For any SaaS organization, marketing and sales are essential cogs in the revenue wheel, but the relationship between the two functions can sometimes be less than harmonious.

Saleswhale’s Catherine Farley, Director of Marketing, and Brandon Gargan, Director of Sales, discuss bridging the gap between the two, common reasons for misalignment, and the nature of the relationship between the teams at Saleswhale.  

Q: What’s the nature of the relationship between your marketing and salespeople?

Catherine: I'm relatively new to sales, so I would say we're kind of in the honeymoon phase. But it's not like we had a really long courtship beforehand, we kind of eloped, so to speak.

I think we get along really well, because Brandon tolerates my sense of humor, and I tolerate his.

In terms of what we work on together, I essentially run any big ideas by him, because in marketing, people cannot be successful without sales. But on the flip side, salespeople can be successful without marketing.

So I try to be as transparent as possible with Brandon. When I'm thinking about running paid ads, if I want to start launching a new content series, whatever it is, I run it all by Brandon. I like to do it in an informal way through Slack, I don't set up any formal sync up because I try to be very conscious of his time as he has way more external meetings than I do, and ever will, just by the nature of our jobs.

Brandon: As a company, we're lucky that we're still really small, and we're still fairly early. So for us, there's a lot of communication, there's a lot of collaboration.

From my perspective working at larger companies in the past, a lot of the disconnects happen when you've got these big marketing teams and big sales teams that don't communicate.

It's almost like a relationship, where you need really good communication, and you need to be aligned on certain things in order to have a successful partnership.

Catherine: The term ‘like my work husband or my work, brother’, it's so true, you really have to treat your colleagues like they're your significant others and you have to nurture that relationship.

I think we get along well, but for instance, yesterday, we were just talking about our approach to LinkedIn, and Brandon and I are in agreement that sometimes LinkedIn can be an echo chamber. Just like any other social media platform, the audience, the voice, and the messages you're hearing are dependent on who you're following, and who they’re following. So it can be limiting, and kind of be misleading sometimes, in terms of how successful your ads are doing, or any organic traction you're getting.

I think we've come to some sort of understanding where we need to be honest with each other, but sometimes I'm gonna just have to do stuff that you might not always think is the best, but we just have to agree to disagree and move forward.

Q: What do you think are some of the biggest problems and gaps between marketing and sales?

Brandon: It goes back to what I said, a lot of times you'll see a lack of communication, it feels like it's two different teams working towards two different things. n my opinion, I think that actually speaks to a larger problem in most organizations where you see KPIs and metrics and measurables that are different for both teams.

You've got marketing teams working towards a number of leads and you've got sales teams working towards a revenue number, I think that just in and of itself, creates this sort of gap between both teams where they both feel like they're working towards something else.

I think we're lucky here, we truly believe that both teams should be working towards the same goal. We want to increase our revenue and our growth, so we're both aligned on those goals.

Catherine: There's always a misalignment with the metrics as Brandon said, but when you get bigger, there's not as much time to let your counterparts know how what you're doing has value or that what you're doing is going to help them.

So it just breeds this kind of contempt for each other where sales think marketing doesn't do anything of interest, just making collateral that no one cares about, and then marketing thinks sales doesn't do anything.

When you don't take the time to get to know each other, and really make that effort, it just breeds a really toxic environment.

Q: How would you go about starting the process of merging marketing and sales?

Brandon: I think for any company, not just sales if you want to bring two teams together, and eliminate that divide, look at your metrics.

I'm a really big believer in aligning your KPIs, and your measurables with the bottom line of the company. So if you're at a phase where you need user growth, or you're at a phase where you need revenue, or all of the above, make this your universal KPIs across both teams.

If your marketing team and your sales team are both working towards the same goal and getting paid on the same goal, they're more likely to come together to find a solution that works for both sides.

That's my recommendation, that's what we've done here and I think it’s a good start for any company.

Catherine: It can be daunting for a marketing person because they're not used to being as tied to a metric as sales, their pay doesn't always necessarily depend on if a deal closes or not. But I think it's important for marketing folks to start thinking that way, because as Brandon said, it makes you align better, and also empathize better with your sales counterparts.

It helps you understand the business more, so you start to understand the sales cycle for what the path to growth is and the things that you need to do in order to get there. That might mean that you can't do some of the quote-unquote, funner things that you were doing, but it does mean that you are actually making a difference at your company.

Brandon: Right? And at the very least, it makes you think about what you're working on. It doesn't mean you can't do those fun things, it doesn't mean you can't do those branding campaigns, but you certainly want to think about how this impacts your revenue growth.

Q: What advice would you give to SaaS companies looking to make the most of their sales and marketing departments?

Catherine: I would say remember that these are people.

Talking with my marketing hat on, I would suggest any marketer that's reading this and not getting along with your salespeople to just make more of an effort. Show your personality and your humanity to them.

I remember at my last job, I had a team of 30 salespeople that I worked with directly, and I was not getting any traction from them. They were not answering my emails, they were not answering the calls, they wouldn't look at me in zoom calls, they were just completely disinterested in anything I had to say, and I couldn't understand it. But then I realized they don't even know me, this team of 30 salespeople has been working together for years, and I just came in out of nowhere, so I had no credibility.

I took an hour when we were all together for an internal training meeting, and I did a PowerPoint introducing myself, I let them know who I am, I have two dogs, in my spare time I like to nap, etc. I just told them all these things to give more color and to show who I am. Because I'm not someone that necessarily goes to happy hours or dinners with colleagues, so they just had no reason to trust me.

While that might not be appropriate for everyone reading this, start thinking of ways that you can just show that you give a shit, because salespeople are working with a metric over their head with a number that they have to get to put food on the table. They don't necessarily have as steady of a salary as someone in marketing. So just try to show some empathy to them.

Brandon: My recommendation to any company that’s experiencing issues is to look at your KPIs. Are both teams working towards different things? Because that right there will cause a headache for you or/and your teams.

The second thing is transparency and communication. I can't tell you how many times I've seen this big issue arise between sales and marketing that boils down to the simple fact that each side didn't know what the other side was doing.

When you don't know something, you start to formulate these opinions about it or you start to just make things up to fill that void, that's not accurate, so just be open and transparent.

Even if you can't accommodate a request, say, “Hey, listen, I can't do that webinar for you, but here's why, here are the things that I'm doing right now, and here's why I'm doing those things.”

Even if you're unhappy with an answer, if you know the why behind it, and there's some transparency there, then you can at least understand it and move on.

So align KPIs and have a more open and transparent communication of what's being worked on.

Q: What challenges do you think SaaS businesses will face over the next year?

Brandon: Like with every company, sales had to look in the mirror when COVID hit. We had to look at our business strategy and the market and figure out what's going on.

One of the things we identified as things have slowly started to recover is that there's a much larger barrier to entry. Companies essentially have to prove ROI before they can make a purchasing decision, so I think the question you're asking for SaaS is dependent on the price point.  

When you've got lower price point items, there's an easier entry point and maybe those sorts of expenses no longer have to get approved. But when you're talking about larger price points, then you have to find ways to prove that ROI ahead of time, people can't just make a purchasing decision to see if it works anymore.

Companies are much more attuned to being fiscally responsible based on what's happening in the world. We had to reimagine how we get in the door, and how we prove ROI in order to get them to work with us? And so for us, we started exploring a freemium model.

Catherine: Yeah, I mean, no one ever does something because someone else says, ‘trust me do it or trust me, it's good for you.’ Right? If that were the case, I wouldn't be eating pizza once a week. They need proof and everything is so much more uncertain than it was 12 months ago, so no one's gonna take a risk.

For any SaaS marketers out there, I would really focus on helping your salespeople provide free content to entertain and educate your prospects because it's going to be a long courtship to get folks to want to invest in some sort of SaaS product moving forward.