On this episode of the Fuel Growth podcast series, my co-host Clint and I got to sit down with the Chief Marketing Officer turned Chief Strategy Officer of iSolvedHCM, James Norwood. James has more than three decades of experience in enterprise software with a background in everything from product strategy and development to sales and marketing to brand creation and differentiation—all of which have helped him to culminate an unparalleled understanding of what it takes to drive growth in the software industry.
We were extra excited to speak with James this week to understand more about marketing-led growth and how having a strong alignment between your sales and marketing teams is your key to creating successful go-to-market (GTM) plans and results.
What is Marketing-Led Growth
Marketing-led growth is the approach companies use to fuel create growth and generate leads through written content, digital marketing campaigns, search engine optimization, etc. According to James, “when you look at the marketing side of things, you see an engine you’ve created that is providing enough pipeline to feed and grow the organization. It requires a mindset of thinking about pipeline, and thinking about actual opportunities, as opposed to just lead generation.”
Through marketing-led strategies, companies are able to differentiate themselves via fresh new ways to approach the market, market their products and offerings, and create buzz and interest in topics connected to their solutions.
How Marketing-Led Growth Eases the Tension Between Sales and Marketing
In business, there will always be left-brain and right-brain people, but that shouldn’t be something that tears us apart, it should be the thing that brings us together to solve problems, especially in the sales world. James echoed that when he said, “I do believe that marketing is as much an art as it is a science, right? It used to be all about the art. And now it’s very much a science as well. I think we need to remember that it’s the combination of the two things that makes us a successful business these days.”
That’s when James first addressed the sales and marketing topic, “When marketing and sales come together, it can either be from a place of extreme tension and toxicity, or it can be a harmonious path to success.” He went on to say, “if you want the latter, then you need strong leaders in both sales and marketing that understand each other and see each other as allies and not as combative ‘us and them’ scenarios. It’s a partnership, and that partnership has to come from the leaders of each department working in lockstep and not having a view of the other as being someone that is there to deliver for them, as opposed to help them and maybe serve as a resource”. Both departments need each other to thrive, and without cultivating that relationship, sales organizations can really find themselves in trouble.
How to Build a Marketing Growth Plan
Building your plan will start with small ‘asks’ through social media, ads, and web traffic and progress as the customer gets involved. Soon they will be reading blogs, infographics, and ebooks, all the way up until the point where they fill out a form or request a demo. That’s how marketing-led strategies work.
James laid this concept out for us when he dove into the logistics behind the revenue and marketing relationship. James described how once you enter different revenue phases, companies should adjust what they should spend on marketing in order to fuel them into the next stage. For instance:
- If you’re a $10-15 million company, you should be on marketing
- If you’re a $50-150 million company, you should be spending 11-12% of revenue
- If you’re a $200-500 million company, you should be spending between 6-7%
I thought that marketing budget numbers for each stage of a company’s growth were some of the most interesting details he shared. I think we should map out the full journey of marketing spending, starting from the early stage to later stage companies.
Are There Tools That Can Help Marketing? Yes!
In a nutshell, marketing tools can help your organization to promote products, optimize content strategy, generate leads, boost sales, and ultimately increase brand awareness. James kicked off the tech stack conversation when he stated, “for me, the most important tool for marketing is their salesforce automation system. And I’m not talking about marketing automation. I’m talking about the salesforce automation part of your CRM system. And for a sales organization, it cannot be understated how important it is to have an accurate and complete CRM system—it really annoys me when sales data hygiene is not where it needs to be.
For a marketing team to be successful, according to James, “they need a 100% accurate salesforce automation system. I have spent my entire life analyzing CRM in a way that you would expect a sales leader to do. And as a marketing leader, I spend my time doing that. I build my marketing budgets and my plans around what’s going on in there, so if it’s not complete or accurate, I’m making bad assumptions on my budgeting and my planning. And that’s disastrous”.
As you break down the walls between sales and marketing and create alignment between the two, they begin to become interested in what the other one is doing. James recalled, “I’ve actually found that the marketing team, they’re so keenly interested in what the sales team is doing. They want insights from them to plug into their salesforce automation tool. And conversely, I’ve also seen sales leaders get really excited to see what marketing is doing. And looking inside the marketing tools that they’re using”. When organizations can cultivate a good relationship between those two departments, they’re more likely to talk and be willing to help each other.
3 Lessons James Learned From His Extensive Career
The first lesson has to do with branding and naming your company. James said, “I was in a company where we had brand recognition and the equity in a company name, and we changed it to a new name that was an invented name. No one knew it, and it took five years for the company to rebuild its brand equity. Five years! It was a mistake. Oftentimes when companies acquire or merge with other companies, they think this is a good time to state that no one’s a winner or a loser, so they come up with a new name or try to get rid of a name that’s dated or something like that. But if you’ve got brand equity in it, it’s something you need to think twice about and not play with unless the company you’re acquiring has a brand that is stronger than yours. What I learned is that you never mess with names without thinking through all the consequences”.
The second lesson is centered around the people within your organization. James said, “when you go through acquisitions, never assume that the roles and titles of the other company are the same as they are in your company. This is a mistake I made once, and I lost some very good people because of it. When we acquired this other company, I just assumed that the people with the same title had the same role. But they had completely different roles, very strategic roles. And rather than getting to understand that, I just made some assumptions. And that was bad. So always look at people and individuals during a merge and learn what they do and what they’re responsible for. Never take their title as a guideline. If you’re going to be acquiring a business, it would be helpful to know ‘ so I’ve got this person in this seat with this title, what are their actual responsibilities? What’s their level of skills?’ Don’t just assume your company and the new company operates the same”.
The third lesson revolves around lead generation and how to get short- and long-term results. James says, “one of the biggest challenges I’ve been faced with, and I am still faced with everywhere I go today, is lead generation. I approach every company similarly to try and jumpstart their lead generation funnel. I focus everything on short- to medium-term lead generation to start, and there’s a lot of obvious things you can do to build that early pipe. But if you focus solely on that, and this is something that I fill out myself through experiences, it will plateau out eventually because you’re doing nothing to invest in longer-term results. If you solely focus on that hardcore, initial lead gen, it’s great initially, but it’s going to plateau out because there are diminishing returns over time. You need to take a step back and make sure when you’re starting to build a company that you think of both the short-term and long-term.
Making a Good First Impression with Marketing-Led Growth
The importance of marketing for an organization, especially for a sales organization, is that it’s the first impression a customer has of your company. Marketing-led growth strategies rely on that and help you capitalize on it to make sure that your customer’s journey, from the first touch to signing on the dotted line, is memorable and impactful.
Want to learn more on the subject? Listen to our full podcast conversation here for a more in-depth look into how switching to a product-led sales model can be the driving force for acquiring, retaining, and growing your customer base. If you want to catch up on our previous episodes, you can do so here or on your favorite podcast app.