The Ultimate Guide to Aligning Sales and Marketing for ABM Success
If there was one golden rule to ensure success with Account Based Marketing, it would be this: Silos don’t work. In an account-based world, landing the biggest, highest-value accounts can only be achieved when all revenue-generating disciplines are closely aligned.
Silos are easy. Sales and Marketing have historically operated in their own way, with their own goals, culture and values. But as the way our buyers make decisions evolves, our businesses have to follow suit and move beyond this old-school infrastructure. In truth, disconnected Sales and Marketing operations only leads to inefficiencies, broken systems and problems at every level.
“It’s easier to work in silos. You just don’t make as much money.”
–Peter Herbert, Terminus
We’ll dispel the myth that sales and marketing can achieve optimal account-based results when they work independently, and provide tangible steps for working on this pervasive problem.
The Waste of Misalignment
If Marketing embraces ABM without deep alignment with Sales, the result is a set of isolated tactics that render themselves useless. Ad retargeting, direct mail pieces, or even field events are only moderately successful without full participation and enthusiasm from the entire revenue team.
On the flip side, when Sales works a high-value account without support from Marketing, the result is a rogue set of reps generating their own account targeting, and writing their own emails (if you’re a marketer, like me, you probably just cringed a little). They also likely need to double the volume of their rogue efforts in an attempt to improve productivity, usually at the cost of quality.
“ABM is a strategic business initiative. If it’s only sponsored by Marketing, it becomes a campaign.”
– Jeff Sands ITSMA
7 Real Strategies to Achieve the Promised Land
This topic is written about ad nauseum – and for good reason. It’s easier said than done, and many companies are currently in the process of figuring it out. While there’s no silver bullet, there are a set of strategies deployed by executive leaders that can help get their sales and marketing teams on the same page.
1) Stop talking about leads and start talking about accounts
I know, this strategy sounds counterintuitive. After all, marketing has been measured for years now on the quantity and quality of the leads they’ve been asked to deliver to sales. We’ve developed a plethora of acronyms to measure this delivery – MQL, SAL, SQL, and the like.
These metrics, under the traditional demand generation model, put a huge amount of priority on casting a wide enough net to reel in as many individual leads as possible, especially through inbound methods.
However, even the best, most optimized lead handoffs occur between Marketing and an Account Executive – not a Lead Executive. Sales, at the end of the day, closes an account – not a lead. See the problem?
Consider implementing a new metric to move the conversation to a different level – Marketing Qualified Account (MQA) Our definition for an MQA is “A target account (or discrete buying center) that has reached a sufficient level of engagement to indicate possible sales readiness.”
While MQL relates to one lead, the MQA is for entire accounts that are ready to go to sales. Think about the difference between fishing with a net and fishing with a spear.
2) Foster communication with joint office hours and regular meetings
We’ve heard horror stories about management deciding to physically separate Sales and Marketing because they can’t get along, or the ever-present problem of each department talking about each other behind their backs.
Is this middle school? Even the best SLA can’t help a fundamentally dysfunctional relationship.
Like a good marriage, communication matters. In an episode of Andy Paul’s sales effectiveness podcast, Bridget Gleason (VP of Sales for Logz.io), describes how she’s been able to create an open conversation and dialogue between Sales and Marketing.
“My team and I are very involved in the marketing planning process through continual meetings with demand generation, branding, content, and product managers. They’re part of my time just as I’m part of their team. We also have weekly joint sales and marketing office hours, which is a time for people to come and ask questions. We feel it’s important for them to ask us together as a team. What affects marketing affects sales, what affects sales affects marketing.”
At Engagio, our sales and marketing teams meet weekly. We’ve also seen examples of teams who hold bi-weekly scrums or standup meetings. Then, every quarter, executive leaders from each team review progress against shared goals, and make small adjustments to items like SLA or metrics.
Maintaining a continuing conversation is a necessary part of ensuring ongoing alignment, because as the market changes, what buyers need changes. What Sales is learning needs to be fed back to Marketing, and vice versa.
If the wide receiver on your football team never talked to your running back, you’d be in trouble. While the run game is much different than the pass game, if you want to be a real threat on offense, both need to be working together.
3) Hold Marketing accountable for some level of revenue responsibility
We agree with how Matt Heinz (President of Heinz Marketing) puts it, “You can’t buy a beer with an MQL.”
As he argues, it’s important for marketers to embrace revenue responsibility. What really matters to the organization is the closed deal.
“To change [marketers’] objectives, change their compensation. If the sales team at the end of the month and the end of the quarter is grinding it out to hit their number but the marketing team’s at the bar celebrating because they hit their retweet goal, then something’s misaligned.”
4) Document what each team does within the sales process
If sales doesn’t understand what marketing does all day, and marketing feels the same about sales, the problem is a severe lack of empathy. The symptoms of this are broken processes and a critical lack of trust.
In their book Aligned to Achieve, Tracy Eiler and Andrea Austin explain, “Alignment takes a good deal of understanding each other’s roles, challenges, and actions. Both sales and marketing rely on the other for high performance.”
By documenting an overview of the sales process, that is, how buyers buy from you, you can help Sales and Marketing gain an understanding of their distinct roles within the a shared framework, and working towards a common goal.
Peter Buscemi, go-to-market strategy advisor, recommends on his Four Quadrant blog, to “document the steps in the sales process so it is clear what is to happen and when. The steps identified in the sales process should also be included in the salesforce automation system, serve as the framework for sales enablement deliverables and be the footprint that marketing aligns to the customer buying process to facilitate the development and execution of an integrated demand generation plan.”
He continues, “A demand management best practice is for sales and marketing to mutually agree on where a solid vertical line should be drawn in the sales process continuum to document where marketing and sales have primary responsibility… marketing will run lead on certain tasks that are mutually agreed upon and will be accountable for those steps, just as sales will be accountable for the steps after the hand-off.”
5) Set clear and consistent definitions
At the outset of an Account Based Everything program, developing the right criteria for your target accounts is paramount. This is an ideal test of the current state of your Sales and Marketing alignment, as it dictates whether your teams are on the same page.
Your ability to map out a list of target accounts depends on how each department defines their Ideal Customer Profile. Get this wrong, and nothing else you do with Account Based Everything really matters. This definition is the foundation for the whole program. If each team has a different perspective, you’ll miss major opportunities, waste resources (time, headcount) on the wrong accounts, or both.
To help mediate the discussion, leaders from Sales and Marketing should discuss together the following questions:
- Where have we sold most effectively in the past?
- Which kinds of accounts have proven most profitable over time?
- Which sub-industries do we work with today?
- What characteristics are most predictive of sales success?
- What attributes make for the best fit with our product?
- What traits should rule out an account?
- What kind of accounts play best to our unique strengths?
- Which accounts do we already have an advantage in?
- What accounts deliver the most value (including strategic value)?
In addition, both parties should be mindful of firmographic and technographic criteria, as well as intent and engagement information to identify in-market and highly engaged accounts.
6) Use the same data and technology
Even the best laid plans can get thwarted by a lack of appropriate account-based technology. Integrated systems help to encourage aligned departments.
To foster alignment, implement an account-centric data infrastructure, for example lead-to-account matching, which enables leads (historically owned by Marketing) to roll up to accounts (typically owned by sales teams.)
Without this capability, a company could have thousands of individuals within a database who work at target accounts and customer accounts, but have no way of connecting them to the right company. Leads could get routed to the wrong owner, could be improperly scored or nurtured, and sales’ overall productivity decreases from time spent cleaning up this data problem. There are many tools and technologies to choose from within the Account Based technology market ecosystem.
In addition to the right L2A capabilities, Sales and Marketing teams should model accurate pipeline metrics. For example, to reach a particular pipeline goal, what % needs to come from Marketing? Your goal should be for Sales and marketing to come to the table knowing exactly what’s expected of them to hit your organization’s revenue goals.
7 ) Share account-level insight
The entire account-based strategy depends on doing your homework and learning as much as you possibly can about target accounts (and key buyers at those accounts) so you can maximize your relevance and resonance within each.
Marketing teams have always been adept at gathering competitive intelligence. It’s part of our DNA as a function. They can apply this same knowledge and use of listening tools like Mention.com or BuzzSumo to help their sales counterparts gain insight for breaking into key target accounts.
They can further help Sales gain a better understanding of particular accounts and the key buyers at the table by following them on social channels, and by engaging influencers at the right times. This team is also skilled at paying attention to trigger events that could cause a target account to actively seek a solution.
After all, #1 reason an enterprise buyer makes a purchase decision is your proficiency in their market, according to the ITSMA. Marketing can help Sales position your organization as an expert in your space, by providing them with the appropriate insights.
Ready to reach for the promised land?
To summarize, an account based strategy works best when all revenue-generating disciplines are closely aligned. Sales and Marketing leaders have to help their businesses move beyond the old, stale problems of finger-pointing and the blame game. As this article clearly shows, we’re learning more every year about what helps to bring these two teams together to drive revenue growth. It’s up to practitioners to do the hard work, and reap the benefits.