Some pundits contend that account-based marketing will create better alignment between marketing and sales. In reality, ABM can be a catalyst for improving sales-marketing alignment, but it won’t cause such improved alignment to magically materialize. The adoption of ABM will quickly uncover weaknesses in the relationship between your marketing and sales teams, and that’s a good thing. Here’s why.
One of the key requirements for successful account-based marketing is coordinated efforts by business functions that have historically operated more or less independently. The need for teamwork routinely involves marketing, business development, and sales, and when ABM is used to expand relationships with existing customers, it will also extend to the customer success/customer service functions.
To reap the maximum benefits from ABM, marketing, business development, and sales must jointly develop an engagement plan for each target account. This account plan will usually span several weeks to several months, and will likely include activities by all three functions that must be closely coordinated. In addition, these business functions must be ready to make on-the-fly adjustments to the account plan based on actual buyer responses and changing business conditions at each account.
Therefore, successful ABM requires multiple business functions to work collaboratively on an ongoing basis. This level of coordination is challenging for many companies because it represents a major change in how they have traditionally engaged and managed sales leads.
In many B2B companies, the demand generation process involves a series of “hand-offs” from one business function to another. In essence, the process assumes that marketing, business development, and sales will engage potential buyers sequentially. The metaphor often used is a relay race in which each member of the relay team runs for a specified distance, and then passes the baton to the next runner.
The relay race approach has never been the best way to manage demand generation, and it is particularly problematic when used with ABM. The adoption of ABM has an effect that is similar to reducing the work-in-process inventories in a manufacturing process.
ABM “Lowers the Water Level”
In the discipline of lean manufacturing, inventory is one of the seven primary sources of waste, and most lean practitioners are always looking for ways to reduce inventory levels. To explain one role that inventories play, lean experts use a “rocks in the river” analogy.
In this analogy, inventory is like the water level in a river. As long as the water level is high enough, boats on the river will easily float over any rocks in the stream bed. The high water level makes the rocks invisible and also eliminates the danger they would otherwise pose for boats navigating the river. But if the water level is lowered, the rocks become visible, and the danger they pose becomes clear.
Lean experts say that inventory in a manufacturing system often conceals problems in the manufacturing process. High inventory levels also alleviate the immediate pain caused by the problems, but at a high cost. When inventory levels are lowered, the real problems become visible, and the ramifications of those problems become apparent. So in lean manufacturing, reducing inventories (“lowering the water level”) not only eliminates waste, it also points company managers to the real problems that need to be solved.
The adoption of account-based marketing works in a similar way. Because successful ABM demands an unprecedented level of collaboration and coordination across multiple business functions, any lack of collaboration or coordination will quickly become visible. And this will enable company leaders to address the specific problems that are holding back the success of their ABM program.
The bottom line is, ABM can be a catalyst for improving the relationship between marketing, sales, and other business functions because it will make weaknesses in those relationships visible and addressable.
Image courtesy of monikomad via Flickr CC.