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Account-Based Marketing and Sales Alignment

March 28, 2019

Knowing how to align the interrelated processes of account-based marketing and account-based selling provides the necessary foundation for success.

Alignment is essential for successful account-based marketing (ABM), and establishing agreement between sales and marketing often starts with defining clear processes, responsibilities and even terminology. These functions must understand how their strategic approaches differ and what aspects they share. In this issue of SiriusPerspectives, we explain how to secure and maintain alignment between ABM and sales through three joint phases: business alignment, functional alignment and executional alignment.

Business Alignment

The first phase to securing sales and marketing alignment on ABM centers on business alignment. This phase addresses how the ABM deployment model (i.e. large-account marketing, named-account marketing, or industry ABM) maps to overall company goals and what go-to-market model sales has in place to achieve those goals. Achieving cross functional business alignment involves taking the following steps:

Understand foundational approaches for sales and ABM. Business alignment starts with an assessment of how the organization’s strategy is structured – specifically, where growth is expected. For example, is the organization seeking to enter new markets? Is it working to launch new offerings or identify new potential buyers in existing accounts? Is growth expected through acquisitions or simply productivity improvements?

Align goals. Once corporate goals are understood, sales and marketing must document the total addressable market, determine the go-to-market architecture and agree on routes to
market. Sales leaders and sales operations leaders can then set or adjust the sales organizational structure to optimize existing account retention and growth, as well as the
prioritization of new target accounts.

Develop the ABM charter. The ABM charter links ABM scope and activities to areas of growth and goals. It acts as an internal contract that binds sales and marketing around the ABM strategy. The charter has multiple sections that each summarize key elements of the ABM strategy: program vision; program objectives; scope summary; team members; key activities; milestones and timeline; critical success factors; and assumptions, risks and constraints. Though the ABM program lead should take responsibility for completing the
charter, he or she should incorporate input from the ABM team members listed in the charter. After completing the charter, the ABM program lead should publish it internally to ABM cross-functional team members and key sales and marketing leaders (e.g. chief sales officer, CMO, regional sales leaders).

Functional Alignment

Once business alignment has been achieved, functional alignment must be addressed. The goal of this phase is to ensure sales and marketing have a common view of the engagement planning requirements driving ABM and the roles and responsibilities of sales and marketing across the following process steps:

Goal setting. Once the ABM deployment model has been identified in the business alignment phase, begin functional alignment by defining sales’ account goals for individual large accounts or groups of accounts. These goals should align to the SMART methodology (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-related) to make sure enough detail is provided to effectively measure progress, identify gaps and take corrective action when needed. As the owner of the accounts, sales takes the lead in developing goals, but the ABM team can help sales refine them to make them as specific as possible. Specific account goals ensure the ABM team can deliver tailored activities mapped to these goals.

Audience identification. For selected ABM accounts, the next step of functional alignment requires identifying buying centers, buying groups, and individual contacts or personas to include in ABM activities. Sales should map how these different contacts relate to each other, their sentiment toward the selling organization and how they are involved in buying decisions. Functional alignment requires sales to illustrate these often-complex relationship maps to the ABM team to drive more effective execution.

Insight requirements. After audience members have been identified, begin gathering cross-functional information about the business needs, challenges and requirements of each identified contact. Though typically driven by what sales already knows about the ABM accounts, insight gathering involves many functions that can contribute intelligence about existing or target accounts. Beyond sales and the ABM team, this exercise can include sales operations, marketing operations, customer success, portfolio marketing and professional services. Aggregation of these insights from various sources is most often the responsibility of the ABM team as it builds out the engagement plan.

Resource inventory. This step requires sales and marketing to consider at a high level what existing assets are available to support the needs identified in the previous steps of the collaborative planning process. This process is led by the ABM team, but securing interlock requires insights from sales account owners so that their assessment of what resources have been helpful can be incorporated. This inventory audit should include content and interaction categories.

Engagement planning. The final step in driving functional alignment involves constructing engagement plans mapped to the specific needs identified earlier in the planning process. Although resource inventory is completed at a high level, engagement planning is completed at a granular level with specific tactics for individual contacts identified within each individual account, or within a group of accounts in a more scalable named-account marketing or industry ABM approach. Effective engagement planning is a result of collaboration in the sales and marketing planning processes; both functions must be allowed to play active roles in each process. The ABM team should take the lead in building engagement plans and validate them with sales account owners to ensure functional alignment is maintained.

Executional Alignment

The final phase of sales and marketing alignment in ABM is designed to secure and maintain the alignment achieved in the first two phases. This phase requires investment in driving communication and measurement. Complete the following steps:

Establish communication. A commonly overlooked but critical step of ABM executional alignment is establishing a formal process for sales and marketing communication beyond the initial business alignment. As separate functions, sales and marketing typically have their own communication and reporting processes. However, many organizations struggle with the essential cross-functional communication ABM requires. For example, most sales functions hold structured quarterly business reviews (QBRs) to monitor progress against goals. ABM teams must work with sales leadership to ensure ABM performance has a permanent place on QBR agendas (or in increasingly popular weekly or biweekly ABM discussions) so that they can share ABM progress, collect sales feedback, and incorporate adjustments into specific ABM engagement plans and the program as a whole.

Agree on measurement. Just as communication is essential to driving executional alignment, so is developing and sharing ABM dashboards among sales and marketing leaders. This process begins during the development of the ABM charter when key milestones and measures of success for ABM are jointly established. The ABM program lead should drive ABM reporting with sales and marketing operations leaders by identifying the metrics that matter to the organization.

Address friction points. The final step in driving and securing executional alignment for ABM requires identifying friction points that can often cause ABM programs to slow down. These points may include lack of alignment at the leadership level or lack of understanding of key processes and procedures essential to specific functions. To address these issues, marketing may need to take a class to better understand the selected sales account planning process – for example, to better understand how sales thinks about its side of the account planning step. Each organization likely has specific friction points; the ABM program lead must monitor where the ABM program is encountering problems and work with the ABM team members listed in the charter to resolve these issues.

The Sirius Decision

Organizations that successfully launch and maintain ABM programs are often characterized by the investments they’ve made in cross-functional learning designed to facilitate greater awareness of core processes and procedures. For example, ABM teams can gain significant insights into sales processes by participating in account planning sessions or QBRs. Similarly, sales can better understand marketing processes by reviewing tactical engagement plans or becoming familiar with key marketing technologies. ABM is often defined as a team sport with critical contributions coming from a variety of team members. Successful teams recognize the value of individual contributions while understanding that the team as a whole can achieve more than any individual member.