Engineering Great Marketing Outcomes: Insights from Ilya Mirman
Recently I spoke with Ilya Mirman, a highly respected expert in marketing and BizOps with a background in Mechanical Engineering. Calling upon his operational mindset and vast experience as VP of Marketing for numerous startups — including Onshape and Drift — Ilya shares his recommendations and insights for effective marketing operations and more.
Q. For some, marketing effectiveness is about MQLs. What prejudice have you encountered when it comes to marketing-scored leads? How have you addressed it?
A. Unless scoring is done in an objective, consistent, bi-directional way, the prejudice is justified. If marketing is trying to get credit for something associated with leads, it’s logical to think they may inflate the value of leads. Plus, if marketing uses different criteria than sales for prioritizing leads, lead scoring will break down. Marketing needs to get feedback from the sales team and define the scoring criteria with them. This is the process that I think is a best practice:
First, find out if improving lead scoring would even change the way sales prioritizes leads. If the answer is no, then don’t waste your time. Sales reps usually have a good sense for segmenting A leads from B leads, and if that’s the case in your organization, lead scoring might not be a priority.
Then, if it does make sense to pursue, iterate with sales to identify the handful of factors that correlate to the likelihood of someone making a purchase. It depends on your business model and product, but it’s important to monitor signals to determine interest in your product and fit. Once you’ve pinpointed those, then gauge their relative impact. For example, someone who visits your pricing page is 2 or 3 times more likely to buy than someone who doesn’t. Or if you offer a trial or freemium, someone who uses that product 3 days in a row might be 10 times more likely to buy. Once you understand the relative importance of the right factors, review the data with sales to gain their agreement. And if you can use the new scoring to help sales better prioritize the leads they’re currently handling, that’s your first win.
Q. What mistakes do you see companies make in pursuing account-based marketing? What is the ideal marketing ops tech stack from an account-based perspective?
A. If your sales process is fairly simple and the buying cycle doesn’t involve many people — even if it’s 2-3 people in the same department — you really don’t need ABM. It’s a different situation when 3, 4, 5 or more people are involved in a sale. They might be working in different locations, might have different levels of seniority, might be interested at different levels, might be trying different things, might care about different problems, and may have different budgets. How your company engages all these stakeholders is very important. That’s when you need ABM, so sales and marketing have a full view of who their company is engaging and how, and what has worked well in the past to engage these types of people in this type of account.
The first step before putting any ABM technologies into place is embracing the mindset of achieving a holistic view of accounts. Companies need to commit to engaging more holistically, personally and relevantly as an organization rather than in a siloed, mass-outreach manner. It’s also important for sales and marketing to agree that they will treat targeted accounts differently from all other leads at the top of the funnel.
Next, they need a clear view into all inbound and outbound leads in the sales system of record. From there, it’s essential to connect that to the marketing system so everyone has that consistent view and can coordinate their efforts when engaging people within targeted accounts.
You then want to enrich the data you’ve already collected about your accounts. This could give you a view into the organizational structure of the account and more detail about each stakeholder. Combining this extra data with your inbound lead data can make it possible to see the stakeholders who are responding to your outreach and consuming your content. That positions you to get more personalized and relevant with your engagement efforts.
Once everyone has agreed to this, you’ve now got requirements in hand to identify the technologies that will support this approach.
Q. One trend is about a combined “smarketing” or growth organization, with sales and marketing operating as one team. Does this work, or is it still appropriate for them to be separate and managed by different leaders? And what’s the right relationship between marketing operations and sales operations?
A. It’s best to have one BizOps team that thinks cross-functionally, wherever it resides. Depending on the company, the product and the go-to-market approach, you could have one team responsible for both marketing and sales, or it could also include customer success. You want the entire customer journey to be relatively seamless for the customer, and that takes one data machine, not three independent sets of data, activities and processes. You don’t want silos, with marketing ops doing one thing and sales ops doing another; that only leads to friction and problems. At the end of the day, you want the confidence that one team owns all the data related to leads and customers.
In cases of heavier-touch enterprise sales, a more siloed approach can still work. It’s tough to scale a high-touch environment, even with a hundred people in marketing, sales and customer success.
Q. When it comes to setting up marketing ops independent of BizOps, how do you distribute responsibilities?
A. It depends on the company’s go-to-market approach, but generally, the categories fall under product, community and lead gen/content. You might use something like a free, useful tool to drive leads, like HubSpot does with its Website Grader. In that case, you need people on the team that can actually develop that tool, like a product developer. Some companies find that it pays to cultivate relationships with their community of prospects and customers. I’m not talking about going to trade shows and expensive events like that. In many cases, it’s far more effective to host smaller audiences, so maybe 50 or 100 people at a meetup, or even more intimate executive dinners, roundtables, executive breakfasts and the like.
Also, depending on who is handling BizOps, a company might need a marketing operations person who knows how to integrate systems across marketing, sales and customer success. Then there is what I call a sales enablement/product marketing kind of skill set. You’ve generated the leads and your systems are all connected. Now you need all that content to support prospects as they move from one stage to the next. You need everything from thought leadership and case studies to comparative guides, and so on.
It’s a matter of figuring out what model works best for your company so you can staff your marketing ops team accordingly.
Q. We’ve talked about ABM and smarketing/growth teams. What other trends are impacting BizOps these days?
A. Businesses used to be able to get away without good clean data and systems united across marketing, sales and customer success. Now it’s turning into a core competency and standard to have these in place. Without this, a company is going to be in trouble.
In the past 10 years or so, it’s gotten much easier to access useful data without doing a ton of gymnastics in custom work. So, it doesn’t take advanced skills to make this happen. With these integrated systems in place and access to clean data, companies better understand what’s working and what’s not so they can decide what to stop pursuing and which activities and investments to prioritize.
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Steph served as Rekener’s Community Manager and CMO. A Rekener co-founder, she was previously Senior Director of Marketing at CCC, a $300M+ recurring revenue business, and served in marketing leadership roles at Vertical, @stake, Informio, DotContent and Meridian. Her first recurring revenue role was as an inside sales rep selling real-time stock pricing subscriptions.
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