Revenue Rehab: It's like therapy, but for marketers
Oct. 26, 2022

Aligning with Sales: Listening, Saying No, and Creating a Positive Feedback Loop

This week our host, Brandi Starr, is joined by John Brezinsky, VP of Global Product Marketing for Searchmetrics. A technology company, Searchmetrics helps enterprises increase revenue by leveraging insights from search data. John has also worked for...


This week our host, Brandi Starr, is joined by John Brezinsky, VP of Global Product Marketing for Searchmetrics.

A technology company, Searchmetrics helps enterprises increase revenue by leveraging insights from search data. John has also worked for some of the largest companies in the world, like Pearson, as well as feisty start-ups like FiscalNote. In that time, he has built product marketing teams and launched successful campaigns that drive business. John’s passions include messaging, competitive positioning, and saltwater aquariums.

In this week’s episode, Brandi and John tackle the relationship between Marketing and Sales teams.  In their discussion, they share the value that can be found in an improved collaboration and how marketers can better start Aligning with Sales: Listening, Saying No, and Creating a Positive Feedback Loop. 

Bullet Points of Key Topics + Chapter Markers:

  • Topic #1 Cultivating Better Relationships [05:59] …Between Marketing and Sales teams, that is. John and Brandi discuss how the shared purpose of both departments is a good place to start.  John goes further to describe how Marketing benefits from viewing Sales as their “first and primary market” and Sales benefits by thinking of the Marketing team as prospects.
  • Topic #2 Feedback and Shared Goals [14:20] Tracking feedback with an eye on shared goals is key, John emphasizes; guide discussions around mutually beneficial solutions. Pro tip: Boundaries can be productive, but don’t make them too concrete, John cautions, or you could miss out on great ideas and creative solutions.
  • Topic #3 Can You Get Good Ideas out of Bad Ones? [24:02] John and Brandi discuss strategies on how to get good info out of what may seem like bad ideas. Being curious and picking out the goal within the idea can often lead to successful threads to pull if you shift your approach.

So, What's the One Thing You Can Do Today?

Take inventory, encourages John. “Start with yourself”, he says, take an honest inventory of what you think is working, what isn’t working, and then select at least one concrete thing that you commit to change. Then, make it happen!

Buzzword Banishment:

John’s Buzzword to Banish is the expression ‘growth hacking’.  It gives the false impression that marketing is just a one-weird-trick accomplishment, John says. 

Links:

Get in touch with John Brezinsky on:

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Transcript

[00:06] Intro: 

Welcome to Revenue Rehab, your one stop destination for collective solutions to the biggest challenges faced by marketing leaders today. Now head on over to the couch, make yourself comfortable and get ready to change the way you approach revenue. Leading your recovery is modern marketer, author, speaker and Chief Operating Officer at Tegrita, Brandi Starr.

[0:34] Brandi Starr:  

Hello, hello, hello and welcome to another episode of Revenue Rehab. I am your host Brandi Starr and we have another amazing episode for you today. I am joined by John Brezinsky. John is the VP of Global Product Marketing for Searchmetrics, a technology company that helps enterprises increase revenue by leveraging insights from search data. John has worked for some of the largest companies in the world like Pearson, as well as feisty start-ups like FiscalNote, and in that time, he has built product marketing teams and launched successful campaigns that drive businesses. John's passions include messaging, competitive positioning, and saltwater aquariums. John, welcome to revenue rehab, your session begins now.

[1:30] John Brezinsky:  

So thank you so much Brandi. This is actually a really exciting opportunity for me. You've had some fantastic guests on the show, I'm glad to join you.

[1:38] Brandi Starr:  

Awesome! Well, I am delighted to be able to add you to the ranks. And I love that you're into saltwater aquariums. I always like when people throw something personal into their bios, because I feel like I learned them just a little bit better.

[1:54] John Brezinsky:

Yeah, it's a fun one. Everyone needs something and that one's mine.

[1:59] Brandi Starr:

Awesome! Well I like to break the ice with a little woosah moment that I call buzzword banishment. So tell me what industry buzzword would you like to banish forever?

[2:14] John Brezinsky:   

Well I have to say a lot of your previous guests have already taken some of the worst offenders out of the options here. But one that no one had mentioned before, that it's always bugged me is growth hacking.

[2:28] Brandi Starr:   

Yes.

[2:30] John Brezinsky:   

I think what especially bothers me about it is it's usually used by people who feel like marketing is just, we doubled our revenue in six months with this one weird trick.

[2:47] Brandi Starr:  

It does always seem and it's always something so obscure, that it's like, okay, you got lucky, not that this was some magic pill that just solved all the marketing problems. But then that's how they put it out there. Like if you just get this one unicorn and do this one obscure thing, then you too, can have 1,000% growth year over year. So I'm with you, we can definitely put growth hacking in the box and throw away the key, and we will not talk about any growth hacking today.

[3:27] John Brezinsky:  

Excellent. I'm glad to hear it.

[3:29] Brandi Starr:   

Awesome! Well now that we've gotten that off our chest, tell me what brings you to Revenue Rehab today.

[3:36] John Brezinsky:  

So I'm here to talk about relationships, and specifically the relationship between sales and marketing, which I'm sure a lot of your viewers and listeners have, from time to time, perhaps been in situations where that relationship has been a little strange. Sales complains that marketing never listens to them, even though they're the ones out there in the market every day. Marketing complains that sales doesn't know anything about marketing, and all they're really trying to do is tell them how to do their jobs. And there's a better way.

[4:11] Brandi Starr:   

Yes. And it's funny when you say I'm here to talk about relationships, I'm like, we're turning this into real therapy today. But I've always got an opinion there as well. But no, the marketing and sales relationship is an important one, it is a complex one. And so I'm glad that you're here to talk about some ways to win at that; and I believe in setting intentions that gives us purpose, it gives us focus, and most important, it allows our audience to know what they should expect from our conversation today. So tell me what is your intention? What would you like to be different after our session?

[4:52] John Brezinsky:   

So my intention is to help people to cultivate better relationships between sales and marketing. I'd like to give them some suggestions, ways of looking at the relationship and ways of improving.

[5:08] Brandi Starr:   

Awesome. So I know that when talking about marketing and sales, there's kind of two schools of thought. Some people say that marketing should see sales as one of their internal clients or internal stakeholders, and that the same way that you're there to serve the customer, that marketing is there to serve sales. Others are of the mindset that it really should be a partnership, and that both are bringing different aspects to the same table. And comparing it to relationships, that is common takes on what marriage should be like. So I guess this really is a great analogy. But I'd love to understand your perspective in what that relationship should be.

[5:59] John Brezinsky:   

Sure. So I am absolutely in the second school of thought, I really believe that this is a partnership. We share the same goal, we just want to help the company make more money. Really, it's very simple. That being said, I like the idea of asking marketers to think of the sales teams as their first and primary market, in the same way that I like asking sales teams to think of marketers as the prospects that they're talking to during their calls. If only because that helps frame things in terms that the two groups can better understand, to help move forward to a place where they really can be partners.

[6:45] Brandi Starr:   

Okay, I like that. And I love that you're in the second school of thought, because in my opinion, the first is very problematic, but won't go there. If we think about traditional relationships, and if you're going to see a counselor or getting advice, communication is always the thing that gets talked about; the importance of communication, open and authentic communication, the ability to actually listen when someone is communicating. And I know just from our prior conversations, that listening, and how to properly listen, is something that you feel plays a role here. Talk a bit about that.

[7:25] John Brezinsky:   

No, I absolutely do. Thanks for starting with this. I think that it's really, really common in organizations for marketing to provide ways for sales to send in their ideas. Marketing provides ways for sales to provide feedback on either campaigns or collateral or any of the things that marketing does. But I find that it's way too easy for marketing teams in particular to, to get stuck in the weeds and the processes of there's this campaign, then there's the next campaign, then we got to do this, and we got to do that. And so it can feel sometimes to sales like you're asking me questions, but you're not really listening to my answers. And so I suggest actually setting aside time and this can be the channel, there's so many channels, it's 2022. But to genuinely listen. And when you ask a question, if you pause and nobody's answering, give them a second; this might be one of the first times that someone's genuinely asked them what they think. And then be prepared for them to answer. Really listen to what they have to say whether it's positive or negative, actually do what you say you're gonna do and listen. Another one is to keep asking questions. Again, if I'm communicating to marketers, then this is not that dissimilar to doing market research. If you're doing an interview or a focus group you ask a question, but then there's always follow up questions. Understand the context, where is this coming from? What do the teams really need to accomplish? Ask the follow up so that you can know really understand what they're looking for and where they're coming from.

[9:24] Brandi Starr:   

Which is always good. In my opinion, when you are leading with inquiry and asking genuine questions and actively listening, you definitely go a lot further in any sort of relationship. I think where breakdown sometimes happens, because I do see in some organizations where some of these conversations are happening. They're at least being initiated and where I kind of see a wall get built is people tend to get defensive and there becomes a lot of finger pointing in that communication, especially if the feedback from sales is that something's not going well in marketing. So as the marketer, how do we humble ourselves and actually receive that feedback.

[10:20] John Brezinsky:   

This is also just so incredibly important. But I find that a lot of this comes with experience. And it comes with being supported by other marketers in the team. And just remembering, it's not actually about you. Well sometimes it is, but 99% of the time, it's not about you. Whether it's an account executive or an SDR, they're trying to accomplish something, and they feel like something isn't working. So if they're providing negative feedback, which, by the way, marketers provide negative feedback to each other, and to designers and to agencies all the time. If they're providing negative feedback, it's because they want a positive outcome. And so my advice is to just remember, and sometimes even if you've been doing it for a long time, you have to actively remind yourself, it's not about you, it's not about you. It's like the saying goes, it's not personal, it's just business. And I think that if you can show that you have the confidence to receive negative feedback, and actually, again, listen to that negative feedback, and understand the negative feedback, that will only be seen as a positive by the people who are giving the negative feedback. I think that sometimes people, they almost turn it into a fight. You're never supposed to show any weakness, never let them see you sweat. And so there's the worry that if I give in, then they'll just come back, and they'll want more and more from me. Well maybe, but that might be a good thing. What you might have actually done is just created a positive feedback loop where they feel comfortable raising their own ideas. It certainly doesn't mean that every idea that a person has or every request is a good idea. But we need to listen to each other, we need to work towards these shared goals. And I think that if you receive negative feedback, take it. Take it, you never have to promise anything, but take the feedback, and have real conversations internally. And whatever the decision is, whether it's going to be a yes or no or next quarter, bring that back. And if you've had the first conversation, I think in a way that's between adults, then the second conversation, whatever the end result is only going to be better.

[12:54] Brandi Starr:   

And what I'm hearing is it is creating some psychological safety within the relationship and making it so that -- because sales does see things that marketing doesn't. They are having those one-on-one conversations, they're hearing and having to overcome the objections that clients are expressing. They're seeing what delays, what things are asking about. And so there is a lot of value coming from the salesperson. Likewise, the marketer is generally on top of trends, what's happening with competitors, they're seeing the metrics and responses to marketing. And so it really is two different sides of the same discussion. And so creating that psychological safety, being able to be open and receiving the criticism, receiving the feedback, whether it's positive or negative, I agree with it you really goes a long way. And I think one of the things that you hit on about asking questions, is really key. And in some cases, one of those questions can be asking for affirmation that you're actually understanding what they're saying. What I'm hearing is, have I interpreted that correctly? Because I think in some cases, this breaks down purely from misunderstanding.

[14:20] John Brezinsky:   

Absolutely! And I mean, sometimes there's so many interesting examples. Sometimes an account exec, they just lost a deal. And they just got yelled at by their boss. And so they come over to someone in marketing, and they're not in a great frame of mind, and what they might be trying to communicate is legitimate real feedback. A good idea or a good suggestion for how to improve something for the next time. But then it's super easy for the marketer receiving that to only take the tone of voice without knowing what happened five minutes ago. And so I mean, you always just need to take yourself out of it and think of this person as absolutely your partner. And psychological safety, absolutely. Or here's another one. I love your comparison to the kinds of things that salespeople learn about the market versus the kinds of things that marketers learn about the market, because they are complementary. And if you're providing an atmosphere where they feel comfortable telling you things that they're hearing, then you'll notice new trends, because this person might have only heard it once. It doesn't feel like a trend to them. But if four other people also heard it only once, that's a trend. Sometimes it's the opposite. One person hears it four times, and no one else has heard it. But if we're pulling this kind of information together, and then also marketing is communicating, this is what we see in the most recent round of A-B tests, this is what we see in terms of consumption of this piece of content or responses to this message in an email, then everyone has the same shared set of information, and everyone can make recommendations and move forward in a positive way.

[16:11] Brandi Starr:   

And I just had an idea. And I mean, I don't know, this idea is about six seconds old. So I don't know how viable it is, but thinking about -- we did an exercise with a client, because they're going through some changes in their product. And so we catalogued all the emails that they were sending out, and which mentioned the various aspects of the product, so that once all the changes were done, we knew which emails had to be updated. And so it was like tracking. And so kind of translating that to this conversation, if there were a way that every time we gathered feedback from sales, we were able to catalog that in some way to be able to identify the themes and pair that with the stuff that we're seeing when we're doing our quarterly annual reporting on our marketing performance, there's a whole lot of insight there that is potentially being lost if these things are all happening kind of one off in, like you mentioned, the in person example, someone marches over to the desk. That conversation probably happens and then gets dropped without the insight and input really being captured. And so, and I don't know if it's cataloging it like I do emails, or what the right mechanism is, but as I'm thinking about this, it feels like there needs to be some easy mechanism to just capture this information, so that you can see the patterns. Because if you've got a large team, if there's 20 salespeople that over three months march to someone's desk, those patterns aren't being seen because they're not even coming from the same person or potentially not to the same person. So it seems like a real opportunity there.

[18:08] John Brezinsky:   

No, it absolutely is. And in the same way that part of the role of product marketing is to catalog and continually update everything that we know about our competitors. We also want to be cataloguing and updating everything that we know about our market. Great research is only great as long as it's true. And we should always assume that whatever target market you're going after, they'll be going through changes as well. They won't respond to the same messages in the same way as they won't be responding to the same features or benefits in the same ways. So if you're able to collect those, and then to your point as part of a quarterly update, or whatever frequency works best for a given company, feed that back out. Okay, this is based on the survey that we ran two months ago, plus the input sessions that we have every two weeks, plus the similar conversations that we have with the CS teams, here are the things that are the same and here are the interesting things that we think have changed. And that also goes a long way towards building credibility for marketing, and a real feeling of trust between marketing and sales.

[19:22] Brandi Starr:   

I love that. And I want to shift gears a little bit and talk about another aspect of relationships that I feel is really important here, and that's boundaries. I'm really big on that b word just in general in life, but thinking about the boundaries between marketing and sales and I know just talking to other marketers, I know my experience coming up through my career. In some cases, the ability to say no, is not one that people feel comfortable doing. They feel like it makes them not a team player. In some companies saying no, is just not even accepted. But I do think that there do have to be real boundaries really between all departments. But we'll limit that to the discussion between marketing and sales for today. How do you feel about setting the boundary of being able to say no, how do we build this relationship and align with sales while still also being able to say no?

[20:28] John Brezinsky:   

This one is delicate, because on the one hand, if you say no too frequently, then the sales teams will simply say, Well, okay, I guess marketing wasn't really serious when they said they wanted our input, because we keep providing it and they keep saying no. But on the other hand, if you keep saying yes, then what ends up happening is you lose a decent amount of strategic focus. So the way that I like to think about it is, and this involves a lot of assumptions. So I'm assuming that marketing has a really well thought through strategy that's based on conversations with sales teams aligning around goals, and how sales and marketing both approach those goals. I'm assuming that there's a fairly robust list of tactics that marketing is going to use to put those strategies into place. And I'm also assuming that this has all been put into a calendar, and that you've got regular feedback sessions baked into that, so that you can collect opinions and experiences especially if we're talking about say updated brochures or updating case studies, because you need those to be market tested. So with all of those things assumed, and also assuming that sales leadership has not only been part of the process but has formally signed off and say, yes, this is exactly the way that we want to go at things collectively. So there are then a million different reasons for saying no. One really easy reason is I think that's a cool idea, however, it doesn't support the Q4 strategy. Let's keep this in mind, and don't lie about that. If you think it's a good idea and you want to keep it in mind, actually keep it in mind. But let's keep this in mind for a future quarter where we might have a different strategy and where this tactic might be more appropriate. Another really easy reason for saying no is yes, this is a great idea. I think this is fantastic. We can totally do it. However, if we do it, then we need to push back one of these three things. What's the collective thought here? of these now four things, the three existing plus the one new, is there a new order that they should happen in? And it might turn out that they say no, no, no; back when we created that original calendar, we thought that was ideal. So let's keep the current calendar and push this new thing to the end. There is also ways to say no, that have nothing to do with either strategy or the calendar. But just in your opinion, you think it's a bad idea. And if in fact, you believe that it's a bad idea, first, let's go back to listening, asking questions, being supportive, treating people like adults, all of those things. But then give a reason for why you think it's a bad idea. It might be something that you've tried a couple of times before, you've tried it three different ways, and no, it never works. But you don't have to always be the recipient of what can sometimes feel like an order placed online. You are a partner and your opinion is important. And if you are good at your job, then you should have an opinion about what are the best ways to move forward. So yes, boundaries 100%. There are plenty of really good company focused reasons for why you could and sometimes should say now.

[24:02] Brandi Starr:   

Yeah, and I just had a conversation with an executive coach recently. And one of the things that he said, when you think something is a bad idea, is to reframe it around the piece of it that you liked. So we were all traveling in from all over the country. And so the example that he gave was if someone gave the idea of we should all walk home. The way to reframe that is I like the way you're thinking, you're putting self-care and exercise first, that idea would allow us all to get some fresh air. However, let's think of other ways that we can accomplish that. And so, he gave the example of what if we all got our Ubers from a mile away? So we walk the mile have to get the fresh air and the exercise, but then you actually take a proper mode of transportation. And I thought that was a really powerful example. Because even within bad ideas, most people when they arrive at bad ideas, they're going down a logical path where there is some good merit in there, even if the idea that they came up with is horrible. Like I was in California, walking back to Atlanta would not to be a great idea. 

[25:32] John Brezinsky:  

Sure. Do-able I propose but...

[25:35] Brandi Starr:  

Eventually, I guess.

[25:38] John Brezinsky:   

What I like about that is we can even back it up a little bit and say, okay, let me see if I understood your suggestion, that we should all walk home. What I thought I heard is, you really you really want to give us an opportunity to get in some exercise? Is that right? And he say, yes, that's absolutely what I'm looking for. Okay, great. But I think there are probably some alternative ways that we can accomplish the additional exercise without forcing Brandi to spend to spend 12 days walking across the entire country. So that's the other piece that I like is, try to understand the goal. What are they trying to accomplish? Because there might be three or four different ways to accomplish that same goal and one of them probably supports your strategy and fits in your calendar.

[26:32] Brandi Starr:   

Yes. And I think the other thing that I took away from what you said is I'm a big believer in the agile marketing approach. And those conversations around, here's what we've got in flight. If we're going to move this in, then what are we taking out? That's a natural part of the agile process, as is the backlog. So we've got right now if I look, my team comes up with great ideas all the time. We're a small team, me plus two. So there's only so much we can do, small budgets, all of those things. So it's like, that's a great idea. Let's put it in the backlog. And that way, it also stays in front of us because when we're planning every month, we're like, do any of these things fit in with what we're trying to accomplish this month? And sometimes there are things like oh yeah, this has been in here for two years, but now's the right time for us to do it. And so that's another way to actually be able to show sales that yes, we do value your ideas, we're not taking them and ignoring them, we are keeping them in front of us so that we can identify when's the right time to pull this trick out of the bag, so to speak?

[27:46] John Brezinsky:   

No, absolutely. Absolutely.

[27:49] Brandi Starr:   

And the last question I want to ask is, several times you have brought up positive feedback loops, feedback loops, and creating those feedback loops through marketing and sales, and I haven't had a chance to dig into it yet. But I don't want to ignore that. Because I do think that that is a really, really great point that you've brought up. So how do we as marketing leaders really drive or even just the marketers that are listening, really drive not only having a feedback loop, but making that a positive feedback?

[28:22] John Brezinsky:   

So in the product marketing community, this is actually a not infrequent question. And I think that the answers that I usually see tend to revolve around processes and technology solutions. And my personal opinion is, on the technology side, it absolutely does not matter. Slack, great; email, great; Zoom meetings, fantastic; It doesn't matter. Or we're the the repository for everything, for the backlog and for the market analysis and the competitive analysis, confluence. Word doc, doesn't matter, doesn't matter. I think that what does matter is starting at the leadership level, you can't solve a problem unless you acknowledge that there is a problem and agree to a goal, whatever that goal might be. It might be that there's plenty of communication, it's just there's no follow up. It might be that there's no communication, it might be that sales feels marketing always says no, and marketing feels that sales is just trying to boss them around. Whatever goal you're trying to accomplish, then I think that in your organization, you will come to the most appropriate cadence of touchpoints. And it's going to be different for every team. It's gonna be different for global teams, regional teams, local teams, it's going to be different. Sometimes it'll be you know what, we're going to have one really long meeting every month. Everyone has to come prepared. If you're not prepared, you're not allowed in the meeting. Other times, it'll be we're going to do 20-minute sessions once a week. I've seen some times where it's just an active, but it's got to be active Slack channel. And as long as people agree to and then police themselves and the people who work for them to really participate, anything can work. You just have to make it work, you have to want it to work.

[30:32] Brandi Starr:  

Awesome! Well, talking about our challenges is just the first step and nothing changes if nothing changes. So in traditional therapy, the therapist gives the client some homework, but here at Revenue Rehab, I like to flip that on its head and ask you to give us some homework. So if you could first summarize your key takeaways, and then give us all our one thing, what is our one action item that we should take away from our conversation today?

[31:01] John Brezinsky:

Okay, key takeaways. I think the first is that this really is a relationship. It's a professional relationship. But it's a relationship just like any other relationship. And because it's just like any other relationship, the effort that you put in is frequently related to the results that you get out. So put in the effort. Another key takeaway that I really think is important is take yourself out of it. It's really not about you. It's about the business and moving the business forward. And I think the last and most important is communication, communication, communication; first, middle, and last. So a next step, a thing that I would recommend that people go out and do is, start with yourself, and go ahead and take an honest inventory of what you think is working, what you think isn't working, and you make a commitment to have at least one concrete thing that you would like to change. Shop it around, take it to your boss, make it happen.

[32:04] Brandi Starr:

Awesome! I appreciate that. So what is our one thing? What is our action item? 

[32:10] John Brezinsky:

Oh, what one action item? One action item then is, let's start with that inventory. Sit down and think about think about the scenario that you you're currently in between sales and marketing, and where you think things should change. One thing is the inventory.

[32:29] Brandi Starr:

Alright, there we go. Our one thing is to do that inventory. Well, John, I have enjoyed our discussion but that's our time for today.

[32:40] John Brezinsky:  

Thank you so much. It's been a real pleasure.

[32:42] Brandi Starr:

Yes, thank you. And for anyone who is listening who wants to continue the conversation, thinking about how marketing and sales can be aligned, I encourage you to go back to Episode 23, where I talked to Helen Baptist on Un- Siloed - Leading a Single Revenue Team. John, thanks so much for joining me. Thanks everyone, for joining us today. I hope that you have enjoyed my conversation with John. I can't believe we're already at the end. See you next time. 

[33:13] John Brezinsky:  

Bye everybody.

[33:15] Outro: 

You've been listening to Revenue rehab with your host Brandi Starr. Your session is now over but the learning has just begun. Join our mailing list and catch up on all our shows at revenuerehab.live. We're also on Twitter and Instagram at Revenue Rehab. This concludes this week's session. We'll see you next week.

John Brezinsky Profile Photo

John Brezinsky

VP of Global Product Marketing

John Brezinsky is the VP of Global Product Marketing for Searchmetrics, a technology company that helps enterprises increase revenue by leveraging insights from search data. John has worked for some of the largest companies in the world, like Pearson, as well as feisty start-ups like FiscalNote. In that time, he has built product marketing teams and launched successful campaigns that drive business. John’s passions include messaging, competitive positioning, and saltwater aquariums.