What 21 Years of Marriage Taught Me About Working with Sales

June 24, 2020 Randi Barshack, CMO

This year marks my 21st year of marriage as well as 21 years leading marketing teams working in tandem with sales. Given that in both cases I’ve endured a tenure long enough to have the wisdom of a legal drinking age adult, I thought I’d share some insight I’ve gained into the eerily similar ways you can  keep these critical relationships healthy and long-lasting.

Work on Your Vows Together 

(Put Your Shared Goals Down on Paper)

I’m not going to name names here, but let’s just say one of us in my own marriage spent hours upon hours drafting a Rumi-esque trobe not only celebrating our love, but outlining our amore-fueled forever ahead. The other one of us searched ‘wedding vows’ on the internet and copy/pasted.  

Wedding vows are the first official documentation of joint goals and alignment, not unlike the quarterly and annual revenue plans that will dictate programs and results. Surprises at the altar (or board meeting) might heighten dramatic flair, but drama is rarely the key to hitting annual numbers or forging lasting happiness (or at least contentedness?). 

Marketers should start their quarterly plans by working from sales goals; building backward from required opportunities to required upper funnel activities. Deep-diving into current pipeline helps marketing teams know whether to allocate budget toward closing existing opportunities or driving acquisition. 

Likewise, sales teams should be factoring in roadmap and marketing programs when deciding on quota categories beyond straight bookings or when architecting SPIFF’s 
On an annual basis, marketing’s confidence in driving incremental demand could and should serve as input into setting annual targets. It’s not just about how many reps you can afford, but how much opportunity you see in the market.

Align on the Big Stuff and Then Pick Your Battles

Before we got married, we had lengthy conversations about issues known to blow apart marriages- things like religion, kids, money. What we didn’t discuss was living room furniture. So imagine my surprise when, furniture shopping with my sparkling, shiny, new spouse, he began gravitating toward chocolate brown, heavy leather, brass-studded recliners. How could he have not known that I had already decided we were destined for a marshmallow-white puff of pillows formed into an L-shaped sectional? In the end, I got my sofa. My husband, however, got his pick of car.

Sales leaders are sometimes suspicious when I acquiesce on things like funnel stages and methodologies-  AQL, MQL, SQL, SAL, numerical stages or even which team SDR’s report into. I’ll often shrug and ask, ‘what would you prefer?’ Let me be clear. I am not without opinions nor have I ever been accused of being a shrinking violet. It’s just that I have other things - proverbial white sofas- that mean more to me. There’s no bible dictating what decisions should be made by sales nor what should be made by marketing. I care that funnel and pipeline stages give a clear, consistent ability to measure success and predict opportunities and revenue. 

Methodologies and metrics you swore by in a previous position or touted by an industry influencer you worship are far less important than the harmony of the relationship between marketing and sales teams. 

Honeymoons, by Definition, End

(Use Headwinds to Strengthen Your Union)

Down quarters, crappy marketing campaigns (who me?), a worthy competitor emerging from out of the blue… Any relationship is much more about day-to-day reality than idealism. And much like the test of any marriage is more about the ‘for worse’ than the ‘for better’,  sales and marketing alignment proves its mettle is about trials and tribulations. 

The good news is that tough times can bring you closer together. In 21 years, my husband and I have seen our fair share of funerals, surgeries and diseases.  

We’ve learned that when facing a period of trudging uphill, to focus on your partner. Focus your attention away from the gorgeous ad campaign the team is so excited about and, instead, think about programs to run that might help sales close pipeline against a formidable competitor.  If your sales team has taken a beating for a quarter, rally the marketing team to run a ‘back with a vengeance’-themed SKO. If there’s a recession pending or going on, pull up your britches, dust off the “4 P’s” from your marketing textbook and revisit pricing, packages, and promotion. 

These ‘I’ve got your back-no matter what’ gestures can take the trust within a relationship to new heights.

Love Texts Make for a Great Marriage 

(Texts Make for Great Alignment with Sales as Well, just don’t confuse the two) 

My husband and I were living in different cities when we met, so texts and instant messages were a big part of our courtship (we both still boast about our double digit ICQ IDs for those of you who know your IM history).  We stayed big on texts in general and, way before Twitter, we had leveraged 40 character messages as a fabric within our marriage. A mid day simple text can make up for long hours and missed dinners. A finger-drawn heart in the steam of the bathroom or quick sticky note full of XOXOXOX’s on the door on days that work starts at dawn.  

Likewise, sales and marketing alignment shouldn’t be limited to QBR’s, offsite or even weekly meetings. Implement alerting technologies that notify sales when key leads come in or, even better, when accounts start to show increased intent or activity. (gotta get the account-based strategy in here). Proactively and without solicitation reach out to reps after key meetings. See how it went, see how the new slides worked, ask how you can make it better. Remind those on your sales team that you appreciate them,  applaud their successes loudly. 

On another note. Keep your text and IM windows clearly divided between spouse and sales team. Over the 21 years, I’ve witnessed numerous multi-tasking colleagues type ‘I love you’ into the wrong chat or text window.   

Don’t Skip Date Night or...Develop a Ritual That Doesn’t Involve SDRs

When I founded TeaLeaf, we had a key early client in Louisville, Kentucky- about an hour drive from the Cincinnati airport. As an early adopter of our technology, we visited them quite often. The VP, Sales and I made a habit of both taking night flights to Cincinnati where we would meet up around 11 pm and jump in a rental car heading south. Our ritual was to exit the highway at the 9th Waffle House we passed where we’d gorge on savory grits and – well- waffles. 

The drive, the shared meals and the ritual itself provided a bond and trust between us that transcended into our day to day business. The Kentucky trips (and then others) became our proverbial ‘Date Night’- important bonding time away from the day to day where we could talk about everything from our personal lives to our respective teams to ways to improve the latest sales deck. 

Whether it’s Waffle House, lunches, a morning coffee or even a walk, regular ‘date nights’ between marketing and sales leadership play a critical part in building a trust-driven, truth-centric relationship beyond the office walls. It helps instill a mutual sense of empathy for the roles each of us plays, provides critical agenda-free bonding and sets the tone for how healthy relationships between all GTM teams should operate.

Roses Can Be Meaningless; And Expensive

(A Great Tech Stack Doesn’t Magically Create Harmony, but it Can Enable It) 

Nothing, to me, feels more meaningless than standard-issue Valentine’s Day red roses, wilting with jacked up holiday pricing. First, I don’t even really like red roses. Second, I find my bargain-hunter self viscerally averse to the price-gouging. It doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a little attention every now and then. One of the most romantic things my husband’s ever done for me is recreate my wedding bouquet one anniversary. It was unique to me- to us. It held special meaning. And, obviously, it was filled with flowers I preferred.  

Unfortunately, sales and marketing teams often adopt tools and technologies with about as much thought as goes into the 6 PM February 14th Walgreens shopper settling on a waxy chocolate sampler and pink teddy bear. Just like a dozen over-priced roses does not a happy marriage make, investment in a costly technology stack does not automatically guarantee alignment. Software license procurement in and of itself is not a magic pill.  Way too many people rely on out of the box functionality, methodology and reporting when successfully leveraging the power of these platforms (and significant investments) requires an adoption path as unique as your business. I’ve lost track of the amount of times I’ve exported out of the box reports to Excel files for the precise lens required to align with a specific business. And while marketing and sales technology, like romance, is paramount to a successful relationship, it needs to be approached with thought and consideration for the specific nuances of your business.

Know When to Call a Therapist

(Objectivity Can Go a Long Way When Navigating Growth Zones of Discomfort)

Since the 1970’s divorce rates in the US have gone down by 50% while the number of marriage therapists has increased 50-fold. Ok, maybe that’s not board meeting-ready ROI, but it’s enough of a trend to support the point of this modest blog post….

Objective third-parties can be critical to keeping relationships of all kinds healthy and aligned. For my marriage, I won’t spill too much, but we’ve definitely benefited from frequent  long-distance mediation calls with either of our mothers. For fast-growing tech companies, I’ve found that consultants provide value well beyond the main service they deliver. For key go-to-market projects, their neutral perspective can quickly correct misalignment between teams when defining processes, measurement or nomenclature. Our best ideas are often birthed in zones of discomfort. The right outside parties can coach you excellence together while ensuring the core tenants of a relationship and goals remain preserved. 

Plan for Extended Quarantine When Picking a Mate

Twenty-one years ago, I never would have guessed marriage meant months on end sequestered in close quarters. Like others who are not exactly having ‘Instagram-friendly’ shelter-in-place, Spring (and, now, *sigh* Summer) of 2020 has put our marriage to test like nothing else. In an apartment offering roughly 450 sq. feet per capita (did I mention there’s also a teenager in the picture?), we’ve utilized headphones, repurposed balconies and even shifted sleep schedules to create space and preserve sanity. I might have even spent an afternoon hibernating in that car my husband chose (see section on letting go).  

On the flip side, sales counterparts are scattered around the globe. There are no ad-hoc swivel chair conversations. No impromptu lunches. No joint customer visits and, certainly, no Waffle House ‘date nights’. I miss my work colleagues at work as much as I miss having private space at home. Sure, we leverage tools like Slack for some quick messages. Our tech stack provides objective, data-driven definitions of our target accounts that drive co-ordinated sales and marketing activities; this proves critical in maintaining alignment of priorities while separated. On top of that, our teams have maintained commitment to connecting with one another with understanding and empathy. Schedules have become more flexible. We’ve both shuffled priorities and efforts to meet market needs. When I just can’t take another zoom call, sales counterparts are happy to connect casually while grabbing a refreshing walk.   

Truth be told, I didn’t exactly screen for a Global Pandemic when dating my current husband nor when meetings key stakeholders on our sales team when interviewing for my current role. Lucky for me both partnerships have proven their ability to weather all that 2020 has thrown in our faces. As a marketer working with sales and as half of a married couple, the same basic human traits—alignment, empathy, compromise, appreciation, connection—are keys to a lasting, loving, and successful happily ever after.   

About the Author

Randi Barshack, CMO

CMO @ RollWorks

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