Goals, Alignment and Account-Based Marketing

April 20, 2016 Mark Emmons


Every primer on how to launch an Account-Based Marketing program begins with one, foundational piece of advice. Make sure your sales and marketing teams are aligned. Period. End of story. Do this . . . or else. Without getting those departments thinking of themselves as a combined, revenue-generating organization, any ABM strategy is doomed to failure.

And yet here are some common thoughts about sales and marketing alignment:

  • It’s easier said than done
  • Yeah, good luck with that
  • Not happening

Getting the two teams on the same page can be seen as a worthy, but unattainable goal. Too often they are warring tribes. They have different objectives and time horizons. Sales is under the quota gun. Marketing is preoccupied with creating future demand. The possibility of friction exists even before there are reasons to start pointing fingers.

That helps explain why making “teams of teams” succeed is difficult, said Prasad Setty, the vice president of People Operations at Google.



“One of the natural ways that teams band together is to blame problems on another team,” said Setty, drawing laughter from the crowd at the recent BetterWorks Goal Summit conference. “It’s true. ‘If only product had done its job.’ Or, “It’s all on marketing.’ That’s how we build team cohesion. But if you’re the leader of an organization, you’re focused on how you get these teams of teams to work together.”

The Goal Summit, which highlighted goal-setting and team-engagement strategies, addressed larger organizational issues than just sales-and-marketing misalignment. The words “account based” were never mentioned on the podium. Still, the wisdom shared by speakers was applicable to the daily challenges businesses face as they coordinate sales and marketing efforts around targeting key accounts.

John Doerr, a partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, is known for popularizing the concept of defined OKRs — Objectives and Key Results. He said that when it comes to objectives, the goals themselves can matter far less than the process that decides them.

“More important than the actual decision is getting the team to agree on what we’re going to do,” Doerr told the audience. “When you decouple the what from the how, you get infinitely more buy-in from the team because it’s their solution. It’s not top-down.”

In other words from a sales and marketing perspective, the decision that the teams must work more closely throughout the buyer’s journey may come from the executive team. But there’s a greater likelihood for success if the rank-and-file team members have a say in how that collaboration occurs. That way, there’s an ownership of the new arrangement where both teams need to feel equally invested in the outcome.

Doerr cautioned that no matter what the goals are, there won’t be a happy ending if management is not committed to making it work.

“But if you do this, you’ll find it is the most powerful tool in an organization,” he added. “It’s prioritization, communication and getting everyone focused on the key objectives that really matter.”

Rick Wartzman, a senior advisor at The Ducker Institute, said their consulting firm often is asked for guidance by organizations preparing to make big cultural changes. They always counsel to look for pockets of excellence within companies where that change might be occurring organically.

So in the case of ABM, are there marketers and salespeople already collaborating well?

“Maybe there are a couple of mold-breakers who already have gotten it, and they’re on the leading edge of where you’re trying to go,” Wartzman said. “Or maybe they haven’t figured it out yet, but are open to it. Let them be the leaders. Put a spotlight on their success. Let them help break down the skepticism. When they are getting results, others will want to know what they’re doing.”

Another tactic, he added, is to seek out advice from leading companies. What are ABM-centric firms doing to bring sales and marketing together? What “lessons-learned” can they offer?

“You want your sales team doing less irrelevant activities and be more focused on activities that drive efficiency.”

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“There are others who already have been on this journey.” Wartzman said. “In my experience, if they’re not in your competitive space, they would probably be really open and flattered if somebody wanted to know, ‘How did you do this?’”

In his presentation about the science behind effective teams at Google, Setty described how the search-engine giant had been trying to devise an algorithm to help create the best working units. (“We thought it would be like putting together a recipe,” he said.) Well, it hasn’t been as easy as just creating a formula. But their research did reveal some common traits to strong teams — and one vital takeaway. They learned that who is on a team matters less than how they interact with one another.

“That makes all the difference,” Setty said. “Team dynamics usually trumps team composition.”

He was quick to add that Google doesn’t have all the answers. And that’s especially the case when it comes to getting teams across an organization to play well together. But one suggestion he offered to breaking down walls was simply to “get different departments to work jointly on a project together.” Still, getting teams to join forces in a productive fashion is the biggest challenge facing organizations today, he added.

For companies embarking upon an ABM approach, though, team alignment is more than a challenge. It’s a necessity. And if it’s any consolation, every business is striving to do a better job.

“That’s because collaboration across organizational boundaries is exactly the right thing to be working on,” Setty said.

Main image courtesy of Jim Sorbie

About the Author

Mark Emmons

Mark Emmons is the staff writer at LeanData. He previously was a reporter at the San Jose Mercury News, Orange County Register and Detroit Free Press. He can be reached at mark@leandatainc.com.

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