Home > Marketing > Over-reliance on Marketing Automation Depreciates Leads; Off Script #16: Ted Seward

Over-reliance on Marketing Automation Depreciates Leads; Off Script #16: Ted Seward

Over-reliance on Marketing Automation Depreciates Leads

What’s old is new again in sales and marketing, according to Ted Seward.  The hype over trends like account based marketing is in many ways just a return to good marketing fundamentals:  research, data, sales alignment and ROI.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to work with Ted and found him to be a go-getter that wouldn’t settle for the status quo.  We quickly became close colleagues and I found him to be one of the most knowledgeable people I know on sales and marketing alignment – and how to bridge the gaps between marketing automation and CRM.

A one-time small business owner and a former president of the Triangle chapter of the American Marketing Association in Raleigh, he now hangs his hat with a company called ResponsePoint.  The company provides lead generation, nurturing and market profiling for B2B organizations – the nitty gritty sales work that frightens many companies.

Ted covers a lot of ground in this interview for the Off Script series, but his answers are incredibly insightful.  If you don’t have time to read it to the end now, bookmark this post and come back when you do. It’ll be worth your while.

“One of the biggest misnomers of marketing and sales automation tools is that they create more qualified leads. What I find is that those who have an overreliance on such tools can actually depreciate the quality of the leads.”

1) You’ve had a long career in marketing, as an employer, as an employee, and a tour as the president of the local Raleigh-Durham American Marketing Association chapter (AMA Triangle). What has changed the most about marketing over the course of your career?

In a word, data.

Data is the lynchpin of marketing success. It’s required for successful and measurable outbound efforts, and it’s generated from inbound efforts.

How you run, analyze, and utilize data is critical to marketing, sales, and revenue.

Marketing technology doesn’t exist without data. It is the Achilles heel of any organization. If you don’t measure, you can’t improve, strategize, or produce reports of substance.

Long before the advent of marketing automation, I was an advocate for campaigns proving ROI. It was paramount that I proved marketing’s contribution to pipeline and revenue. Refining targeted messaging started and finished with data. And now, in a much more data-centric marketing world, the tools and approaches have evolved, but the fundamentals remain.

Developing and implementing a lead process for sales and marketing objectives is absolutely necessary to navigate the inherent challenges of a complex process, disparate data, and variable systems. Businesses are often paralyzed by their overly complex CRM and API integration around data. Now, more than ever, marketing is a discipline requiring vigilance, strategy and smart data management.

An interesting point on data is pointed out by the Justin Gray, CEO of LeadMD in The State of Marketing Automation 2017 outlook guide by Demand Gen and his insight that many of the selling points to justify marketing automation has ended up in many cases showing that efforts and marketing efforts at scale were doing little to influence decisions.  He further suggests, and I agree, that as a tool, marketing automation is not going away but it might just be that the intelligence it so desperately needs is just around the corner. He contends:

“Marketers will be looking at losing their jobs, vendors will be faced with having their software ripped out — the writing’s on the wall. We have to start with data. Bad data can no longer be the accepted state of the union. In addition to clean data, the battle cry must be more data.”

2) Marketing and sales alignment is one of those recurring thematic topics.  Despite all the attention, as a business community, we still seem to struggle with getting this right.  Where do you see businesses going wrong most often?

After spending years in sales and marketing, one thing is very clear: if marketing and sales do not play from the same sheet of music, it causes problems across the organization.

While there’s no one solution for all organizations, there are a few consistent issues that pop up across the board:

> Not using a consistent, measurable element to hold each team accountable. Without one then it becomes a blame game with no one taking responsibility. 

> Senior leadership thinks of marketing as a service bureau.

> Your budget is the first on the chopping block quarter after quarter.

> You’re asked to “do more for less” without there being a true understanding or consideration of the cost for “more.”

> A clear customer journey and process for managing leads and holding teams accountable is not defined or managed.

> Sales owns the executive ears or has a seat at the executive table but marketing does not, or vice versa.

> Marketing is hyper-focused on activities over results, a dashboard scorecard over pipeline, and quantity over quality. 

>Finance see marketing as a cost center versus a profit center.


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 3) How can businesses fix this – to ensure sales and marketing alignment?

The best way to align sales and marketing is to hold them all accountable to one plan. In 2016 account-based marketing (ABM) was a widely-publicized solution for marketing and sales alignment as well as positive ROI.

The buzz around ABM seemed to indicate a fad, but this solution is really just the fulfilled promise of 1: 1 marketing. To me, that which is old is once again a new more easily recognizable focus.  Out is the cast a wide net, now you must hyper-focus to bring real conversation forward in a very human and direct manner. That is the promise of ABM.

We’re entering a time of shifting away from transactional inbound clicks and hits to a more relationship-based interaction. In order to get to back to the human relationship component of marketing, alignment is critical. Simplify your process and systems, connect activities to ROI and revenue owned by the marketing and sales teams, and eliminate any existing silos, barriers or distrust to improve the team relations (and the customer journey).

Ted Seward Marketing Automation Off Script

4) The rise of inbound marketing seems to have made “sales” a dirty word. Has inbound marketing created a generation of sales people too afraid to pick up the phone?

In many cases. this is very true, but I don’t think it’s entirely due to the focus on inbound tactics.  I feel like it’s been slowly and steadily happening for a very long time. I’ll address this from both perspectives.

Sales. For sales, the simple answer is “Yes.”  It always amazes me, that teams I consult with consistently have no requirement or minimal expectations for the sales team to make phone calls.  Many sales folks are looking for highly qualified leads – and they should be.

However, today more than ever I am not sure that picking up the phone is the best use of a closer.  I think that this role is better placed in sales development representative (SDR) role who is more closely trained with handling initial gatekeepers, objections and nurturing a relation to a better-qualified leads for an account executive.

Insights, around how far customers have progressed through the buyer’s journey before making a decision to raise a hand, continue to increase. Sales teams need to pay close attention to those insights.

Many at the executive table rightly should question the need for so many headcount closers in sales. This is especially true, if sales, as some suggest, is only responsible for 30% of the customer journey and closing the sale. I’m of the opinion it is closer to 60%, but that is a debate for another time.

Marketing. For the longest time marketing, lost contact with leads once the lead was in a CRM, which was often owned by technology or sales. This problem was thought to be solved via CRMs, but marketing still did not have inter-communication strategy established or ability to match back to the initial lead handoff.

Now with the marketing technology stack developing, there are more insights that help improve this from a marketing perspective. Marketing automation and the ability to track, while still fairly limited on prospect attribution and intent, allows you to keep track via other metrics. This has started to expose flat leads or leads that sat when handed over to sales.

The best scenario is one where marketing owns the lead management, including SDRs.  This is the team who isn’t afraid to pick up the phone and do the work necessary to refine leads. This is even more important in establishing a healthy ABM strategy.  

I see many teams relying on automation as a quick shortcut. This will be further complicated as the concepts and workaround AI continue to evolve in the marketing tech stack. In reality, many high-value transactions first require developing a relationship of trust to ensure the progression of the customer journey. Without establishing a relationship, you lose the continuity and emotional connection that binds human experience across the marketing and sales process.


See these related interviews:
Marketing Principles Remain the Same; Off Script #15: Jeff Beale
The Pressure for Clicks; Off Script #14: Erik Sherman, Freelance Journalist
Alpharetta a High-Tech Secret; Off Script #13: GSU EiR Bill Bradford


5) A lot of companies go from hello to a marriage proposal after a registration page for a gated asset is completed.  Downloading a white paper or signing up for a webinar doesn’t make the person an automatic SQL. How can businesses do a better job of nurturing and bridging that gap between an MQL and SQL?

One of the biggest misnomers of marketing and sales automation tools is that they create more qualified leads.  What I find is that those who have an over-reliance on such tools can actually depreciate the quality of the leads. If the only value-add provided around a gated material and the customer interaction is in the form of a click, a form, and a push to sales, you are bound for failure.

A form completion to receive valued content is not a purchase agreement, and pushing the lead into an endless nurturing campaign is a bad idea. These practices result in opt-outs and loss of trust.

In order to manage the gap between the teams, marketing must have a scoring methodology in place. Better systems and processes include engaging in a 1:1 dialogue mediated by an SDR to best comprehend the intention of the inquiry. This should be addressed once an inflection point is achieved via the scoring methodology. The goal of the SDR is to further understand the purpose, intention, and attributes that qualify the MQL.

Furthermore, a well-defined and managed process for lead qualification may also include a sales accepted lead (SAL), ensuring that any SQL’s turn back over to marketing after a review by sales or after a set time delay. Setting up a simple failsafe holds both teams accountable for refining the qualification criteria, and acknowledges that the GAP exists, allowing a process to be defined that relies on metrics to improve it. Without it, I have seen sales and marketing teams wallow in the gray area and let leads fall into a black hole.

6) What is the single most important skill that you think marketing professionals today need to possess?

A marketing professional must keep up with the continual and fast evolution of the industry. There are so many new tools flooding the market — which means an acceleration of the desire for results. This comes not only from the new marketing channel and media types and also from the need to stay current and incorporate results into integrated campaigns. As a result, many marketing professionals will frequently change jobs, requiring them to learn a new system or set of tools. Today you must have the skill to promote yourself, accept change and be willing to learn. 

7) Fill in the blank:

  •  One company whose marketing you admire is: HubSpot
  • Your favorite marketing campaign of all time is: Dollar Shave Club
  • One person you recommend following on Twitter is: @jaybaer
  • One publication or blog you read regularly is: Content Marketing Institute
  • If you weren’t doing what you do now you’d be… I’d be in shorts on a Michigan shore in August with my family or Fly Fishing! That is where and how I unplug.

* * *

You can find more from Ted on Twitter (@TedSeward) and LinkedIn.  He also contributes to the ResponsePoint where he is employed including these pieces:

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:
Sales Beware the Buyer’s System; Josh Pitchford in Off Script #10

Photo credit:  Flickr, Sam valadi, Charging Bull – New York City (CC BY 2.0

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