Sunday, March 12, 2017

ABM Success Requires "Unnatural" Teamwork

One of the most formidable challenges related to account-based marketing is the need to build and sustain a high level of teamwork among business functions that have historically operated more or less independently. ABM obviously requires a tight alignment between marketing and sales. And when ABM is used to expand relationships with existing customers, the need for alignment will also extend to the customer service/customer success function of a company.

Some ABM experts now speak in terms of account-based everything to make the point that ABM actually encompasses far more than marketing.

Unfortunately, some company leaders don't fully appreciate how much and what kind of teamwork is required for ABM success. For example, most ABM thought leaders and practitioners agree that marketing and sales should jointly:

This level of collaboration is necessary to create a solid foundation for a successful ABM program, but it's really just the starting point. To reap the maximum benefits from ABM, marketing 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 marketing and sales activities that must be closely coordinated to produce maximum results. 

In addition, marketing and sales must be ready to make on-the-fly adjustments to their account plan based on actual buyer responses and changing business conditions at each account.

Therefore, successful ABM requires marketing and sales (and in some cases customer service) 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 managed sales leads.

In many B2B companies, the demand generation process involves a series of "hand-offs" from one business function to another. For example, marketing passes leads to business/sales development, which passes leads on to sales. 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. This approach makes it relatively easy to manage demand generation within traditional organizational structures.

The relay race approach has never been the optimum way to manage demand generation, and it won't be effective in an ABM program. To address this challenge, some companies create cross-functional account teams to manage and coordinate the activities relating to their ABM accounts. To use a sports analogy, an ABM account team functions more like a basketball team than a 4 x 100 meter relay team. In an ABM account team, every team member is involved (in one way or another) throughout the entire game, and their roles change on a fluid basis.

The important point here is that successful ABM requires an exceptional level of cross-functional teamwork that isn't "natural" for many companies. Some ABM pundits contend that account-based marketing will create better alignment between marketing and sales, but this just isn't so.

The decision to adopt ABM can be the catalyst for creating better marketing-sales alignment, but ABM won't cause such alignment to magically appear. It's more accurate to say that good alignment between marketing and sales is a necessary prerequisite for successful ABM. Therefore, company leaders must be prepared to create and implement the structures, processes, and culture that are required to make the necessary teamwork a reality.

Illustration courtesy of Katlene Niven via Flickr CC.

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