Sales Star Turned CMO Tells All: An Interview with Tyson Roberts of Yesler

Executives who earned their stripes in the pre-internet days sometimes cling to the notion that aggressive sales tactics are still the path to success.  Tyson Roberts doesn’t agree. The former sales star who is now a CMO and content marketing expert, explains why he changed his tune.

Tyson Roberts is a CMO with a rare background. Tyson, who is CMO of Yesler, the agency division of ProjectLine, an award-winning B2B marketing services company headquartered in Seattle, now works with leading tech companies to develop and implement their content strategies. But earlier in his career, Tyson carried a bag – selling software and services for Avenue A, Razorfish, Check Point Software, and even as the CEO of a start-up he founded he carried the largest quota.  I recently talked to Tyson about how his approach to creating customers has changed.

Tyson, you had some pointed things to say about how ineffective aggressive sales people are today. Yet, you used to be one of these sales people – and a successful one. Tell us about that.
When I was on the start-up sales team at online advertising agency Avenue A (AQNT) in the late 1990’s, it was just like GlenGarry GlenRoss. Very simple.  We generated our own leads. Our intern would give us a daily spreadsheet of every internet advertisement placed that day along with a phone number.  We literally called every one. In hindsight, it was terribly inefficient – maybe a 2% contact rate and 10% (0.2% net) meeting rate.  It worked. We grew, but at a cost.

In the sales pit we proudly displayed a “wall of shame” – a collection of letters and emails pleading for an end to our efforts to contact them. Some even contained threats. The expectation was: You earn big money, “bring us heads on sticks or we’ll find someone who can”. We couldn’t blame our lack of success on the marketing people or anyone else for that matter.

So, where was marketing in all of this?
Marketing built collateral and ran point on our presence at events like ad:tech.   I recall very little interaction between sales and marketing.  They would get our input and approval on the sales kit, but that was it.  Marketing would also drop hundreds of leads on our head after each event.  We quickly learned to ignore the leads or cherry pick them because so many were unqualified.  Our sales intern got better leads manually surfing the web all day.  It was true that many leads provided by marketing would begin advertising online in the next 6-12 months, but we needed to make this month’s and this quarter’s numbers.

Now you work with marketers to implement and refine modern demand centers. Yet you just said that sales people can’t depend on marketing – why have you changed your view?
The “wall of shame” was a foreshadowing of things to come. A lot has changed in the past 15 years.  Tactics that were seen as just aggressive in the 90’s, today come across as unsophisticated, clumsy, and desperate.  At one of our clients, the sales people were constantly complaining about the lack of leads from marketing. We helped produce the first 500 inbound leads they’d seen in years.  Then I learned that the sales team just started dialing every one and asking each to buy! That’s like going speed dating and propositioning each person you sit across from.  

Buyers have taken control of the purchase process and are doing a lot more self-directed investigation prior to engaging with sales. If sales people don’t recognize and adapt to this, not only will your success rate be dismal, but you’re branding yourself as a genuine tool at the same time.  This is not the way to build rapport, trust, a relationship, or a brand.

What works now?
Companies must provide a quality path from initial interaction to happy customer. All the pieces to build this are available.  In the modern B2B organization marketing owns everything from initial interaction with a lead through to sales readiness.  Sales people focus exclusively on the opportunity pipeline.  This clear separation and definition of duties is a fundamental driver of improved demand economies. 

The cold call should be no part of your demand generation strategy.  You have to switch to an opt-in model.  Leverage an army of content at the front end. Then the sale rep adds spots of personal touch and completes the close.

The old sales business development model is inefficient. You can scale business development more easily and get better results at a lower cost by using modern marketing with its methods, systems, and automation than you can by using sales with its people, personalities, and talents.  You definitely need sales effort – but you need less.

What advice do you have for CMOs facing the challenge of a head of sales that is still “old school”?
The first step to modern B2B demand generation is realizing that your prospects don’t give a rip about your company or its beloved solutions.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that your prospects are narcissistically obsessed with their own company and its challenges and opportunities.  This obsession is the key to being relevant, earning attention, consideration and ultimately business.

Start Operationalizing Your Buyer’s Journey

I was surprised to hear so much talk about the ‘buyer’s journey’ at a recent Sales 2.0 conference. More talk than I often hear at marketing conferences! Having said this, it was clear that many people who talked about buyer’s journeys did not know what the term meant.

A hesitant raise of hands at one sales enablement panel showed that a little more than half the room thought that their company used a buyer’s journey framework. The panelists didn’t buy that answer. Sniffed one, “Most companies lift the sales stages right out of their CRM system and call that a buyer’s journey.”

What isn’t a buyer’s journey? It isn’t a sales methodology. It isn’t build rapport, uncover needs, identify options, propose solutions, and close the deal. It isn’t a product life-cycle. It isn’t development, launch, grow, mature, decline. It isn’t marketing stages. It isn’t build awareness, create interest, engage, and persuade. All of these processes can be useful to guide an important function. However, they all describe vendor’s journeys – not buyer’s journeys.

So, what is a buyer’s journey? A buyer’s journey is a framework that describes the cognitive process each buyer must personally traverse leading from Apathy (Do I care?) to Commitment (How can I buy this?).  IDC’s Customer Creation Framework highlights three simple stages of this journey: Exploration, Evaluation, and Purchase. You can break these stages into sub-steps if you like.

In the simplest terms, a buyer’s journey is really nothing more than a list of questions.  Buyers have different questions at different steps of their journey.  If buyers get their questions answered clearly, positively, credibly, and with relevance, they will take another step. If they do not, they stall or abandon their quest.

Let’s take the example of some questions on a buyer’s journey towards a new car:

  • Exploration: Is my current car headed for a problem – how do I know? Are there new cars that I would like better? What cars are new this year? What do I really need?
  • Evaluation: Which cars offer the best value? Which do I find most attractive? Is this supplier trust-worthy? What do the experts say? What do my friends think? How can I test drive?
  • Purchase: How much can I afford? Should I buy this now? Do I find terms acceptable?
Operationalizing a buyer’s journey
 
1) Collect a list of questions.
 
Start small. Select just one of your products and its most typical buyer. What questions does this buyer have about the problem? About alternative solutions? About acquiring, adopting, and using products like the one you offer? Finally, what questions might a buyer have specifically about your product?  Most companies will need multiple question lists for multiple situations. But don’t boil the ocean at the beginning.

Where do you get these questions? Ask your buyers! Ask the people in your company who talk to buyers – sales people, customer support, systems engineers, etc. Listen to social media chatter.  My experience has been that you can collect 95% of the questions you need after you have talked to about 30 people who have a broad range of roles and backgrounds.

 2) Answer the questions.

 
If your company has EVER sold a product, then somewhere, someone has the answers to the buyer’s questions. It probably isn’t the marketing team – but that’s okay. Go back the same people and places from which you gathered the questions.  Some questions can be answered easily. Others will be thorny.  Some questions will have happy answers. Other questions will be evil.

Do not avoid the thorny and evil questions!  I like this quote from Robert Frost, “The best way out is always through.”  Every unanswered question is a place where prospects can get frustrated and where leads will stall or fall out of your pipeline.

You can collect both the questions and the answers in a spreadsheet or an FAQ document.

 3) Put the answers on your website and give them to your sales team.

 
Keep your initial content super simple. Make sure the answers to all the important questions are easily found on your website. Make sure that your sales team has easy access to all of the answers.
 

 4) Improve

 
Later, you can explore the best way to deliver your answers to buyers – how should the message be voiced? What content types and media work best at different steps and with different buyer personas? How do I best map the buyer’s journey steps to the sales process?

 But these are secondary issues. If you don’t first have the answers that your buyer needs, all these secondary questions are a total waste of time.

 
 
 

8 Essential KPI’s for the Intersection of Marketing and Sales

Conversations between sales and marketing improve when marketing generates data on the state of joint processes such as lead management.  But companies who are serious about orchestrating sales and marketing in a modern go-to-marketing model need more than these execution-level metrics. At the intersection of sales and marketing, senior executives need operational-level investment, resource allocation, and performance metrics.

Tech marketers have done a great job of growing the range of measurement dashboards within their management tool box.  These reports provide data about process execution and are primarily driven from automation such as CRM, email marketing, and web analytics. The data in these reports can answer important questions such as how many leads were produced and what really happened to them? This data can be extremely useful when talking to sales.  Replacing hearsay, gut feelings, and assumptions with accurate data results in a much more credible and actionable conversation.

Operational Insight Drives Strategy
 

While this kind of data is valuable at an execution level, it isn’t the kind that drives strategic decisions. Senior management needs to know how to invest their most powerful resources – money and people – to get the best results. For this task, they need operational key performance indicators (KPIs) that answer questions such as what are my people really doing and where is my money deployed. Just as important, they need context around this data in order to understand its meaning and highlight what to change.

Comparison benchmarks serve as excellent insight into the meaning of operational-level KPIs. IDC has produced such operational-level scorecards for many years for each function separately – for marketing (IDC’s Marketing Performance Scorecard) and for sales (IDC’s Sales Productivity Scorecard). These scorecards are based on detailed investment data from over 100 tech companies. IDC parses leaders from laggards, mines for best practice nuggets, and combines this information with insights drawn from scores of interviews, interactions, surveys and the IDC teams’ deep practitioner experience.

Introducing the Customer Creation Scorecard: Operational KPI’s for the Intersection of Sales and Marketing
 

However, operational benchmarks have been lacking for companies who are serious about orchestrating the collaboration between sales and marketing within a more modern go-to-market model.  For this initiative, senior executives need to look at the joint investments in sales and marketing.

Recently, IDC introduced the Customer Creation Scorecard – eight operational KPI’s leading companies should add to their dashboard. The eight are organized into three categories: investment, staff efficiency, and productivity levers.

Here are the aggregate level benchmarks for your 2012-2013 planning processes:

  1. Investment: Sales + marketing budget ratio = 10.6% of revenue is spent on sales and marketing combined
  2. Investment: Sales to marketing ratio = 4:1
  3. Investment: Marketing investment per total sales headcount = $40K to $70K
  4. Staff efficiency: Quota bearing headcount to field marketing ratio = 32:1
  5. Staff efficiency: Program to people KPI = 27% of all sales and marketing investment is spent on programs and the remainder on people
  6. Productivity levers: Operations staff percentage = 4.7% of all sales and marketing staff are in sales operations or marketing operations roles
  7. Productivity levers:  Sales enablement score = 47 out of 100 is the index that IDC has developed for the technology industry based upon detailed quantitative and qualitative research
  8. Productivity levers:  Lead management score = 52 out of 100 is the index that IDC has developed for the technology industry based upon detailed quantitative and qualitative research

IDC finds that these benchmarks vary significantly depending on attributes such as go-to-market model, company size, and industry sector.   IDC’s also provides guidance around these KPI’s.  For example, IDC recommends that companies measure sales and marketing costs jointly to better control overall expenses (this includes “shadow” marketing investments where sales teams use their own funds to conduct marketing activities).

For more information on the Customer Creation Scorecard, IDC insight on what your KPI ranges should be and what to do about it contact me or anyone on IDC’s Executive Advisory Group team.