Late in 2015 we started producing a bi-weekly radio program called Sales Pipeline Radio, which runs live every other Thursday at 1:00 p.m. Pacific, moving soon to 11:30 a.m. Pacific. It’s just 30 minutes long, fast-paced and full of actionable advice, best practices and more for B2B sales & marketing professionals.
We’ve already featured some great guests and have a line up of awesome content and special guests into 2016. Our very first guest was Funnelholic author and Topo co-founder Craig Rosenberg. Next we had Mike Weinberg, incredible writer, speaker, author, followed by Conrad Bayer, CEO & Founder of Tellwise. Recent Guests: Jim Keenan; Joanne Black; Aaron Ross; Josiane Feigon, Meagen Eisenberg, and Trish Bertuzzi.
We cover a wide range of topics, with a focus on sales development and inside sales priorities heading into and throughout the year. We’ll publish similar highlights here for upcoming episodes. You can listen to full recordings of past shows at SalesPipelineRadio.com and subscribe on iTunes.
We were thrilled this last time to have our own Robert Pease, Pipeline Performance Practice Lead, talk about predictable pipeline. Listen in or read our conversation below:
Some of the point covered include:
- Have you built the marketing plan around the revenue plan?
- We really need to accelerate. Basically we need more customers.
- Someone who comes to your website and downloads a white paper, that’s a content lead. That’s not remotely sales qualified.
- If you don’t know who you’re selling to, you don’t know that there’s a market or that there’s a need in the market for what you sell, that’s going to wound you.
Paul: Welcome, everybody. Time to swim out into the waves and join the Sales Pipeline with your host. Hey, today we got a guest host sitting in today, Robert Pease. He’s been with us before. Hey, Robert.
Robert Pease: Hey, there. How are you today?
Paul: I’m good. Well, we’re trying to do this on the fly here. We had a guest that got sick at the last minute, so Robert said he’d jump in and come up with a couple of topics we could talk about today here. I believe it’s two words that I rarely hear. I often hear thrown together, but I seldom see executed right, predictable pipeline. Is there such a thing?
Robert Pease: There is indeed. At least that’s what I’m going to speak to today and great to be here. I always enjoy having the opportunity to do these things when Matt lets me grab the microphone and great to sort of talk about this. Let me give you some insight today on how Heinz Marketing, a B2B sales and marketing consulting firm, how we look at our customers in our market and what we deliver to them. The lens on that is predictable pipeline, right? There’s a lot of components to that. There’s strategic pieces and there’s some operational pieces.
It absolutely is something that no one would disagree that they want, but I think that the reality is that it often becomes elusive if you will because of the pressures that are faced by marketers on a day to day basis, the sales people and their quotas. You can’t step back far enough and sort of say, “Look, let me build a methodical and systematic approach to doing this, so that everybody has the same expectations,” right? I believe that relationships both professional and personal are defined by shared expectations. I think that’s an important thing for marketers, VP of marketing, CMOs to have within the organization.
One of my favorite quotes that came to me in one of the various places I’ve worked over the years that one of the board members were sharing that they were talking about going to market and some of these things and the VP of marketing in the room said, “Look, I maybe wrong, but I’m not confused.”
Paul: I like that.
Robert Pease: Yeah, which I think is a lot of this, right? Which is there are sometimes especially if you’re making a bunch of assumptions or you’re an earlier stage company or whatever it is, you don’t know the outcome. If you don’t know if something’s going to work, but that’s okay because you have to do these things to push the envelope or to break things every once in a while. As long as you’ve got sound method and process and system behind it and you don’t go all in and necessarily sort of fatally wound your organization by making a choice, I think that this is a really good approach to do that.
Paul: I hear what you’re saying and it always resonates with me, predictable pipelines and take risks and do stuff. Are those contradictory terms, the idea of predictability and the idea of risk-taking and try something new?
Robert Pease: Yeah. I think that’s a good point, right? Not trying to sort of I guess signal that. I think that the predictability of the pipeline has to be aligned with the plan. As we engage with companies or Matt and I sit down and talk through this with CEOs or business leaders or whatever it is, especially VP of marketing and CMOs, it’s like, “Look, have you built the marketing plan around the revenue plan?” I mean here we are, we’re in the fourth quarter, right? We’ve got 2018 ahead of us and plans are coming together if they’re not already framed out. There’s probably a lot of revenue objectives flowing around out there.
Then the question is look, if we’re planning on being up 15% next year and we think quarter over quarter we’re going to grow at some percent, the only way to achieve that systematically is with method and process, right? This is not doing a bunch of things new, right? This is sort of figuring out where that white paper project fits within the stack, where your skill sets of your team and how they need to be developed and enhanced potentially to take advantage of a new technology or a new technique.
Paul: To use Matt’s favorite analogies, which are football or sports, if it’s not grilling… It seems to be football or sports here. Is this the blocking and tackling? There’s always the new Hail Mary plays or the new tricky plays you’re trying to pull off that maybe nobody else has seen coming that produced phenomenal results, but it starts with the basics, with the blocking and tackling.
Robert Pease: You’re absolutely right. I mean again you can see pithy quotes I can insert in this today that I won’t reference because I don’t know where I got them from. If you listen to this and you know who the source is, please correct me. I’m a big fan of “you plan the work and you work the plan”.
Paul: Right. My father’s favorite one.
Robert Pease: A lot of this is just grinding out. Doing the right things in the right order for the right amount of time. I’ve got a client that I’m working with now and we’re sort of taking some shots into a market that we haven’t been in before. There’s very little to zero awareness of who we are. We believe we’re relevant and so we’re doing some things that are designed to sort of build attention and awareness. That’s content that shows up in places that our targets are reading. People that influence those targets are aware of who we are increasingly. Then there’s just sort of the direct outreach that is what sales is, right? That’s knocking on doors. That’s email campaigns and that’s telephone and that’s building a discipline around sales outreach within there.
There is no sort of magic here or magic pixie dust. Often we wish we had some of that. Again I think that the best projects that we do when we sit down and we set expectations, right? Everybody wants results tomorrow, but oftentimes that sort of instant gratification is just not there, given the complexity of businesses, given where markets are, given buying cycles. I think that all of that is to say, “Look, if we start with a revenue plan and we know where we’re trying to be next year, all of the things that we have, the resources, the activities, the projects, the investments, need to unify around that, which is the goal,” which is then again to build a predictable pipeline.
Paul: You talked about expectations. You enter into an expectation with your clients. We enter into expectations with our staff. What is a reasonable expectation? How do you not set the expectations unreasonably and know what to do?
Robert Pease: I’ve done this in several cases where there’s like, “Hey, come in. We really need to accelerate. Basically we need more customers.”
Paul: Yeah. Everybody wants that. We want them tomorrow. We want a lot of them. Then it’s a question and the staff says, “We can’t do that or this and this,” and there’s all these reasons and excuses and we can’t do this. How do you find that middle ground between aspirational and a real. As you say, a reasonable expectation.
Robert Pease: In some cases, I just go to numbers, right? Like okay, here’s the plan. Great. You think you’re going to have 10 customers in October, 10 in November, 10 in December. Your sales cycle is four months, right? The deals that you’re expecting and forecasting for revenue in October, November, December have to already be your pipeline as opportunities. Anything we add to that is going to basically yield next year.
Robert Pease: Right? What happens is again I’m unemotional about the numbers even if they’re scary or if they’re wrong or if they’re like doom and gloom, which you have to see, “I need to create 10,000 leads in the next 30 days.” Well, then that frames the challenge, which is like okay, maybe that will be difficult, but then let’s make sure that we got the right tactical things in place to begin to build towards that, right? Don’t admit defeat immediately, but just sort of look at the scale of what you’re trying to do. You do the math backwards from the customer account or from the revenue and you begin to talk about conversion rates throughout the funnel, right?
This then gets into and unpacks things around lead and lead qualification. Someone who comes to your website and downloads a white paper, that’s a content lead. That’s not remotely sales qualified. If you don’t look at their importance because that’s someone leaning in, interested in the topic, interested in what you have to do, but that person’s not going to convert into an opportunity in most cases without a handful more touches, right? It’s just about being programmatic around that.
Paul: So much to unpack there. Let’s go back to my first point here. Everybody wants to grow and the people who own the company or the stockholders or the shareholders or the stakeholders, whatever you want to call them, they want to see it grow as big as it can. Then there seems to be pushback from the people who go out there and say, “Wow. Wow. Wow. I’m all for growth, but hey, let’s get real here. We can’t double in our sales next year. We can’t do that much growth.” There’s this pushback, this negotiation. Should there be a negotiation or should they just pick an aspirational number and shoot for it or should it have some basis in reality?
Robert Pease: Yeah. Well, again back to you, there’s a lot in there to unpack. Sometimes expectations are set outside of the zone of responsibility of the person whose responsible for marketing.
Paul: In other words, are you setting yourself up to fail if I just say, “Damn it. We’re all going to double.”
Robert Pease: You want to be aggressive, right? I think that if you ever make your number, you don’t say, “Great. That was great. Let’s just stay right here.” You’re like, “Oh wow. We made it. Clearly we didn’t set the goal high enough.” As we get into this and I’ll go back to kind of predictable pipeline and I’m going to talk about two areas, strategic and operational. The components that are in the strategic part of this are the market, are the message, the offering. Those are things that are foundational to success, right? If you don’t know who you’re selling to, you don’t know that there’s a market or that there’s a need in the market for what you sell, that’s going to wound you.
Paul: If you don’t sell goods or if you’re not honest and say, “We don’t make as good a widget as the next guy here.”
Robert Pease: Right. Right. Again marketing is an investment and a business is an investment to scale.
Paul: Right. That’s a good way to put that. I like that.
Robert Pease: When you throw capital at companies or groups within companies where maybe stuff isn’t all figured out, what it’s going to do is amplify all the bad stuff, right? If you get it all figured out, it’ll amplify the good stuff.
Paul: I always remember the story that I’ve quoted through the years. This goes back a few years. I think it was Planet Hollywood was opening up locations left and right. The problem was they were losing money every time they opened a location, but they’re a publicly traded company who wanted to show growth. Their fails were growing and so we’re all the problems. They were amplifying all the problems every time they opened a new store. They hadn’t fixed the problem. They just kept adding to the problem.
Robert Pease: Yeah. It becomes a little bit of a house of cards, right? That’s where you’re like, “Hey, we’re acquiring customers left and right. Look at our customer account growth,” but there’s a mismatch between what we’re selling and what we deliver. What if those customers are churning out or canceling contracts within two to three months, and so you literally just have this very leaky funnel. Those are metrics that aren’t really core to the sort of creating value in the business, right? That’s another piece of predictable pipeline is measurement, which is there are performance metrics that matter. We’ve gotten into this world now in marketing where we’ve instrumented and we’ve got data and we’ve got numbers.
Man, sometimes you walk into organizations and they are measuring things that don’t matter from a step back standpoint. I mean they’re important, they’re activity measures and whatever, but ultimately this is about finding customers at attractive economics, closing deals that allow you to be profitable as a company, not overspending to acquire that customer that you can’t get paid back within a reasonable time period. It’s not about MQL creation or whatever. It’s about opportunities, right?
Paul: I thought it’s about big data. It’s about collecting as much data about every point in the process as we can. We need big data. I need more data.
Robert Pease: Right. We have a lot of data, but even take attribution. Brian Hansford, part of the team at Heinz, is working through and rolling out a service line around marketing performance management. It’s awesome first and foremost. Highly recommend digging to that a little bit, but it attacks attribution. That’s just kind of a hairball because it’s like …
Paul: Hairball. You’re coming up with some great terms here today. I got to cough that up.
Robert Pease: When your guest cancels, you get me and all my colloquialism. Sometimes organizations are just like… Marketing be like, “Oh, we closed a deal. Look at that. That’s our customer.” Then someone over on the sales development team is like, “Bull. I called that person. You created the white paper lead six months ago. They went cold and I did a call up.” Again we got into this conversation with a client, which is like I want to understand marketing sourced revenue or marketing attributable revenue. To me in my mind, back to the sort of scaling thing, is the marketing investment is designed to enable the sales process. Separating those trying to say this is marketing sourced revenue and this is sales sourced revenue to me just doesn’t pencil, right?
Again it’s back to being well instrumented and dialed in and understanding, but if the marketing stance and posture is to enable the sales process, to remove friction wherever there is in the sales process, to deliver and focus in accountability around opportunity creation, then you get a lot better alignment.
Paul: All right. Well, we’re going to try and align this to something tangible here. We’ve been wandering through all the different hurdles and obstacles and objections. Now you’re going to come back after the break and give us some strategic … What’s the other one? You had two terms.
Robert Pease: Just strategic and operational. The operational thing I’ll dig into next here.
Paul: All right. Let’s take that on as a challenge right after we hear a word from our sponsors.
Paul: All right. After you spice up the content marketing, let’s put into a pipeline here. Go. You got 10 minutes here to tell us about pipelines and how to turn them into a process and predictable process here.
Robert Pease: The goal of all this discussion is to do this and again it’s not something you pull out of a box and sort of setup. I think there’s a lot of pieces to this. We talked about the strategic elements of this that if you don’t spend time on market, message, offering, the things that you’re measuring, even your team and team structure, the amount of friction and process and efficiency that happens because of mismatched compensation and incentives is huge, right? It’s important to sort of layer that in. People respond to their incentive plans, right? If my goal is to create leads and there’s no real definition around that, by God, I’m going to create a bunch of leads.
Paul: Amen. See it all the time. My goal isn’t to make sales. My goal is to make leads. You go make the sales.
Robert Pease: That’s exactly right. Again, this is back to people sort of letting go a little bit and sort of unifying. Again, your job is to create opportunities. The reason there’s an investment in marketing, the reason there’s marketing staff, the reason there’s marketing budget and programs and all the other stuff is to scale the business. The strategic part have to be dialed in and have to be addressed and have to be confirmed. If there’s assumptions around certain pieces of that, this customer behavior, this customer need, you just got to articulate them. Then what happens is we can drop into operational pieces and the operational pieces here, this is what we already do, right? This is programs and content and technology.
If you don’t frame it around sort of strategic purpose if you will, you end up with random acts of marketing, right?
Paul: Not random acts of kindness. Random acts of marketing.
Robert Pease: Yeah. That’s a Matt Heinz-ism. I think it’s appropriate because then all of the sudden it’s like, “My god. We got to start doing stuff. We’re behind. Look at this revenue plan. Holy crap. We’re behind and we got to create all these leads.” Then there’s no sort of like unified plan around it, right? There’s no method and there’s no purpose too.
Paul: The other one he says all the time that I love is the arts and crafts department. We just call the arts and crafts department to make something cute. Send it out and they’ve done their job. Right?
Robert Pease: Right. Right. We did a workshop the last couple days at Heinz. We’re talking about how perfect is the enemy of done. This notion of building sort of a hurry up. Back to football references, right? Hurry up. This is a hurry up marketing that you can do. Instead of a program taking six months to come to fruition, we can design something and launch something and execute something within weeks. Decide whether or not it worked or didn’t work and actually double down on it if it did. If not, then we haven’t wounded ourselves by wasting all our money and we move on to the next thing. You can do that if you’ve got a good frame around the strategic pieces of this, right?
In the operational bucket or programs like lead gen, events, inbound marketing, account-based marketing, SEO, social, inside sales, all these things that people do that a lot of times aren’t sort of coordinated or unified. I was having a conversation yesterday with a company that they really thought they needed to increase their SEO. They want to be optimized. They want to be found. They have a very defined target market. They have a very defined set of criteria that defines a qualified opportunity. They have to have a certain profile. They have to be of a certain size. They have to have a certain software infrastructure for this product to work there. Optimizing to be found could potentially create a bunch of noise.
Because if all of a sudden there’s all this inbound interest because people are loving it and you then have to qualify all that out, then SEO is not the place to be spending time. You need a much more disciplined as we work through this.
Paul: Wow. That’s fascinating because that’s when you just assume everybody wants more people to find them. Well, not if they’re the wrong people finding you and wasting your time.
Robert Pease: Exactly. Right? Then you think about what account-based marketing is or account-based anything, everything or whatever the phrase is these days. It’s just intentional and that’s a target. That’s like I only care about these 2,000 companies. Now I want the people from those 2,000 companies to come to my website. What I’ve done is I qualified all my qualification criteria and my targeting, not between sales on marketing and then there’s going to be discussion of what’s qualified and what’s not. The tactics that you’re doing unify those sort of programs and those tactics, but again driven by the strategic pieces that you got in place. Then again part of programs and other pieces are content, right?
I mean everyone knows they need content and then I see so many companies that just sort of get paralyzed because nobody can write. Well, there’s a lot of ways to do content. You can certainly hire someone to help you with that. You can do other things.
Paul: Do what we’re doing today. Just talking. Talk to people. Make captures and record it.
Robert Pease: That’s a very, very good point, which is if you’re in a business and your business solves a problem, you arguably should know something about the problem. Just find out. Let’s just share your knowledge of that problem and whether that’s a conversation like this, whether that’s go hire a copywriter and sit down and then explain the problem and they can put the words on paper or hire a third-party firm to sort of let’s say do a study. We do this at Heinz all the time. We were able to do custom research where generally through like a sales or a marketing technology vendor wants to get sort of the pulse about a certain issue and we can put that out there to our audience and then people will respond.
We’re not a research house per se, but that becomes a really insightful body of knowledge because we have a very focused audience around B2B sales and marketing.
Paul: Exactly. What I’m still missing here in the last couple minutes is how do I turn it into a process? How do I make a predictable process like brushing my teeth? My people do it everyday just out of habit here.
Robert Pease: If we line the strategic parts up and then we know we have these operational things that we do and again that’s not new stuff that we’re doing, it’s just aligning it back in that, to make it predictable is looking at the output, which is are we generating more opportunities? Is the quality of the lead going up? What are our conversation rates? Are we actually increasing those conversation rates? I mean you’d need to let’s say focused, not maniacal, but focused on where in your process you can increase conversation rates. It’s not just lead to deal. There’s all these intermittent steps.
If you can move a conversion rate from sort of cold contact to engaged contact by two or three percentage points, that ripples all the way down to the funnel.
Paul: Yeah. Right.
Robert Pease: Right? Even if we take it from active conversation to opportunity, figure out how the friction is impacting that. It’s quite possible that you’re always going to close one out of four deals, right? One out of the four opportunities closes. Let’s say that’s 25%. How then do you focus on generating more opportunities? Well, what’s the stage before opportunity? That’s about predictability, right? What’s happening is you’re sort of managing this living and breathing entity, which is your broader demand generation engine and bring that in there. A lot of this I think also back to expectations is to explain what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, right? Like it or not, most people believe they understand marketing.
Most people have an opinion of that. You sit around a room and of course, I don’t have an opinion on accounting because I don’t do accounting, but the accountant, the controller, the CFO certainly has an opinion.
Paul: That is a great point. Nobody sits around the table and says, “You know, I think I got a better way to calculate our deductions or something here,” but everybody in the room from the secretary onto the CEO has got an idea how to get in front of more people and get more leads and close more deals.
Robert Pease: Exactly. Everybody’s got an opinion on it. We were in a meeting or a work session some time ago and kind of walking through similar sort of, “Okay. This is what we’ll do and this is how and this is how this sort of predictable pipeline thing works.” The technical CEO engineering sort of goes, “Yeah. We know all that.” Okay. Okay. Well, then do it.
Paul: Yeah. Right. Simple. I think that’s the failure because I’ll say they do it for two reasons. One, it’s hard to stay with something predictable. It’s hard to get into a habit of brushing your teeth everyday. Once you do it, it becomes easy, but it’s hard to make it a habit. It’s easy to get caught up in, “I know we go to do this, but boy, we got a fire raging over here. We got a customer problem over here. We got a production problem over here,” and everybody races to put out the fire and immediately stops putting stuff into the pipeline here. Everything stops.
Robert Pease: It’s super reactive, right? Again this is like back to pithy sayings, if you spend your life running from risks, it’s going to find you.
Paul: I never heard that one. That’s a good one.
Robert Pease: If you know the revenue plan is far out ahead of what the demand generation plan can support, the longer you ignore that, the worse your job is going to be. I’m not saying to go ahead and say, “We have to change the plan.” I think it’s just sort of shining a light on certain assumptions and certain areas that are like well, here’s the risk in our business plan whether that’s we think we can grow faster than we have shown historically that we’re not putting the resources in place to support the growth that we’re expecting and a variety of other things.
Paul: Well, and I think the other problem is not just making it predictable, not just making it a process, a habit, something people do no matter what the time of day, no matter the time or season, no matter what else is happening at the company, these are the things you’re doing predictably everyday to put stuff in the pipeline, to advance the pipeline to make it like a machine, so it just keeps predictably producing output and results here. The other problem I would say that it’s a linear process. After all this effort, it’s like the old Christmas tree lights when I was a kid. One bulb goes out and the whole light goes out. I mean the whole string goes out, right? One step failure kills 20 good steps of process.
Robert Pease: Yeah, it can. I mean I think that it goes back to putting all your eggs in one basket, right? If you’re just doing one thing, then yeah, the outcome is binary, right, versus layer. I mean this is why I think about it. Like layers of demand generation and that’s everything from how am I going to create awareness and surround a prospect to how am I going to directly interact with that prospect, to how am I going to address the influencers that impact that prospect, how do I take my sort of unique knowledge that I have whether that’s unique point of view, industry, customer viewpoints, whatever they are and get all those things out there.
If we just did one customer case study and we put all our eggs in that basket and it was like we’re going to write this up and we’re going to email it one time to our prospect database…
Paul: Boy, is it going to produce great results there.
Robert Pease: Right. That is an event as part of a broader process. The step back is we’re going to really define and refine our message around customer success stories. The key takeaway. I also talk to the companies about this. I’m like, “You got all these case studies. What’s the headline?” What do they get? Did they save money? Did they make money? Did it get an award? Those are the sort of tangible things that sort of come out of this. Then where that fits in the broader message is okay, so what we want to do is we’re going to do lead gen program where we’re going to be featuring that case study. It’s also going to include a webinar where that person’s going to come. There’s like this three or four touch type process. That’s the systematic part of this.
Paul: You know what I learned today here? I learned that one, we can’t tell this all in a half an hour. Two, that we need help. As much as we think we know everybody’s got an opinion to do this, it’s like the weather, but nobody ever does … Everybody loves to talk about the weather, but nobody does anything about it. We need to do something about it and I think it starts with getting some professional guidance and help from people like you. How do they find you if they want to learn more?
Robert Pease: Just go to the Heinz Marketing website, heinzmarketing.com. My email address is [email protected]. We do this, right? We do everything from sort of advisory level engagement where we help sort of at a high level all the way down to we do this for you, right? Think about outsourcing this engine. We’ve seen a lot. We’ve been in business eight plus years, 200 plus B2B companies. A lot of the similar challenges across those, but we constantly benefit from an increasing pool of knowledge of our team.
Paul: All right. We’re going to have to leave it there. We got another show after this, but thank you so much, Robert Pease, for opening our eyes to possibility of predictable pipelines. Thanks so much.
Robert Pease: Yeah. Great to be here. Thanks.
Paul: You’ve been listening to Sales Pipeline Radio brought to you by the good folks at Matt Heinz Marketing right here on the Funnel Radio Channel for at work listeners like you.