In the last 10 years, the variety of technology that’s been made available to B2B marketers has been incredible. It’s allowed us to gather greater insight into prospect engagement and buyer behavior, better understand how, why, and where purchasing decisions are made, and pass more qualified leads on to our sales counterparts.

Yet, even with all of that development, sales and marketing technology still falls woefully short in some areas.

To bring some ground-level perspective to the table, I reached out to Jessica Cross, the Director of Marketing for Fliptop, a San Francisco-based predictive lead scoring solution. In the interest of full disclosure, Jessica worked for me as a marketing coordinator when I was the VP of Marketing for PowerReviews in 2011/2012. Since then, she’s become an expert B2B data-driven marketer (and a multi-time Marketo and Salesforce user).

Simply put, if anyone understands the pain points that modern data-driven marketers face in designing and executing campaigns, it’s Jessica. So, without further ado, here’s a transcript of our conversation.

Nadim: How has data-driven marketing evolved and why does it continue to be a challenge?

Jessica: Honestly, the bevy of technology available to marketers has made our job both easier and harder as it’s changed a lot of the ways in which marketing teams handle their business. In many organizations, marketing is no longer viewed as a soft, fluffy branding team. Instead, our role is more concrete — it’s more closely tied to revenue and results, and we can use that technology to help accomplish those objectives.

The problem, however, is that even with the technology available today, it can still be incredibly difficult to tie all of the systems we use together — Marketo, Salesforce, etc. — to create a closed-loop system that clearly communicates results at the end of the quarter. Often times, things like attribution and forecasting don’t happen unless you have a person on your team dedicated to those operations.

Nadim: Specifically, what is Salesforce good (and bad) at?

Jessica: By the nature of its name, Salesforce is very good at managing the sales process and it’s an excellent tool for sales teams. When it comes to managing campaigns, content, and customer touchpoints, however, it’s not the best. Yes, it’s a good record holder and executives can easily produce reports that show how much money the company’s made. But it falls woefully short in helping marketers decide which campaign or product message you should send out next.

With Salesforce, it really boils down to your ability to input good, clean data into the system. If you have workflows and processes that ensure people insert the data you need to show results at the end of the month, it can be an incredibly powerful tool. But most businesses don’t have the capacity or capability to put those systems in place, and that can make building a clean report very difficult.

Nadim: What about Marketo? A lot of marketers rely on it as a critical campaign management tool, but are there certain aspects of it that could be improved?

Jessica: Marketo is a very powerful tool that is constantly releasing new technology to support modern marketers. It allows us to distribute webinars, emails, and social content, and it’s a particularly effective technology for nurturing prospects. But again, if you don’t have good systems or processes in place, then you end up with garbage reports.

To get the most out of the system, marketing teams need to sit down together and map out a prospect’s journey to becoming a customer, and model that in Marketo. It’s all about building the system the right way from the start so that you can generate the dashboards and reports that executives really want to see.

Nadim: What’s missing from modern marketing technology, and why do those shortcomings force marketers to rely on older technology like Excel spreadsheets and pivot tables?

Jessica: That’s the funny thing. Businesses spend so much money on Salesforce and Marketo, but at every company I’ve been at we still used Excel to build dashboards and reports to show the health of the company. The fact that it’s 2014 and we’re still using software that was released in the mid-1980s suggests that there are some things still missing from the marketing technology stack.

For instance, when my executive team at Fliptop wants to see a full waterfall of our marketing campaigns — how many website impressions we’ve driven, how many leads that’s yielded, how many of those leads turned into opportunities, and what our conversion rate is on those opportunities — I have to pull information from multiple systems and hope they translate. Often times, they don’t and that’s a big pain point.

Nadim: Obviously, that’s a big source of attribution difficulties, too.

Jessica: Yes, definitely. Typically, marketing has to beg, borrow, and steal to get things changed in Salesforce. We want the sales team to enter all sorts of info on opportunities so that we get credit for the sales we’re creating. Unfortunately, salespeople aren’t generally good at data entry. Data entry is not part of any sales person’s job description. So, that’s a constant struggle.

You could hire a Salesforce operations manager whose only job is to perfect those workflows and build systems inside of Salesforce, but that person would cost you $120,000+ per year. Most companies can’t afford that expense.

Nadim: Can you talk about some of the specific pain points that executives and board members face relative to the current state of sales and marketing technology?

Jessica: I think one of the biggest issues is generating the reports needed for quarterly board meetings. At most companies, it’s a fire drill the day before those meetings. Executives are scrambling to break down the pipeline and build forecasts, and board members are wondering whether the business is going to make its number. The problem, of course, is that reporting is difficult when you’re using tools that don’t speak the same language or communicate well with each other.

Ultimately, executives and board members want to show consistent numbers so that investors and stakeholders have confidence in the company’s direction. For execs to do that, however, they need to be able to show pipeline with some regularity and predictability, and share forecasts that illustrate historically accurate – and achievable – numbers.

Nadim: Where do you see sales and marketing technology going in the future?

Jessica: Thankfully, technology is already starting to sprout up that’s addressing these issues. The perfect tool will be one that makes it easier for sales and marketing teams to work collaboratively to track the customer lifecycle – from lead to customer – and identify the right buttons to push to drive revenue results.

Revenue isn’t just a sales responsibility anymore, so any technology that can help a business better understand the impact of their decisions on revenue is huge. That would certainly make the process of benchmarking performance and aligning marketing campaigns to revenue objectives much simpler. Consequently, it would also allow executives to generate more accurate and insightful forecasts and reports. And every function in the business – not just sales and marketing – would benefit from that.

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