The 5 Tensions Keeping You From Achieving Predictable Pipeline Nirvana

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Leadership is about solving problems and building consensus. What’s working well already gets less attention, for better or worse. So when we invited B2B chief marketing officers to join us for breakfast with Demandbase in three cities last month, we talked less about their successes and more about their challenges.

Many of the same themes emerged in each conversation. And what struck me is how each of these themes revolved around a key internal tension. The key word in that last sentence is “internal”. Although we can’t generate sales pipeline and results without external production, the key challenges facing CMOs today were primarily about managing internal obstacles, disagreements and tensions.

Here are the five core tensions we identified:

1. Tension between intent and interest

Just because someone downloaded your white paper doesn’t mean they want a demo. Just because they didn’t want a demo doesn’t mean they don’t have an acute problem you’re well positioned to solve for them.



We brought up the idea of “operationalizing intent” at each breakfast assuming that the conversation would revolve around the first word. Instead, we spent most of the time debating exactly what “intent” means and what the right next step is for each prospect to increase attention, engagement and velocity towards change.

2. Tension between status quo and the unknown

Inertia is a powerful thing. Even within organizations where we know that what we’re currently doing is not working, we’re often predisposed to keep doing it then try something new that’s even scarier.

And it’s that unknown that we often must lean into to affect change and improve results. Challenging your own status quo (how you operate, where you generate pipeline, how sales is organized, etc.) is scary. Stepping into something new without knowing how it will work is scary. But if what you’re doing today is failing, you don’t really have a choice.

3. Tension between complexity and attribution

Every CMO at our breakfasts wanted better reporting. They want to know which marketing is working, which messages are driving velocity and movement more efficiently. But the complexity of the buying process (within marketing’s realm let alone across all sales and marketing touch points) will continue to outpace our ability to measure it.

So what’s most important – the perfect report, or building an operating model that helps your team focus on what’s most impactful? Ensuring a marketing organization that makes revenue-responsible decisions?

Revenue responsibility is a mentality, not a report.

4. Tension between immediate results and long-term impact

Quick results make us feel good. Doing things, sending more campaigns, generating more activity. Big numbers faster don’t always translate to revenue-producing results. The “marketing of more” (more leads, more clicks, more opens) just leads to a handful of vanity metrics.

And if you’re selling a complex product with months or quarters worth of sales cycle, it’s not going to be the email next Tuesday that generates the deal. It’s going to be a body of work, over a long period of time, that generates the attention, trust, interest, engagement and (eventually) commitment from your most important, most valuable prospects.

The CMOs we met with are universally focused on long-term impact, yet feel daily pressure to deliver right now. They feel it from sales, from their leadership team peers, and from their own organization. Teaching the organization how to prioritize and operationalize a more complex, “body of work” approach to prospect and pipeline management remains difficult.

5. Tension between sales and marketing



More specifically, there’s tension around credit – who and what gets credit when deals progress and close. There’s tension around definitions – what does “qualified” really mean, what does “follow up” really entail, etc. There’s even tension around the org chart itself – who should own the inside sales team and why, who should give them direction, how they should follow-up with leads and use their tools.

These particular tensions are fueled by precedent, culture, ego, executive prioritization and more. Key to resolving them is setting aside these arbitrary obstacles and working together assuming each group is operating with the best of intentions.

Even more important is having an executive-level mandate (at the CEO and even board level) to drive greater efficiency and cooperation between customer-facing teams (sales, marketing, even customer success and account management).

Do you see these tensions in your organization? Which are most prominent? And which are missing?

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