Sales Pipeline Radio, Episode 1: Q&A with Craig Rosenberg


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A few weeks ago we started producing a bi-weekly radio program called Sales Pipeline Radio, which runs live every other Thursday at 1:00 p.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.  We covered a wide range of topics, with a focus on sales development and inside sales priorities heading into the New Year.

Below are highlights from our conversation.  We’ll publish similar highlights here for upcoming episodes.  You can listen to full recordings of past shows at or subscribe via iTunes.

Matt: When I think of sales pipeline management and think about what I’ve learned about pipeline management over the past six/seven years, you’ve been a huge, huge part of that with your content and just the conversations we’ve had at events over the years. For those that are listening, give a quick introduction of yourself, your background, your involvement with the Funnelholic and talk a little bit about TOPO now as well.

Craig: Yeah, no problem, I appreciate the opportunity to do that. My background is across marketing and sales. I spent six years of my life—call it 2000-2005 and a half to 2006 as a consultant in The Valley building sales and inside sales processes for tech companies. Then I spent the next five years as the VP of Marketing for a business media company called Tipit.

I was doing hundreds of digital demand gen campaigns for tech vendors there, and you can sort of see that I can run from the top of the funnel all the way to close. After Tipit we were trying to figure out what we wanted to do. We started to work with companies from content marketing, demand generation, sales process, sales development, and what we learned was that no matter what we were doing, what everyone wanted to know is: “What are the best companies in the world doing?” So we’d go in a say well you out to do this content marketing campaign, and they’d say, you know, “Well how does Hubspot do it?” or whatever.

And so we realized there was a business there, and that’s why we started Topo. It’s a research advisory and consulting firm. We’re focused on studying the fastest growing companies on earth and turning that into data, so people can buy data from us in a subscription model, or actionable, operational playbooks, right, where people can actually buy time from our analysts and actually put these insights into play at their organization.

We’ve grown really fast, and the last year has been a great ride.

Matt: That’s fantastic. Thank you for doing that. Now, if you’re interested in hearing more about Craig and Topo and the stuff that he’s writing and thinking and talking about, you’ve got to follow his blog The Funnelholic. If you’re cool with a weekly email with some of the best sales and marketing content around, sign up for the Funnelholic weekly email. It’s required reading for me—I read it every week.

Craig, one other thing before we have to go to our first commercial break in a couple minutes, one of the reasons why I like talking to you about pipeline is that you don’t think about just the sales side you don’t think about just the demand side, which is truly and unfortunately unique in our industry.

You’ve got a lot of great marketers that consider themselves done at the MQL. You’ve got a lot of sales people who want to have a product and a demo conversation every single frickin time no matter who they’ve talking to or what stage they’re at. Talk a little about what you’ve learned and what you’ve found important over the last few years with Topo in terms of having that full funnel approach. And encouraging marketers and sales people to think about a full funnel to maximize its output for the most potential.

Craig: Yeah, well that’s a big one, right? I mean, what we do know today, is that we are way more advanced in demand generation and marketing—the full scale ability to get people to raise their hand is at a place it’s never been before. Okay? On the sales side, you know, everyone says sales is dying, well where I’m from people are hiring sales guys like crazy, and there’s a lot of new innovations in how you can interact with clients.

Things like, as simple as something we take for granted: an online demo, like you mentioned, or the ability to present online or the sales tools that make you more efficient. We’re looking at a brave new world in terms of creating a well-oiled, top to bottom sales and marketing machine. But I would say that what I have learned is that we have to, sort of… It’s great to create these full scale models, but we’ve got to take a step back. And a lot of the basics get lost and it creates friction in the revenue engine.

The very basic thing of defining your ideal customer profile is killing people actually. It’s a very simple thing, right? Well it’s not simple, but it’s a simple idea, which is making sure everyone is on the same page as far as who we sell to. Right?

So demand gen, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone in, wer’e brought in because sales said demand gen’s not doing anything. Six thousand leads a month, sales say they’re not doing anything, but the miss was on the ideal customer profile.

Marketing was looking at the MQL saying you’ve got all these MQLs, what’s sales’ problem? And sales is saying, well you’re creating all these MQLs, but the vast majority of them are unsellable. And so, just being able to take the ideal customer profile and string that from demand all the way through to sales is a huge step for people, and it’s often the communication breakdown.

And it’s something that you’re going to want to talk about, it’s the reason for the rise of account-based marketing as well.

On the sales side, the tools, the way that people use tools has actually created bad selling habits. Right? You mentioned it, it’s easy to show your product.  But to run a full discovery session, understanding the client and selling to their needs is lost because it’s too easy to send them a link and start showing them the product, and that’s just been bad. We’ve got the platform, but there’s just some really big strategic steps that often cause friction in the revenue chain.

Matt: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. When you look at a marketing organization they may have a lead goal, but in many cases that lead goal has no bearing to what the sales team is trying to achieve. These organizations don’t have common objectives; they don’t have common definitions. So marketing says, “We hit our lead goal,” and sales doesn’t believe those are good leads. So if you don’t have good common definitions and common objectives, everything else you’re doing kind of breaks down.

Craig: That is everything, and it’s a problem that has always existed, but it’s really interesting now, because demand gen, like I said, they can create leads. They can look in the mirror and say, “I created lots of leads.” But without those common definitions and this whole idea of sales and marketing alignment, I would say we are in the age of continued sales and marketing misalignment. Big time.

Matt: And it’s surprising sometimes, you and I both often end up at the same conferences, and you’ll hear people say, “Ugh, haven’t we moved beyond this? We talk about the same thing over and over again.”

Well, I’ll feel better about moving on once we literally follow the advice that we give to each other. If you do end up going to the Marketo show and the Sirius Decisions show, really, fundamentally, we’re fooling ourselves if we think that the people on stage there represents the majority of the market. And that’s not criticism of those that aren’t there. It’s an opportunity to make what they’re doing better.

When you’ve got a marketing organization that embraces revenue responsibility, they no longer care about generating as many tweets as they can and as many clicks as they can. They’ll generate fewer leads if they turn more of them into opportunities and the right kind of opportunities, and the sales team wants that as well.

So, some of those metrics are counterintuitive to what marketing has focused on in the past, and some of those metrics are counterintuitive in many cases to what an executive team and board have been trained to see for marketing. They want to see the up and to the right of the raw lead numbers, but that metric alone sometimes is counterproductive and leads to the wrong behavior that constrains sales.

Craig: Maria Pergolino, who is now at Aptus, is one of the pioneers of marketing-driven pipeline management from her time at Marketo. And I had said to her recently, “Look, what metrics do you follow now?” They’re doing big deals, large ASP’s, account-based, heavy type scenarios. And I said okay well great, what everyone wants to know is what are the metrics you follow, and she said, “Oh, well that’s easy. I follow pipeline and closed deals.”

And I tell everyone that, and they’ve got to know that because I am going to do everything to get the right people in the door and touch them as many times as necessary in order to turn those into deals. And that’s kind of per your point. Here’s someone who should come back to us and be like, “Well, Craig, there’s 25 metrics we follow across all of this process.” And she’s like no, there’s basically one, which is pipeline.

And then they measure everything close to make sure that they’re creating the right kind of pipeline. And everything that they do is based on getting to that number, which is what the organization needs.

Matt: And when you’ve got a team that’s willing to embrace revenue responsibility—and many sales leaders tell me, you know, they’re looking for marketers that feel the terror with them at the end of quarter. That’s a good indication.

So, Craig you brought up the idea of account-based marketing, and I want to talk a little bit about that. You know, on one hand I love that there is an increased focus on what is being called account-based marketing, but, you know, a) it’s not like enterprise marketing, which is what is really is, is a new thing, and I get a chuckle out of a lot of sales managers that say, “Well, we’ve been doing named account selling for forever, so thanks marketing for coming to the table.”

What’s your perspective on ABM and sort of the resurgence of enterprise marketing? And how should marketers think about that now that a lot of them are starting to plan their efforts and their budgets heading into 2016?

Craig: It’s such a hot topic right now, and I’m 100% behind it. Right now we’re just doing a lot of business around it. And I’ll tell you, you just brought up a couple things in the start and I’ll address both of them.

Have we been doing this for a long time? Yeah! It was here before the Marketos of the world showed up. It was called marketing. When I first started, I remember, marketing came out, and they had a printed list of these, you know, people they were going to go run campaigns against. They sent them campaigns, sales development followed up, we followed up with an executive letter. There was a set of marketing campaigns against a very specific set of accounts, and that was, you know, when I started 22 years ago, and I’m sure it was there well before then.

And then yeah, right, when I talk to marketers it’s like, “Guys, the miss here is that this is what sales has been doing and wants to do.” And particularly your biggest revenue opportunities are done by these sales people who say… Right? Like the story here for ABM is pretty simple.

The marketers came to the table and said, “Look at all this cool stuff I did. I have Marketo, I have Demandbase. I’ve got all these cool tools and I’ve created 5000 leads.” And sales is like, “Yeah, but I have this list of 100 accounts, and you got none of them.” And so, you can see that we started doing this a long time ago, but then we all just had to figure out this digital demand gen thing, right?

We had to get our Hubspot, get our Marketo or Eloqua in, create this massive, industrial strength demand gen machine, do lead nurturing, pretend to do lead scoring, you know, whatever it is we wanted to do over the last six or seven years, and we missed the target for the big revenue guys.

If you look at the numbers—we study fast-growing companies—97% of the demand is still by marketing, and that’s great. It’s the most predictable part of the game, right? Like marketing can say, “I’m going to get this amount of leads, it’s going to convert, and inside sales is going to turn it into revenue, and that’s great.” It is, it’s a true advance.

The problem is, the guys who move the revenue needle—the people that are selling against these very specific, target accounts—those guys are getting between 10 and 15 percent of their leads from marketing, if that. And that’s what had to change, and that’s why account-based marketing has come back into vogue.

And it’s a big deal, because you see a lot of what I just described, which is a lot of these companies hit a certain point in their annual revenue with consistent demand generation and inside sales….but now it’s like okay, how do we go get the GEs of the world? And we started by saying, “Well sales person, I pay you a lot of money…” just like the old days, right?

We can as marketers, take these accounts, set campaigns up with a similar, if not even more aggressive cadence that we’re doing today in the mid-market and in SMB, and we make it really specific and custom to that account, and we go support sales and go sign up for enterprise numbers.

So we talked about mismatches in definitions and misalignment on goals and efforts, well one of those is, if you look at metrics like the SQLs and MQLs, all these things, they say, “Look, I’m feeding the inside sales team,” but there’s just a gap. Everyone’s signing up for the big number. They’re not signing up saying in 2016, I will deliver between 40 and 60 percent of the pipeline into our target account.

And that’s what we need to see. There has to be a commitment from marketing, and by the way, they won’t go figure it out unless they have that number. I know that. I’ve seen that. They’re like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah we’ll go do it. We’ll go tell LinkedIn. We’ll go tell our vendors to focus on these accounts.” But at the end of the day, if they’re judged by how many leads then they don’t care. Right?

But if you go to them and say, you have to deliver this amount of pipeline revenue into these target accounts by the end of the year, behavior changes. Now I’ve got to step back. I’ve got to say okay well now I need a good database. Now I need to structure campaign for these guys, right? So that’s a big thing.

And then the only thing I’ll add, Matt, that we’ve learned about buyer centricity over the last couple years… and I think we talk about it a lot: Who’s the buyer, and what’s going to resonate with them? Account-based marketing, because these are big, expensive (hopefully) deals, we take the time to be as custom and personalized to that account that we can possibly be. And that, to me, is ABM.

I believe in it. We’re going to need it, because everyone’s trying to get into these target accounts. We just can’t rely anymore on giving an SDR and the sales rep a list and hoping that they get in. Everyone needs to mobilize and sign up for that number.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Matt Heinz
Prolific author and nationally recognized, award-winning blogger, Matt Heinz is President and Founder of Heinz Marketing with 20 years of marketing, business development and sales experience from a variety of organizations and industries. He is a dynamic speaker, memorable not only for his keen insight and humor, but his actionable and motivating takeaways.Matt’s career focuses on consistently delivering measurable results with greater sales, revenue growth, product success and customer loyalty.


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