Aligning sales and marketing sounds pretty simple and perhaps obvious, but that’s not always the case. A lot of times, marketing is doing one thing and sales is doing another. If a business doesn’t intentionally connect the two, they often discover that their sales and marketing departments aren’t working from the same sheet music.
The result is cacophonous chaos.
With his extensive B2C experience, Fractional CMO Eric Johnson has become a dynamic leader uniquely skilled at aligning sales and marketing. The key, he says, is building marketing plans with a sales application in mind.
For example, if you set a goal of 30 new client consultations a week. The marketing tactics you use should be focused on bringing people to the table. To align your sales with your marketing efforts, you then need to focus on crafting a high-level sales message.
There are always two messages: the marketing message to get them in the door and the sales message to get them to make the purchase. With alignment, your salespeople learn to go beyond the marketing message and begin speaking with the fine-tuned sales message.
“For me, leadership is taking that first step,” Johnson explained. “Let’s lay this out. Let’s put our layout on a piece of paper. This is the goal that we’re trying to shoot for. This is the plan that we are building, or that we are going to change.”
Throughout his career, he has always put it all on paper, first working to articulate the plan any marketing team he leads is going to follow. The next task involves walking the sales team through every page and every idea. He brings them into the conversation by asking, “What will work better? What will not work? What do we need to change?”
Leadership is about bringing the plan, sharing that plan, and discussing the plan until everyone agrees (the key to aligning marketing and sales).
Crafting An Authentic Message For Today’s World
Having worked in some very large companies with relatively large marketing budgets, Eric Johnson has had the opportunity to “tell a pretty big story.” As he put it:
“We told a story of hope. We told a story that made you feel. We told a story that made you laugh. Big stories that changed the way you felt about our company, but also how you felt about yourself. And it was fun.”
According to him, it was most fun when he was able to “make people laugh.” But since 2020, the world as a whole has become decidedly less funny, and marketing has shifted accordingly.
With daily news of a rise in shootings, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, and the plunging stock market, it has become harder to tell a story that is positive, uplifting, and funny.
In short, it feels disingenuous to try to sell people a funny message in times when the world is anything but funny. As a result, marketing has become more transparent, honest, and down-to-earth. It’s no longer about selling customers a dream. It’s about communicating with them. The new messaging says, “I know what you’re going through and we’re going to get through this together.”
According to Johnson, “it’s the kind of a message that you wouldn’t have seen 10 or even 5 years ago. That search for authenticity has never been higher. People are responding to authenticity. So it’s time to be real with them.”
From a marketing standpoint, it has become our responsibility to tell an authentic story of our business – on every level of the organization. The salespeople need to be able to tell the same authentic message at any point in all their interactions. The primary goal of marketing has shifted from hitting some big target to finding the company’s most authentic message so that it can be communicated across the board.
At the end of the day, your marketing has to tell a story, and that story needs to be broader than some contrived marketing story. It needs to be the story of the company.
Johnson suggests using these questions to identify your company story:
- What does this company believe in?
- What values does this company embody?
- What are the objectives that this company is going to talk about?
- How do we, as individuals, fit into that?
“Companies have got to do a much better job of telling their story,” Johnson said. “To say, this is what we believe in, and this is how we’re going to make the world a better place. And if you work here, this is how you fit into that. And this is how you personally can benefit from that. Here’s how you can let your voice sing in what we’re trying to do.”
According to Johnson, that’s the next important part of a company story: the employees’ role in it. Companies have got to tell a bigger message, but they also have to enroll their employees in that message.
“If you’re a company that’s not telling the story and not trying to uplift the world, your employees will think, ‘Why do I want to be part of that? I want to be part of something that’s making a change in the world.” And that’s the problem a lot of companies are facing right now.
With difficulties like supply chain issues and inflation, they’ve taken a step back. Instead of telling an authentic story, they’ve gotten quiet.
When that happens, it’s time to think about things differently and bring in fresh ideas, especially on the C-suite level.
Why More Companies Are Turning To Fractional Professionals On The C-Suite Level Rather Than Hiring Full-Time Leadership
- Less Risk
Hiring a new full-time C suite executive is a big commitment – both financially and overall. You expect them to be with you a long time and you hope that choice all works out for the best. Whereas if you hire a fractional employee, the commitment you make is for a shorter period of time.
- Faster Results
When you hire full-time employees, plans are going to move slower, more deliberately, because your ultimate goal is protecting yourself. But when you hire a fractional executive, they’re able to do some things that you may or may not be comfortable with telling your own people to do. They can prompt your team to move faster when you might not be comfortable doing so.
As Johnson put it:
“When an outsider comes in, it gives the leadership team a little freedom to go hog-wild in a way that they wouldn’t if it were a traditional full-time person.” It’s this freedom that brings uniquely faster results.
- Diverse Experience
As a fractional CMO, Eric Johnson considers himself lucky to have been able to work with a broad array of different clients – from consumer products to B2B work. He credits his varied arsenal of experience that he can pull from with his success.
People who’ve been working at the same company for years only know that one perspective, but fractional leaders can bring with them experience from many different companies and industries. They’re uniquely able to share how different ideas and processes work because they bring that cross experience to the table.
Company Outsiders: Fractional Leadership and Overcoming The Trust Gap
As mentioned above, one of the reasons CEOs choose factional leadership is because of their ability, as an outsider, to provide faster results. These business owners often say, “Hey, I need you to go faster and think bigger. I need you to get more done than my team is – but without insulting them.”And that, according to Johnson, is one of the big challenges.
“It’s a trust gap I’m trying to avoid,” Johnson said. “When they know you’re brought in by the boss to do their work, they can start to worry that what they’re doing isn’t good enough.”
And this is not a situation that is unique to fractionals. Anytime someone new comes into any situation, there’s always going to be a trust gap. People ask themselves, “What’s his angle? What does he really want? Why couldn’t we solve this internally? Why did they have to bring in an outsider?”
But Johnson wants to make it clear that he’s there to help – not take their jobs. He doesn’t want to replace the work they’re doing, but he wants to help make them perform it better. To work with the existing marketing team, an outsider must spend considerable time making sure they are aligned with each other.
Johnson said he spends time walking them through his thoughts, things he’s done in the past, and how he thinks the company can do better. He aims to bring the existing team into the conversation so they can ultimately – without “the heavy the big guy brought in” present – work faster, think bigger, and be better. Because the ultimate goal – the goal for everyone involved – is simply to help the company become stronger.
The Top-Of-The-Hill Goal For Any Leader
A leader must be able to face issues head-on and go after solutions, but the essence of true leadership is engagement.
Leaders engage their teams in building a plan for action and growth – a solution that they can own. Whatever can make the organization more successful – whether it be growth or margin – the goal is to engage the team in creating their own solution for success.
The leader guides the team in identifying:
- the opportunity,
- what’s holding the company back
- what is needed for growth
- the true north of the company
- how we can achieve that vs. what we’re doing today
- how to define our vision
A leader helps the team dream a bigger dream. They say, “Don’t worry about where we are, but where could we be if we take the right steps?”
Johnson reflected on a leader in his life who helped him dream a bigger dream:
“I had a great leader who sat me down in his office and said, ‘Eric, I’ve chosen you to take on this role because you’ve proven to me that – among all the people in your group – you’re able to get things done quicker. You’re able to make things happen. You’re able to move teams. There’s no one else in my organization that I would pick to lead us up the hill. But when you get to the top of that hill and you look back, ask yourself, ‘Did I bring the team with me or did I get here by myself?’
That was his way of saying, ‘You’re three steps ahead of everybody, but you’ve got to make sure you’re leading the team. Make sure your team gets to the top of the hill with you.’
Now, when I’m leading a big thing and we’re moving at 75 miles an hour and everything is going forward, I always take a moment to look around. I want to make sure didn’t leave anyone behind.”
Today, Johnson’s goal is to get any team he leads to the proverbial “top of the hill” with him, because that, he says, is what leaders do.
This article was produced from the interview with Eric Johnson featured on Episode 28 of the “Fractional C-Suite Retreat” podcast, a yorCMO podcast hosted by Joseph Frost, yorCMO co-founder, speaker and founder of The Fractional Professionals Association.
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