Field Marketing is Not Event Planning

As functions, Field Marketing is not Event Planning, in fact, they are diametrically opposed.   A successful Field Marketing function creates a vision, sets objectives, and develops strategies and executes within this framework to enable the sales team to meet or exceed their number. Event Planning on the other hand is primarily tactical, usually acting as a pair of hands to manage logistics.  The issue is that organizations have embraced a term, Field Marketing, without an accurate understanding of the function and use this term to describe what in effect is Event Planning.  Needless to say, these organizations tend to have lackluster results and a lot of finger pointing between the Sales & Marketing teams.

The Genesis of Field Marketing

There was a time when the VP Marketing ran all of marketing for a company.  Within the past couple of decades however, the marketing function has become splintered with new and notable marketing areas such as Solution Marketing, Industry Marketing, Sales Enablement and Field Marketing. Often, these newer functions do not directly report to the Head of Marketing. In addition, the Head of Marketing title has also been elevated to Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)—despite the loss of key marketing functions.

Of particular interest and importance is Field Marketing.  If you believe that marketing plays a direct role in the sales process (generating revenue) then Field Marketing is critical since it is integrated into the sales process.  As such, Sales and Marketing must be aligned and integrated to be successful.  When more than one function or even person is involved, there must be a hand-off point somewhere — and that hand-off becomes the lynchpin.  In the world of Field Marketing the big question is at what point does is there a hand-off?  Is it at the point of a lead, a marketing-qualified lead, or a sales-qualified lead?  If you are of the opinion that marketing is integrated into the sales process and has skin in the game, then there is a strong argument that the hand-off from Field Marketing should be at the point a lead becomes a sales-qualified lead. This is when a sales rep has actually spoken to the prospect and predetermined criteria have been met.  So, what really happens in most Field Marketing organizations today?

Field Marketing – The Bastardization and Downfall

Field Marketing has always been a subject near and dear to me. If it’s done well, it is directly correlated to revenue — and that is powerful, quantitative and directly correlated to positively impacting the business.  If that does not float your boat you should not be a Field Marketer.  However, because the term Field Marketing has been used and abused, that title now instills in me the same feeling as nails being dragged down a chalkboard (almost as irritating as the term “leads”–that’s another post, a long one).

In short, not many people ever understood the term Field Marketing or did it well.  Of those that did do it well, many were promoted and less seasoned people stepped in to backfill the role. Unfortunately, those people were ill-prepared to run or innovate the function. As a result, this diluted the function a little each year to the point  that it was hardly recognizable after a decade–Event Planning.  Who is to blame?  CEOs, VPs of Sales and VPs of Marketing.

It all starts when a company fails to make their bookings targets. This of course basically kicks off the Spanish Inquisition.  Next, Management starts playing the pres-school game of “he did it, no she did it”. Sales will typically point to bad leads or not enough leads and Marketing will state the lack of follow-up on the part of the Sales team.  Eventually, the CEO becomes frustrated with the finger-pointing between Sales and Marketing while wondering why the sales team did not make their numbers. He or she then will usually reorganize the responsibility of Field Marketing (demand generation and or demand management) to the Sales organization.  Sometimes there is even a round of Russian roulette between the VP Sales and VP Marketing to replace one of them.  What’s almost certain is that the Field Marketing function ping-pongs back and forth between Sales & Marketing for years to come.  While the alignment of Field Marketing within the Sales organization can work, there are still hand-offs that must occur between Sales and Marketing–in short, Sales & Marketing need to work together.  So, by realigning the Field Marketing function to another group does not solve the fundamental issue of Sales and Marketing coalescing, but the squeakiest wheel has been greased—for the moment.

Field Marketing Gone Bad

If the Sales leader does not have a Marketing background or a firm grasp of Marketing concepts, more than likely, the Field Marketing function will turn into a party planning or Event Planning function. The problem is that Event Planning is a tactical, reactionary, subservient group that supports the Sales team in a primarily administrative capacity.  With all due respect, good Sales people are a rare commodity and it takes years of dedication and passion to become a good one.  However, the same can be said for Marketers.   A Sales leader managing Marketing is at a huge disadvantage as they are typically unfamiliar with everything Marketing does and how to harness the various pieces for optimal impact.  In many companies, when Field Marketing becomes Event Planning, the role is typically characterized by:

  • Junior level people with little understanding of marketing principles
  • A tactical approach where the focus is on execution with a 30 – 90 day time horizon
  • Always reacting to a Sales Rep, competitor or something trending
  • Generating a lead with a poor definition and no follow through or accountability
  • A “one and done” mentality
  • No focus on the bigger picture (brand, revenue, product)
  • No or little focus on lead conversion to qualified opportunity
  • Usually, no idea what the number for the quarter or year is and often none or little compensation tied to revenue

Also, it’s important to note that it’s not only when Field Marketing is managed by Sales that the Field Marketing function can become no more than Event Planning, the office manager, or a subservient resource to one or many sales reps. It can also happen when the function is mismanaged by a Marketer too!  So, what’s the right approach?

Field Marketing – History Should Have Repeated Itself

The concept of Field Marketing matured at Oracle in the early 90’s. The Field Marketing model created there was unlike any other in the industry at the time, or I would argue, to this day.  Many attempts have been made by many organizations to create am effective Field Marketing Function, but the results are similar to a well-known school-yard game. This is the game where everyone forms a circle and one comment is whispered into the ear of the person next to them, only to find that the final communication bears no resemblance to the initial comment.

The Field Marketing charter at Oracle was plain and simple: get to more qualified opportunities and close them more quickly, period.  It wasn’t to generate a lead, send an email, do the trade show booth set-up and tear down, send a FedEx, etc. It was build a plan, execute it, make your number or be fired—the Oracle way.  Core to the Field Marketing function was the ability to be very strategic, but with the capabilities to execute flawlessly at a regional level against a cohesive strategy. And, most importantly, it was to be accountable.

The Oracle way was unlike most attempts today to create a Field Marketing function. At Oracle, the heart of the Field Marketing organization, in the 90’s, centered around packaging solutions to targeted prospects and customers, and delivering those solutions in a compelling, holistic and sustainable manner. It was not a “spray and pray” or drive-by ad-hoc approach.

Step One required collaborating with the development organizations (on each product as there were many) to bundle products into solutions that resonated in the marketplace.  This was not an easy task as each product group wanted to go it alone as they felt their product was a solution.

Step Two was to partner with the Sales organization to build a Marketing Plan to support each Sales VP’s business. This Marketing Plan took into account each geography, product, industry and, to some extent, customer.  This was much more detailed than back-of-the-napkin notes on average sales cycle and average deal size. This was understanding the differences in territories, industries, compensation plans, the number of reps ramped plus account and market penetration goals.

Step Three was assembling an agency or shared service model for task-specific expertise: database, automation, metrics, email, webinars, events, social media, references, market analysis, competitive analysis, digital assets, etc. and was staffed with seasoned professionals – not an on the job training program.

The secret sauce was the coalescing of the solutions to be brought to market with the revenue goals required by the business — and the end result served to provide the Marketing Plan for the year.  In this process, the Product Marketing Directors within Field Marketing came to the table with the solutions that had been vetted with the product groups, analysts, customers and prospects.  The Area Marketing Directors came to the table with the revenue requirements, geographical needs and account penetration goals.  Themes would fall out of the planning process and the waves to ride in the marketplace became obvious and this provided the structure for the proper alignment of resources.  The net result was a detailed Marketing Plan that from top down promoted the brand and built awareness and from the bottom-up it provided the qualified opportunities necessary to meet or exceed plan.

Area Marketing Directors were Marketing people with strong business acumen. They understood the fundamentals of the business and how to directly and positively impact the business—much different than reverse engineering leads from a revenue target by making assumptions around average sales cycle, average sales price and bookings target.  Product Marketing Directors were a rare blend of product marketing, solution marketing and industry marketing skills. They understood how to go to market with solutions as they could contextualize based on a strong understanding of the technology, business and markets.  The execution arm required seasoned individuals with specific skillsets that could be leveraged across multiple products, solutions and geographies and they were  guided by the subject matter expertise of the Area Marketing Directors and Product Marketing Directors to deliver integrated and sustained campaigns that were meaningful, relevant and engaging.

Field Marketing ModelThe Difference between Field Marketing and Event Planning

So what’s the difference between Field Marketing and Event Planning?  Here are some terms to listen for and how to diagnose them:

Leads – if the discussion is around leads then it’s probably Event Planning

Lead Flow – this implies that there is some consciousness around the pipeline, deal capacity, closing quarters, etc. and is a step in the right direction

Lead Management – yes, step one is lead generation (a necessity but nothing onto itself); it’s all about what appears as a qualified opportunity in the sales pipeline, and lead management is a good step towards reaching this goal

Qualified Opportunities – now we are talking — i.e. something that has been verified by a sales person as a real opportunity is what Field Marketing should be focused on and goaled on

Bookings – if a Field Marketer uses this term and actually knows the number for the quarter and year and performance against this figure, you are probably talking to a real Field Marketer

Time Lag – bingo, good term.  In general, an annual Field Marketing plan typically drives revenue in the second half of the current year and the first half of the following year.  If a Field Marketer is using this term it is a good sign that they understand the relationship between Sales & Marketing and the sales cycle.

Close Rate – this determines the multiple of qualified opportunities required in the sales pipeline to drive the bookings target — if a Field Marketer uses this term it is a good sign that there is an understanding of the sales pipeline and sales process

Channel Distribution – this is a good question for a Field Marketer to ask as the demand generation vehicles and sales enablement efforts typically vary by channel

New Versus Existing – another key question as demand generation activities for expanding within an account will be vastly different than acquiring new customers

Parting Thoughts on Establishing an Effective Field Marketing Organization

  • Don’t separate demand generation from dead management
  • Don’t hire inexperienced people as leaders
  • Don’t have a lead mentality and measure things as cost per lead (CPL) – cost of customer acquisition is what matters
  • Resist the temptation to rank individual programs to whack the poor performers.  Whacking things is fine if viewed in the context of an integrated multi-touch intitiative
  • Understand that Field Marketing, regardless of whether it sits in Sales or Marketing, is part of the Sales process
  • Have a seat, a respected seat, at the Sales planning table at the area or regional level
  • Take responsibility to work with product groups to package (not build) products into compelling solutions (this can be solely with internal products and services or with external partners)
  • Have skin in the game—variable compensation for a Field Marketer has to be 25%-50% of the total compensation package and has to be tied to the geographies that are supported
  • Automate systems for accountability
  • Establish, learn and iterate processes so that they support the business and do not become sales inhibitors
  • There is no “Us and Them”; only “Us”