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Five ground rules for optimising sales/marketing alignment
Account-Based Marketing (ABM) has mandated closer ties between the sales and marketing functions and – 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 program. 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: 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 programs.
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. Senior sales buy-in also gives a high degree of mandate to the ABM program 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: that should facilitate the creation of relationship-building opportunities, leading to higher conversion rates with less time wasted on poorly-qualified leads.
However, the result of this may well be that overall volume of sales leads go down – and that is something that is anathema to both sales and marketing. So both functions 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); and this is something that 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 are being asked to commit significant time and/or budget to the program. 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: e.g. sales following up on remote marketing communications with direct outreach within a specified timeframe.
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 program 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, pushing back if they are painted into this particular corner and playing a much larger part in account selection – this will ensure they are seen as peers of the sales team and have shared ownership and control of the ABM program 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 which 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 – identifying how the behaviours of group and individual customer stakeholders vary across the sales cycle: they can then 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 as the focus is on the customer, rather than specific sales or marketing objectives.
The growing adoption of ABM will mean that 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!