How we connect, work together, and support corporate goals has changed. Anyone still doing things ‘how it has always been done’ will soon be eating the competition’s dust.
This episode of the Revenue Rebels podcast explores the intersection of marketing and sales and how a strong partnership between these two crucial functions supports organizational goals of internal alignment, external engagement, and corporate growth.
DemandLab CEO and Revenue Rebels host, Rhoan Morgan talks with Michael Sala, Managing Director, Strategic Origination of LLR Partners to discuss how sales and marketing teams can work together to meet their organization’s top-level growth goals.
Listen to the podcast to gain insight on how to:
- Bring marketing and sales development teams together
- Get the most return from marketing and sales development initiatives
- Scale the marketing organization
About Our Guest
Michael is responsible for broadly engaging and developing investment opportunities for LLR Partners. His team is responsible for origination and business development to cultivate relationships and opportunities that drive value creation across LLR’s portfolio.
As Managing Director of iLEVEL Solutions, a SaaS company targeting the private capital market, Michael led worldwide sales, sales development, marketing and client retention efforts. Under his leadership, sales of the iLEVEL platform outpaced the market, with clients reporting very high levels of satisfaction. Michael was key to the growth of iLEVEL and ultimately its successful exit to Ipreo.
Prior to joining iLEVEL, Michael was an Executive Director at JP Morgan Alternative Investment Services. He was also Head of Sales at Investran (exited to SunGard), where he developed and implemented strategies to rapidly grow product sales into the private equity space. Early in his career, Michael was an analyst in the financial services practice at Accenture.
Check out the full transcript below:
Rhoan Morgan: Thank you, Paul. Paul Roberts is our announcer on Revenue Rebels. I am Rhoan Morgan, your host, and this program is sponsored by DemandLab. Our program title today is “How Is Sales and Marketing Alignment Moving the Revenue Dial.” Our guest to address this subject is Michael Sala, the Managing Director, Strategic Origination at LLR Partners.
Michael is responsible for broadly engaging and developing investment opportunities for LLR. His team works in collaboration with LLR’s investment and business development professionals to cultivate relationships and opportunities that drive value creation across LLR’s portfolio. Michael, thank you so much for joining us this afternoon. Can you give the listeners a little more background on your experience in the next couple of minutes?
Michael Sala: Sure. I’ve always been in and around sales as a professional, specifically in and around technology sales. I’ve worked for a startup as a bag-carrying salesperson. Sold to a large corporation and then worked within that organization to end up running the sales team. Then spent some time with a new product launch inside of a large Fortune 50 bank and then went to work for another startup and had a great experience building a sales organization from two salespeople and a $4 million revenue business on up to a $20 million revenue business that we successfully exited. A really rewarding experience. I had a great opportunity to try a lot of different things to put into practice what I’ve always believed in sales, around sales process and marketing, and grow as a professional.
Rhoan Morgan: You know, Michael, I asked you to join today because I’ve always admired your work. We’ve known each other now for probably four or five years, and I thought that the listeners would really get a lot out of hearing firsthand how you’ve not only built sales teams but also built bridges, as I would consider it, between sales and marketing. So thank you so much for being here. Could you start by talking about what you would consider are some of the essential first steps in bringing marketing and sales-development teams together?
Michael Sala: I think one of the first things to understand between marketing and sales is you’re both two sides of the same coin, different sides of the same coin. When it works, everybody understands their role, and everybody understands how you need to symbiotically exist. And I think sales needs to appreciate, from the get-go, marketing really only can bring a prospect or a lead so far, and then sales needs to do their work. And marketing needs to understand that sales is really trying to close the best possible leads that are going to become long-term customers for the organization as well as hit their targets.
Michael Sala: So I think the first thing I’ve always tried to preach to sales and marketing leaders is just you really have to start with expectation setting. What is expected of me? What is being asked of me? It sounds cliché, but it really does allow the relationship to get off on the right foot. So the first exercise we generally have them do is to collectively sit down and say, “What’s your ideal customer look like?”
Michael Sala: So assuming that an organization has identified their product, knows what their product offering is, has a good product-market fit, understands the pricing, the experience of developing the personas of the people within the organization that you’re going to be marketing to and ultimately selling to, setting that ideal customer profile really as a workshop together between the two parties is key to making sure that, when an opportunity or a lead comes in, that this person or this prospect will fit the criteria of sales. So making sure that the marketing team is fishing in the right pond, messaging the right things early on in a buyer’s journey, and then ultimately handing it off to match the buying process of the buyer with the sales process.
Rhoan Morgan: Yeah, very symbiotic. I like the way that you were talking about the two teams needing to understand that they are symbiotically existing and certainly managing expectations. When you have gone through that process of bringing together the marketing and sales, and I think you’ve especially done that at LLR, what have been some of the initiatives that you’ve seen bring the greatest amount of return? I know you’ve done a lot of content. You’ve been working a lot with building out the SDR group. I’d love for you to share a little bit about what you think are some key initiatives maybe that companies could start with, should never miss out on doing?
Michael Sala: Happy to answer that question. I think if you think of this as a longer-term process, where your focus, where you’re throttling down and trying to go faster, evolves over the lifetime of this process. And so early on, what we’ve seen a lot of success with is conversions. So I’ve zeroed my sales development team in on trying to convert prospective customers of ours, which are companies that we would look to potentially invest in, who are in that product-market fit, growth-expansion phase and looking to grow, trying to focus on conversions to a live conversation. At this point in time, they’re really not focused on the brand experience. They’re very much just focused on getting that person on the phone to understand why they would choose effectively a potential partner to help them grow their business. It’s just like anything else in sales and lead generation, is you want to understand who the best prospect is, who matches your product offering, but then also is ready to make a decision, and then spend the most time on those people who are actually compelled to act.
Michael Sala: So the first value we’ve zeroed in on is trying to create that conversion to a live conversation, to understand how better to market and deliver the brand to them. Over time, we’ve really enabled our brand to match what a growth-oriented CEO, who is our core target here, is looking for in an investor. And we’ve used content to continually deliver that brand and that advice so that we’re creating that unique position in that CEO’s mind that LLR is a value-added partner who could help them grow their business.
Michael Sala: Over time, we then would evolve that into more of a retargeting concept, to use marketing speak, we’re making sure that that brand is delivered, but specific to the advice that that CEO has, on that initial conversion, told us they would be looking for in a partner. So if it’s an organization that’s really looking to grow sales, then we’re trying to deliver content into their inbox and make their experience and all of our conversations and our entire organizational approach to them, as we bring more and more people to the table to explain to them how LLR could help them, zero in on sales, for example. Or if somebody else is technology, zero in on technology. So the experience they end up having with us, in the marketing phase prior to them even looking for that partner, really zeroes in on what that CEO might be looking for.
Michael Sala: Fast forward a couple years into our discussion with this company. And many times, the companies we’re working with, it’s a multi-year dialogue until they’re really compelled to act. Later on, it may be continually giving them more of that branded experience but then developing more of a relationship with the rest of the organization here at LLR, so that same experience is delivered.
Rhoan Morgan: Yeah. That’s really interesting because it actually sounds like you’re pulling sales earlier into the lifecycle, right? The way that we traditionally think of a lead lifecycle is acquisition, engagement, continuing on to nurture, and then moving into sales, passing the prospect over to sales. And here, you’re kind of starting with your ideal profile. You’re doing some outreach with an SDR team, and once you get that engagement or conversion, at least it sounds like one stream, then you’re bringing in marketing and really providing them with a lot of the content that’s supporting your brand. That’s a little bit different.
Michael Sala: Yeah, it is a little different, and I think the reason was... And every investment across our portfolio has a slightly different buying process for their customers to acquire their product, and so you have to tailor the plays you run because of the way in which the buyer buys to align that. What we noticed early on is that investing and partnering with a company is a little different than just selling someone a product or marketing someone a product. Here, they have to experience the culture of the organization because when we make an investment into a growth-oriented business, we’re partners for three, five, seven years. We’re going to have some success. We’ll have some opportunities where we can try to improve. And you want them to experience the type of person, the type of partner that they’re going to effectively be able to lean on and work with.
Michael Sala: So we’ve tried to push the sales development function a bit earlier in the process so that they can start to get that feel and so we can hear firsthand what they truly might want in a partner, versus making some assumption. We’re trying to go from the implicit of what we believe to the explicit of what we know, and then zero in on that explicit aspect of what they might be looking for in a partner to educate them on why we think we might be the right partner for them. And at the same time, we’re learning a bit more about them. Are they reading the content? Are they engaged in it? Do they think this way? You’re also, to a certain extent, doing a bit of research on them at the same time. Do they look for advice? What type of persona do they have where they would like to learn more?
Rhoan Morgan: Yeah, I love this. We’re going to need to go to a break in just a second, but what I love about this, it’s a very unique process and approach, but I do think it applies to high-value selling. It certainly applies to an account-based marketing and sales approach. We need to take a minute to hear from our sponsor. We’ve been talking to Michael Sala, and the subject matter today is “How Is Sales and Marketing Alignment Moving the Revenue Dial.”
Paul Roberts: And just a quick shout-out to our sponsor today, DemandLab, the people that helps organizations transform their revenue potential by connecting their greatest assets, people, processes, technology, and data, through customized revenue ecosystem solutions. By leveraging marketing technology, data science, governance, and analytics and content, DemandLab helps B2B organizations like yours advance business goals and drive revenue. Isn’t that what it’s really all about? Well, then why not learn more about DemandLab’s solutions at demandlab.com, just like it sounds, demandlab.com. All right, back to the second half of our show.
Rhoan Morgan: Thank you, Paul. We’ve been speaking with Michael Sala, and the subject is “How Is Sales and Marketing Alignment Moving the Revenue Dial.” So, Michael, we were just talking about how the approach here that you’re taking at LLR partners is a little bit different, but it certainly makes sense and absolutely makes sense when you are looking to engage an audience for the long term, and you need to develop a long-lasting relationship as you’re moving people into a very high-value engagement. You’re moving sales earlier in the process.
I’d love it if you can walk us through a little bit of your approach on scaling the marketing organization, taking a lot of the responsibility or, I don’t what word you might use, but it’s taking a lot of the work to then further engage and embrace your audience. I know that you’re using some different tools and content. If you can tell us a little bit about that, your approach to scaling?
Michael Sala: Sure. I fundamentally believe, as running this marketing organization here at LLR, leveraging some traditionally more sales-oriented tactics alongside of traditional digital marketing and content, you have to focus on what you can control. And that’s the first thing that I say in an approach, is you can’t focus on ultimately if a lead is closed as an investment here. Let’s just zero in on what we can control. Then once you’ve kind of given up the investment process here or effectively, the sales process that we’re going to go through here to effectively make our investment into a company, you can only control what you can control, and we have a very discerning eye as to what type of investment we think, over time, will create the most value for our investors and for our partnership.
Michael Sala: We definitely have tried to focus on data, and data comes in a lot of different forms. People tend to think of data as this unobtainable set of metrics that are going to help your organization scale, but simple things like setting up a weekly schedule for my sales development reps, giving it to them and handing it out to them and allowing them to look at, okay, how do I plan my day around the three main activities which I have to do today, which is identify new companies or targets or prospects, engage them to try to convert them to a live conversation, to learn more about them, see if there’s something actionable, what the timing might be, if at all, and if we’re truly a fit for them as a partner, and then ultimately develop the relationship across there.
Michael Sala: So a lot of the time is spent, effectively two to two-and-a-half hours a day, identifying, finding those businesses, engaging them for another two or so hours, and developing them for another two or so hours. That data allows you to, over a week, understand what was the productivity of that individual, what was the productivity of the team over a month, over a quarter, over a year, and then look back at that data to say, “What aspects are they doing that’s generating the most value, and where are they slowing down?”
Michael Sala: As an example, one bit of data we noticed was, after about a year of doing this process, the rate at which new companies are starting to be entered into our database or starting to be engaged for the first time has gone down because the data we’re seeing is telling us that the sales development rep is effectively more busy on the re-engagement of names and the development than they were when they first started a year prior, where they’re really focusing primarily on finding companies and starting the conversation. Now they’ve shifted a bit of their time more towards the let me re-target, let me re-engage some of these companies.
Michael Sala: So just seeing that allows us to understand how do we plan? One thing they’re actually doing is, from a data acquisition perspective and a data entry perspective, there’s some very route and repeatable work that we can offshore, which we started to do ourselves through a couple channel partners, and getting that part off of the SDR’s responsibility so they can do more with, effectively work smarter, not harder.
Rhoan Morgan: Yeah. I think that’s really... What’s cool about hearing that, Michael is that you’re focusing on what I call marketing or marketing-and-sales research and development. So you’re diligently collecting data for analysis, and I think, a lot of times, that can get missed, and obviously you need to know what you want to analyze so that you know what you need to collect. But having spent a year to capture this information so that you can then sort of go back to the team and say, “Okay, we’re going to shift a little bit how we’re working, or we’re going to manage the expectations internally of what our team… what a person who’s first onboarding into the team is supposed to do or supposed to be achieving, versus the individual that’s been there for a year already.” I think that’s very cool, yeah, and not always typical. Sometimes people are just looking for the reports that sort of pop out naturally from Salesforce, and they go with that, but...
Michael Sala: Right, and you have to look into those numbers and pull them apart quite a bit, and so much of it is... It’s a classic people, process, technology, but what is all of that telling you? What are you seeing in the trend? What are you seeing in... And where do you have opportunities to scale that a bit more? If you have something you’ve been managing or measuring effectively, it helps you to much more effectively manage it.
Rhoan Morgan: Yeah. Can you talk a little bit about how you’ve been able to intersect the efforts of marketing and sales? You have a team which is tight, right? You guys work really well together. I’d love to hear more about how that’s going.
Michael Sala: I’ll draw a little bit of a parallel here to what we do at LLR. Our sales team or account executives, traditionally what you would see in a technical service, I’ll draw that analogy to our investment team. What the investment team’s responsibility is is no matter what channel an opportunity or a prospect or a lead comes into LLR, if there’s an opportunity to invest, they’re responsible for evaluating the merits of it and understanding if we have a unique angle, that we can partner with this organization to grow them, be it organically or inorganically. What we’ve seen create a lot of value is a weekly cadence with those investment professionals. At the end of every week, our team is responsible for pulling together all the conversations and all the investment opportunities that have been generated over the last seven days.
Michael Sala: We sit down with the investment team, give them a quick readout of not only any materials we’ve received, so something that we can explicitly look at, but also overlay that with a voice-over of the conversation we had with that company. So if I reach out to a company and one of my sales development reps reaches out to a company and gets the CEO on the phone and they are contemplating some form of strategic decision around the business, be it a growth round or recapitalization or some form of majority transaction, we understand a bit more than you’re going to get in just the materials. We understand what they might be looking for in a partner. And then see if that, along with the materials, as we do this readout on a weekly basis back with our investment professionals or our sales team, allows them to create and evolve their thinking a bit more to develop that unique angle with them.
Michael Sala: So we’re effectively a labor shift, where we’re shifting some of the responsibilities of finding new investments to a dedicated team who’s all day long that’s all they’re doing. And then we’re putting our investment professionals in the position where they can say no the same amount of time, have the same discerning eye they traditionally would have, but now just do it with more opportunity. And the thought process, and what’s played out over definitely the first half of this year so far, is we would ultimately close more investment opportunities and put more dollars to work, effectively complete more sales, because they can say no the same amount of times with the same discerning eye, but they have more opportunities to evaluate.
Rhoan Morgan: It sounds like a lot of human intervention.
Michael Sala: Yeah. Investing, very much still today, in private businesses, specifically the growth-oriented companies we’re investing in, it very much is a human process. Again, one of the reasons why we built out the sales development team was you can’t just send content to these people and think that a CEO is going to open it up and read it and say, “That’s the partner I want to work with.” It’s I need to understand that business. I need to understand that culture. I need to understand their approach. Early on, we try to gather that information and that sentiment that can be leveraged throughout our discussion with them.
Rhoan Morgan: To me, I see this applying to again a sort of high-value sale, and we work with clients where they might have a couple of different what we’ll call lead lifecycles. They might have one for a category of prospects that can just buy online. Real easy, pay as you go, or just buy your subscription, and you’re off and running. Or they’ll also have a very high-touch, high-engagement-requiring sort of audience, which is the executive-level buyer, much bigger budgets, and that sort of thing, where that human intervention, I think, is critical. So I can see your approach actually really applying to a lot of companies out there, not simply in the investment space.
Michael Sala: Yeah, I think if you’re a B2B organization, you’re selling into a business, you’re selling into an enterprise, your buyers have budgets, your buyers have a decision-making process, your buyers having timing decisions, and your buyers have biases as to what they think is right, what we’ve done here is no different than what you would traditionally see at a SaaS technology selling into law firms or banks or any other type of corporate entity, where there’s a cyclicality and an overall evaluation process they would go through to make a decision.
Rhoan Morgan: Yeah, absolutely. Well, we’re just coming to the end of our program, and I’d love to find out from you, Michael, as we wrap up if you can share a few of your favorite things, a few platforms, tools, processes. What are you using today that you think other teams could potentially benefit from?
Michael Sala: Yeah, we use a lot of technology here, probably more than I would imagine many other private equity funds do, and we partner with outstanding organizations like DemandLab, knowing what we can do or can’t do. So a couple of the technologies we’ve been using recently, which is embedded in another technology we have called SalesLoft, is a technology called Crystal or Crystal Knows. And if you’ve not used this technology, it is a pretty incredible technology to allow my sales development reps to understand the persona and the personality of whoever it is they’re looking to speak with. And what this allows us to do is just to understand does this person engage as a very direct individual, or are they the type of person that ultimately likes to do their own research and when they’re ready to buy, buy, just to give two examples. And so on our first touch, we’re making sure that we’re communicating in a way that we think will give the reader of an email or as we’re calling into them some understanding of their persona, and so we can be able to develop them a bit more.
Michael Sala: We also used... This is much more for my team to manage their own time, but we’ve become a big fan of Trello. You can only do so many things in a given week, so we effectively have, along with that weekly cadence we talked about, every Monday they have a list of things that they’re working on for identifying, a list of things they’re engaging on, a list of things they’re developing on. And through that week, more requests may come in to identify more markets or more segments of the economy that we would like to potentially invest in and certain industries that might be of particular interest. This allows us to just keep that running list, and then when the appropriate time comes around, start to prosecute or pursue that a bit more.
Rhoan Morgan: That’s great. And those are a couple of tools that I don’t think we hear a lot about. I love that you guys are using Trello to manage your tasks and the work that you guys are doing day to day and week to week. And certainly, Crystal Knows is a frighteningly accurate, at times, platform that I’ve experienced myself. So thank you. Thank you for that. Michael, it’s been great having you here. It’s been very helpful today to learn a little bit more about what you’re doing. How does someone reach you?
Michael Sala: I’m open to any conversations. That’s part of our organization’s culture, is to engage with as many people as we possibly can because we could be partners for you down the road. The easiest way to get in touch with me is to shoot me a quick email. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s M-S-A-L-A@L-L-Rpartners.com.
Rhoan Morgan: Fantastic. Thanks a lot. Thanks a lot, Michael. Paul, over to you.
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