As I’ve discussed in some of my previous musings, it’s absolutely critical for marketing to have a close relationship with the sales organization. It’s a bit like volleyball. Marketing needs to deliver a good set (a solid pipeline of qualified sales opportunities) and sales needs to nail the spike (by closing the deal). When this relationship works properly, it can actually drive up both productivity and conversion rates. It’s that vital.

When our Chief Revenue Officer recently went on a six-week sabbatical—in Brazil, completely disconnected from the world of B2B SaaS—he asked if I would be willing to run the sales team while he was out. My response was an immediate and enthusiastic “Yes!”

Of course, behind that “yes” was a fair amount of anxiety, insecurity, and questions—lots of questions. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt had this to say about saying “yes:”

Even if is a bit edgy, a bit out of your comfort zone, saying yes means that you will do something new, meet someone new, and make a difference in your life, and likely in others’ lives as well… Yes is what keeps us all young. Yes is a tiny word that can do big things. Say it often.

This quote speaks to me because saying “yes” to challenges often results in some of the most powerful experiences. I was ready for this one.

Let’s be clear: I did not run sales alone during these six weeks. I worked with a talented, driven, methodical, and passionate group on the sales leadership team. I was there to offer any help they might need, remove obstacles and be their voice to the executive team. I authorized larger contracts did the important work of signing off on vacation requests. I have no doubt that I learned more from them than they did from me. I loved every minute of it.

And speaking of learnings, here is what a humble marketer learned from sales:

Marketing is shades of gray. Sales is black and white.

Marketers measure their work in a number of ways: brand awareness, leads, conversion rates, internal project requests, events, first call decks, desk drops, attribution, and so on. Marketing exists to serve both internal and external audiences. In some cases, we can tie our results to concrete metrics like pipeline or new business. Other times we are supporting our colleagues and designing beautiful things. This is important function to any company… but sales is a bit different.

Our colleagues in sales are measured four times a year by a very specific set of numbers. If your number is above a specified threshold within a dashboard or spreadsheet, you’ve succeeded. If not, you didn’t. It’s a very black and white world for sales, and it’s something I think we marketers often take for granted. Think about how much pressure that is.

There is one number that matters at the end of the quarter.

As marketers we look to a full menu of metrics to understand in-quarter performance. This varies from company to company, but leads, opportunities, pipeline, marketing attributed new business, retention, NPS, and brand awareness are all things we collectively think about throughout the year. We set goals around these to ensure sales will have enough demand to hit their own goals. At the end of a quarter, we high five or fist bump based on hitting our marketing goals, and we take a brief moment (before the next quarter starts) to celebrate. And we should.

But here’s the deal. If sales doesn’t hit their very specific revenue goal, none of that really matters. Marketing isn’t about us, it’s about them—our customers, our prospects, our partners and perhaps most importantly, our sales colleagues. Focus on the goal that matters. Then we can all celebrate (briefly).

It turns out, sales is pretty good at marketing.

It’s true, and I’ve even put this in writing. There aren’t many people in the company that talk about challenges and opportunities with prospects and customers more than the sales team. This means they are the perfect laboratory for real time feedback on campaigns, messaging, content, and more.

Marketing is often created in brainstorming sessions, then released into the wild. The relationship with sales provides the perfect opportunity to gather intel and feedback on how your marketing strategies are performing. Be sure to connect regularly with sales for feedback. Just remember, you may get a lot more creative ideas than you bargained for—so be prepared to filter. 🙂

Alignment boosts metrics.

I do not have scientific proof on this, but I have worked in organizations where the sales and marketing teams were well aligned and misaligned. Based on that experience, I can tell you that finding alignment is one of the most important things you should strive for as a leader.

It may seem like common sense. But the thing I’ve noticed after seeing both sides is that alignment reveals a better ecosystem. When marketing and sales are aligned, pipeline feels healthier, messaging feels more confident, deal support runs smoother, and overall, it feels like key metrics receive a bump. Do not underestimate the power of a healthy, collaborative relationship.

US vs global requires a shift.

Not all things are created equal. In my opinion, global companies based in the US could do a better job of being truly global. If you are managing a global sales team, or you’re a marker working across different regions, remember one thing: everything is different outside the US. Currency, business challenges, languages, resources, budget, messaging, and so on. Our global teams have a tougher job. Keep that in mind as you build relationships and build out your strategies.

Change your perspective.

The opportunity to dip my toes in the world of sales was a powerful reminder to approach collaborators and other teams with an open perspective. No matter what, we bring our own preconceived beliefs and perspectives to every new interaction, project, and initiative. Sitting between marketing and sales was a true awakening, demonstrating that these biases need constant attention and questioning in order to become a great leader.

Anyone, regardless of title within a company, can focus on this. It will make you smarter, more curious, open to new ideas, and someone people actually want to work alongside. Keep pushing yourself.

At the end of the day, I’m pleased to be back in my familiar role as a marketer, but I do miss working in the trenches with the sales team. This experience of seeing the inner workings of a successful SaaS company through the lens of the sales organization was deeply profound. It reinforced some beliefs but importantly revealed a personal roadmap for developing a higher performing and more strategic marketing team—as well as plenty of epiphanies to push me as a leader.

Thank you, Return Path, and thank you to the sales team for this opportunity.