How ABM Can Improve Sales and Marketing Alignment

November 16, 2015 Mark Emmons


It’s said over and over: There’s no such thing as a “silver bullet.” No single cure-all, technological tool or strategy exists that miraculously will help businesses close more deals. That’s a pipe dream. And while we’re at it, there’s no magic elixir that will ensure sales and marketing do a better job of playing nice together, either.

But a new survey by LeanData about sales and marketing alignment challenges the notion that those two teams are destined to forever be frustrated with one another. Yes, the survey found – surprise, surprise – communication and trust issues exist between sales and marketing. No news there, right? A deeper look, though, revealed something encouraging. Respondents indicated that cooperation is measurably better at businesses that have adopted an ABM strategy.

Among survey highlights:

  • Sales teams at businesses utilizing ABM are 20 percent more likely to trust the attribution numbers reported by marketing and also 20 percent more likely to understand marketing’s goals.
  • ABM marketers said sales follows up on their leads 25 percent more – saying that it occurs 40 percent of the time compared to just 30 percent at companies not utilizing ABM strategies.
  • Sales teams in companies not using ABM are 10 percent more likely to rate the quality of marketing-generated leads negatively.

In other words, businesses using Account-Based Marketing are seeing quantifiable improvements in the sales-and-marketing relationship that presumably are upgrading their ability to close more deals – something that makes everybody happy.

The core tenet of ABM is getting the two teams together to create a list of target accounts and then efficiently work them in tandem throughout the lifecycle of deals. The focus is on pursuing those high-value accounts rather than spending time generating vast numbers of leads that have dubious quality and can lead to friction between the teams.

As a former analyst at IDC, Sam Melnick extensively has researched the challenge of sales and marketing alignment. He believes that ABM can be a catalyst to improving their partnership in ways that benefits the bottom line.

“ABM is a smart simplification that can bring people to the table,” said Melnick, now director of customer and marketing insights at Allocadia. “Both teams know what accounts they need to focus on. Let’s find an objective way to score each account, then we can bring people together and talk about that. If you can’t even agree on which accounts to target, how can you do any ABM? You can’t. And that’s why the process almost forces alignment.”

Melnick and other observers are quick to note that there’s nothing revolutionary about the basic principles of Account-Based Marketing. Inside sales expert Trish Bertuzzi said Jill Konrath’s 2005 book “Selling to Big Companies” essentially was preaching the ABM gospel using different terminology.

“This is just another execution methodology of doing what we’ve always done,” said Bertuzzi, the president and chief strategist of The Bridge Group. “The only thing new is the acronym. Honestly, I’m not being a cynic about it because I do find it fascinating. ABM is brilliant. But I also feel like we’re packaging something old as new in order to resell it.”

Or, as Matt Heinz added, sometimes sales professionals listen to all the ABM fuss and scratch their heads.

“A lot of salespeople I talk with say: ‘Gee marketing, ABM is really cute. But we’ve been doing named account selling forever. Welcome to the party. You’re a little late, but we’re glad you’re here,’” said Heinz, president of Heinz Marketing.

But Heinz agrees with Bertuzzi that ABM is more than mere hype, and that there are reasons for the growing momentum. In fact, Heinz recently co-published a workbook with Integrate for developing an Account-Based Marketing program.

As B2B sales cycles have become longer, more complex and involve more people, greater visibility into accounts is a must. That requires the hands-on participation of both sales and marketing. Also, there is something new: Purpose-built technologies that can better measure, optimize and scale the process – and ultimately help the teams work together more efficiently.

“I do see Account-Based Marketing as helping align sales and marketing around the story of the buyer’s journey,” Heinz said. “It’s not just about how many leads you can send us. It’s about getting the right organization into a conversation with us about a better outcome that we can help them achieve. ABM is a huge buzz right now because it is really valuable.”

The LeanData survey results indicated that ABM might not be that proverbial silver bullet. But it’s also more than a passing fad because it’s helping businesses in the traditional problem of getting sales and marketing on the same page.

“At the beginning of the year, it looked as if ABM was going to take off,” Melnick added. “Now it’s totally blown up. It’s gone from kind of cool to everybody is talking about it. And it’s not going anywhere.”

And that’s a good thing for peace in our time among sales and marketing colleagues.


Read the Pulse Report: Sales and Marketing Alignment survey results!

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