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Shifting Marketing’s Accountability: Look inside Post-Acquisition Marketing

Most PE-backed businesses aren't getting the full value from Marketing as a growth lever.

To start changing that for your portfolio companies, take a look at Shiv Narayanan's new book, Post-Acquisition Marketing: How to create enterprise value in the first 100 days. Here's what you'll learn: 

    

One of the key areas the book covers is how to effectively shift Marketing's accountability. Below is an excerpt from Post-Acquisition Marketing that reveals:

  • Why Marketing's current accountability is stalling revenue growth
  • The data Marketing should be tracking
  • A real-life case study of a business that made this switch

 

Shifting Marketing’s Accountability

“I need to know the truth, and I need to know it fast.”

Those were Henry’s first words on his first call with me, shortly after Fleetsync, his fleet-management software company,  was acquired by the private equity firm North Star Capital. 

Henry was the new CEO, who had taken over as the two founders transitioned out after the acquisition. He got the role because, in his former position as COO, he had helped build the business to this point. The board trusted him to lead the company through the transition. 

“We’ve got really ambitious targets to hit next year. I’m going to need to scale Marketing to get there,” he said.  “But I’m not going to invest any more of our budget until I  understand the data behind it.” 

Henry was understandably frustrated because he was flying blind. His VP of Marketing insisted they were adding tons of value to the company, but his new VP of Sales disagreed.  He had no way to judge who was right. Even worse, he had no time to figure it out. 

As COO, Henry had helped build a $30 million business that was profitable and already growing fast—which is what led to the buyout in the first place. But post-acquisition, he had to face aggressive sales projections, shortened timelines,  and a hyper-focus on efficiency and financial discipline.

It was unfamiliar territory. 

What Henry didn’t realize was that he wasn’t the only one who found himself in this position. Every year, fast-growing,  profitable companies emerge. Every year, private equity acquires those companies and sets aggressive expectations for growth. And every year, those companies run into the same problem: they need more pipeline to hit their sales  targets but don’t know how to scale Marketing to get there. 

With ambitious expectations, scaling Marketing becomes a pivotal growth lever. The problem is that most marketing organizations do not have their data in order. Without data, it is impossible to illustrate the ROI of marketing activities. If you can’t illustrate the ROI of marketing activities,  it is impossible to get approval for increased budget. And if you can’t get increased budget, it is impossible to scale  Marketing. 

This problem is not about size either. A company doing $10  million in ARR needs to get its data in order just as much as one doing $300 million. In fact, as companies get bigger,  the complexity increases. There are more acquisitions to integrate, more opportunities to capture, and more data to manage. 

Very few marketing organizations can tell you their impact on revenue back to exact dollars invested in specific programs, campaigns, and channels. They may be able to tell you their contribution to pipeline, but there is a lot of fuzziness around what “contribution” actually means. 

Post acquisition, there can be no room for fuzziness. 

Private equity investors buy companies like Henry’s after intense, data-driven due diligence cycles—financial, legal, sales, technical, market, customer—to triangulate the true potential of a particular business. The ultimate objective is to create enterprise value and increase the overall valuation of the business. 

The stakes are high. Jobs are on the line. Hundreds of millions of dollars hang in the balance. 

Unfortunately, Marketing teams are underprepared to play their role because most organizations do not look to Marketing as a primary generator of revenue, and therefore don’t give it the right amount of budget to succeed. 

I sat down with Henry to understand his frustrations more.  He had fired two VPs of Sales in the last three years. Kyle,  his current VP of Sales, was the third person to hold the role in as many years.

“Neither of the last two VPs were delivering,” said Henry.  “The majority of our sales reps were missing quota, and I  just couldn’t allow that to continue.” 

“Why will this time be different?” I asked. 

“It may not be,” Henry shot back. “Kyle needs to prove he  can play at this level.” 

Sales leaders with short tenures are not all that uncommon.  According to Salesforce’s State of Sales report, the average tenure of a VP of Sales has declined from 26 months in  2010 to 18 months in 2020. VPs of Sales are hired, given 18  months to prove themselves, and then replaced if they don’t deliver. This turnover is expensive, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in hiring, firing, and onboarding costs. 

While CEOs, executives, and investors could potentially be more patient in some of these instances, they often don’t have a choice. They have ambitious targets to hit, and they have to hold everyone accountable when the numbers don’t add up. 

The biggest contributing factor to VPs of Sales getting fired is, as in Henry’s company, when their sales reps miss quota. According to the same State of Sales report, 57% of reps miss quota.

When I shared this data point with Henry, he pulled up a  sales dashboard of all the Fleetsync sales reps. 54% of them had missed quota last year. Henry couldn’t believe it. How did his company have roughly the same number of ineffective salespeople as the market? Did he fire two VPs of Sales prematurely? Was Kyle headed toward a similar fate? 

It was certainly possible, but I needed to understand more about the Go-To-Market organization inside Henry’s company before I could diagnose the root cause. 

“Tell me more about the Marketing function,” I said, turning the conversation’s focus. “Why do you think there is a  problem?” 

“Kyle is constantly complaining about the quality of leads,”  Henry explained. “But Nicole, my VP of Marketing, claims  she’s generating a lot of awareness for us in the market.” 

This was the root cause of the he-said-she-said debate between Sales and Marketing inside Henry’s company. His  Sales team was continuing to miss quota, while Marketing was washing its hands clean after leads were handed off to reps. Growth targets were at risk, and no one really knew what was going wrong. 

From Nicole’s perspective, she was doing everything she could. The Marketing team was primarily focused on events, sales enablement, and product marketing. Nicole had a small team of 7 people: a product marketer, a sales enablement manager, an event specialist, a content writer,  a web developer, an email marketer, and a designer. Nicole was herself involved in the day-to-day execution of marketing tasks to fill in the gaps of the marketing function. 

The team drove pipeline from six key trade shows a year,  created content to support the sales and product teams,  ran email marketing campaigns and monthly webinars,  and invested a modest amount in paid media. Their total marketing budget for the year was $1.2 million for both headcount and programs for a company that was doing  $30 million in revenue with 4 product lines. 

For a company with aspirations of growing 30% year over year organically, allocating only 4% of revenue toward  Marketing is a recipe for disaster. It meant almost the entire responsibility of growth rested on the shoulders of Sales. 

No wonder sales reps were missing quota. They had the gargantuan task of sourcing, nurturing, and closing enough pipeline to grow the business by 30% every year. And they were doing it alone. 

“This is solvable,” I reassured Henry. “We’re going to get  this train on the tracks really fast, but it is going to take a commitment from you to guide the organization through  a transformation.” 

“What kind of transformation?” asked Henry. 

“The kind where Marketing is accountable to revenue,” I  explained. 

Nicole’s $1.2 million Marketing budget did not have any revenue targets associated with it. Instead, Marketing was treated like a cost center at Fleetsync. It was given budget not to increase revenue but to support Sales in whatever it needed. 

There was a good reason for this. Fleetsync, like many companies, began as a Sales-led organization. The two founders came from the logistics space and had many relationships that they sold into to get the company off the ground. As the company grew, they slowly hired people to replace themselves in each of their sales roles to move away from a founder-led sales model. 

Over time, the culture and strategy to grow Fleetsync was simple: Sales was responsible for revenue growth. Product served Sales. Client Services served Sales. And Marketing served Sales. 

Marketing’s role became narrowly focused on one objective: help Sales close more deals. As a result, marketing activities focused on the items that will deliver the most value to the sales team such as sales enablement, events,  and product marketing. Marketing was not responsible for bookings. It was merely a participant, a supporting cast member. 

Shockingly, this is the reality of Marketing inside many B2B  companies. They have limited budgets and small teams because they are only expected to support ambitious sales targets. I’ve seen numerous companies doing north of $100  million in revenue with a marketing team of less than 10  people. 

It may seem like a head-scratcher, but it’s not. These companies are relics of the old world, where Sales was the only rainmaker. 

In this hierarchy, Nicole and the Marketing team could hide  behind catchphrases like “We are building the brand” or  “We’re providing air cover for our Sales team.” It also made it more difficult for Henry to hold Marketing accountable.  Did scanning 500 badges at that conference really help the company? Was it worth spending $25,000 on that booth?  Was this more or less effective than simply taking the list of attendees and sending them an email? 

Nicole’s Marketing team never had good answers for these questions because they were never expected to focus on the data that showcased their ROI. It was never part of their accountability. 

This problem becomes magnified in a private equity environment after an acquisition. Private equity investors expect Marketing to take on greater responsibility for revenue and bring data to guide decisions to help the company reach its expectations. Unfortunately, most marketing organizations don’t have any of this data in place to meet those expectations. 

In other words, data is private equity’s native language, and  Marketing needs to speak it. Without data, Marketing will continue to be relegated to second-class status indefinitely—a supporting cast member when it needs it to be a star. 

This is why Henry needed to know the truth. He needed to get Marketing performing at an elite level for the company to have any shot at delivering on North Star Capital’s investment thesis. 

I worked with Nicole to dig more deeply into Fleetsync’s marketing data. I wanted to know the difference in close rates depending on the source of deals in the pipeline. It turned out that Marketing Generated Pipeline had a close rate of over 43%, while Sales Generated Pipeline had a  close rate of only 23%. 

Despite this glaring statistic, Fleetsync’s Marketing budget was, again, only 4% of revenue, while Sales had 20%.  Wouldn’t a company focused on growth give Marketing more budget so that more deals would close? 

They would have to be crazy not to. 

Why, then, did Nicole not have more budget for Marketing?  The short answer is that even VPs of Marketing, like Nicole,  haven’t figured out all the ways in which Marketing can drive enterprise value and how to lobby for more budget.  When I asked Nicole to pull that report, the data was all there and within reach. She had just never looked at it or shared it with Henry. 

How could Henry or the board ever give more budget to  Marketing if they weren’t educated on its value and ROI? 

The role of Marketing inside companies that is often neglected and underestimated is quantifying and communicating its value internally and upward. This work is especially important in the first 100 days after an acquisition. 

Leading up to the acquisition, private equity investors build an investment thesis to deliver on once the transaction is completed. This investment thesis identifies the biggest value-creation levers inside a business. Items that are commonly found in the investment thesis and are considered core strategic growth levers include scaling new bookings,  acquiring and integrating additional companies, capturing white space opportunity, increasing prices, introducing additional products or supply chain steps, and entering new markets. 

While Marketing has a vital role to play in delivering on all aspects of the investment thesis, each of the above levers could be a book in and of itself. For our purposes, we will focus on scaling new bookings, as it is inevitably part of every investment thesis. It is also the area where Marketing has the biggest room to make an impact as a primary role player to create enterprise value. 

In Henry’s case, he needed to show North Star Capital that his Marketing and Sales engine was set up for success by his first board meeting, which was scheduled for (coincidentally) exactly 100 days after the acquisition. The board wanted to see quick wins to validate their investment thesis and feel confident in the Marketing strategy for the next year to ensure that sales projections would be met. 

This is why North Star Capital introduced me to Henry and brought me into Fleetsync as soon as the transaction closed. 

It was the same call I’ve received from countless investors and CEOs. Each has a company with ambitious targets, and each needs to scale Marketing to get there. 

Over the next 3 months, I worked closely with Nicole to get Fleetsync’s marketing data in order, stopped investing in unprofitable channels, scaled programs with positive  ROI, launched new demand generation campaigns, and identified key gaps in the team. With this work, Henry was able to get the transparency into Marketing’s impact that he was looking for, and we were able to increase Fleetsync’s marketing budget by 50% after presenting data-backed business cases to the board. 

All within the first 100 days after the acquisition. 

The results? In the following 12 months, Fleetsync saw a 300% increase in Marketing Generated Pipeline and  Closed Won deals. 

This kind of result is not an anomaly. In almost every market, companies are heavily underleveraged and under-indexed in marketing and demand generation. 

In the upcoming chapters, I’m going to walk you through my  5-step framework to scale Marketing to create more enterprise value in the first 100 days after an acquisition. It’s the same framework I took Henry and Fleetsync through. It’s the same framework I’ve deployed as the CEO of How To  SaaS with hundreds of other companies in different markets, verticals, and industries. I’ve even used it myself as the CMO of Wild Apricot, which was eventually acquired by Rubicon Technology Partners in 2017 and flipped to Pamlico Capital in 2018. 

It works. It will work for you too. 

By the end of this book, you’ll have an exact plan to turn your marketing function into a data-driven revenue generator that can create enterprise value for your business. You’ll have more budget for Marketing than ever before. 

And you’ll know precisely how to use it to scale faster.

 

Post-Acquisition Marketing: How to create enterprise value in the first 100 days is available from April 27 in hardback, paperback, and ebook. Click here to learn more and order your copy.

 

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