The Channel Company CEO Skelley: Now Is The Time To Drive Solution Provider Success By Closing Gap Between Sales And Marketing


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The Channel Company CEO Bob Skelley Tuesday told several hundred XChange Solution Provider attendees that the key to accelerating sales growth in the digital marketing era is to close the ever-widening gap between sales and marketing.

"The gap is widening," said Skelley, citing exclusive research from The Channel Company that shows just 23 percent of solution provider sales executives look at marketing as extremely important.

"The data and facts point to a common theme: Sales and marketing have a different perspective and a different view on what marketing can do for their organization. They are at different places in terms of what they think they need and where they want to go forward in marketing skills, capabilities and strategies. If we don't figure out how to bring these two organizations together in terms of how they look at success and evaluate ROI, we are never going to have as impactful and robust marketing strategies as we could."

[XChange: Solution Providers Predict Record Growth In 2018, Expecting Biggest Sales Bang Since The Dot.com Boom]

Skelley, in his first appearance as CEO at an XChange conference, was joined in his keynote address by Brett Unzicker, vice president of business development for The Predictive Index, which does behavioral assessments on different personality types including those in sales and marketing; Gary Pica, president of TruMethods, which has teamed with over 2,000 partners to drive managed services sales growth by getting sales and marketing teams to work together; and Jeremy MacBean, director of marketing and communications for IT Weapons, a Brampton, Ontario, solution provider considered a standout for its success closing the sales and marketing gap in its organization to drive success.

The widening gap even has marketing executives questioning the value of marketing, with The Channel Company research showing that just 60 percent of those executives believe marketing is extremely important to their organization, said Skelley, who headed up The Channel Company's Partner Demand Services business before taking the CEO job.

The startling survey results on how pessimistic marketing executives are on their role in the organization is a lack of top executive and sales support for marketing, said Skelley. "Even they have a lower perception of how important marketing is to their company," he said.

Skelley called on top solution provider executives to bring the sales and marketing teams together in a common drive to accelerate sales growth. "We need to bring these two organizations together, get them working together, communicating better together, getting on the same page in how they measure and look at success and evaluate ROI," he said.

Unless solution provider executives can get sales and marketing to collaborate on digital marketing lead generation, the channel is going to continue to see a "friction" and "fissure" that will stymie sales growth, said Skelley, a 21-year channel veteran and former channel chief for Dell and Microsoft.

Skelley said the divide between sales and marketing is being exacerbated by the digital marketing revolution. Sales reps are stuck in the "old-school" appointment and telesales activities with 53 percent demanding events, said Skelley, citing The Channel Company survey results. "The sales team continues to believe that marketing folks are there to drive events, and marketing feels that is a much less important part of their responsibility going forward," he said.

Marketing executives, meanwhile, are looking to accelerate digital marketing efforts, with 76 percent looking to drive spend on digital marketing and just 29 percent on events, said Skelley. "Marketers know that digital marketing has to be core to what you are doing today, whereas only 58 percent of sales teams see that as a core capability," he said.

Marketing executives said they spend 76 percent of their budget on content marketing and 62 percent on search engine optimization, in contrast to sales executives who say they are spending just 38 percent of their budget on content marketing and a mere 20 percent on SEO, said Skelley. "There are very different points of view on how they want to be spending and investing in their marketing resources," he said.

Finally, the ROI measures as defined by sales and marketing diverge, with 76 percent of marketing executives seeing ROI as building awareness compared with just 43 percent on the sales side, said Skelley.

Another sign of the widening gap is the difference in how sales and marketing teams define leads, said Skelley. He said sales reps define leads as sales qualified, while marketing executives define them as marketing qualified. "That is a much different place in the buyer's journey and sales funnel -- even though they are both leads, they are very different," he said.

The Predictive Index's Unzicker, for his part, said the key is to get sales and marketing teams to understand and close the "behavioral gaps" between them.

Sales reps have high social interaction scores and low scores on rules/structure on the Predictive Index, while digital marketing reps focused on customer acquisition costs and lead scoring are low on social interaction and high on rules/structure, said Unzicker.

Superstar sales reps that crush their sales quota sometimes often leave "a trail of blood 10-feet-wide behind them," said Unzicker. "It is not their fault -- it is how they are genetically wired. But when you understand that, you can proactively address these things," he said.

Digital marketers, meanwhile, demand formality because they need to make sure that customer acquisition costs and online lead generation are accurate, said Unzicker.

"When you know the differences between these people, you can help to proactively bridge these gaps," he said. "Salespeople will have a visceral reaction to make a decision, whereas a digital marketer will use data to make a decision."

Unzicker said key to closing the gap is a "high self-awareness" of the differences in the sales and digital marketing executives. "A high self-awareness score is the strongest predictor of overall organization success," he said. "Self-awareness is the number one predictor in successful organizations."

TruMethods' Pica, who is also a partner at a managed service provider, said he has learned from first-hand experience that the key to bridging the gap is getting sales and marketing to team together at the middle of the sales funnel focusing on prospects and warm leads.

Sales executives live at the bottom of the sales funnel, driving "hot" leads, while marketing executives live at the top of the sales funnel focused on "awareness," said Pica. "What you have is an expectation gap," he said.

"What has to start happening is sales and marketing need to start having some common goals, they need to be able to see what is happening in the same way," he said. "They need to understand what I call 'funnel math,' which is what happens from lead generation through the sales database that we build to the bottom of the funnel. If you can start to do that and both sales and marketing see that math in the same way, you can start to bridge that gap."

Solution provider success comes from both sales and marketing working together in the middle of the sales funnel with leads in "quality and quantity growing over time with focused energy," said Pica. 

Pica said key to success is creating an inside sales role focused on sales prospects in the middle of the sales funnel. That inside sales executive is focused on "cleaning up" that prospect sales data. "When you have a robust middle funnel, all your marketing works better," he said. "When that happens every email and event you have is going to have great response. You need to set up some mid-funnel metrics."

IT Weapons' MacBean, for his part, said the key to bridging the gap is hard work and discipline. IT Weapons does weekly sales/marketing huddles and monthly all-hands-on-deck meetings where sales and marketing reps share sales win and loss stories. "We have a shared dialogue," he said. "Discipline comes from being aware in those meetings of what is happening."

IT Weapons also uses tools like HubSpot to track buyers online from the awareness stage to the consideration stage to the decision stage. "If we are doing our sales and marketing jobs the right way, we are providing content for people at different stages of the buyer's journey," he said. "These are inbound methods to draw people in slowly. You need to start thinking about your messaging and go-to-market "

IT Weapons has shared accountability with the exact same "score sheet" with compensation and bonuses tied to the same goals, said MacBean. "If you have different ROI or KPI metrics for those two teams, of course there is not going to be alignment," he said. "One way to ensure better alignment is to have everybody on the same scorecard. Our shared metric for sales and marketing is closed business. We sing from the same song sheet and are accountable for the same scorecard."

Brian Ruschman, president of Forward, a Covington, Ky.-based solution provider that works with TruMethods, said he has seen a whopping 27 percent growth in EBITDA by closing the sales and marketing gap.

Ruschman said his sale and marketing teams are now working together to drive IT audits with customers. Those audits are resulting in a 70 percent sales close rate, he said. "Everyone on the marketing and sales teams are working together to drive those MSP audits," he said.

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