How to align your sales and marketing teams for account-based marketing success

Alignment jigsaw puzzle
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While the concept of account-based marketing - focusing your efforts and consolidating resources to nurture a small set of best-fit accounts - is nothing new, many organisations still struggle with the execution and are frustrated when they don't see the results they expected.

The root cause almost always boils down to one simple factor: sales and marketing are not on the same page.

The problem with silos

While ABM has "marketing" in its title, it's really a whole-company strategy that requires alignment of sales and marketing teams for real and measurable success.

Even when an organisation claims it practices an account-based model, the strategies employed by its sales and marketing teams may not actually support that. Marketing is historically focused on leads first; measuring website visits, form submissions, email opens, and social media engagements. The marketing team's metrics centre around the number of leads, not whether those leads are in the sales team's target accounts.

Conversely, sales is focused on accounts first and building relationships with decision-makers. Their metrics centre around driving revenue, and they don't care about the leads amassed by marketing if they're not in their target accounts.

When the two teams are allocating resources to completely different strategies without a shared focus, the disjointed efforts result in a longer sales cycle, decreased sales velocity, stagnant pipeline growth, and potentially even revenue loss. In fact, according to a HubSpot study, sales and marketing teams that were well aligned experienced a revenue growth of 20% annually, versus a decline of 4% in companies who are poorly aligned.

Flipping your funnel

In an ABM model, you focus on accounts first, personas second. This is the opposite of a traditional marketing-to-sales funnel that focuses on high lead quantity and an extensive nurturing process to narrow the pool to a few qualified leads.

ABM essentially flips the sales funnel, focusing on a small set of target accounts first, then expanding into those accounts to identify the people (persona-based) that are involved in the buying process. Instead of having thousands of unqualified leads that sales doesn't care about, you have a smaller set of highly-targeted, account-based leads. These are the exact people sales needs to engage.

Alignment is the foundation 

In order for your ABM strategy to succeed, your sales and marketing teams must be well-aligned. This is non-negotiable, and not a place where you can talk the talk, but not walk the walk. And while the concept of alignment is simple, it takes a concerted effort from everyone involved to change "the way things have always been done" and effectively execute the strategies.

Egos have to be checked, everyone must be committed to transparency, and the lines of communication need to be thrown wide open. If your sales and marketing teams can commit to this, the benefits are well worth the effort.

ABM essentially flips the sales funnel, focusing on a small set of target accounts first, then expanding into those accounts to identify the people (persona-based) that are involved in the buying process

Shared goals? Shared success

At the core of ABM and an aligned sales and marketing team is a shared focus on a singular goal: driving revenue. And really, isn't that the point of any for-profit business? Sure, helping organisations solve a problem with your product or service is rewarding, but if no one's buying it, you're not in business. True alignment focuses on strategies that drive revenue, while strategies that do not support this goal are reevaluated, revised, or kicked to the curb.

For example, email marketing is a proven strategy, that, despite the rise of social media and other modern channels, remains the king of digital marketing. Consider a traditional strategy of sending a standard newsletter to your entire database once per month and measuring success based on open and clickthrough statistics.

An ABM strategy with a focus on driving revenue would instead invest the time and resources to craft highly-targeted, personalised content that speaks directly to specific account needs and recent events. The first method is easy, the other requires a bit more effort. But which do you suppose yields higher engagement and better results?

This is where alignment is critical. Marketing simply can’t continue with the same email marketing strategies and expect to expand their reach into sales' target accounts. And sales doesn't have access to the targeted content they need without communicating their needs to marketing. Alignment gets both teams on the same page, working toward the same shared goals, using strategies that that directly support the objective of driving more revenue.

At the core of ABM and an aligned sales and marketing team is a shared focus on a singular goal: driving revenue. 

Three steps to alignment

Ready to commit and align your sales and marketing teams? Follow this three step approach to planning, execution and course correction

Step one: planning

This step lays the foundation for your alignment success. Sales and marketing must come together and develop a plan for getting on the same page. At the most basic level, they should agree that the focus will be on accounts first, leads second, and that every play employed should support the ultimate goal of revenue growth. They should also agree on how leads and accounts are defined.

Try using this simple formula: ICP = IAP + IBP to define your Ideal Customer Profile by combining your Ideal Account Profile, from sales' insights, with your Ideal Buyer Profile, from marketing's insights. This is also when you will develop metrics to determine how success will be measured, and develop a Service Level Agreement (SLA) that outlines how qualified leads are handled.

Step two: execution

With a solid plan in place, execution comes down to a matter of commitment and consistency. Develop sales and marketing playbooks that define your Ideal Customer Profile, sales methodology, how to communicate your value proposition, and how to handle common objections.

The more comprehensive your playbooks, the easier it is for every team member to deliver against them. During this step you will also develop a metrics dashboard and continually measure the effectiveness of your strategies. Finally, because communication is key to alignment, weekly meetings are recommended to review metrics and provide a regular platform for feedback between sales and marketing.

Egos have to be checked, everyone must be committed to transparency, and the lines of communication need to be thrown wide open.

Step three: course corrections

As with any new strategy, there will undoubtedly be bumps in the road; but with proper planning, execution and monitoring, you can identify issues early and correct them before bad habits form. Because working as one team will still be a new experience, it's important to approach problems with a positive attitude and brainstorm solutions as a team, rather than pointing fingers.

As long as you've had buy-in from management and team members from the beginning, course corrections should be viewed as opportunities to improve and help the business close more deals!

When done right, account-based marketing is an effective strategy for growing revenue. Focusing on only those accounts that are the best-fit for your solution allows you to coordinate resources and spend more time and effort nurturing the leads that really matter. The key to success lies in aligning your sales and marketing teams, getting everyone on the same page, and working toward the same goal of growing revenue.


About Matt Benati

Matt Benati

Matt is the CEO and Co-founder of LeadGnome, an innovative AI SaaS that mines reply email to deliver account-specific contacts, append & cleanse existing leads, and identify sales trigger events. Matt is a passionate believer that sales and marketing alignment, transparency, and communication optimize revenue generation, and he champions this philosophy in his teams and writings. He participates actively in the market-changing FlipMyFunnel, Account Based Marketing, and Account Based Everything communities. Matt is a contributor at the Account-Based everything hub.

Matt’s previous positions include VP Marketing at LogMeIn, VP Global Marketing at Attunity and senior roles at Netezza and IBM.

You can follow Matt on Twitter at @mattbenati.


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