By Christina Clark

The concept of account-based marketing (ABM) is taking the business world by storm—and for good reason. Because of its narrow focus and personalized messaging, 80 percent of marketers indicate that ABM significantly outperforms other marketing initiatives. Additionally, of those that have employed ABM tactics, 87 percent agree that these efforts deliver a higher ROI than other marketing activities.

Although this is enough to make any marketer jump for joy and get on the ABM bandwagon, it is often much harder to get the sales team on board. Think about it: ABM challenges the traditional notion that success is driven by a full sales funnel. Instead, it appears that the marketing team is asking sales to work with fewer leads, and that can seem like a risky proposition.

Unfortunately, without buy-in from the sales team, even the best-laid ABM plans will fall flat. The key to overcoming this barrier is to reinforce that both teams are focusing on the same goal: providing valuable, meaningful interactions with key accounts to ultimately drive more revenue. With this guiding principle in mind, let’s dive into the steps you can take to ensure sales and marketing alignment that will lead to ABM success.

 

What Is ABM?

Before we begin, let’s briefly recap the concept of account-based marketing and how it differs from inbound marketing initiatives.

Rather than cast a wide net with the intent of bringing in as many leads as possible, ABM takes the opposite approach by targeting specific, key accounts that fit a number of predefined criteria. These criteria comprise what is known as the ideal customer profile, a holistic representation of the types of companies that best fit an organization’s product offering or services.

This brings about another important distinction—ABM focuses on targeting companies, not individual people, and tailoring marketing messages to align with the entity's unique interests and needs. This is a fundamentally different approach from inbound marketing where you mainly focus on targeting buyer personas, a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer.

The common thread in inbound marketing and ABM is content. In targeting key accounts, ABM still heavily relies on content to nurture prospects through the Buyer’s Journey. In fact, when done right, content can actually do most of the heavy lifting for the sales team and reduce the length of the sales cycle.

This fundamental principle is ultimately what drives the need for sales and marketing alignment—each team needs to work in conjunction with the other to ensure the most valuable and personal experience for key accounts.

 

How ABM Is Changing Sales and Marketing Interactions

According to a recent study, 50 percent of companies plan to prioritize the alignment of sales and marketing when initiating an ABM strategy. However, 38 percent admitted that doing so would be a challenge. Why?

Well, it’s no secret that sales and marketing tend to butt heads. On the one hand, marketing is responsible for all the activities needed to persuade target customers. On the other, sales has the responsibility of building personal connections and physically closing deals. Even though both teams are focused on the same goal—driving more revenue—they often operate in silos and forget that they are working toward the same goal.

Ready to deliver valuable, relevant content and nurture targeted relationships  with ABM? Check out this guide.

With ABM taking over as a dominant marketing strategy for many B2B businesses, it's becoming even more critical for sales and marketing to work together. Marketing can't create content that is going to resonate with prospects without key insight from sales. And sales isn't going to have substantial conversations with warm or hot leads if marketing isn't able to attract the right prospects in the first place. The key to working together well is recognizing that each team needs the other in order to succeed.

The good news is that ABM inherently forces both teams to work together—and the motivation behind doing so is the desire to drive more qualified leads.. In fact, companies that use ABM become 67 percent better at closing deals when they sync their marketing and sales teams.

 

Achieving Sales and Marketing Alignment

To ensure successful alignment between sales and marketing, it is important to clearly define the responsibilities of each team. Not only does this provide a platform for holding one another accountable, but it also makes it easy to identify when a task has fallen through the cracks.  

Here are some of the key responsibilities of each team to ensure a seamless lead handoff and contribute to overall ABM success:

Marketing Responsibilities

  1. Develop a library of high-quality, sales enablement content that can assist the sales team during their conversations with prospects in key accounts. Be sure to include collateral for each stage of the Buyer’s Journey and ensure that it speaks to the unique pain points and needs of your ideal customer profile.  
  2. Store all of your sales-enablement content in a convenient location and make sure the sales team knows where they can locate it. Google Drive is a helpful tool that can store all of your collateral in a unified location and allows you to easily share documents within your teams, as well as externally with prospects. Additionally, if you ever have to modify content, the real-time updating and autosaving functionality will ensure that your sales team always has the most recent and up-to-date version.
  3. This one is important: Spend ample time educating the sales team! Creating content takes time, and you want to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck by empowering the sales team to leverage it throughout their interactions with prospects. At the end of the day, if they don’t know how to use the content, they won’t. And this will ultimately limit your ability to succeed at ABM. Start by educating the team on the Buyer’s Journey and then denote the specific pieces of content that can fit within each stage. Be sure to keep the training going as you add in more content to your ABM strategy.
  4. Use a lead scoring system to ensure leads are qualified before you hand them off to the sales team. They will be much more excited about following up on leads that are truly ready to speak to them.
  5. Ensure a seamless and timely transition of leads from marketing to sales. You can use automation to set internal notifications that are triggered based on a prospect’s activity, including website visits, email engagement, or interaction with ads. Additionally, you can trigger notifications to the sales team if a prospect has taken a desired action that requires some type of follow-up.

Sales Responsibilities

  1. Follow up with leads from the marketing team in a timely manner. Because ABM is narrow in its focus, you will have less prospects in the sales funnel. However, when done right, ABM allows marketing to attract the right types of prospects with the right content at the right time, ensuring leads are hot by the time they reach your team.
  2. Share common pain points or objections that are brought up during sales conversations. This information can help the marketing team develop additional content to support these issues down the road. HubSpot sales software is a fantastic tool that can streamline this process. With full access to an automated stream of interactions with prospects, marketing can get an inside look at what prospects want without needing sales to intervene.  
  3. Be transparent about deals that are lost, in addition to those that are won. Getting a grasp on why a prospect didn’t close can help you refine your ABM approach in the future.

In addition to the strategies above, the sales and marketing teams should also schedule regular meetings to ensure continuous, seamless alignment between both parties. The additional facetime will help build trust among teams and facilitate a strong working relationship for years to come.

Want to learn more about how the digital world is transforming the ways sales and marketing teams interact with one another? Check out our free guide, The Evolution of the Sales & Marketing Relationship.

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Christina Clark

About the author

Christina Clark is a Marketing Consultant at SmartBug Media and brings a wealth of creative talent to the organization. She has experience implementing both traditional and inbound marketing strategies for companies in various industries and has been a HubSpot power-user since 2015. She specializes in lead generation, lead nurturing, and content marketing tactics. Read more articles by Christina Clark.

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