A sales-side view of marketing, automation and AI

The head of sales for Babbel gives an inside look at working with marketing, putting together a campaign and more.

John Leonelli is head of sales, B2B Americas, at Babbel, a company that provides subscription-based language learning software and an e-learning platform. Founded in Berlin, Germany in 2008, the company started a European business-focused division five years ago. They recently moved into the American market, where companies of all sizes are looking for help with Spanish-to-English and English-to-Spanish language skills.

We spoke at HubSpot’s Inbound conference where he gave us a sales-side view of working with marketing, what tools are important to him, what he worries about and the impact of AI.

Q: So who are your customers?

A: Outside of regulated industries, like schools, municipalities and government, the majority of organizations where we find the most need are manufacturing, production, construction and agriculture services. Those are the demographic of accounts that we found are really looking to deliver an English ESL or a Spanish-to-English program. First and foremost they want to make sure that folks are safe and able to communicate at least in a safe way regardless of their competency and fluency. They also want it to be able to provide career advancement opportunities.

Q: We’re at a HubSpot conference, so I know that’s your CRM. What parts of it do you use the most?

A: I use primarily forecasting dashboards and reporting dashboards. Those are really what bring our sales and marketing teams together. I collaborate with folks like our performance marketer, who’s much more in the campaigns and workflow side. But we come together around reporting, looking at channels, looking at activities and touches and really having that full-funnel view in a way that’s simple and easy for us to just have that visibility. 

My big focus as a sales leader is on forecasting, making sure that we have an accurate forecast, looking at pipeline movement and having all of our key metrics visible so that I can share those up to the executive team and coach it down to our reps. 

Q: What kinds of segmentation do you do?

A: We segment by size. We look at SMB — anything under 100 employees, enterprise — anything really over 3000 employees. We’re also segmenting by regions, looking at where we’re having the most success in campaigns in different states. Looking to see are we creating opportunities and closing in those regions, too? We’re looking at a big focus strategically as our target, our total addressable market in America. And Hubspot has been really helpful in being able to give us the data around our current customers on our open opportunities that we can look up and say, OK, let’s come together with marketing. Where are we going to double down on paid campaigns and amplify that with outbound outreach? 

Q: How do you work with marketing?

A: I’m lucky I have a great leader who also runs our marketing team. Where it comes together is really on campaigns, on the visibility of what are the types of accounts in our pipeline. What are the current types of accounts in our customer base? And how do we share that feedback with our performance marketer, with our content marketer to be running outbound campaigns and coordination with performance campaigns in a way that’s targeted in the right regions, targeting the right ideal customer profiles (ICP) in those regions? And it’s going to be the likely customer that’s within a profile, we’ve identified to be our higher win rate and our higher average deal. it helps us to deliver that data to us, to really prompt those conversations and give us the visibility to really know where to narrow our campaigns based on where we’re seeing success. 

Q:  Manufacturing, production, construction and agriculture — each one of those is a giant business sector and has so many different sub-sectors. Are you able to personalize your marketing?

A: Because of the breadth of industries we have and because of the breadth of personas, we focus our personalization by doing a lot of segmentation for industry, size and persona. It really gives us the ability to have that tailored message to them at the top of the funnel where we bring that same message to them throughout the sales process. 

Q: Can you give me an example?

A: In August, we really started focusing on identifying our ICP and building a campaign. It was leveraged on OSHA’s Safe and Sound Week where they get companies to pledge to implement or improve workplace health and safety programs. 

We ran a test campaign targeting these accounts that had pledged to OSHA. We did vertical and persona-based messaging to those accounts and we were able to drive a deal from open to close two weeks faster than our expected timeline. That collaboration is what HubSpot enables us to do, really being able to do all those things at once. 

Q: What do you wish you had more help with?

A: Being able to get ahead of risks within deals. That’s where my head’s at always as a sales leader. I’m trying to listen to as many calls as possible to identify not just coachable moments for that salesperson, but productive moments that we can bring to the rest of the team. And that’s where visibility with deal risk is always something. You can have all the analytics and all the tools, you’re still going to be trying to find the gaps on that next step or whatever it is. I think pipeline risk and visibility is something that is always a challenge as a sales leader. 

Q: What is the impact of generative AI on you?

A: Messaging. I’m not a copywriter by any means, most salespeople aren’t, but I think that’s where it’s sparking creativity. Trying to iterate on messaging AI creates. Using AI can create creativity. That’s where I personally found it useful and where we coach the team to leverage it around vertical persona-based messaging. You can do it in-house, you can hire consultants, either way, you’re always going to need some way to keep iterating on it. Whether you need to be more concise or make a point better, AI is always going to have some new way that you probably weren’t thinking about it.

The following Constantine von Hoffman from 2023 provides their research perspective. HERE

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