Leveraging pilots for marketing & sales integration

by Marty Nicholas

In a previous series of posts about our three-stage roadmap for digital go-to-market transformation, I explored the second-stage, integrating marketing and sales execution. I addressed the key challenge of how to add value to the customer journey with the right interaction, in the right channel, at the right time and also touched on the criticality of running pilot test programs while transforming in order to prove the value of change. With this in mind, I’d like to kick off a new series about the value of pilots as a tool for accelerating marketing and sales transformation.

The ‘new’ digitally-empowered buyer has dramatically increased both the imperative and complexity of breaking down the age-old divisions between sales and marketing. Alignment between these two functions is no longer enough to be truly customer-centric. Only genuine operational integration of marketing and sales will deliver the more agile and seamless approach now required for success.

While most organisations have already made the essential pivot to customer, a large number are still working through the lengthy and complicated second-stage of functional integration, which involves the dissolution of functional silos, the redesign of complex processes, the optimisation of operating models and hardwiring of automated ways of working through technology to increase capacity and efficiency.

Given the scale of this challenge, pilots are a common and proficient vehicle for leaders to test, prove and evolve new ways of working and effectively transition these into business-as-usual. While many business leaders will already be familiar with the advantages of pilot programs, I’d like to take a more in-depth look at their value in the context of facing challenges around marketing and sales integration, starting with the five key benefits a good pilot should be able to deliver:

1. De-risk larger transformation decisions

Pilots are an effective vehicle for reducing the risk around large and expensive transformation decisions, particularly when we consider the breadth and scale of the shifts required for integrating these two divisions. When set up correctly around a specific business objective, a pilot can show how enhanced marketing and sales integration can deliver more efficient and effective customer acquisition, growth or retention.

2. Prove value and earn the right to invest in more

By irrefutably proving the value of a new execution engine, you can effectively earn the right to make the ‘no-regrets’ decisions to invest in more. So getting the measurement right and crunching the numbers before, during and after your pilot runs, is essential. Consider how to prove the value with your results, whether by highlighting your pilot’s contribution to the pipeline, qualified leads, and number of meetings generated or any other appropriate metric that could demonstrate impact.

3. Test hypotheses and learn in a controlled way

The primary reason for running pilots is to tangibly prove the value of change and in this case, the value of an end-to-end marketing and sales execution engine. By testing your hypotheses out in a controlled environment, you can ‘test and learn’ without adversely affecting business-as-usual resource, and enable broader transformation decisions that are grounded in hard facts.

4. Convert cynics and generate business engagement

Leveraging proof-of-concept is a highly effective way to gain critical stakeholder support, to turn cynics into advocates and ensure buy-in from across the organisation. A commercially robust pilot is far easier to sell to the leadership team than a broad and expensive business-wide transformation. Acquiring ongoing executive sponsorship will prove invaluable later down the line, as they can help keep marketing and sales on track throughout the transformation.

5. Embed new ways of working

Lessons learned from pilot programs and proven net-new ways of working across marketing and sales divisions can effectively be transitioned into business-as-usual. By knowing what works and more importantly what does not work, you are able to fine tune your solutions, adapt marketing and sales operating models and build new capabilities in order to accelerate your transformation.
The time for change is now

We are in the midst of a major digital revolution and buying dynamics are continually evolving. Those who adapt will win and those who shy away from the challenges of transformation will inevitably be left behind. The time to make change is now, but before charging ahead with complicated transformation plans and expensive marketing automation tools, step back and survey your critical foundations. Developing a series of pilots that are focused around specific business objectives to test, prove and evolve your marketing and sales execution engine will help you accelerate transformation progress mindfully and meaningfully.

Stay tuned for the next post in this series, where I’ll take a look at how a pilot program can deliver proof of concept.