Episode 13

Revenue Rebels: How Empathy from Marketers Can Improve Marketing & Sales Alignment

Is Marketing & Sales Alignment Achievable?

There is no question how critical alignment between your marketing and sales team is. But, is alignment achievable? At Lola.com, it certainly is.

Jeanne Hopkins, CMO and Ryan Ball, VP of Sales join the podcast this month to share how their collaboration and alignment impacts business growth and revenue. Listen to this episode to uncover the root causes of misalignment and gain tips for achieving alignment within your own company.

About Our Guest

Jeanne Hopkins, CMO

As Chief Marketing Officer at Lola.com, Jeanne Hopkins leads both the company’s marketing organization, building a metrics-based powerhouse to fuel demand as well as its customer success organization, ensuring a great Lola customer experience.

Jeanne hosts Lola.com’s Table Fries podcast which introduces listeners to the diverse group of Lola.com women.

Ryan Ball, VP of Sales

As the Vice President of Sales, Ryan is responsible for driving the organization towards its broader revenue goals by establishing the strategy, targets, onboarding, training, and career growth of the sales team.

Ryan hosts the Road Warrior Radio podcast where he shares stories and tips for and from frequent business travelers.

Listen to the full interview below:

Unable to listen? Read the full interview transcript below:

Rhoan Morgan: Hey listeners. Welcome back to another episode of Revenue Rebels. I’m looking forward to sharing some ideas and learning today from our guests Jeanne Hopkins, CMO of Lola.com, and Ryan Ball, VP of Sales at Lola.com. We’re going to talk today about how Jeanne and Ryan work together on improving alignment between two of what I, with my clearly bias opinion, consider to be some of the most important businesses at any company, marketing and sales.

I’m thrilled to have you guys on the show today. I’m really looking forward to learning more about how you’ve been successful in aligning to the common goal of growth at Lola. We talk a lot about growth and how our marketing and sales efforts are all really working towards that same ultimate goal. Marketing and sales alignment is an age old discourse, if we can use the term age old I think.

I think that it continues to affect the success of marketing and sales teams today. As much as we talk about it there still are some challenges, and we at DemandLab prioritize alignment. We have seen great successes when teams are really working together, but we’ve also seen initiatives fall completely flat when teams are not well aligned. So Jeanne, why don’t we start with a question around alignment. What do you think might be some root causes of this misalignment?

Jeanne Hopkins: I guess what I would say is that many organizations, companies, no matter the size that they are, everybody has to sell, right? You have to sell your product, your service, whatever you have, and if you’re not selling then there’s no revenue, and that’s very important for everyone. I think the concept of sales has been around for let’s just say 100 years, so it’s essentially old world, right? It’s something that people are familiar with, and we all know that there’s different kinds of selling, but let’s just say sales is kind of universally understood.

However, marketing is a different kind of a discipline and some people think marketing is strictly advertising, and advertising is just one aspect of it. That’s been around let’s say maybe for a century as well so that you advertise so that people will buy the product, but advertising is not necessarily the core of marketing, because marketing needs to be … You have to talk about the product. You have to talk about how you’re going to sell it, where you’re going to sell it, how much you’re going to sell it for so that your company will be successful.

I think that the advent of marketing, and maybe the advent of marketing being much more versus the arts and crafts approach of let’s change the logo, let’s change the color, let’s change the tagline. Many organizations don’t understand that marketers need to see sales. Sales is the engine and marketing needs to be able to provide the fuel so that sales can actually do their job and do it well. Many organizations don’t understand that, or marketers don’t understand truly what their role is in an organization.

Rhoan Morgan: I would absolutely agree with that, and I think it’s a pretty strong statement, and I think it’s something a lot of people should reflect on. I absolutely agree. Ryan, tell me about your perspective on this.

Ryan Ball: I tend to agree with Jeanne, which is no surprise, because we are clearly aligned, are trying to move in the same direction here. From my perspective it sounded like Jeanne was taking a lot of the responsibility and accountability on that side in terms of maybe a misperception of what marketing’s responsibility is, but I really think it probably … From my perspective, it starts at a little bit higher level, right? What is the culture of the organization in with which you’re trying to drive.

Jeanne and I both strongly, strongly believe in self awareness and accountability at all levels whether it’s a departmental level, or individual level, whatever it might be, and really realizing that when we make decisions, she and I, we’re making decisions for the whole and not for the one. Listen, ego’s going to be involved in any department. That’s just kind of the way that it works, but I think that we have a certain level of trust with one another that when we make suggestions to one another it’s not dee-seated in solving for ourself. It is absolutely … The Genesis of it is making sure that we’re trying to increase our share price at any time.

I mean, we’re non public. We’re pre-IPO and all that kind of stuff, but every decision that she and I make is in the interest of every person in this organization and trying to increase our overall share price, and therefore accountability and transparency is required at all times. She and I will have some difficult conversations at times, but I certainly don’t take anything personally. I don’t think she takes anything personally either. We know that we’re trying to move in the same direction to benefit everybody that’s working here.

Rhoan Morgan: Everyone has their eye on the prize in essence. It sounds like you guys absolutely are thinking about that in the same way, which is great. Can you tell us a story that illustrates how the two of you have worked together to make sure that both of your teams are truly aligned. I say truly because there’re plenty of people out there that say that we’re aligned, and that’s because they do happy hour, and they’re buddies, or they’re friends, or play Frisbee during lunch, but is there a story that really illustrates your team’s alignment.

Jeanne Hopkins: Ryan and I started at the same time. Mike Volpe who is our boss, the CEO, we both worked with him at HubSpot, and I think that Mike Volpe was really smart about hiring us both, and bringing us onboard at the same time, and we talked to each other before we came onboard, because I feel like a lot of marketing people don’t necessarily talk to the sales team leader, because you want to make sure that you’re aligned for a variety of reasons.

I think that I can probably talk about this story where we had practically no leads back in October, and we started investing in organic, and we were spending money to be able to generate leads, and trying to figure out what is a good lead, what does a persona look like, who are we targeting, who are we selling to, and Ryan working on the sales motion, and training, for his particular team. By the time January and February came we were generating thousands of leads, but it was a tsunami.

Ryan Ball: Yeah.

Jeanne Hopkins: The sales team just couldn’t possibly keep up with it. I know people are going to be listening like, oh, I wish I had thousands of leads, but-

Ryan Ball: It’s actually a bigger problem than you would realize.

Jeanne Hopkins: And so, Ryan felt on the one hand that we’re wasting these leads, and so we agreed together that in March we were going to focus on getting more demo leads, and we did a variety of different kinds of programs to be able to get more people raising their hand to be able to get a demo, and we took all the other leads out of their rotators. It doesn’t mean that we’re not generating them, but we’re just not investing as much in growing the leads database, but only concentrating on getting demo leads.

And so, we concentrated on that in April, May, and June in order to give Ryan the best chance for success for his sales organization. I think making that switch and having that conversation was an example of alignment versus my saying “Hey, Ryan, what the hell are you doing with these 2800 leads you should be happy.” Right?

Ryan Ball: Yeah, exactly.

Jeanne Hopkins: It’s not that you were unhappy.

Ryan Ball: That was the awkward part of the conversation, it was sitting down with Jeanne and saying “Hey, send us less.” Right? No sales leader ever wants to say that. I think so much of this comes back to being analytics oriented and data oriented in the first place. We didn’t have the analysis in place, and the tools in place, to truly know what was working and what wasn’t working. We’re a lot further ahead now 120 days later, so it’s where we know what our demo to close rate, or opt to close rate is, and the various levers that we can pull.

So now, in the same way when we were looking just at the paid leads back in October and on through January we’re going to start doing that with the demo leads, or what we call MQLs, marketing qualified leads, at this point to identify, okay, what channel you’re actually providing the best qualities. Is it channel A versus channel X, or Z, or whatever it might be, and that way we can continue to pull those levers.

All of that comes down to a single source of truth, so knowing that we have the same access to the same reports, and she’s not telling one story based on a religion versus my story on another religion, but we’re all kind of seeing the same the same thing at the end of the day.

Rhoan Morgan: Yeah. Actually, that is exactly where I was heading, Ryan. As you were going through this Jeanne clearly you guys looked at the data, you looked, you talked, you worked together to find, okay, what is the ideal profile that we should be sending to sales? Clearly, you’re not saying, okay, the other thousand we’re just not going to do anything with them. I’m sure you’re putting them through a nurture, you’re still engaging with them, but waiting until they get to the right level to even warrant the human part of what we do, right? The picking up of the phone and making the call, and having a meaningful conversation.

So speaking of that data perhaps you can tell us about some of the data points that you share with Mike Volpe, your CEO, or board members, when it comes to demonstrating the results of your work together.

Ryan Ball: We hide everything from Mike and the board. We only share it with each other. All joking aside, I’ll be curious to hear Jeanne’s perspective on this too, but I think we have a pretty interesting relationship with Mike just based on trust from previous times before, and also his leadership style. My one-on-ones with Mike aren’t a matter of sitting and saying “Hey, this is our demo to close rate right now, and this is what this is doing” and that, and whatever it might be. We’re more at a strategic level than anything else.

What we do share with him is like, listen, we anticipate our headcount is going to be X by the end of the year. In order to support that, to at least get us to 1% of quota, then marketing is going to be responsible for zed when it comes to the total lead flow, and the quality of those leads, those sorts of things.

I think where Jeanne and I would like to see this go over the course of the next 12 to 18 months is maybe a little bit more lead scoring, projective lead scoring, because all demo requests aren’t created equal, right?

Rhoan Morgan: Mm-hmm

Ryan Ball: Like a book download might actually be a much higher value, but just based on some of the internal defining right now, we’re not necessarily rotating those. There’s a few things that we want to dig into a little bit further to get better and better at this, and I’m not flattering her because she’s sitting here, and with it in the other ways, but Jeanne has done a phenomenal job of putting together a marketing team, and I know that we’ll probably get into this in conversation a little bit later as well, to where they all have certain superpowers and can focus in on that therefore … You know, the rising tide lifts all boats kind of mentality.

And one individual, I mean, you can literally Slack him anytime day or night about various data metrics and he’s back in touch with you within five minutes just because he knows it off the top of his head, and that’s really useful for us to be able to make decisions quickly. We kind of believe in this idea of all forward fast, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do especially in a growing organization like ours.

Rhoan Morgan: So we are actually past our midway point, and it is time for us to take a really quick break, Ryan. I have so many questions that I would love to ask right after this, and we will do that after we take a very quick break. Stay tuned listeners. I will be back with Jeanne and Ryan to learn more about how they execute for growth at Lola.com.

Rhoan Morgan: Thanks so much, Paul. Okay. Let’s jump right back in with Jeanne and Ryan from Lola.com. We’re talking about executing for growth and marketing and sales alignment. You were talking teams, and building teams. I want to hear more about this. Jeanne, one of the things that we talked about in our initial connection was around accountability. You want your marketing team members to have empathy for the sales experience, understand what it means to really equip sales with the right leads, and also you mentioned holding marketing accountable for revenue, carrying a quote, which I found really compelling.

How have you structured your team to share in the growth goals of the company and be accountable for their impact?

Jeanne Hopkins: Well, we all are very interested in how the database is growing, how the leads are coming in, and making sure that sales has enough of them. We have a number of Slack channels where we communicate collectively, the marketing team as well, but we share information about … We all have access to the dashboards, which is always open on my computer to be able to see like where we are, what’s the goal, how are we getting there.

At the beginning of every month for example I have a note that says like how many business days do we have in the month, how many business days do we have in the quarter, because it’s not simply a matter of just looking at July, August, and September. July and August typically are lighter in most B2B environments or summer vacations, that sort of thing, but you can’t come out of the gate the day after Labor Day, and expect to be able to hit your number.

You have to hit your days. You have to hit your weeks. You have to hit your months. In much the same way that sales does… that Ryan talks to his team, and we need to create this many opportunities, we need to close this many customers, and it is a day by day, mud wrestling project, right?

I also want my marketing organization to understand the same sort of pain that we committed. We committed to getting this many demo leads in front of a sales organization, and if I gave those leads to them on the last day of the month what would that be worth Ryan?

Ryan Ball: It’s something for the next month.

Jeanne Hopkins: Nice lead to carry over, but the point is that you have to hit the first of every month. You have to hit everything so that they’re set, and I think that many marketers kind of forget like the time of year, or the cycles. I really look at cycles on the calendar, and being able to understand like these are typically light months, these are typically you got to hit this particular number, and that’s how I drive my team that if we’re not here at this particular point we have a much bigger issue, and I want to be ahead of every single goal that we have in much the same way that Ryan does.

Rhoan Morgan: So Ryan, what are some of the benefits that you’re seeing out of this. Clearly, Jeanne’s team is highly data-driven, they’re looking at this, they care deeply about what they’re doing for and with sales. What are your benefits?

Ryan Ball: I mean, they’re innumerable, right? The primary benefit is just the opportunity for communication. You know, each and every month we have a voice of the customer meeting, each and every month we have a sales and marketing, two different meetings where we get together and identify exactly what it is that the customer is looking for, our customer, our personas, and what impacts our organizations have on that, and how we can best communicate with that.

I think that just being able to sit down and talk with any member of the team, and I’m not somebody who’s like super micromanager by any stretch, but if I notice that maybe some of the format, I think the blog articles off, nobody takes offense if I sit down and say, hey, what are we thinking, or what are our thoughts about potentially doing this and this to call out various aspects of this. Everybody is very open minded to it, and if Jeanne or the content writer disagrees with it then I absolutely respect that as well.

I think it just comes down to an idea of mutual respect. We were talking earlier about alignment and misalignment, and I’ve certainly been a part of organizations where there has been misalignment in the past, and it’s because there was blame on either side. I think if we come back to that idea of knowing that I try and explain to my team that marketing is here to help them get from 100 to 150 percent. It is not marketing’s job to get them to their number, because that just means they’re order takers. Why wouldn’t I outsource that somewhere else for god’s sake?

When they understand that. When they understand that they’ve been given every opportunity to go and find their number on their own then I think there’s a greater appreciation for the work that marketing is actually doing to help us, and meet and exceed our goals on that front.

Rhoan Morgan: Hey, you know, it reminds me of a story, and I don’t know if I’ve shared this on another podcast, but I was sitting in a meeting with a client, and had somebody on the sales side say – He was leading the inside sales team – “Marketing, what we really need are prospects that are ready to buy.” I just thought, what?

Jeanne Hopkins: Probably with a PO attached.

Rhoan Morgan: Right. It just sounds like there was a great communication, and I think it actually goes back a little bit to what you said earlier also, Ryan, is a culture. It’s at the highest level, respect, very little ego attached, and everybody really working towards that same goal.

Ryan Ball: That’s one thing that I’m proudest of, and I know we need to move on here, but here at Lola this is one of the most genuine cultures that I’ve even been a part of, and Jeanne and I have both been really, really fortunate to work at some exceptional organizations in the past, but here it truly feels like you can take aside anybody in the organization when you have questions whether it’s the founder all the way down to an intern, and really be able to say, hey, have we thought of doing it this way, or what are our thoughts around this, or whatever it might be.

I don’t know. It’s just genuine. This idea of inclusion is very, very core to what we do each and every day.

Rhoan Morgan: That’s fantastic. I know that you guys are recruiting right now, so hopefully if there’s anybody listening out there they’ll be contacting you soon, Ryan.

Ryan Ball: If there’s anyone, you said there were like, what, 300,000 a week on this?

Rhoan Morgan: Did I say if?

Ryan Ball: Yeah. There you go.

Rhoan Morgan: I think the culture will set the tone, and if you have a culture that is not inclusive, and is not open to listening and learning from your peers, and your partners … We always talk about people in sales. I come from a marketing background. We talk about the people in sales as our partners, and they certainly are.

Just a couple more questions as we lead into round out the podcast here. I’ve got a question around technology, and how technology supports your work. You guys have already listed out a few things. We talked about data. You’ve talked about some other platforms that you’re using. Ryan, from a sales perspective, what technologies have had the greatest impact on your alignment with marketing, and effectiveness in achieving your goals?

Ryan Ball: I mean, we’re a HubSpot shop here, and it’s not because many of us used to work at HubSpot, I do think that it’s a really good product for a company of our size for sure. The fact that we all have access to HubSpot whether it’s on the sales side, or the marketing side, means that there’s a single source of truth that we can all kind of look at. We utilize our business analysts to make sure that we have the reports that we can all trust at the end of the day.

I would say for us as well from a CRM perspective, HubSpot is really easy to use as a sales person, definitely easier than Salesforce has been. But we also use a company called Jiminny, which is kind of … I think if you were to combine Gong and Zoom into one that’s kind of what Jiminny does, so it’s our telephony program, it’s our web posting program, video conferencing program. It annotates calls for us. It does all of that, so that it really allows myself and my managers, as well as anybody who has a license, which is pretty much our entire organization, to listen in on calls, and hear the voices of the customer, and what exactly it is they’re looking for.

And if you think of not just sales and marketing alignment but also product alignment … I know our product team ends up listening to at least a call a week of various demos that we run so they can get feedback, and understand what’s going on there too. We have an entire tech stack that I could go through from there, but those are probably the two that are most influential and impactful on our day to day.

Rhoan Morgan: And Jeanne, what are some technologies that you would say you just absolutely could not live without?

Jeanne Hopkins: I guess I would say that it would be our instance of HubSpot. I had one of my content leads who went on a vacation, well deserved, off the grid, hiking vacation. It’s wonderful to be a marketer, and be able to go in and make edits, and make changes, and be able to build pages easily without having to have a programming degree, being able to upload to the blog. We have four marketing interns this summer, so I was able to take their blog posts, and be able to get them published for them, and do a lot of work that technically should be easy, and it is with HubSpot, and it’s not with other content management systems.

I don’t think I could live without having that, because I have been at companies where I see a typo, and I can’t correct it at two o’clock in the morning, and it drives me nuts. So your ability to be able to go in and fix things on the fly is very important, to be highly responsive is very critical to people.

Rhoan Morgan: And are there any new technologies that you guys are looking to add this year or next year?

Jeanne Hopkins: Yeah. We have a tech stack that is probably the standard for most companies. We use a lot of different tools. We have a lot of different subscription services, things that, you know, testing. There’s things that also help support the sales function. We have subscriptions to things like that. I’m more interested in getting rid of things, because it over complicates. We have a fantastic business analyst, and from a BI standpoint, he’s been implementing something called Looker, which actually takes data from HubSpot, takes data from AWS, which is where all of our customer information is stored, and has been able to produce reports, and give us a lot of information.
The challenge with Looker however is that you go by this poor guy’s desk and he’s literally programming it.

Ryan Ball: Right, yeah.

Jeanne Hopkins: It’s way above my pay grade to be able to figure out how he’s doing that, but he’s doing an awesome job. We’re just getting better and better as a company to be able to move faster and faster, so my answer would be anything that helps us move faster, and makes everybody have the ability to move faster. That’s the kind of stuff I want. I don’t want stuff that’s going to slow us down.

Rhoan Morgan: Well, and sometimes having too much can really slow you down, so also put the thought about cutting out some technologies, or consolidating is huge, and of course we all know that new technologies are popping up every day.

Jeanne Hopkins: I get at least 10 emails from somebody trying to sell us something every single day.

Ryan Ball: Exactly.

Jeanne Hopkins: They’re interesting ideas but too many point solutions to look at the added value, and personally every company I’ve gone to, once you ask everybody to say what are you buying for software it’s a budget exercise. Where are we spending money? And then, you’ll be shocked after you go through something with an accounts payable person, and find out like you’re paying for all these things on a corporate credit card that no one is using.

Rhoan Morgan: Mm-hmm. That’s a really important exercise. We go through that frequently with our clients, and it can be a shocker I think as it starts to develop.

Jeanne Hopkins: Yep.

Rhoan Morgan: As our time comes to a close I would just like to ask both of you guys if you have any tips that we haven’t had a chance to cover that you think would be interesting to the listeners around building out that alignment. We covered a lot during this time, but any final points?

Jeanne Hopkins: I can speak for myself. Last night, Ryan was coming back from Florida with his family after a vacation, and he touched base with me. First, he sent a message via Slack, but then he sent a message via text, and we often times communicate via our mobile for privacy obviously, and to be able to just kind of get on the same page, like he’ll ask a question “Are you seeing the same thing?” And I’ll ask a question. I think that’s a huge benefit because there’s a huge level of trust there. I think that’s the most … To me, that there’s a level of trust.

We’ve basically known each other for 10 years. I don’t think he’s heard any horror stories about me, and I haven’t heard any horror stories about him. Plus, the thing is his birthday’s October 1, mine is October 2, and we’re both left-handed. 

Ryan Ball: I think that’s our tip. Someone who… has the same writing style. I’m just going to dip onto that at the very end. I was going to say something very similar. I think we come by it naturally just because we’ve been able to work together, and have known of each other for a long, long time. I mean, we went a solid eight years not working with each other as well.

Jeanne Hopkins: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ryan Ball: But default to trust, right? Default to the idea that the individual you’re working with has the best interests of the organization at heart as well. And I certainly trust Jeanne, and I suspect and know that she trusts me as well. That’s just kind of what’s really worked out for us at the end of the day. Any decision I make is not made with myself in mind, it’s made with the greater organization in mind, and again how are we trying to up that share price each and every day. 

I know that Jeanne does the exact same thing, and that’s something that’s worked really well for us, as well as some colleagues that we know in the industry as well.

Rhoan Morgan: “Default to trust” I think that’s a fantastic way of … A perfect endnote. Let’s put it that way. There’s clear trust here. You guys sound like a fantastic team, and I’m sure people would love to hear more. Thank you both so much for joining today. Can you share with our listeners what is the best way for them to reach out to you?

Jeanne Hopkins: I’m at Jeanne, [email protected]

Ryan Ball: And I’m [email protected] You can find us both on LinkedIn. I probably checked my LinkedIn a little bit more than Jeanne if I were to guess, because she’s getting solicited all the time whereas I’m doing a lot of recruitment through there, but yeah, and certainly go to Lola.com and learn more about us.

This is the most excited I’ve been in 12 years, so this is a great, great company going places.

Rhoan Morgan: Cool. I know you both have podcasts and we will be sure to share the links to those as well.

Jeanne Hopkins: Thank you.

Rhoan Morgan: On our site for the listeners.

Jeanne Hopkins: Thank you, Rhoan.

Rhoan Morgan: A big thank you to our listeners for tuning into Revenue Rebels. I’m your host Rhoan Morgan, and you can find me on LinkedIn by looking up DemandLab or searching for R-H-O-A-N, Morgan. Now, back over to you Paul.

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