As Delta Dental of Tennessee’s VP of Brand Strategy, Missy Acosta oversees all internal and external communication of Tennessee’s largest dental benefits carrier.
She started her career in Nashville’s illustrious music industry, learning quickly how marketing of a recording artist’s image directly affected the artist’s sales. In 2006, she became Director of Marketing at Delta Dental. Over the years, healthcare policy, the consumerism of healthcare and increased competition all created a greater need for more strategic integrated marketing. It became important that sales and marketing work together.
We caught up with her to get her thoughts on how marketing and sales teams can pick up the same song book and harmonize together.
What is alignment of marketing and sales?
Marketing and sales alignment is the understanding of what each function does effectively and how they can work together to grow an organization.
The topic has intrigued me ever since I attended a sales and marketing conference with our sales manager. We heard: “You’re in sales and you’re in marketing, but you both actually talk to each other?” We felt like the unicorns in the room because many other teams literally did not communicate at the conference or at their office. We set out to understand what we did differently.
What happens when sales and marketing are not aligned?
When sales and marketing are aligned, research shows a 67% improvement in closing rates and 38% increase in win rates. Companies with alignment average 32% annual growth, while those without average a 7% decline.
There are soft costs to company culture as well. If one department works hard, but performance is down in the other, it can be demotivating. If marketing works to develop leads but sales doesn’t follow up, it can create friction
What is marketing as a servant leader?
Servant leadership is putting the needs of the company and others before your own. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins identifies humility and character as the characteristics that effective leaders possess. These leaders show a willingness to put the greater good of their company before their own needs.
In marketing, it is understanding what is important for company growth as opposed to just department quotas. It is about becoming a strategic partner with sales. When our sales team asked us to create a new dental plan benefits flier, we saw it as an opportunity to launch the benefits as a new product. Rather than just create a single collateral, we developed a full-fledged product launch with multiple touch points, multiple emails, collateral for both clients and brokers, B2B digital advertising and more. By year end, over 40% of new and renewing clients had opted into the benefits.
What can marketing do to learn the “language” of sales?
We must understand what’s being said in order to translate it to everyday terms. The best way to start learning is to spend time with sales and not be afraid to ask questions. In Patrick Lencioni’s Getting Naked, he explains that it’s OK to ask naïve questions. In questioning we uncover insights that lead to more powerful messaging.
How does a company help the sales department understand the marketing department’s role?
When I started at Delta Dental, I inserted myself into the sales department. I wanted to approach it from the perspective of creating an agency within the company. Today we have a marketing team that has that same access. We attend sales meetings and frequently present in those meetings too. We sometimes plan those meetings with the sales department.
It is important that the CEO buys into the concept and that both sales and marketing leadership implement the change necessary to bring the two areas together.
What’s the best piece of advice you can offer today?
Get to know your sales team. Go on sales calls and to lunch with them. Sit in on their department meetings.Listen for their pain points and come back with ideas for resolving those pains. Become their strategic partner, not their order taker.