Butting heads: Why ABM makes sales and marketing alignment easier, not harder
In the B2B world, aligning sales and marketing has been a challenge going back decades. If you believe the stereotype, it's because marketing is the colouring-in department and sales are know-it-alls who don’t listen. Regardless, the underlying problem is that too many companies build marketing and sales in silos, while the top performing companies have them working closely together.
The rise of B2B marketing automation has required the two groups to work closely together with mixed success. The increasing adoption has also meant the ability to stand out from your competition by using MA techniques is diminishing. However, the increasing efficiencies being brought to account-based marketing (ABM) strategies is allowing B2B marketers to cut through the noise and stand out.
In the same way that many parts of Africa leapfrogged the landline phase of communications to go straight to mobile, B2B marketers don't need to adopt MA first and then move to ABM. ABM requires even greater alignment between sales and marketing, but that doesn’t mean that aligning sales and marketing is harder with ABM. In fact, it's easier.
The results from companies adopting ABM back up this. A survey by LeanData in 2015 suggests sales teams using ABM are 20% more likely to trust attribution reported by marketing and 20% more likely to understand marketing’s goals. The marketers also said they found sales followed up on 25% more leads.
So, why is it easier to align sales and marketing when using an ABM strategy instead of MA?
It feels like common sense to say that increasing interaction between two groups increases mutual understanding and, because it increases interaction, implementing ABM will increase understanding. Actually, studies by psychologists found that increased contact alone was not enough. A review of 515 studies by Pettigrew & Tropp in 2006 found that ideally, the following were required to increase understanding and co-operation:
1. The groups should cooperate towards shared goals
ABM requires the sales and marketing teams on the ground to come together much more frequently and discuss how to close accounts. The language is the same. Sales have used an account-based approach for a long time, and the best salespeople know how to work with the different people within the sales process. ABM requires marketers to think in the same way, meaning a discussion is not couched in terms of the hand-off between MQLs and SALs, or the number of MQLs marketing has provided week on week, or the rather bruising discussion around what percentage of MQLs the sales team followed up on. None of which are directly aligned with sales own goals.
2. The contact between the groups should be enjoyable
People passionate about sales and marketing will clearly find achieving success together an enjoyable experience, but achieving this aspect falls largely outside merely adopting an ABM approach, and falls into the broader culture of the company and bringing the two groups together in a more enjoyable environment.
3. The groups should be of roughly equal status
When using MA, marketing typically provides around 25% of leads with sales teams providing the remaining 75%. With ABM, the sales and marketing teams can work across major accounts together, facilitating mutual respect and status.
4. Group members should counter the other group’s negative stereotypes
When sales and marketing are misaligned, negative stereotypes can come into play. The close interaction between the two highlights the value both groups bring towards successfully closing an account. Marketing provides the broader market understanding and the messaging that accelerates the sales cycle, while sales creates the engagement and builds the relationships that successfully closes the account.
5. Group members should have the potential to become friends
Much like the second point, this requires a broader culture to enable, but the increased collaboration between sales and marketing under ABM helps to creat it. At a recent Oracle conference, I heard a story of a sales team that didn't want to involve marketing in account strategy discussions - with one glaring exception. A field marketer who was out in the field and working continuously alongside the sales team had become 'one of the team', and was often the first person the sales team called into these discussions.
So, while ABM requires greater alignment between sales and marketing, the language, aligned goals and increased collaboration results in a level of alignment that MA was never able to achieve.