Winter Gardens venue featuring School of Rock.

Two things happened recently: I took on the new head of marketing position at a Series A startup, and I re-watched School of Rock for its 19th anniversary. While those two things might not seem related, here’s why I think the secret to sales & marketing alignment can be found in the movie, and why enacting its wisdom is so important, especially in the early stages of building your Go-To-Market motion.

Jack Black and Marketing

So the key lesson arrives about 25 minutes into the movie after Jack Black’s character picks some musically talented kids to be in the “rock band project”: lead guitar, bass, keyboards,and drums. Fine. 

At this point, one of the other kids shyly raises his hand and asks “does this mean we’re not in the band?” That’s when Jack Black reveals the secret and says, “Just because you’re not in the band, doesn’t mean you’re not ‘in the band,’” and proceeds to talk about the crew: backup singers, ticket sales, light shows, merchandise, travel logistics, etc., and gives them all their north star: “Without you, we can’t put on a psychedelic show, and I can’t live with that.”

school of rock
Why is this scene so important? Because in business, sales IS the band: They’re the face of the company, and they need to be able to put on a great show every time. Marketing IS the crew: they make sure the band has everything they need to put on a great show.

I'm passionate about these points because I've seen, all too often, that sales and marketing get so caught up in their specific metrics and KPIs they often miss the point of it all, which is providing a "wow" experience from end-to-end.

Related Article: Intent Data and the Gap Between Sales and Marketing

Building a Harmonious Sales-Marketing Relationship

Here's how this analogy breaks down at different levels of scale and why perfecting each step is crucial to the next:

  1. Songs are use cases. Any band will find the tunes that get the audience the most pumped up and work with their crew to optimize sound; sales should do the same marketing use cases. The key is to keep iterating on messaging and content until sales is coming back (almost) every time saying "the customer loved this!"
  2. Local shows are webinars. Once a band knows its best songs, then they can put them into a show and test the order of the music, and the promotional tactics that lead up to a killer performance. Webinars are the same. This lets sales and marketing test the story arc and use cases in different ways while also testing out the demand gen function that brings the audience in. However, the key metric here isn't tickets sold, it's merch sales. Aligning at this last mile is critical because it's these diehard fans, or customers, whom you'll get your best info on the next set of songs/use cases and create a flywheel between marketing, sales (and customer service) that is the lifeblood of scaling go-to-market. Miss this, and you'll be a "locals" band forever.
  3. Tours are conferences. Once you've mastered the home performance, it's time to take the show on the road. While you'll always be iterating on songs and the story arc, at this stage you're really testing scale. How big an audience can you draw? How does audience size impact which songs/use cases you highlight? What local promotional channels can you leverage? Answering and optimizing for these questions will directly impact how consistently you can put on a good show and how much merch/product you can sell.
  4. Headlining is having your own user conference. Headlining is a massive endeavor that takes months, if not a year, to plan and assumes that every part of your performance and process has been pressure-tested multiple times. The same goes for having your own user conference. What's a little ironic about this phase is it actually flips the script a bit, where sales winds up being your best promotional tool, and marketing is often highlighting other talent/customers instead of their own band/sales team. But when you're all rocking out and selling more, who cares!

Related Article: Flying Blind in Your Sales and Marketing? Account Intelligence to the Rescue

Conclusion: Sales and Marketing Are on Same Ship

The School of Rock analogy is a great way to think about sales and marketing because it highlights the importance of working together, having a shared goal and iterating to perfection. It also shows how each stage builds on the last, and how crucial it is to get each stage right before moving on to the next.

Finally, it demonstrates how sales and marketing need to be flexible in their roles; as the School of Rock analogy shows, sometimes sales is the star of the show, and sometimes marketing is. The key is to have a coordinated effort where everyone knows their role and is working together toward a common goal.