The Sales Soundcheck Podcast

Bridging the divide between sales & marketing with Alice de Courcy @ Cognism

In this episode of the Soundcheck we have Alice de Courcy the group CMO at Cognism and author of The Diary of a First Time CMO on the mic.

Rory Sadler
October 19, 2023
February 24, 2024
In this episode of the Soundcheck we have Alice de Courcy the group CMO at Cognism and author of The Diary of a First Time CMO on the mic.
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In this episode of the Soundcheck we have Alice de Courcy the group CMO at Cognism and author of The Diary of a First Time CMO on the mic.

We'll be discussing…

  • The importance of collaboration between sales and marketing
  • Aligning sales and marketing with common goals and tackling challenges that come up when teams aren't on the same page
  • Practical tips to enhance communication between the two teams
  • Leveraging experts and measuring the success of a campaign

Alice also shares the steps Cognism took to get their sales and marketing teams working together like a well-oiled machine and moving in the same direction.

Where to find Alice:

⁠Linkedin⁠

⁠Check out Cognism⁠

trumpet in the wild:

⁠Linkedin⁠

⁠Twitter⁠

⁠Youtube⁠

⁠Tiktok

Full Episode Transcript:

Rory:

Rory here, co-founder, CEO of Trumpet. I am delighted to be joined by Alice, Cognism, on this very important topic of the shift that we're seeing in collaboration between sales and marketing teams. But I'm not going to do an introduction for you because I won't do a good enough job of it. Alice, over to you.

Alice:

Yeah, hi. Really happy to be here. I'm Alice de Courcy, the CMO at Cognism. We’re a B2B contact data provider. Love talking about all things sales and marketing. So yeah, this is right off my street. Looking forward to getting started.

Rory:

Brilliant. Well, it's great to have you here. So the first topic that I want to kick off with is how would you define the current state of collaboration between sales and marketing departments in most companies? Because I personally feel like there's been a shift.

Traditionally there was lots of lead gen, now there's demand gen, and we're seeing an increase in collaboration. But how would you define it?

Alice:

Yeah, and I think when I was sort of thinking about this question, it does really depend on the way the marketing org is being measured ultimately as to what you're going to find within an organization in terms of marketing and sales alignment and also slightly what purpose marketing is viewed as within that organization. I think the two go really closely together.

So if the marketing team is measured on MQLs, while sales are focused on revenue, you are for sure going to have a whole load of misalignment from the start. It basically means that marketing can hit quota in a month and a quarter while sales are not hitting their targets and then that's when all of the finger pointing starts and lack of collaboration and mass inefficiency.

So I think that's like one state. But then, as you kind of alluded to, there is definitely this shift now and understanding that these sort of low-intent MQLs where we were running these lead generation plays as a marketing organization in order to generate—I guess almost to hack the model. Like, give us a target and we'll go out there and we'll get it and we can probably do it really well. So I suppose marketing got really good at doing that when it came to MQLs. But then it became pretty apparent that actually when it comes to these types of low-intent leads to actually generate meaningful business for the organization and keep us like closely aligned to sales, the answer is most definitely not.

And then there's definitely been a shift from buyers as well away from wanting to be like artificially pushed through a funnel just because they've downloaded a piece of content; they also don't really want to consume content in that way. So marketing have had to work out how to do things better, differently, which ultimately has led to more alignment with sales. So as an example at Cognism, we used to run a full-fledged lead generation play. I would say we were probably one of the best in the business at it.

We could generate thousands and thousands of MQLs in a month and we had a great playbook on the SDR side. But then recently we've shifted completely to demand gen first approach where we're only focused on bringing in high-intent demo requests, people who actually want to talk to our sales team about our product and service. And it's definitely led to a far healthier relationship with our sales organization as a result. It means that my targets and destiny is closely aligned to that other sales team. We end up collaborating and working on projects like much more effectively as well, just because the necessity of it and the way that we're doing marketing today. So I'd say that shift is happening.

I would say I still think there's a bit of an echo chamber around it and it might feel like on LinkedIn that's happening everywhere. But I think I'd say it's still the minority of companies that are doing that and you'd probably still have the majority and definitely large enterprises still running that probably more traditional MQL lead generation play and they probably do still suffer from the misalignment that causes.

Rory:

Definitely, I think we're seeing it in sales alone, the shift away from spray and pray. It's not just a numbers game anymore; it's all about quality, it's not about quantity.

So it's interesting to hear that's also been happening in marketing. And you mentioned there that buyers don't want to download gated content anymore. It's not how they want to learn about businesses. How do they want to learn about businesses?

Alice:

Yeah, so every buyer is ultimately going to be different—or even every person within every sort of buyer ICP will probably be slightly different in how they want to engage with your content.

So the main thing to be thinking about is, how can I offer my content in an always-on friction-free motion that's easy to consume in the channels that the majority of my ICP are engaging with? You've got to figure that out. And so that actually comes with quite a lot of complexity, quite a lot more onus on the types of content, the variation of content that you need to produce in order to do that effectively.

So rather than a 50-page PDF e-book, we're talking about actually you releasing something which might be in an online asset format, which is, multiple short form videos which can be hosted on YouTube, also on Spotify; you can create an audio version of that. You can be creating smaller snippets for organic socials. You can also deliver that content through newsletter format.

It's just having to really diversify the way in which that content is going to be engaged and consumed with and understanding that people are all different and will engage with it in different ways. So you're only going to enhance your chance to success by kind of increasing the output and the types of ways in which you are producing that content. You can't just do a standard landing page form and then link through to a static PDF download anymore. It's not going to cut the mustard.

Rory:

Yeah, those days are gone. But on that note, you've done a brilliant job launching The Blueprint. Want to share more information about where that idea originated from and how you've kind of thought about, I guess, distributing it; and the format of it as well because I've been sharing it with everyone. I think it's brilliant. But I'd love to hear how that came about.

Alice:

Yeah, so this whole idea of doing content in a different way, there's quite—I guess this might be going into way too much detail here, but doing content in a different way and trying to come up with engaging formats and sort of big rock items that we can distribute in multiple places and in multiple formats, is great. But then, on top of that, you also need to have a process by which you ideate and you deliver consistently high quality content. And so The Blueprint is part of a wider project that we've been executing at Cognism to operationalize a process around how we deliver this kind of content consistently to our audience. And that's called The Easy Mode Framework.

If you are interested in understanding a bit more about that, then check out Todd Clouser and Obaid. They are like the founders of The Easy Mode Framework and we worked with them really closely to kind of get to grips with what that means. But essentially we've worked to build and define a narrative that we want to talk to our audience about; so our sales audiences about. And then from that narrative we come up with key topics or pillars that we want to speak about. And then from there is how we actually build out larger content assets.

Then we'll get distilled into multiple formats across multiple platforms. And that way it keeps us—like, we do that one big piece of work and ideation; we do it once a year but you could do it twice yearly. And then from there, you kind of have—not unlimited ideas, but you've done the big legwork when it comes to what's next because I think a lot of times it can just become very ad hoc, very like off the cuff and there's no predictability towards it.

The blueprint was firmly a part of like our narrative that we want to talk about, which is that the way in which buyers buy today has changed—and we've touched on that already—and we wanted to showcase how that actually happens in reality, partly by looking at like the Cognism growth journey and the things that have led to our success as a sales organization. And we know that something that works really well from a content perspective is leaning heavily on subject matter experts and subject matter experts across other companies and utilizing them within a larger content asset; it’s always helpful from a distribution perspective.

So that's really how these larger assets come to life. And then in terms of distribution of it, you just look at all of our main channels, so whether they be paid or organic, and we are trying to dissect it into as many different formats as well as possible. We're not trying to second guess how people want to consume it; we want to deliver it in as many ways as we possibly can. And then really the way in which we're measuring success from that is, how is it all getting engaged with and how is it influencing revenue ultimately, which we're able to measure through really great tool called HockeyStack, which gives us a lot of insight into this sort of darker side of social, the darker side of this content marketing.

A lot of people kind of push back on not gating content because they think we'll never be able to understand—and traditionally that blueprint's massive content asset, would've stood behind a gated paywall so that people could say we had 5,000 downloads of it. We obviously don't have that data to go and share, but what we do have is unique views of that asset—watches of the video.

On the paid side we can say impressions and engagement with each of the ads and how that's led or contributed to pipeline and revenue. So it's just a whole different way, I guess, of approaching something. I've got into loads of detail there, so maybe too much.

Rory:

No, it is really interesting, I think, for lots of people to hear. And I think you touched on an interesting topic there of leaning on third parties when it comes to content, whether they're customers, industry experts or social proof as well.

So I've read an interesting stat from Gartner that buyers are 1.4 times more likely to interact and engage with content when it's someone that's outside of the company. So again, case studies and things like that. So it's interesting to see how you kind of embrace that for The Blueprint.

And then once you've created something as comprehensive as The Blueprint, how do you educate sales to start then using it in their journey as well? Is it something that they're currently doing? And is that primarily on socials?

Alice:

Yeah and I think a big thing about that is—and it comes back to, like, with sales and with aligning ourselves with sales—what's in it for them? It's not super exciting for them when we say, oh we've got this big launch, we're going to get tons of engagement, we think it's a great content asset; until they really understand like what's in it for them.

So what we've done actually is we've been able to sort of showcase some of the journeys that our biggest deals or biggest pipeline accounts have come in through, and the number of touch points and the types of engagement and the number of contacts at those accounts that it takes in order for us to actually end up winning that deal. And so what we do is we have these weekly calls with sales and we'll sort of use that opportunity to, again, drive home the fact that if you want to engage an account, we all know we need to multithread, we all know we need to have multiple contacts engaged within that account, and then we show the case to them the types of assets that these accounts that are successfully converting are engaging with.

And that will be things like The Blueprint or previous big rocks that we've produced in the past. And that really drives home the value for them of what's in it for us, for actually using this in our outreach or using this to help educate the market through their own LinkedIn, organic, et cetera. And we find that just works so much better. It's like sort of dangling the carrot of, want that big commission check?

This is how we've actually managed to make that happen for others and this is how you can kind of do the same and utilize all this work that we've been doing in order to help you hit that goal.

Rory:

Nice. It feels like collaboration between sales and marketing at Cognism is doing pretty well and I feel like you've had a shift over the years from primarily lead gen to more demand gen and that's across the whole business and it's working brilliantly.

So what would you say are the common problems that surface when collaboration isn't happening between marketing and sales teams, when they're not on the same page?

Alice:

Yeah. There's obviously loads of things to unpack there, but I think ultimately what it comes down to is just inefficiency and that's going to be inefficiency across a whole array of aspects on the go-to-market motion.

So ultimately in order to ensure that sales and marketing are this efficient tight-knit engine working towards the same goal, they need to share the same destiny, just how we as humans are sort of made to operate. What is measured gets improved ultimately, and that's been proven time and time again. And so in order for sales and marketing to stay closely aligned, I really strongly believe it comes back—it just ultimately has to tie down to the goals, and they have to be shared.

And the other thing I would say that's really important—and we've always done both from the very start; I was at Cognism when we were probably like 20 or 30 people; we were all in one office—was that we really both respect the other’s, I guess, specialty, and the importance that brings to the revenue organization. So we actually have a motto put in Cognism's marketing team, which is that, we literally exist to make sales easy. And there's a lot that is unpacked into that, but that is our reason for being.

And then on the sales side of things, the way in which they kind of showcase, I guess, the respect for the marketing organization is, from day one we've always been very clear that any leads that come from marketing that are inbound demo requests could be treated with the golden glove.

They are like the absolute nirvana. And I think by having that lens working both ways, it means that we have a shared mutual respect for each other. And also on top of that our destinies are completely aligned.

So no one's getting credit unless we're both being successful. Both of our problems are always shared and so we'll always put our heads together on a way to tackle them. Whether we were running lead gem plays to drive revenue, or whether we're now running demand gem plays to drive revenue, that has always kept us aligned. So I think that's probably the biggest thing.

Rory:

Interesting. So it sounds like you've navigated this shift very well at Cognism and it feels like the leads that you're now bringing in, the conversations you're having are around more of a project rather than a conversation

And what I mean by that, it was a term we were introduced recently in sales. It's easy to get happier and think just because someone likes the product or you know they've replied to an email, there is an opportunity; but is there actually a project there?

Are they looking to address a pain point? And with this shift that you've gone through, it feels like you folks are more high quality leads. High quality, therefore meaning there's more chance of it being a project rather than just a conversation.

So I’m just interested in checking it out. How do you go about getting those kinds of qualified leads in rather than just the volume which was happening before?

Alice:

Yeah. It's ultimately like what we call. It is low-intent versus high-intent. So in the old world where we were running lead generation plays, we would have a mixed bag of leads which were both those people coming in requesting a demonstration of Cognism.

Their expected behavior was that they wanted to have a sales call, they wanted to have a demo, they wanted to see how Cognism worked and they had a need to buy. And then at the same time we also had these other people who were just had interested in content and topics that we had been putting out there to educate the audience but they probably had an absolutely zero intent to buy, no active project.

They were just interested in the topic, say, of cold calling and how they could improve their cold calling for their organization. So when you have that mixed bag, you can see it very clearly there's the low-intent and the high-intent. And stuff becomes actually a lot easier and a lot clearer when you say, we don't want any low-intent, all we're focused on is doubling down on our high-intent.

And then when you look at the numbers and you run the analytics as well and you split the funnel in that way, you'll see that the conversion rates are hugely different between the two across the funnel. One is super inefficient; one is very efficient, like, short sales cycles, higher ICP, and just ultimately far better. The business is much more like higher win rates and more likely to turn into revenue.

And so you need far less of the high-intent in order to bridge the gap that you were getting from the low-intent because you were probably ultimately generating very little revenue from them even though you're having a lot of conversations. So understanding that and the mass behind it is really important, firstly because then that gives you, I guess, the building blocks for what you need to go and achieve in order to bridge the gap that you are leaving behind from having these low-intent leads filling the funnel.

And now what we do, which is that we run all of our content—we basically split our content into four buckets, which is content: Which is stuff that we talk about to our audience which has a do like a dotted line back into our product or service. So an example of a content topic that we might talk about is account based marketing or intent data and how to optimize intent data within your sales and marketing motions.

Then we have a thought leadership bucket. This is stuff which we know have interest, it's timely and it's things that will excite and engage our audience today. And then we have a product bucket. This is like the most underutilized bucket. And I think the thing that probably a lot of people who are stuck in that lead gen world, we were similarly guilty of; we don't put enough focus on. It’s all of the product messaging value proposition.

How can this product or service actually help your ICP in their day-to-day jobs and roles? And then we have a social proof bucket, which is all the good stuff we're talking about, which is kind of third party validated, like, why should I care, trust and believe in stuff that you're saying.

So all of these buckets we have and we fill them with content and they're all bespoke to our ICP and we break that ICP down into segment as well and they run always on, all the time, friction-free to everyone and they run across multiple formats so that we can engage people in the ways they want to be engaged with and on multiple platforms, so on the platforms that they want to engage on.

And so that's how we are able to generate more of those high-intent demo requests than we would've been able to previously because before, all that ad spend that we now have on this ungated call bucket, always on play, was having to be driven into driving leads and downloads of gated content assets. And now we freed up all that spend to just continually be educating the market. And that's how we've managed to scale the number of high-intent demo requests at Cognism.

There's a lot more to it and I'll give a small plug for it if people are really interested in how we actually execute on that on a day-to-day basis. We've recently launched, which is another big rock, a demand gen course. It's free, completely. Access it as you like on the Cognism website, and it goes through all of this in a lot more detail. I'm probably going to be able to cover on this.

Rory:

Awesome. I'll make sure to shout out the team. And this is pure curiosity. When you ideated on these strategies—because they're big bets, and they're kind of bold moves. Were there any people, companies or anyone that you looked up to for inspirational to learn from?

Or was this purely like looking intrinsically at how we currently do things, and this is our decision and how we want to grow as a company?

Alice:

Yeah, so it's really interesting and I talk about this a lot with my team. No idea is any good unless it's executed. But at the time—I mean, there’s still now, there's a lot of talk about this whole shift from lead gen to demand gen and there are some evangelists out there like Refine Labs for example, being the first to kind of step the pathway of, this is how you should be doing things today.

Now the problem with all of that was there was no playbook. Refine Labs are a marketing agency so you can understand why they were driving home that narrative in order to generate new business for themselves and then to actually go and work with these clients to help them execute that payback. And we did work with them for a small period of time but the most successful thing that we did was just to figure out for ourselves.

So we actually locked ourselves away in a room for three days and we listened to all of the theoretical evangelism that was out there and just tried to get our heads into the way of thinking of how to do things differently.

And then we just applied what we know about our audience and, I guess, our best bets in terms of how we were going to go about executing it. And then from there we have just developed and matured the playbook every month, every quarter, every year. It's been about probably coming up to two years that we've kind of been executing this way. And we learn as we go and we mature and develop the playbook as we go, but it's very much our own in-house-built playbook.

And again, it comes back to—I think people can listen to a lot of this stuff, podcasts and everything else that's out there, but unless you actually take that information, apply it to your business in a way that you're actually going to execute on, learn from, and then develop, then there's actually limited value in it. So that's how we approached it.

Rory:

It's like a band locking themselves away in a studio to record their album.

Alice:

Yeah, very similar.

Rory:

The band of stars. Love it. And when you were coming up with that playbook, was there any change in how you were collaborating, engaging, spending time with sales that was like purposeful?

Alice:

Yeah. I think this was quite the interesting thing because I was like, I've got this really good plan now and now I just need to go and get all the buy-in from the execs and the stakeholders. And actually getting the buy-in from sales is probably the easiest thing because what I was saying to them was I'm going to make life so much easier for you when it comes to managing your team, because it's difficult for a sales manager when you've got reps who are both doing some form of low-intent marketing generated requests, some very high-intent demo requests and then also outbound. It can be difficult to understand why in a month they don't hit target.

Much easier to measure someone who is just purely focused on outbound and also therefore you can also point them in like the direction of the highest value accounts, the ones that are hardest to penetrate that do need that human touch. And then I use data to kind of back this up in terms of the amount of time that they were losing, these reps doing the follow up on these low-intent leads, and ultimately for what that was driving, which was limited revenue; they might be getting meetings so we might actually be paying them out but we're not actually generating revenue back into the business. So that conversation was actually fairly easy, and sales bought into it pretty quickly.

And then I guess one great thing that came out of it was that we had this dedicated role in the sales organization, because we're saying, we're not going to have the volume we had before, because we would have 6,000, 7,000 leads to get through in a month before, because it was a mixture of low and high-intent so we needed to round robin across the whole office SDR organization; we're going to have like half that volume, but they're all going to be super high-intent and they need to have absolute laser focused and they need to be followed up with impeccably because they are asking for a demonstration of Cognism.

They’re our highest intent needs. And so we carved out a role which we call marketing development rep at Cognism, which was solely focused on dealing with that kind of demand. And that again was an absolute game changer because it increased our conversion rates on those inbounds. When you looked at inbounds that were being round robin across the team beforehand versus inbounds that are just being followed up on from a dedicated rep. We're talking like 2X increase in conversion rates now because we have focus.

These reps are also the some of the best performing reps we put in those seats as well. And then that's a role that really ties marketing and sales again really closely together. I don't manage the manager of that MDR organization but I have weekly calls with them.

I am completely invested in them being happy, those reps being happy, the lead quality being good or anything that we can learn in terms of process or process optimization to increase conversion rates. And so that was another tactic that kind of brought us closer together when we made that shift as well.

Rory:

Brilliant. And then you know in your role as CMO you probably bought a fair bit of software and you've been on the other side of this buying journey. Were any of these decisions inspired by great buying journeys that you've been on? Or also maybe poor buying journeys that you've been on?

Alice:

I would say poor. I've not had a great buying journey. I'd say it's only bad buyer journeys and I think just resonating with me that it's a terrible way to buy software and it's not a good experience and it's not how I'd want it to happen.

And just thinking about all the things that I would've liked to have had happen in a journey that didn't happen to me. And then we're just always trying to optimize and improve on that; and some things we can get pretty far on and some things were we're slightly, I'd say we're still, we haven't managed to make as much progress on this.

I think someone did some research the other day, that was really interesting. They went out and basically requested demos of 20 different software providers and they were measuring the time from demo requests to outreach from that organization and I think the average, it ended up being, it was somewhere between 24 and 48 hours, which is crazy to me. But it was this type of stuff which I was just like, there is a better way.

If we can improve on these types of things and this type of experience, then I think just alone, that's a competitive advantage if nothing else.

Rory:

Yeah, I think we're definitely seeing that in the market in your space. You guys are killing it. And just wanted to have this conversation dig deeper onto what you guys have been doing at Cognism.

But I guess last question to wrap things up. Are there any kind of like actionable tips or recommendations that you would give to anyone listening who feels that their teams are quite siloed? And a starting point to bring them together?

And I know you mentioned at the start, it depends what they're measured on and things like that, but beyond that, how would you sort of make a start on increasing that collaboration?

Alice:

Yeah, I've got a few. One thing that we actually did at Cognism, which also helped us really realize that there was a better way outside of lead gen was we walked a day in their shoes. So they basically do these cold calling bits sometimes in the office and Dave who heads up the SDR team came over and was like, would you be up for marketing getting involved?

I was like, yeah, why not? We'll call some of these leads that we're sending your way and see what the response is like. And so for a day, it didn't matter what role you had in marketing, you were calling these leads that we'd been passing on to sales.

It was a really interesting exercise and it gave us a lot of respect for the sales team, and made us really question and think about the way, the tactics and the things that we were doing as well. And I think ultimately we probably garnered a bit more respect from the sales org for doing that too. And so I'd say that's one thing you could do.

Also, it helps anyway just talking to your customers, listening to the way in which they speak, the sort of language they use; you can pick up a whole load of things that will really help you in your messaging. So I'd say doing that on a regular basis has probably got a lot of value. And then the other thing is over communication.

So we think of sales as actually our customer. Like I said—we go back to, our job is to make sales easy. So if sales is our customer, we need to know them really well. And yes, not to be confused with the fact that Cognism also sells to salespeople.

This would be the case if we sold financed PFOs. Sales within our organization would be our customer and we would want to know them, how they speak, what are their pain points, how can we help them and get ahead of that before they start coming to us with requests. Because if you're ever on the back foot with sales and you just become an order taker, that's when you are in a really bad position.

So think of them as your customer, get ahead of it, understand pain points and start speaking their language.

Also communicate ahead of time what your plan is for hitting the number and for helping them. So we have these weekly calls with sales, but make sure that you are always framing things in what is in it for them.

These are salespeople and they're money motivated, that's why they're in the role, in the job. You can never say something too many times, and you also need to make sure you are saying it in a language that they're going to care about. And then I'd also say, a big thing that's been really key for us in terms of collaboration is taking on a joint project.

This is much easier to do when your destinies and your goals are aligned, but even if they aren't, I'm sure you can still find ways in which to do that. So things like for us, we've had this whole idea of directly routing the best sort of high-intent inbounds that come into AEs, and what does that experience look like? What's the technology behind that? What's the process measuring the impact, rolling it out?

That's been a great initiative for us to work on with our sales organization. And then also account-based marketing pilots; so that's another great thing to really get the two teams collaborating on and working together.

So I think finding a project that you can collaborate with sales on, where you can really get that buyer in and showcase the value that marketing can bring or vice versa, is definitely another way to help bridge that gap.

Rory:

Thank you so much for all of those insights. I've learned a ton.

I've made a hell of a lot of notes and I'm going to be sharing straight away because I think there's some stuff that we can go ahead and use. So cannot wait to share this blog. But Alice, thank you again for joining us today.

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