Behind the Brilliance: How Smarsh Puts Sales and Marketing Alignment to Work to Win Challenging Enterprise Deals

Sales and Marketing at Smarsh don’t have it easy. They sell into large financial services companies, known to be some of the most demanding customers in the b2b market, and their sales cycles can continue for years. What does it take to win at the long game? Great sales and marketing alignment, of course! And that’s exactly what Brian Panicko, VP of Enterprise Sales and Katie Findling, Marketing Manager – Enterprise & EMEA ABM have delivered. We interviewed Katie and Brian to learn more about how they’ve made the partnership work and what it took to win the hearts and minds of sales to create great account engagement.

Brian, can you please tell us a little bit about what Smarsh does?

Brian: Smarsh believes in providing truth and transparency within business communications, and we help government organizations get ahead – and stay ahead – of the risk within their electronic communications. Agencies can reduce the burden and time required when responding to records requests and consolidate from multiple systems into a modernized, comprehensive retention and production solution. Capture, archiving and monitoring solutions extend across the industry’s widest breadth of channels, including email, social media, mobile/text messaging, instant messaging/collaboration, websites and voice.

As times have changed, so have the preferred methods of electronic business communication, from chat apps to social media to text messaging, and now a huge focus on collaboration platforms like Slack and Microsoft teams. Smarsh’s infrastructure can take in all these critical communication types in native form, to become that single pane of glass that all communications flow into from a compliance standpoint.

In the last 18 months, we’re seeing media companies, energy companies, and even cigarette companies who are implementing Electronic Information Archive systems. Gartner released a stat that just five percent of companies actually have an enterprise archive in place for their communications today, but by 2023 this is going to be nearly 50 percent of enterprise. There will be massive expansion into new market segments.

Brian, tell us a little about your background and how you got into your role at Smarsh today.

Brian: I’ve been in the Enterprise Sales role exclusively for just shy of 10 months. Upon joining Smarsh, I was working to grow our channel partner program and mobility solutions and platforms. Prior to joining Smarsh, I co-founded a software startup that was solving the need to encrypt messaging and voice communications.

I joined Smarsh just as the merger with larger competitor Actiance was finalizing. I knew both companies very fluently and was super excited to join. In a two-year period, we’ve been able to move into sitting alone at the top of the Gartner quadrant, and the market and industry have really embraced what we’ve done.

Katie, how did you get involved in Marketing and find your way to ABM?

I never meant to be a marketer, actually. Originally, I wanted to be a sports photojournalist, and fell into a job booking concerts, then ended up working at a boutique music agency in New York. They did a lot of tech and a lot of marketing and I really liked that part of it. Eventually I ended up at a cloud software company in the Bay Area, and over time I got bored with demand gen because it’s just “rinse and repeat” when something works. An ABM opportunity opened up for me in early 2016 and I’ve been doing ABM since then. I love that it’s different every day, all about strategy, being intelligent, being intentional. I finally get to use my psychology minor from college. It’s been a lot of fun.

Brian, tell us about some of your biggest goals for 2020.

2020 is all about FOCUS – no pun intended. We have some aggressive growth goals on the enterprise side, as expected. We’re a platform that captures over 80 different communication types, including Microsoft teams, Slack, email, text message, voice and more. Our revenue model is based on capturing more content channels per user. Our revenue success will be a direct result of booking growth from channel expansion and antiquated archive replacement within enterprise. At the same time, we’re marketing not just to our enterprise customers and building opportunities, but also maximizing our effectiveness within the midmarket.

Katie, can you tell us about your sales cycle?

For enterprise deals, we typically work with companies who have more than 10,001 employees. Deals can take from nine months to upwards of four years. We also have deals where partners are involved, so it can get even more complicated. As a marketer, it’s fun to figure out how to integrate across that kind of incredibly long sales cycle. We use the Miller Heiman sales methodology and did an analysis on their Blue Sheets (account planning tool). There are at least 22 different stakeholders on average for enterprise deals, and even from the small and medium business (SMB) and midmarket deals, the average is seven or eight. That’s just insane.

What role does marketing play in this sales cycle?

Katie: I joined to really kickstart and fuel an ABM engine at Smarsh for the enterprise and EMEA sales teams, so I’m directly aligned to about nine total right now. My goal is to create cross-channel, integrated, multi- omni- whatever- channel campaigns… whatever buzzwords you want to insert here! We want to make these intelligent from a personalized standpoint, so on a spectrum from 100% ABM to light touch ABM, I’d say we’re at 80 percent full ABM, but intentional at the same time, if that makes sense. Probably 95% of what I touch is existing customers, so velocity, expansion focus…not greenfield, so that makes it easier.

As a sales leader, Brian, how do you think sales and marketing should work together given the complexity of your deals, with a long sales cycle and a large number of stakeholders?

Brian: I hadn’t really been exposed to the power of sales and marketing working together as one family until connecting with ABM, and Katie leveraging tools like Engagio and adding sales development reps (SDRs). I come from old-school enterprise sales where reps did all the hunting and all the killing themselves – not able to depend on marketing’s contribution.

Putting programs together with Katie started with weekly calls with each of my enterprise reps and brand new SDR. We’re going through Engagio, seeing who is responding to different campaigns and how long they’re staying on particular pages. Before it was such a needle in a haystack. Now it’s a different world where you can engage more appropriately and use that to your competitive advantage. For example, if we’re fighting against a particular competitor, I can have Katie and her team target the anti-sponsor who lives within my world and market to them with reasons why we’re better than those competitors, just to get the friendly reminder out there. If I’d had this kind of insight 20 years ago, I’d be retired by now.

Katie, from your point of view, what did it take to create that partnership in your account journey?

When Brian came in, we had a great dynamic. Sometimes though, reps won’t jump on board. And sometimes it’s not that a rep won’t jump on board, they just need something to latch on to. A lot of what I do is translate. It takes being open to a lot of candor to make it work. Sometimes in marketing, we’re afraid to say or hear something that might not be politically correct, and things tend to come across super sterile as a result, or exclamation-point-heavy. I try to create an environment where reps can express any frustrations to me, where it’s a safe place to hammer things out and get them done.

Katie, how did you get started with ABM?

When I joined, there wasn’t the bandwidth to execute proper account-based marketing. The demand gen engine itself, though, wow.

So the rollouts before I joined were really just targeted demand gen, and honestly, even when interviewing I knew that’s what existed. In my first intro calls, I tried to preface with that, bring that right out into the open. And kind of shift into my philosophy and how I defined what ABM looks like and acts like in day-to-day collaboration with reps; the dynamics between SDR, rep, and myself – Three Musketeers, that kind of thing. I mean, listen – they’ve been selling to accounts for decades. Helping them understand where I’m coming from, and that the marketing team as a whole are investing, putting resources into helping them win was key.

Katie, how do you help sellers know what to expect from marketing?

Katie: When it comes to marketing, it can feel to sales a bit like we can do everything but the kitchen sink. People can only keep so much in their brain at one time. If you have a short list or menu of ideas and options they can pick from, that’s going to be scalable and easier to wrap minds around. Our menu starts with things like research around the who, what, where, when, and always the why of anything we’re doing with the account, then it gets to more complex options. It could be direct mail or outbound prospecting, like with Outreach or SalesLoft. To a degree, you’re trying to make it formulaic, and yet, not reactive. Find the balance of not cheesy or corny, but valuable. You have intent behind it and reasons to do it. I do try and stick to a couple focus areas at a time, and if reps have ideas outside of that, it’s a “yes, if” scenario – just making sure that time and energy investments are scalable and manageable.

Beyond that, expanding the scope of what they normally expect from marketing. If I’m going to say “let’s be a team, like the Three Musketeers,” we need to figure out how to get it done. I let them know I’ll get my hands dirty in the data, and then I follow through. All accounts and data tend to need at least a little cleanup before launching a campaign, and I also will go in and mine ZoomInfo or LinkedIn Sales Navigator or intent platforms. We also have the notion of no idea being a stupid idea. Just having random ideas such as in direct mail that work as a conversation starter. A lot of marketers do direct mail wrong, so the intent piece is huge here too. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Having that humility to learn on both sides, sales and marketing, is key. Be willing to truly become a partner.

What has worked well for marketing as you’ve developed your ABM program?

Katie: For me, the rep has to get their face in front of people, right? Any non-customer facing time is a waste of time, if somebody else could be helping do it for them. We look for ways to have sales enablement or marketing get them in front of people more often. For example, marketing is really good at research, so us doing that work is just being as efficient as possible. I can read a 10K or listen to earnings call transcripts and figure out what’s relevant and pull out insights.

My ultimate goal is for the sales team to be successful, and the minute sales gets in front of someone on a call or in person, I trust them to do what they do and do it well. But we have to make it easier for them to divide their brains. It’s psychology, right? You can’t jump from doing insight digging to crafting messaging to jumping on a call with a prospect. And if they’re not selling, we’re not feeding them what they need and they’re wasting time doing those other things. If we’re not getting them in front of customers and prospects, we’re failing. I might get some hate from other marketers for saying that, but it’s the truth.

How important is a value message in reaching your target audience? And how do you find insights?

Katie: You can’t send someone a cold email and talk about your company in the first sentence, like the constant inundation of “Hi, I’m XYZ, I work for blah blah and we do this and wanna schedule a call.” That’s all about you. The message has to be about the buyer and we need to catch their attention, and try to bring them something they maybe haven’t considered, or tell them what other people like them are thinking about. It can’t be something that someone can Google quickly to get that kind of value. The biggest thing to solve here is “what can I do to grab their attention that shows that I’ve done my homework?”

I spent time working at a sales training and enablement company that sold executive conversation workshops. These workshops basically taught the concept of “3×3 research.” It boils down to finding three insights in three minutes. For the record, it never takes me three minutes, it takes me at least 30 minutes. So the goal is to be intentional in your digging, and try to find the most relevant research as quickly as possible with as much value as possible. These are things like going into LinkedIn sales navigator with your account and focus areas, and seeing who’s changing jobs, or reading the shareholder letter at the beginning of an annual report, or going to the risk section of a 10K, or the question and answer session on earnings calls. They’re always super insightful. Just doing quick scrolls through them, figuring out your control-F phrases. I have a Feedly category entirely dedicated to Smarsh articles that I periodically mine for insights too.

Brian, what advice do you have for revenue leaders or sales leaders on this journey and who are having a hard time understanding the value of a stronger partnership with marketing?

Brian: Most enterprise sellers are used to doing things on their own in big-name accounts, and they fear that as other members of the team get involved, they could screw up their deal. It takes a huge level of trust to be involved in this. And very open communication. When we started looking at Engagio and having conversations where enterprise reps and SDRs said, “I saw that this guy downloaded these white papers assigned to your accounts. I’d like to call on that first,“ It was like the enterprise reps finally got it. We’ve changed that culture to where reps are comfortable having someone else who is intelligent and can carry on a conversation make the call. We’ve empowered the right people as SDRs and now we’re using them to their full potential and it’s amazing. I didn’t think it was going to have as dramatic an effect to get that trust, but it really has been.

How did you build that trust and make the culture change?

Brian: It’s all communication. That’s how we build the trust and the other programs. What sets our most successful sales reps apart is that they understand how to find solutions to the problems that customers have. They’re great listeners. Just because someone’s a good talker doesn’t make them a successful sales person. Having processes in place like Miller Heiman and Challenger takes selling to that basic level of fundamentals. Using those is how you succeed and get to those $750,000 or million dollar years as a sales rep. All of this ABM and SDR activity fits into that same category, and it’s a lifestyle. That’s what the best sales reps use.

How are you measuring the success of your ABM work? What impact does it have?

Katie: We’ve just changed our scoring and modeling as a marketing team, from looking at demand gen as a whole to looking at marketing originated bookings, marketing originated pipeline, and then marketing influence. Because SDRs are new for enterprise marketing, we’re now figuring out how to compensate on a meeting with the right people. In terms of results to date, we’re seeing a big difference between reps who follow up on these ABM campaigns. One of the direct mail pieces, we saw a 70 percent account engagement rate where reps did the follow up and no engagement for those who didn’t. It’s really a team effort, and reps have to be part of that. You have to be patient. Pick a strategy and stick with it even if you’re not seeing something right away. Be diligent.

Would you like to speak a little bit to the issues that COVID-19 has caused, and how you’re addressing them?

Customers have been increasingly reaching out to us amidst the COVID-19 disruptions to worldwide health, life and business – all of a sudden, these highly regulated firms are having to shift gears into a WFH model, and regulatory compliance didn’t just go away when this happened. As a brand, we’ve responded with a variety of blog posts, two different webinars and interviews with outside publications. From an ABM standpoint, that definitely gave a unique opportunity.

I actually created an Engagio report and subscription for all the people who visited one of these topical web pages or webinar registrations, with a breakdown of sales team, if they’re a customer or not, who owns the account, who owns the person in SFDC, and scheduled it to go out to my SDR, her manager, my manager, and another campaign manager. I also prioritized a lot of the data cleanup before the webinar, and before we’d typically see something MQL or hit that threshold, so we can work them sooner rather than later.

We also set up a COVID-19 sequence that tries to address the specific challenges and concerns the customers who have reached out have identified, and my SDR is defaulting mostly to that one right now, because of its timeliness.

How have you been handling the disruption to events?

The disruptions to the events are huge and present a major challenge. We had a lot of events scheduled during this time, and obviously those aren’t happening anymore. We’re trying to shift to a digital summit with some of our ABM local/field road show events, but I’m bearish about that kind of thing – I’d love to be pleasantly surprised at it doing well, but it certainly takes a different kind of thinking here and approach.

It’s really made it even more challenging for our reps – we’re at the end of the quarter, and they can’t do in-person meetings to get deals closed, so while the marketing events are disrupted, the immediate pipeline impacts are a little more acute.

We’ve also tried to get more clever with direct mail here, and sending things like perishables, and such – that just requires home addresses in a lot of cases, which is its own special kind of challenge!

I’ve heard that Smarsh has implemented a WFH policy for all employees, too. How’s that going?

The interesting thing is that Brian and I already work remote for a lot of our time, but before Smarsh instituted a WFH policy for employees, I was commuting into Portland a few days a week, and the round trip for me is about 5.5 hours. I’ve tried to take advantage of some of these sudden time pockets to do deeper work – like database work, writing outbound content, refining account plans, and revisiting the metrics conversations on tracking.

As a marketing team, we’ve tried to share ideas and such on even basics – like how to get in workouts at home, or funny tweets showing the Bay Area with all green on the Google Maps traffic. I’ve had something cooking in my crockpot a few days already this week, because it’s a way to get dinner done while still working. Just the little things seem to take some of the edge off.

Thank you so much, Brian and Katie!

Megan Heuer
Megan Heuer

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