we consider an SQL.
Eric: I think that you bring up a good point like, yes, you put in the work to define these but there has to be constant iteration, right? I think it’s proving your hypothesis about what a great SQL looks like. So, then how are you guys meeting – weekly or how are you passing that feedback as you kind of slowly fine tune what they actually look like then?
Kris: Certainly, lots of, kind of a constant feedback loop. There's a standing meeting that will happen, at least once a week with some of the leads from the sale side and the marketing side, specifically the marketing automation side and things here at CoSchedule and then the constant feedback loop happens via emails, via HipChats, kind of pulling each other aside when you’re grabbing coffee, “Hey, I was thinking about this, what are your thoughts,” and just kind of continuing to attempt to improve and not just waiting in a sense for that once a week meeting if we think there’s something that we can do, we do it.
Eric: I hope you’re enjoying the conversation with Kris Nelson, our Head of Sales here at CoSchedule on how to bridge the gap between sales and marketing teams. I have a quick reaction for you here, I love it, if you enjoyed this show, please, please, please give us a review. I'm still looking for those reviews in iTunes, give me a rating and review, take a screenshot, send that to podcast at coschedule.com. If you email that to me, I will send you a really great CoSchedule swag pack. I’ve already sent a bunch out. I’ve got some great ones. All the way over to UK, we send them too. So, no distance is too far. I would appreciate that. Thanks so much. Let’s get back to the interview.
There’s going to be breakdowns in process and whether that comes with high leads are being triaged or maybe you see it the platform you’re using or it’s the definition of those MQLs and SQLs. Where you do you find even as smoothly, you know, smoothly as CoSchedule works, where are those biggest breakdowns and what do you try to do to fix them?
Kris: Sure, I actually think that a lot of our biggest breakdowns happened towards the start of what I call my tenure here as the Head of Sales, and some of that happened just from learning how to work together and learning how individuals communicate and that’s really important because getting a chance to learn how someone communicates and learn how they work really allows you to become more efficient in working with them, and that goes both ways, certainly pointing fingers at myself there when it comes to how I communicate back to our marketing team and how I work best.
Eric: You heard it here first folks, the salesperson taking responsibility, I’m just giving you crap. I think that’s smart. I think it’s about learning. I think you kind of talked about how you've kind of grown and we’ve changed. I know when I started here, I think we had just made a shift but historically CoSchedule started as really a click-try-buy solution, right? And as our platform evolved, as our solution evolved, as our functionality evolved, we had a great solution for marketing teams and that kind of changed the dynamic so to speak of the sales process, and now you lead a five-person team now?
Eric: I think there’s going to be tons of learning and how that transition looked like. If I have people that are listening on the line, listening and they’re thinking, “Okay, I need to grow my team or I’m transitioning from a hands-off sales process too. I need to get much more involved.” If you can just lay it out there, man like, what were the growing pains and what did you do to kind of get to where we’re at today?
Kris: Sure, we’re still going through those growing pains. We’re still trying to get better at what we do every day, let’s start there but, yes, that’s right, going from click-try-buy and kind of a purely inbound model to having some sales reps on the phones and walking people through the solution was a major change I would say in all of CoSchedule history. Even the process as it was, when I started in February of 2017 to what it looks like today, maybe not night and day but pretty close to it. We’re learning on our end on what the most effective way for us to communicate to our potential customers is, not only from a marketing standpoint to kind of set the hook, so to speak, but also from a sales standpoint to get those people moving not only from MQLs to SQLs to actual happy paying customers. It’s been a fun transition and one that’s certainly not complete.
Eric: Yes and not all prospects are created equal, as they say at least in terms of your eyes. I think if we’re really being candid, there are going to be opportunities that come our way that are a good fit for perhaps our lower tier of our product and there are opportunities that are going to be a great fit that, “Hey, that’s a great fit for me. As a salesperson, I can grow to this opportunity.” What have we done, and some of these may be in the marketing side, but I love your take on it, like there’s just not enough time in a day for your team to talk to every single person who wants to use CoSchedule regardless of perhaps the diversion, and if we have prospects coming that maybe aren’t SQL ready but could still be a customer, what do we do with those types of people? What’s your recommendation?
Kris: I may not be qualified to talk on this because I deal more in the folks that do end up on the sales side of the wall but there are some nice automated email journeys that we do have for some of what we call more entry-level plans of CoSchedule. That’s actually a better fit for those prospects because they aren’t looking to make this big wide sweeping change to say a marketing team. Maybe they're a solo shop, maybe they're just a two-person team. They’re actually more comfortable in a scenario where they’re buying a self-served model versus one where they’re going to be walked in and holding hands with the sales person all the way through the end.
Eric: You bring up a good point like on the flip side of that Kris are there, like do you go through the process where this prospect just doesn’t want to talk to you, maybe they want CoSchedule but they just don’t want to talk to a salesperson like how do you handle those situations and then do you push it back to marketing to kind of push them through or how do you make that decision or navigate that?
Kris: That’s a good question and I think I wouldn’t have to tell you that I’m bias but I think sales people sometimes do get a bad rep. I think the sales team here at CoSchedule is maybe a little bit different than maybe some sales teams that I’ve been on in the past, I won’t name names certainly but we’re a pretty low pressure environment when it comes to when we do work with our potential customers. What we’re looking for is happy customers. If I don’t think you’re a good fit for a certain CoSchedule plan, you’re going to hear it from me first. We try to set up CoSchedule for long-term success for teams and make it so that our marketing success team has customers who are happy and ready to go versus once who maybe were purchased and maybe, I've heard a call they were knocked over the head and dragged across the finish line.
Eric: Sure, there’s an interesting window there. If I’m using an analogy, I’m a marketer and I’m throwing these leads over this wall to the sales team, the sales team is doing their all-in evaluation – yes, these are SQLs and we missed the mark here. I think sometimes where marketers and sales teams forget to focus on is that pass back, right? Just because they might not be ready to buy now or maybe put all of our criteria, it doesn’t – one, meaning they might not buy in the future or two, might enjoy a different type of plan.
Is there process that you’ve worked with marketing to say, “Hey, I want to throw this bag over the wall to you because I think so many times it kind of just they disappeared,” the salesperson that initial call, they never follow up and they just kind of go into this black hole, this abyss. How do we make sure we don’t let that happen?
Kris: Yes, there’s probably a couple of different ways that we do that Eric. There’s differently against some automated email journeys that we can send those folks through if they do determine that, I’m not saying no, I’m saying not now, and there’s also going to be folks that are going to be and certainly we’ll call them Mega SQLs, maybe an enterprise-type lead that the salesperson will actually handle those follow-ups, they won’t be automated. It’ll be just kind of personal touch and it will be, “Hey, Eric, you said that when we last spoke this summer," it wasn’t a good time. You asked me to follow up in October, here we are, and it’s October the 26th and just reaching out and see what the timeline looks like.
Eric: Yes, I think that’s good. I think it’s about establishing ownership, like making sure who owns that opportunity and when and when if it’s thrown back, marketing now owns it, you put them on an automated nurturer or sales owns it and they’re going to have a notification in their CRM platform. I mean I should say, we’ve been talking about automation, we’ve been talking about CRM. We do leverage these technologies, and I think it really makes the process a lot easier. We use Salesforce internally, and we use Autopilot automation platform. It greases the wheels I think for those teams to work well together which I think should be noted.
Kris: Also, it allows us to work smarter and not harder.
Eric: Yup, we'll always take that. We’re not always talking about leads and prospects so I think there are other ways, if we’re really being smart about the relationship you’ve built between a marketing sales team that those teams can collaborate and learn from each other. Have there been any things beyond just lead conversations that you worked with the marketing team?
Kris: Yes, certainly, not that long ago, I was working with our Head of Marketing, Nathan Ellering with who a lot of podcast listeners would recognize that name on what the ideal profile of a CoSchedule customer is. What size business do they work for, do they have a boss? Does their boss have a boss? Where do they land in the, “corporate hierarchy” and what are the challenges of that person who is facing on a day-to-day basis? Trying to determine this ideal persona of a CoSchedule customer and continuing to iterate on our first version of that to maybe V2 of what this person is.
Eric: There’s great communication in terms of like you, the sales team, you’re talking to prospects on these phone calls every day, you’re hearing their issues, you’re understanding what the approval process looks like, you understand what the hiccups are in getting the yes, and I think it would be naïve of marketers not to listen to the sales team to really understand, this is what we thought but this is what we’re actually hearing. And boy, I know Nathan and his team, they listen to your sales calls, don’t they?
Kris: they do, yes, they’ll sometimes join in as a fly on the wall and other times they’ll just ask us to record them and then they have them to watch and listen to it at their leisure.
Eric: Make no mistake about it, I think if there’s one thing that I gleaned was listen to those phone calls, hear the words that your customers, prospects are using, find out where their hesitations are, find out when you’re seeing something and they’re like, “Oh, yeah” like find out what those things, they kind of get them excited about the tool and then build them into one, I think you mentioned the personas and they could use that, and we’ve actually talked about personas in one of our previous podcasts.
There’s great intel to be gleaned from the sales team there and then also just the words that your prospects are using, work that into your marketing, good stuff. I’d be remised if I didn’t ask you, you have the pleasure of selling a marketing platform to marketers and so, you’re talking to marketers everyday Kris, lucky you and you’re probably talking to them, a variety, people who don’t know the CoSchedule platform.
We’re kind of industry agnostic, you must hear like marketing pains and woes, they must vent to you, at least are coming to you with issues and you’re kind of their therapist. Are you finding any commonalities? Are you finding any similarities like what’s the biggest ailment that marketers are having right now, at least when they’re talking to you?
Kris: It’s really fun getting a chance to talk to marketers every day and I’m not just saying that because it’s the Actionable Marketing podcast but like Eric said, we get a chance to talk to marketing teams of all varieties, all different sizes of marketing teams, lots of different verticals which makes the job kind of fresh from my perspective, giving a chance to talk to maybe someone in finance and then someone at a software company and then someone who works at a majority university.
There are a lot of different verticals that we work in but what’s funny that I find is that there are a lot of common issues that you’ll see within marketing teams and one is definitely going to be found within the planning and visibility of it all. So, how can we start to get an actual plan in place and how can we have some visibility into that plan for either maybe the internal stakeholder who needs to be working on this plan day to day, and maybe also how can we provide visibility to maybe a person one or two levels up, someone who wouldn’t be in the weeds working kind of side-by-side with the marketing team but certain does need to have visibility in what the marketing team is up to.
You’ll also see some issues and some challenges, now that we’ve got this plan in place, how do we take all the individual steps to get it done, some of the project management side of things, some of the workflow side of things. I think we’ve got this great plan in place but I don’t know how to get from step A to step B, let alone step A all the way down to step C. You’ll certainly see that being an issue and then finally kind of the execution of it all.
The execution of any sort of content items that we’re working on, any sort of any social campaigns, execution of the variety of marketing activities, and then getting a chance to prove all the results, we're proving out our productivity to our boss, we were proving out how great these campaigns were. The challenges and the issues, they kind of span industries and they’re ones that selfish, shameless plug here, CoSchedule can certainly help you solve.
Eric: Well, you wouldn’t be a head of sales if you didn’t plug the product at least once during the podcast. Well, it’s like you looked into our souls, I think the marketer souls there, just talking about those things and whether you’re a solopreneur out there listening or whether you’re a marketing team or you’re a manager or you’re a player on that team, whether it’s execution or planning or visibility, those are all things I think we all struggle with. It’s nice to hear but isn’t there a comfort in knowing that someone else is feeling your same pain out there regardless of where you're at.
Well, we’re almost out of time, Kris. I love for you, if you could, if there’s any other final advise as we pick your sales brain for marketers who are struggling working with their sales team, anything else that you would recommend that they do?
Kris: I would just kind of reiterate something that I said, maybe, at least once before but that’s to keep those lines of communication open. I like to think of it again as, we’re all getting our paychecks signed by the same place, we’re all working for the same team here, let’s stop the finger pointing, let’s start working together to try to help each other achieve the goals that we’ve got set up.
Eric: That sounds good, way to wrap it up with a nice ball. Kris, thanks so much for your time today. I definitely appreciate it, I hope our listeners appreciate it to kind of just hearing your side of the story, I think it gives us a lot of things to think about. Hey man, I probably see at lunchtime here huh?