A match made in heaven or a marriage of (in)convenience?

Adam Greener provides five ground rules for making your sales and marketing marriage a success.

Account-based marketing (ABM) has mandated closer ties between the sales and marketing functions. While there are no guarantees as to whether this prescribed alignment will bear fruit, careful structuring of the relationship between the two functions will maximise the likely success of the ABM programme. Here are five ground rules that will help you to ensure optimum sales and marketing alignment.

1. Love thy neighbour

Both marketing and sales bring a lot to the ABM party, and a healthy appreciation of what the other can offer is invaluable.

  • Marketing tends to be better plugged into broader industry trends and – especially at earlier stages of the funnel – has experience of remote customer engagement practices that help to contextualise GTM activity. Also, marketing is not exclusively focused on quarter-end numbers and can therefore bring the longer-term focus necessary for successful ABM programmes.
  • Sales is continuously talking and meeting face-to-face with customers and so has first-hand knowledge of their needs. Salespeople also understand customer barriers – perceived and real – and often know the competition at an account level. As well as this senior sales buy-in gives a high degree of mandate to the ABM programme, that means it will be taken seriously.

The combination of sales and marketing is greater than the sum of the parts. Real collaboration between the two (e.g. joint development of value propositions) can therefore serve as a platform for ABM success.

2. Don’t count the ones you reach, reach the ones that count

Traditional volumetric approaches – stuffing the sales funnel with MQLs – is not a recipe for success. Indeed, this realisation has been one of the great growth drivers of ABM. Careful account selection and targeted outreach will enable high-quality conversations between your prospects and your sales team. This should facilitate the creation of relationship-building opportunities, leading to higher conversion rates with less time wasted on poorly-qualified leads.

However, the overall volume of sales leads may well go down, and that is something that is anathema to both sales and marketing. Both sales and marketing must work together to change that volumetric culture to one that focuses not on outputs (leads) but on outcomes (richer conversations that lead to sales opportunities). This is something the business must also address in metrics such as its key performance indicators (KPIs).

3. Expectation is a two-way street

When ABM is first discussed, it quickly becomes clear to the sales team that they’re being asked to commit significant time and/or budget to the programme. They are therefore keen to state what they expect from marketing in terms of engagement levels and volume of meetings, and while it’s relatively rare for marketing to reciprocate, marketers have an equal right to state their terms.

Essentially, what should be put in place is a service level agreement between the two functions that clarifies expectations. This should also reference operational bandwidth in order to, for example, avoid ABM effort being made at the end of a quarter when sales resources are stretched.  

4. A true relationship is between equals

Marketing is often the junior partner in the relationship with sales and frequently doesn’t stand up for itself sufficiently. For instance, when it comes to account selection, sales may often provide a wishlist of accounts that have eluded them over several years; a hospital pass for any ABM programme that wants to get off to a fast start and prove its worth by delivering results. Or they might provide a set of accounts from a variety of verticals with few shared characteristics, ruling out any economies of scale in terms of research, proposition and messaging development.

Essentially, marketers need to be a bit braver playing a much larger part in account selection by pushing back if they’re painted into this particular corner. This will ensure they’re seen as peers of the sales team and have shared ownership and control of the ABM programme from the start.

5. It’s the customer, stupid

Last – and most obviously – putting the customer at the centre of all activity creates a natural North Star around that sales and marketing can orient themselves. To achieve this, organisations should first strive to understand what is driving customer decisions at a macro- and micro- level. Identify how the behaviours of group and individual customer stakeholders vary across the sales cycle. From this, align internal functions and structure engagement activity accordingly, creating a common framework for sales and marketing operations. Customer-centricity can also facilitate more difficult function-sensitive conversations because the focus is on the customer, rather than specific sales or marketing objectives.

The growing adoption of ABM will mean sales and marketing teams will operate in much greater proximity to each other than they did in the past. The extent to which you follow the advice above will determine whether the two departments function as the dream team or the odd couple!

Don't miss Adam speaking at The B2B Marketing Conference

Adam's session 'The human touch: How to optimise ABM performance and scale effectively' will be running at 14.40-15.10.

And don't miss our other breakout speakers for more tips to take back to the office.

Find out more and book your tickets here

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