CMO Confessions Ep 13: SalesLoft’s Sydney Sloan

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Hi and welcome to another edition of CMO Confessions, a weekly-ish podcast covering all things marketing and sales. This week, we have Sydney Sloan, CMO at SalesLoft, on to discuss how marketing is evolving with the times — and why marketers of all stripes need to challenge the way they attribute leads.

Her secret? SalesLoft doesn’t use MQLs — and that exclusion a central part of their strategy as they shift to an account-based marketing approach. This is another great episode and I highly recommend you give it a listen as we begin entering the new year and start planning new strategies.

If you’re interested in reading up on Sydney’s career, you can find her LinkedIn profile here. If you’re interested in her musings and expertise, you can find her on Twitter here.

Finally, as usual, if you’re interested in listening to our growing podcast series, you can find all of our episodes right here in podbean. Alternatively, you can also find us on both iTunes and Google Play stores.

Without further ado, welcome to CMO Confessions. Let’s chat.

Transcript

Joe Hyland:

Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of CMO Confessions, a weekly B2B sales and marketing podcast where we explore what it really means to be a marketing leader in today’s business world. As always, I’m Joe Hyland, CMO here at ON24 and joining me this week from the Bay Area is Sydney Sloan, CMO of SalesLoft. Sydney, How are you doing?

Sydney Sloan:

I’m doing great, thank you.

Joe Hyland:

That is fantastic having you on, thank you so much. Alright, well I’ll dive right in with something that is always fascinating to me and I don’t mean for this to come across as any way of a cynic or any negative energy at the start. But what, what drives you crazy about our world, this B2B marketing landscape that we live in today?

Sydney Sloan:

Uh, I don’t know about drives me crazy, and I know it’s meant to be provocative, but I think we’re in such a fast-changing pace and the world that we’re in, and I think what I love is that marketing’s being held more accountable than ever on our contribution to the business. So I guess if I had to critique anyone saying it’s, you know, people who aren’t moving from marketing who are moving into the new world fast enough that still maybe use, and I don’t want to say vanity metrics, but vanity metrics, were things that marketing is doing same impressions or MQLs that don’t actually turn into business drivers. So, where there’s that mismatch between, “Hey, Rah, Rah, Marketing’s doing great,” but the business isn’t growing, so there’s something wrong here. So if I would have to say that it’s like making sure that the leaders of marketing have a seat at the table as an executive and our are fully in lockstep with their, their counterparts on growing the business and admit when stuff isn’t going well. It’s not always good to have good numbers when the other hand is not succeeding.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, I mean that’s, yeah, that is the definition of a vanity metric, right? Well, let’s talk. Let’s talk about that alignment because I think this is a popular topic among B2B marketers is being aligned with sales. I think a lot of marketers still struggle with this. It’s something they love to say, but I don’t know if it’s necessarily inherent in their day to day actions. I’d love to get your take on alignment with the sales team and what does that mean?

Sydney Sloan:

Yeah, I think it’s threefold. It’s first of all and empathizing with salespeople that selling is hard — their job is hard. We have to do whatever we can to make that easier. I’m also having customer empathy and owning the entire experience of the customer. I believe that marketing has a responsibility to bring that to light. So I’ll always take a customer first mindset across all parts of the organization, but at the end of the day, I think what’s transitioned the most, I know it’s been a buzzword over the last few years, but it is really taking an account based approach for B2B marketers. And if sales and marketing are in lockstep around account based and are truly working through and leveraging data and science to identify those target accounts when we are working them together, that’s where it changes.

And I’ve, the last three companies have kind of the first dip the toe the last one was kind of a hybrid share. We’re doing account based but yet still what’s marketing doing for me? And then I took over the entire SDR function as well and it was like, you know, we didn’t really own all aspects of inbound and outbound and with SalesLoft it’s a 100 percent account-based marketing. So accounts we work closely with, sales ‚ MQL doesn’t exist in my world and I’m so, so pleased. So we look at pipeline, we look at influence and we’re just working in lockstep with our sales counterparts. I’m trying to generate business, keep our customers happy and grow the business overall.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, it sounds so simple when you say it that way and it’s actually refreshing to hear that alignment and that focus. I want to come back to MQLs not existing for you because I’m fascinated by that. But first I want to talk about you said the metric is pipeline and it sounded like a singular metric. Do you measure just overall pipeline versus giving credit to where it comes from or how does that work?

Sydney Sloan:

So there are three aspects to our pipeline which I think are good and they’re good check and balances. We track a target account pipeline. So far our target accounts, what’s that pipeline? And then we track non-target inbound just so we can see the differences between where the leads are coming from and they, they pass through different processes internally on our side. The second part of that is what percentage of target account pipeline marketing influences our goal is 80 percent. So, we track about at that level. So, given that we are SalesLoft and we use our own tools, that I don’t actually use a marketing automation platform and, and the teams truly do lean into outbound that, you know, I feel a bit a little bit spoiled, to be honest as a marketer that, you know, it’s our DNA and that’s what we do and we want to showcase that to others. So I really get to see know a true outbound based company and approach.

But the other aspect that I talked about that check and balance is we look at pipeline, pipeline influence and all the conversion metrics that are associated with that. But my sales counterpart books just at opportunities for him, the numbers game is different because just how we could change the metrics on MQL. Anybody can change what the value of an opportunity is before it closes. So he’s looking at it in a different way in terms of the number of sales qualified opportunities, set it from a pure number of account opportunities that we’re working and then we can play around with the variables between them.

Joe Hyland:

We have a similar view by the way, where we look at a total dollar value for obvious reasons. However, what, what you said, who was a lesson learned for us in terms of not that there’s a malintent but it’s pretty easy to manipulate that number, a $10,000 opportunity all of a sudden one day as a $50,000 opportunity and I hope my sales management off my back and sure enough all close at $10,000 a month from now, but I’ll deal with that then. So we moved to opportunity count both for pipeline and then also deal. So it’s just a way to kind of disaggregate the business.

Sydney Sloan:

Exactly. I think to people, and you know, where you get the model where you start selling to small and medium enterprise and almost start small to medium businesses and then start selling into the enterprise. That metric changes exponentially because of all of the sudden you’ve got people putting in six-figure deals where before it might’ve been low to figure and you’re like, wow, that’s awesome. But really the number of opportunities isn’t changing.

Joe Hyland:

Well, you also mentioned something in there that I love is, you know, what it’s like working for a true outbound company. And some of that is you guys need to have that mindset — I’m sure you’re passionate about it because it was exactly. Well, it’s interesting. And I think a love to get your take on this. I think this has happened over the last, I don’t know, five or eight years where so many marketers were enamored with an inbound strategy and in no way mean to shit on having a smart inbound mechanism within your marketing department is obviously very important.

However, I’m a firm believer in controlling one’s destiny and I think a great marketing team needs to have a great outbound strategy and I feel like outbound, it’s kind of become this four-letter word. Whereas a lot of marketers who think they know that what works yet they don’t necessarily want to talk as much about what they’re doing on an aggressive outbound strategy. But I think that’s just great. A great demand-gen strategy. And I’m curious if you see something similar or you think marketers have come back and the pendulum has swung back to marketers really believing that outbound is critical for their success.

Sydney Sloan:

So I see two things. One is from a personal experience. What I find interesting is, if we’re talking about our lead, well there’s two things. First of all, for the test of time, the complaints are “marketing never generates enough leads,” and then we say, “sales, why aren’t you falling up on my leads?” That’s true, the story hasn’t changed regardless of if there were 150 people in the tech marketing landscape or 7,000 companies, right? But it’s still the adage to the age-old adage. The issue is kind of where their responsibility lies and how we’re starting to track that. And in taking over the sales development or the business development function or responsibility as a marketer changed.

And as much as, I hate to say that just because people shifted on an org chart from one team to another that things should be different, but for me it was. Where we started thinking about them as one of the marketing channels. So we had all our different channels, webcasts or our advertising channels, what we were driving from trials, but we weren’t thinking about outbound as one of our leavers in the marketing world of things that we could do to impact. And so, once the CRM team became part of our organization, that changed and we started thinking about that as another aspect. And I got that as a piece of advice from a counterpart — a colleague one day. Now what I see being at SalesLoft and talking a lot more is a to lots of folks, about 30 percent of companies in high-tech currently have the business development function under marketing.

And, which is I believe that pendulum swings back and forth, the SDR, BDR team, you know, depending on where it sits, but at least the alignment is coming together more closely and we know that if we’re generating leads, we need to be just working as hard to convert those over to opportunities. And so, if you’re looking at your cohorts and saying, you know, what’s going on between my whatever, like I said, I don’t use MQLs anymore, but the leads that I’m generating and the, and the accounts that are being worked in the activity levels and engagement levels on the accounts holistically, marketing and sales should be looking at that view, I think.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. Well, that goes back to what you said earlier on your, how you look at your pipeline. You’ve targeted accounts so you and sales, marketing and sales together, have come up with a list of your ideal customer profile or the group of accounts that you say, Hey, they’re insane if they’re not using SalesLoft. Right? And is that, is that literally how you begin your marketing and sales strategy from this, from this core group of accounts,

Sydney Sloan:

We have three tiers as every good ABM huckster should. And the question is, you know, in my previous company we had 50 companies in the top tier. At SalesLoft we have 10. So we’re hyperfocused on 10 for each of our sales teams, commercial and enterprise. So those are the ones that we really do feel that the most opportunity is gonna come from. And my advice has always that you’ve got a good blend of your existing accounts in that top 10 if you’re going to put that much resource into them. The second and third tiers, you know, we’re still using data and exploring different data points in order to get to that. What I’ve, what I’ve learned is we can use more technology triggers as kind of the roadmap for whether or not this count is more successful. Let me explain because that might have sounded confusing.

So for instance, for us we are going after companies were previously we’re going after SaaS companies that we knew had a strong inside sales and business development teams — and there is a known universe of that. But as our need to grow increases and we need to go after net new accounts, what we wanted to do is we’re saying, well, let’s think about this. If there are companies that are buying ABM technologies, they are inherently account-focused, therefore they should have outbound as part of their strategy. And so we started looking at what’s the footprint of ABM technologies in accounts and using that as part of our scoring model. I’m definitely interested in this whole idea of intent and exploring the intent score around those to help stack-rank the accounts.

So I think, you know, there’s a lot of science and data that can be applied, but at the end of the day, you’re still doing the handshake with sales and in having them select as well based on different segmentation. So I wouldn’t say we’ve got yet our tier two and three nailed in terms of the right pieces, but we’re constantly tweaking and finding new approaches to figure out what the right accounts are in that second tier. And then the third tier is kind of just keeping them warm. Right?

Joe Hyland:

I think that’s smart too because I don’t think anyone who, my opinion, anyone who tells you that there’s a specific formula and this is bolted to the ground is full of it. Like you, you need to be somewhat flexible and agile because perhaps for that top tier I could be argued into that. But other than that, I think you’ve got to be somewhat flexible in terms of the definition.

Sydney Sloan:

I used to say that I’m creative meetings where my guilty pleasure, I loved going into creative meetings and, and working with the teams on concepts and now it’s, believe it or not, tech and data meetings and just because we have so much information available to us and there is so much more science that can be applied and constant learning. There’s so much gold in there that we just need to continue to push the bar and try and figure out how to get it right and it’s constantly changing.

Joe Hyland:

Isn’t it interesting how, how marketing just constantly adapts? You’re right. I think 10 years ago it became incredibly important to be more analytical and use data to make smarter decisions, which is great. Now, marketers have to be somewhat well versed in technology, which I’m not ancient, but when I started in marketing and there really wasn’t much tech to choose from, we were in early salesforce customer and we added in Eloqua and we were pretty advanced. I mean that was our tech stack. There really wasn’t anything else other than our website, of course. Now it’s insane. Even at ON24 or not a huge company, but we have about 20 pieces of technology in our marketing tech stack and it’s not a trivial amount. So you’re right I find myself in a lot of tech stack discussions and I don’t know if I like it or not.

Sydney Sloan:

Maybe I do because it’s after filling after marketing technologist for so long and technology that I didn’t use if that makes sense now being able to say, “okay, this industry [intelligible] and then how to apply it for my own needs is interesting. I remember back, Gosh, 10 years ago when you did 10 years, I had to calculate and like 2008. What was I doing then? But that was it, right? There was the rise of the digital marketer and I was working at Adobe at the time and so it was so funny. We were teaching the sales guys, okay, well you go to Linkedin and you type in “digital marketing.” I’m like there’s someone there like “I found one!” And you know that was 10 years ago. Now, it’s like you have all this data, these contacts and we’re plugging into these systems, we’re bringing it front and forward to the sales reps to be able to do personalized prospecting on.

Sydney Sloan:

And I mean, there’s just so much there, but that has created its own unique challenges in terms of what marketing automation kind of, that way that happened and now the way that we’re in, we’re personalization matters and really helping build the connection and break through the noise. I mean it sounds and we say it all the time but it’s true. We just did a survey actually were between buyers and sellers and we were asking the question, what do you think is, is buying harder or is selling harder? And both audiences said selling is harder. So it was like 74 percent of the sales teams and sales were harder, but 70 percent of the cut the buyers said sales was hard, too. And it’s just the number, the amount of competition I’m trying to reach your contact and saying something meaningful, like don’t waste their time. Um, and those were the three kinds of pieces of why they thought it was hard.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, I think they’re right. You’re 100 percent in control selling whether we like it or not. You are not like it’s not a, it’s not even a question.

Sydney Sloan:

And then the last thing I need is another 50 emails in my inbox.

Joe Hyland:

Oh, tell me about it. It’s the bane of my existence every morning, even with spam filters. I’m curious. So you referenced an intent earlier using intent data for me, the verdict somewhat out on the effectiveness of that though that said we are, we also are using intent data or trying to. We’ll see how successful we are. What do you think…are you a believer in predictive intent data to drive decisions?

Sydney Sloan:

I think they both have their use and my experience with predictive was mixed, I’ll be honest. But I do what I learned after the fact was if you are going through and have like a top of the funnel, goodness problem. Like I have so many customers in the top of my funnel, I need to figure out which ones to kind of push through the funnel. Predictive was a good model for that and, for us, it was a challenge because we were changing who we’re going after, so we didn’t want to continue to sell who we were selling to so that didn’t quite work for my previous company. With intent, I started using it last year when it started to come out and it does give you another data point, it’s just how much are you going to rely on that and in where you’re going to invest your resources.

So, it makes logical sense and how they’re thinking about that, hey, if people are going to Google and search, you know, they’re already looking forward if they’re going to G2 Crowd, those are very strong indications, but if they’re out in the open web, I’m also searching for things that might relate to you, it’s a signal. So we kind of treated as another data point. It’s not the holy grail per se, but it’s something, another data point to look at.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. So same for us. And it sounds like we’re at a pretty similar stage with it. My challenge or our challenge is, how much information or at what point does too much information become just that — overwhelming and too much. So, we’re using it pretty heavily in marketing and we’re still tweaking with what ultimately gets passed onto sales. Just because sometimes I feel like there are false positives in there and I can just be a little overwhelming.

Sydney Sloan:

Yeah, we’re currently not passing to sales either. So, I’m with ya.

Joe Hyland:

Okay, cool. You referenced the death of the MQL earlier. I’d love to go back to that because you’re right though, I mean, this is marketers have a lot of control over scoring and it’s pretty easy to manipulate MQL count and I think it — in the wrong environment can lead to finger pointing back and forth between marketing and sales — which is the antithesis of how we started this conversation on getting that alignment. You guys have done away with the MQL altogether?

Sydney Sloan:

It doesn’t exist and I can’t say that I could take credit for it. It was, it was not in place when I got there, so I didn’t have to put it in place, but it’s interesting, there still might be something there in the nurturing side, but we didn’t have the… SalesLoft was already fully into the ABM model before I got there. So I need to thank the team for being forward-thinking. Here’s kind of the part where I’m struggling with, is that there’s still, what is the indication of is there more that marketing could be doing to warm up accounts before they get passed through? So I’d like to look at as we look at target account engagement and the amount of the number of accounts we’re influencing, can we help the influence within the account level? How much?

Sydney Sloan:

One of the things that we did use to do that, I’d like to figure out, and I was talking to John Miller about this the other day. We were at an event together and we used to do these things called smoke reports where you could see, did you have engagement across multiple contexts in a single account? So I’d like to be able to bring that sort of data, but that’s where leads meet accounts and I know Engagio solves that problem. We don’t use Engagio personally right now, but that is one of the things that they do solve for. And so we had written a script in Salesforce to do that previously.

So how do I get that to work where we can try and help with the footprint inside accounts when you’re trying to get more people involved or maybe land and expand into new opportunities. So that’s the MQA score, I guess. But we just pass it right through to our SDR team and they start working it. So the question is who does the nurturing? Do sales do the nurturing through sales, often cadences? Does marketing do the nurturing through — also, we can use our cadence engine for that — or should we be using marketing automation? We have lots of customers that do that with marketing automation.

Joe Hyland:

Sure. So, you mentioned that your tier-one accounts, so they are, I would imagine, all using marketing automation in combination with you guys as you assume it’s correct —

Sydney Sloan:

For the most part, yes. And that’s where there’s still a traditional handoff between the marketing funnel and the qualification funnel.

Joe Hyland:

But as you… So, I’m just curious as you guys then go down market to smaller companies, is it common that you’ll work with marketing departments to say, “Hey, we’re not gonna use marketing automation at all and I think SalesLoft can handle the whole thing for me?”

Sydney Sloan:

We’re trying to go upmarket versus downmarket. We do have customers that just use SalesLoft and in some customers don’t even have Salesforce. So, on the very small enterprise, they can. I think there are, again, it’s depending on the size of the company and the complexity of the offerings they have and there is value in nurturing. Whichever system does that, I think that’s important and to be able to track all those interactions — however that does that — I think the difference comes between the level of effort and who’s doing the hyper-segmentation so you can still get that personalization that people actually want.

So that’s the balance in terms of how hard is that to do that in your marketing automation systems versus in your, within your sales or your sales development teams. But, also, I think, you know, at the end of the day, everybody still has to do prospecting, whether you’re an account exec or, you know, I don’t yet know of a company where the sales reps are not also on the hook for generating and their own opportunities.

Sydney Sloan:

And so when you think about being able to leverage tools to engage customers to communicate with customers, that’s better than an excel spreadsheet and your own personal email. There are many different tools out there that can help with that — I advise for a couple as well. And so I think that’s the problem we’re all trying to solve for is how do you create meaningful communication in the most personalized way yet still using some kind of tool for automation so you can get scale, whether that’s marketing automation or what, I forget what the other new category is around field marketing enablement or something like that and sales engagement all these new categories that are emerging.

Joe Hyland:

You made a good point, even a lesson I learned a few years ago when I also wasn’t in Martech before this. We have some clients who were fortune twenties, he’d say, well, of course, they have a CRM and marketing automation, but some arms don’t, right? So, there are divisions, small divisions, which have to be pretty scrappy of huge companies that don’t necessarily have all the bells and whistles for technology. So that’s a good point.

Well, you just referenced scale, which I think is something so exciting about what we do as marketers, but it’s also a slippery slope and you combine that with creating really compelling customer experiences, which I think is something that marketers should own and the question is where does that, where is the line of demarcation how deep into the relationship should marketing own the experience?

Joe Hyland:

But I feel that…

Sydney Sloan:

All the way…

Joe Hyland:

That’s how I feel as well, I think it was a long conversation, I think that is one of the most exciting areas of marketing. But I see a lot of marketers really screw that up because they say, “Hey, I know, we just got to scale and you know, we just, we got to blast out a ton of emails and we’ll worry about the experience later.” Which I think is the wrong approach, but why? Why is it that so many marketers have a hard time balancing those two?

Sydney Sloan:

Look how many MQL is I can generate that don’t get closed?

Joe Hyland:

Exactly that scale, right?

Sydney Sloan:

I think people have to have the confidence that if they’re doing the work upfront to qualify the accounts better that and work on your ICP and, and run meaningful programs that are going to target and convert the right accounts. It is scary if you’ve been, hey, look how many MQLs I’m having a now I’m going to reduce that number, but it’s going to be more meaningful because my conversions are going to go up. That’s the logic behind it and you just have to commit to it and start doing it and prove it out.

I went through that transition in my last role and it paid out and we started to see the ASPs grow and because we were going after the accounts we wanted to go after and working more closely with sales and it was, you know, it was a long, it was, you know, two and a half years of going back and forth on what it meant to have target accounts and how we are partnering together and did I pick the right accounts or did it not pick the right accounts? And am I confident in the data in order to do that? So, it’s scaling down to scale up. And I used the term to like slowing down to speed up. Sometimes you just, you gotta be smarter about what’s up front so you can make it more meaningful in the longer run. And then you start scaling by running multiple segment programs. So it’s not one for everyone. It’s you scale, like, okay, I got that model running. Now how do I add a new one while I’m continuing to manage this one?

Joe Hyland:

Yeah. And that’s great marketing, right? I think focus is such a beautiful thing when done right. And it’s, you’re right. That takes some discipline. Yeah, no, you gotta know when to say no, right? And there is such a thing as, you know, we talk about this in our group, there’s such a thing as a bad lead whether you classified as MQL or not like, yeah, you could use, it can be a waste of time for both marketing and more importantly sales. So I like that — your favorite f-word — Well, we’ve wasted another perfectly half hour.

I want to thank you for your time. I’ve really enjoyed it. This has been a wonderful discussion. Thanks so much.

Sydney Sloan:

Thank you. It was excellent to get to talk to you and look forward to watching some of the other webcasts if they’re as fun as this one. We can always be learning more from each other, so hopefully, it was useful.

Joe Hyland:

Yeah, no, I love it all. Alright, thanks so much, everyone.