Designing pilot test programs for marketing & sales integration

by Marty Nicholas

In previous posts, we discussed how to ensure a pilot test program delivers proof of concept by defining a specific business objective with a relevant commercial outcome. In today’s post, I’d like to pick up where we left off and introduce the five critical factors that enable the build of a successful marketing and sales integration pilot. 

Given the scale of the marketing and sales integration challenge, pilots are a common vehicle for testing, learning and evolving new ways of working – but these programs routinely fail to prove value and transition into business-as-usual. To successfully move integration forward it is critical to deliver roaring success from your pilot, both to gain interest and sponsorship from the executive, but also critically to generate engagement across the business for broader transformation.

So what does a good pilot look like?

Firstly, given the self-empowered and dynamic nature of how customers now buy, taking a ‘buyer’s journey’ orientation to pilot design is an important foundation for success. This requires a shift away from a focus on ‘what we need to do to the customer’ to progress opportunities, towards a model where we understand how customers buy. Our role is to facilitate their buying process with meaningful content and engagement.

Keeping this buyer journey orientation in mind, we’ve identified 5 key elements that enable organisations to design successful marketing and sales integration pilots.

1. Choosing the Right Audience

Carefully considering your segment selection and applying practical commercial judgement is crucial at this point to ensure you are maximising your pilot’s chances of success. Many businesses set out by selecting their audience for a pilot based on an existing segmentation model, or by isolating pockets of the market which will limit impact on customers and business-as-usual. Although valid considerations, more extensive analysis is often required to ensure your selected cohort can support your targeted business objective.

There are two key questions to evaluate against: Firstly is the cohort compelling enough – in terms of revenue opportunity, our level of differentiation and potential lead flow volume? Secondly can we do it – do we have the data, the internal capacity and appetite in the relevant business line? Careful evaluation along these lines will commonly help identify any gaps to be closed or risks that will require the expectations of the pilot to be managed. In some cases, a complete rethink may be necessary to determine whether the current audience selection is indeed the most appropriate option.

2. Right Content, Right Channel, Right Time

To prove that marketing and sales can collaboratively deliver enhanced results, you will need compelling and differentiated content built right across the end-to-end buyer’s journey. Two key challenges often arise at this point; how to generate content that ‘cuts through’ in a cluttered environment, and how to build this content within the timeframes required. For example, if you try targeting three segments, across two solution groups, with five buyer personas, each with four to five buyer journey steps - adapting for four different channels – your pilot will most likely not get off the ground because you are unable to produce enough quality content.

The solution to these challenges is to focus very narrowly on your target audience. This creates the capacity to build out highly-targeted content across the end-to-end buyer journey, facilitating greater impact and buyer progression.

3. Marketing Qualification

Ensuring smooth lead handovers from marketing to sales represents a critical risk area in the success of your pilot. In many organisations there is a legacy of poor lead quality, resulting in buy-in for lead follow-up from sales being low.

Taking a collaborative approach to defining the requisite lead quality and handover process, then following through on maintaining this quality level, sit at the heart of ensuring that marketing-qualified leads receive the attention they require from sales. 

4. Sales Prioritisation and Follow-up

In theory, salespeople should automatically be interested in pursuing marketing-qualified leads. In practice however, this ‘baton change’ is often far from smooth. This is typically due to the practical reality that today’s salesperson faces fundamental capacity and prioritisation challenges. Between juggling self-generated leads, progressing their pipeline of opportunities, attending internal meetings and meeting their administrative requirements – many salespeople are often already struggling. Add to this the requirement to follow-up marketing-generated leads and it is no surprise that this often does not occur. 

Recognising this reality and putting in place practical mechanisms to enable both timely and effective lead follow-up are critical to ensure the conversion of value built in earlier stages of the pilot. Examples of solutions include developing SLAs to formalise lead handling accountability, putting in place dedicated sales resourcing for follow-up or demarcating lead qualification (such as with an inside sales team) within the sales operating model.

5. Measurement and Feedback

Accurately measuring and precisely tracking your pilot data is absolutely critical to demonstrating proof of concept. If the results aren’t measured, it will be very difficult to gain buy-in for implementing the changes into business-as-usual.

Measurement can be done in stages throughout the pilot program. Before commencing, check the feasibility of your desired outcomes by running the numbers using past conversion rates. During the pilot, continually monitor results against expected so that you can quickly spot problems and course correct. At the end of your pilot, ensure you can demonstrate the impact of your program and progress towards your business objective. Clearly demonstrating these outcomes will be critical to earning the right to invest further.

Set up your pilot for success

Pilots are highly effective at proving the value of marketing and sales integration and accelerating transformation. However such pilots too frequently fail to demonstrate results.  Best practice pilots are built around a relevant commercial objective that is highly valued by the organisation. Combined with careful pilot design following the principles in this paper, leaders can effectively demonstrate the value of an integrated execution engine and successfully embed new ways of working across marketing and sales.

Stay tuned for the following post, where I’ll explore the first critical success factor - Choosing the Right Audience - in more detail.