Although the responsibilities of both marketing and sales divisions have evolved significantly to respond to the correspondingly increasing need for quality product and service data, I’ve found that, within many organizations, these separate but interdependent teams are still struggling to redefine their joint paths.
For today’s sales teams, the focus has shifted to converting qualified leads—those in the middle to end of the sales funnel. Marketing’s role now reaches from the top into the middle (and beyond) of the funnel, driving targeted leads through personalized and meaningful outreaches, supported by data, metrics, and visibility into the bottom line.
The question my colleagues and I contemplate is: How can leaders achieve better sales-marketing alignment in light of these shifting roles? Depending on the needs of the organization, the answer may lie in Account-Based Marketing (ABM).
The Lowdown on Account-Based Marketing
Let’s start with the basics—while Account-Based Marketing (ABM) has been around for decades, its application in today’s digital marketing world has evolved along with technology. ABM is defined by Marketo as “a B2B strategy that concentrates marketing and sales resources on a clearly defined set of target accounts within a market and employs personalized campaigns designed to resonate with each account.” When done right, this approach allows teams to better coordinate, communicate, and collaborate across the entire customer funnel.
Through my work with companies both large and small, I’ve discovered that there are two things that must happen to effectively deploy ABM.
First, organizations must create sales and marketing alignment by agreeing to specific signals or hand-offs in the sales funnel; the end goal here is a faster and more efficient path to revenue generation.
Second, teams must target the accounts that matter the most with content that is meaningful to the customer. This coordinated effort will promote efficiencies throughout the funnel—and yes, even harmony between the sales and marketing teams.
The (usually applauded) results of these coordinated efforts can include:
● Targeted, personalized outreaches to decision makers, about which both marketing and sales teams provide input.
● Aligned metrics between marketing and sales, ensuring that both teams measure their activities against the common goal of company revenue.
● Data-driven sightlines into revenue generation.
Many companies have experienced great success using ABM. Two particularly illustrative examples are provided by DemandBase in its most recent report on ABM. In one case study featuring DocuSign, company leaders found that by implementing an ABM strategy and a measurement platform, their sales pipeline grew by 22%. Similarly, the global IT company CSC also saw impressive results, injecting 5,000 leads and over $1 billion in pipeline revenue through ABM.
One word of caution, though: Not all companies are equipped for ABM implementation. Those organizations that tend to fare the best generally have clearly defined sales cycles, strong, data-driven insights into the customer decision journey, and relevant, high-quality content.
ABM is relevant for small, medium, and large-sized companies alike.
No matter the company size, one of the stumbling block for success with ABM is siloed or mis-aligned sales and marketing efforts. I’ve outlined five steps in an ABM process which naturally create (and demand) sales and marketing collaboration.
1. Spend More “Quality Time” with the Funnel
The relationship between marketing and sales can be a problem area for companies regardless of size, industry, or specialty. The symptoms are common: Sales complains about a lack of good leads; marketing has a hard time proving ROI. You’ve likely heard it before.
The real issue lies in a critical disconnect between the two teams at the heart of this process; in other words, a lack of sales-marketing alignment.
Investing “quality time” into the sales funnel often starts with the definition of what makes a lead a qualified lead. Marketing and sales may have two totally different yardsticks by which customer actions are measured—and chances are, there has been little discussion to close this gap. In fact, MarketingSherpa reports that “61% of all B2B marketers send all leads directly to sales; however, only 27% of those leads will be qualified.”
Luckily, ABM offers a cure. Its approach requires that the customer’s journey from initial point of contact to close of sale be defined from the perspectives of both marketing and sales. By shifting the definition from a qualified lead to a sales qualified lead, teams can jointly redefine key signals in the funnel to produce better results. Now, marketing can hand off the lead at the exact point where a potential customer turns into a hand raiser—a true qualified lead for sales.
Does this work? You bet. It’s a win-win for both teams. According to Demand Metrics’ ABM Benchmark Study, 70% of companies using ABM strategies claim tight sales-marketing alignment—19 percentage points higher than those that don’t.
2. Make Account Strategy a Team Effort
Pull up a chair: Both marketing and sales teams need to have a seat at the table to implement an ABM strategy. This may require some late nights (keep the espresso bar well stocked!), and it follows that team members must put aside any past frictions to work together to determine what constitutes an ideal account. Once departments agree on a game plan, they can jointly identify a final list of qualified accounts to target.
It’s important to understand that marketing and sales bring different, yet equally valuable, insights to the table to determine the target account list. Of course, C-suite and senior-level management buy-in is also crucial to success.
Some best practices I recommend for targeting prospects and current customers include:
· Searching for “look-alikes”: accounts that specifically match the size, revenue, and sector of your best current customers.
· Mapping broader commonalities among current customers to replicate success in new markets.
· Pinpointing current clients or partner accounts for previously undiscovered upselling opportunities.
In the same benchmarking whitepaper, Demand Metric found that a whopping 96% of respondents said ABM has had an impact on marketing’s success. That’s a hard number to ignore.
3. Share the Wealth—Of Data
The need for collaboration extends to everyone’s “favorite” area: data practices. It’s critical for teams to integrate insights—including sales performance, customer behaviors, and competitive and market research. From this pooled wealth of data, they can then create a go-to-market strategy based on a shared understanding of both the targeted customer personas and the buying process.
This data-informed strategy clears the way for synchronizing marketing and sales KPIs and ties metrics from both teams to company revenue.
What’s more, sharing data creates a continual improvement loop where marketing and sales communicate on account wins and losses, effectiveness of campaigns, and other initiatives, leading to bottom-line growth. It’s a healthier, holistic approach, and it works.
However, sharing data requires marketing to have the means to get good data. Companies need to invest in smarter, more robust data tools. In fact, sources report that 60% of marketers plan on making an investment in marketing technology and 41% say that they will increase funding for it.
4. Apply the “Carpe Diem” Principle and Personalize Content
I strongly encourage sales and marketing teams to “seize the day” when it comes to personalizing content. The insights are there, so why not take advantage of them? In fact, 53% of ABM-driven marketing departments employ micro campaigns.
With ABM, marketing can marry messaging, customer decision stages, and customer needs precisely because of the prior identification of key target accounts. Messaging tactics can be highly personalized and one-to-one versus relying on approaches of a broader, market-based nature.
Of course, this is where your content development resources shine. Content that embraces brand promise and messaging consistency remains vital to a company’s image and overall standing in the customer and competitive mindset.
To be effective in this approach sales needs to play a more active role in providing customer insight to marketing in the development of these targeted campaigns, and should contribute to content research efforts. Marketers, never fear: gone are the days of “rogue” content by sales teams. This coordinated approach to messaging will help sales tools be more effective because marketing can ensure that accounts are receiving information based on their strategic needs.
5. Drive Revenue Growth
The end game with ABM is revenue. ABM takes into account the entire customer journey. Marketing and sales teams are naturally working together to track, measure, and improve their efforts, and you can now look forward to a healthier sales pipeline and happier teams all around.
ABM’s benefit to sales is evident at the engagement level. That’s because ABM creates better efficiencies via an enhanced top-of-the-funnel marketing approach using smarter, more effective targeted outreaches. Sales enters further down the funnel, resulting in more time spent on accounts that are ready to engage. This way, everyone’s energies are focused on what they do best: marketing markets and sales sells—each team simply does its job more effectively.
The impact on revenue from an ABM strategy can be seen even in year one. Over half (56%) of companies that tested an ABM approach for at least one year saw a revenue lift of 10%.
Even better, the benefits of an ABM approach continue to grow over time. Demand Metric found that 43% of those companies using ABM for 3+ years reported that it impacts the entire funnel, versus just 12% of those companies using ABM for 2 years or less.
The Solution You’ve Been Waiting For?
The answer to meeting your customers’ increasingly high expectations may lie in including ABM in your overall marketing and sales strategy. ABM’s top-down, funnel-focused strategies have the potential to bring about clear competitive advantages for your teams.
SiriusDecisions sums up this potential in the aforementioned Demandbase report: “Marketing teams that understand ABM are in a powerful position to better align to what sales needs, and to make smart choices about the right actions to take and the right time to take them to grow high-potential accounts.”
Deploying an ABM strategy can foster alignment in your organization. Sales-marketing alignment occurs around funnel definitions and key target accounts. Metrics and data are in harmony with personalized content. The results are hard to beat.
Take a look at your current marketing and sales practices, and compare them to what an ABM approach can offer. Incorporating ABM into your strategy may be the solution you’ve been waiting for.
About the Author
Sue Sanford is CEO and Co-Founder of Upstart Group, a marketing firm that accelerates growth by helping businesses build and strengthen their revenue engines using a fractional CMO model. Sue’s background spans a variety of industries and includes businesses of all sizes—from global giant Microsoft, to SMEs, to emerging startups.