What emerging company CEOs really expect of marketing and sales leaders

Forrester analysts share their insights into what chief executive of emerging B2B companies are looking for to build their revenue engine

Chief executives of emerging companies are looking for marketing and sales leaders to not only work together seamlessly to drive growth and revenue, but also base efforts on a shared view of the entire buyer journey.

Speaking during last week’s Forrester B2B Summit, Forrester VP principal analyst, Nancy Maluso, and VP research director, Matt Papertsian, shared insights from a series of interviews recently undertaken with CEOs across emerging B2B companies globally. The aim was to understand what these CEOs wanted from the leaders driving the revenue engine of their business: Marketing and sales.

As Forrester explained it, companies included in their interview process stretched from early growth companies where creating demand, revenue and retention is key, through to companies in the expanded growth phase, then those preparing for exit. In the later stages, stabilising revenue, insights-driven activity, automation and profitability are main priorities.

Two questions were asked: What do you expect from your leaders to drive your revenue engine? And what are some of the greatest challenges they face in meeting those needs?

While needs vary by growth stage, it’s clear there is a lot of demand placed on marketing and sales leaders to work together to achieve outcomes, the Forrester analysts said.

“The key challenge with CEOs is they don’t want to hear two messages about the same thing – there is one revenue engine and they want marketing and sales working towards the same goals,” Papertsian said.  

At the earliest stages of company growth, there’s a distinct challenge of having to deal with ambiguity and potentially wearing multiple hats. During this phase, marketing is expected to create the right messaging and content to foster digital engagement with target buyers, Maluso said.

“Likewise, sales starts to need to look at pipeline to ensure it has right shape and size and be moving digital leads into revenue,” she said. “Together, both leaders need be responsible for total demand volume and the quality of that demand. As we build out structure and teams, you want to think of this as a joint responsibility.”

Marketing also needs to think about how they are contributing to revenue, not just filling the top of the funnel.

“CEOs don’t want them to think about a job of driving leads. Instead, the job is to engage buyers to drive revenue. From the get-go, marketers need to think about it that way,” Maluso said. “Sales leaders need to start laying down foundations and start to become process-oriented in execution, so together we’re creating the discipline needed to go after right buyers in the right way.”  

With emerging companies increasingly placing emphasis on retention, marketing also needs to build the competency to nurture customers post-sale and continue engaging with them in digital ways to drive advocacy, Maluso said.

As companies go into an expanded growth stage, Papertsian noted the desire to find new ways to grow in addition through things like acquisitions, new channels and product lines.

“Marketing’s role is to build the right content based on clear buyer needs. Those have likely changed as you have new buyers and situations,” he said. “To do that, you need the right technology to back it up, as well as processes to support it, and you need to deliver things in an omnichannel way.”  

Sales, meanwhile, needs to build competency and competence to leverage automation where it’s applicable, and ensure they have the right resources and are leveraging them cost-effectively, Papertsian continued.

“But ultimately what we’re trying to do together as marketing and sales is to determine where the business comes from. This is the true element of scale,” he said. “When you start to get that sense, you start to shift from more of a product view, to more of an audience view, and have a better understanding of their needs to balance resources and stay aligned.”  

Effectiveness is also under the spotlight. “What CEOs expect from marketing here is moving away from just the idea of pipeline to revenue and looking at the whole journey,” Papertsian said. “Understand what the ideal audience is, what segments do we need to stay focused on and align with product, sales and other teams so entire revenue engine is focused.

“From a sales perspective, you have to avoid shiny new objects and stay focused not just on short-term, but long term. There needs to be constant coaching. We can start using AI to prioritise accounts and sales plays that are going to work.

“Then ultimately, we want to make sure from a revenue engine perspective that we put the business before the function. Marketing and sales should stop thinking of themselves that way but as business leaders whose key goal is to drive the revenue engine to support the business. You have to move away from tactical to strategic thinking and drive collaboration.”  

As companies progress to more of exit stage or the next level of maturity, CEOs are expecting their sales and marketing leaders to stabilise the revenue engine, making it predictable and dependable. Maluso said both leaders should have been preparing and laying foundations for this by deploying technology and capturing data on customers, digital and human.

“Marketing has to start looking to drive funnel, not only to reduce cost of customer acquisition, but also to determine which buyers have the most intention and potential for revenue and profit,” she advised. “Likewise, CEOs are expecting sales leaders to use those insights to focus on best opportunity, but also to find the next-best action to take so they are most effective at meeting the buyer where they need to be met. Together, we’re using resources not just effectively, but efficiently.

“We’re also automating a tremendous part of the revenue engine. Part of this is marketing helping with integrating measurements across the engine. It’s looking at which human interactions we can automate, and what we can do to help sellers to be more efficient as they work. Together, we are forming a single process across buyer journeys from awareness through renewal, and we’re underscoring the process with technologies. These capture the data we need in integrated way so we can make decisions based on insights and for us to have an entire view of this engine.”

All of this enables greater profitability. “In this case, marketing is very precise on how they’re filling the funnel, and the costs and returns from a revenue and profit perspective,” Maluso said.

“Sales is very good at allocating resources to the right opportunity and right buyers, and we have a complete view of the revenue engine. So together, if we want to invest $1, we know the best place to invest it to gain the greatest level of return.”

As Origina CEO, Thomas O’Leary, put it to the analysts: “I want my leaders of sales and marketing to be brave enough to anticipate success and build towards that starting today, and I want them to work seamlessly together towards that success.”

“More than anything, CEOs are saying we need the entire organisation to be aligned, and a seamless view of the complete buyer journey,” Maluso said.

“It’s a tough job for our marketing and sales leaders, and CEOs are empathetic. They want us – sales and marketing - to be strategic partners in the business, and to sit at the table and think about the business holistically.”

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