Marketing and Sales Leader Hana Elliott Talks Buyer Intel and Aligning Teams

Marketing methods and mechanics are changing every day. And, we can thank technology for that. Modern marketers are now able to distribute and personalize their content precisely to their ideal customer profiles (ICPs). With efficient and accurate lead data coupled with social media ad platforms, marketers don’t have to rely on the “spray and pray” approach like the past. Instead, they can focus on precision marketing to drive real audience engagement and predictable revenue growth. 

How Marketing Needs to Meet Today’s Buyer Expectations

Hana Elliot - Sales and Marketing

I recently interviewed Hana Elliott, Head of Sales and Marketing at Civic Dinners, about her take on all things marketing in a digital-first landscape. Hana has spent her career leading SaaS marketing organizations in tight partnership with sales, spanning from customer and product marketing to account based marketing (ABM) and demand generation. She’s seen first hand how buyers and their expectations have changed over the years. 

Q. How has marketing changed over the past 10 years? Any new trends, strategies, tactics you are employing today that weren’t thought about or executed 10 years ago? 

Wow. So much has changed. From buyer access to information before they ever speak to a seller by filling out a form, to the creative digital ways we are finding to engage people in a remote world, it is a different marketing world! I want to focus on two things that I believe have changed marketing for the better:

  1. The shift to tag-teaming lead generation

With the advent of smart communication and buyer intent tools, marketers are being asked to maintain high volumes, but add on a separate motion: running account-based plays alongside sales. Where lead sources used to be the be-all-end-all for determining if marketing or sales should be attributed pipeline, we’re now seeing a lot of gray area and blurred lines between the teams.

This is great news. It means that the traditional tension between marketing and sales, playing tug-o-war over who each lead belongs to, dissipates. In its place are two teams, working towards the same goals and named lists, who care about pipeline at all costs — not where it came from.

To illustrate, imagine two scenarios:

  • A lead downloads content from a pay-per-click (PPC) ad and is sourced as such. They are familiar with the brand now but not ready to engage. A few months later, sales comes across that contact in CRM and decides it’s time for another try, putting that lead through an outbound sequence, and they bite. Should that lead source belong to sales (outbound) or marketing (PPC)?
  • An SDR cold outbounds a target prospect but gets no response — it is assigned an outbound lead source. That lead sits quietly in CRM and comes across a marketing event hosted by the company. They attend and turn into an opportunity from the post-event email nurture. Should that lead source belong to sales (outbound) or marketing (event)?

In the new, aligned world of sales and marketing, both teams are running against the same lead list. While marketing warms them up with verticalized, targeted ads, sales sends them on an outbound sequence. It’s the most efficient way to spend money and put headcount to work.

2. Brands expected to carry social responsibility

I read a stat recently about how 71% of Americans expect brands to be engaged in social issues.

One thing we saw in 2020 was that brands could no longer stay silent. A turning point was the horrific murder of George Floyd last summer — we all saw brands across social media making bold statements and pledging to do more for racial equity.

But did they?

With easier access to information and more reports put out every day about which brands are acting upon commitments, buyers are building activism into their shopping and purchase decisions. It’s kind of funny, really, how in this digital age, humanity has come back into play. The challenge for marketers is how to share their brands’ perspective on critical social issues without being cheesy or selling out. This means that marketing is becoming more human and less catchy. More vulnerable and less polished. More inclusive.

Not only is making the world a better place the right thing to do, but turns out it’s also just good business.

Q. How has video made an impact in your marketing efforts? Is it all hype and not all that, or is it helping marketing leaders drive more revenue?

In an increasingly digital world, people are losing face to face connection— but our need for human connection hasn’t changed. Most of us are tired of automated emails or bot responses. 

Fortunately, video can help us overcome this. But, how do successful brands actually engage their audience via video, whether it’s sales outreach or a marketing event? 

It has to be more than “just sit in your seat and listen to us talk”. That simple approach doesn’t work anymore because that’s what most of us are doing all day anyway. To be successful, video marketing (again) has to connect the people behind the brand with their audience for an authentic and interactive experience. 

At Civic Dinners, we had a hard pivot last March (like many of our friends). We had to go from a product that relied on in-person gatherings, to one that was totally digital. In ten days, our product flipped and we were live.

Since then, we have worked with DE&I and HR teams at brands, cities, and universities, such as Coca-Cola, to build meaningful, open, inclusive experiences at scale, centered around tough topics. We’ve found that contrary to the idea that going digital would remove the human connection our magic is built on — it actually allowed us to go bigger and bring together more diverse groups of people into action-inspiring conversations.

Last month, I attended our monthly open event on the topic “Racial Equity.” I found myself in a room with people I may never have been exposed to otherwise. One was a Black woman who was pregnant around the same time as me. As we shared how race played a role in our personal experiences on that journey, my breath was taken away by the vast difference in our treatment. Another was a white man about 30 years my senior, who grew up in the Jim Crow south…and who showed up to this conversation because it’s never too late to change.

At the end of the day, my point is that video plays a huge role in helping humans connect in an increasingly polarized and disconnected world. Anything that can do that has my vote.

Q. When you hear others talk about “aligning marketing and sales,” what does that mean to you? And, as a marketing leader, how do you execute this idea to build better working processes between marketing and sales?

I rambled about aligned sales and marketing teams above, but here are a few things I take a look at to really make sure we’re aligned across teams:

  • Does each team have clear visibility into the other team’s priorities and progress?
  • Are we celebrating each other’s wins and being transparent about our losses (and learning from them)?
  • Are we working backwards from the same, ambitious yet achievable revenue goals — using actual math to understand pipeline needed?
  • Are we putting equal pressure across the whole system? For example, it’s easy to say “We’re not getting enough leads!” or “Sales sucks at closing!” — but often, the problem is in the details, and close examination of conversion rates through the funnel makes all the difference.

Q. Marketing in many businesses is focused on precision targeting of buyers and messaging that aligns with those buyers’ pain points. Without divulging all your secrets, what are some of the ways your team is accessing buyers both from a content outreach strategy and from an outbound strategy?

The most important thing, regardless of team or channel, is to be human. Are you approaching your sales and marketing from an honest desire to help? Buyers are smart and see through cheesy tactics.

Aside from the traditional blah-blah-blah of sales and marketing channels, a few things that are working for me:

  • There is so much new revenue locked up in existing customers. How can you expand your services with an existing customer? How do you turn your top customers into advocates that refer like-minded buyers? While often overlooked, existing customers are usually your easiest and cheapest way to drive revenue. 
  • Co-marketing partnerships with brands that serve an overlapping audience are gold. Put effort into providing value, then you’ve got an entirely new (and usually free!) audience to work.
  • Identifying pain points and just…helping. At my last company, we saw that sales managers were struggling to know what to ask in 1:1 coaching sessions. So we made templates for them. Those templates were, by far, our most successful campaign. After we did it, I thought “Duh! Why didn’t we do that ages ago?”

Q. Who should own outbound sales development/lead generation; Marketing or Sales? Why?

They’re going to have a dotted line no matter what— goals often align with marketing, but the motion of it often aligns with sales. They’re a natural bridge between the two. And for me, it’s not as much about who owns this or that, but having crystal clear KPIs that you’re trying to achieve. 

But, it can also depend on your go-to-market strategy. For account-based organizations, they may want outbound/lead generation to sit with sales, hand in hand with account executives (AEs) to set the targeted, right meeting for the right people. For more transactional buying process, it may make more sense for SDRs to sit with marketing, running volume-based plays to their audiences.

Q. What are some of the top tips and tactics that marketing leaders should be thinking about today and in the future?

First, know there’s no magic bullet. What works for one company won’t guarantee success for another. And if a CEO expects you to increase pipeline 100x in 60 days, run! 

Second, don’t ignore the easy answers or low-hanging fruit. Take a look at what you have in front of you, and start there (as opposed to building from scratch). Do you have a list of folks who have ghosted meetings with your SDRs in the last 90 days? Run an email campaign featuring customers in the same vertical to try to re-engage, or with some relevant content. Do you have a list of Closed Lost deals because they went with a competitor? Look at their close date and run email and phone sequences 90 days before their annual contract with the competitor is set to renew, letting them know about your new product updates that put you ahead of the rest.

Know your conversion rates, because that tells you where you need to focus. If your rate from marketing qualified lead (MQL) to Meeting Set drops, run some tight nurtures in that zone. If your Meeting to Demo rate drops, supply sales with better pitch help and coaching.

And always keep your customer front-and-center! 


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