Sales and marketing functions are often treated as the oil and water of organizations, with strong cultural differences causing suboptimal, dysfunctional and even hostile relationships. But is that just mythology or is it reality? ‘Discuss’, as college examination papers used to request of us.For Agent3’s Clive Armitage that divide between departments has been more about different goals and expectations. “There’s always been an inherent tension due to marketing being largely a strategic function and sales being largely a tactical function,” he says.
“Marketing is long-term, considered and phased, and sales has a target this quarter – ‘how am I going to hit it?’ That’s exacerbated by the silos through which companies have traditionally run and hence the questioning of each other’s value. ‘Tactical’ isn’t bad and ‘strategic’ isn’t necessarily good, but the ways they look at their worlds are different. One side thinks they have delivered value and the other side says ‘no you haven’t’.”
Enter Account Based Marketing (ABM). It’s not a panacea but it’s an aid to get sales and marketing teams working in tandem by creating a bread-crumb trail of how marketers show insights into customers at an individualized level and embark on a journey that leads ultimately to a sale.
“The fact you can measure activity better will always help remove uncertainty,” Armitage suggests. “The digital revolution means the traditional sales and marketing model – where marketing gets the top of funnel and where sales converts – is pretty much dead. ABM says that if you approach people with the right content and then follow the buyer through the buying cycle, being smart in how you work with them, you’re going to be successful. I’ve had years of annual account reviews where sales said ‘that’s rubbish, you don’t know my customer’. But I do and now we have a mutual lens that allows everyone to look at the same page.”
ABM is also likely to be a catalyst for a different working relationship and cadence. “ABM should also mean that the sales and marketing relationship is not about one meeting at the beginning of the year. You need to be much more agile and course-correcting on a regular basis.” Catherine Howard, UK and Ireland head of marketing at digital services giant Atos, has had some practical successes here.
“There can be a disconnect between sales and marketing in some companies and some of that’s around leadership, structure and making sure there’s a mutual understanding of how everyone can contribute to business growth,” she says.
“At Atos, marketing and sales are very aligned at every stage and they center on a customer perspective. We all speak business language and focus on ROI and one of the first things I did here was to align marketing and sales goals. Marketing reports into the SVP for sales and marketing. I’m part of that Board and we have weekly sessions rather than being considered separate.”
Howard also sees ABM as a toolkit for keeping sales and marketing on the same track. “By using these tools you can show how marketing makes a difference by utilizing insights. We have a clear process of where the sales/marketing interlock is, and that’s reviewed every three months. You need a process and everyone signed up for it.” Howard also takes an iconoclastic view of that old standby of the sales and marketing worlds; lead generation.
“Sales aren’t interested in leads but ‘is there an opportunity to work with the client and close and hit my target?’ There’s almost a negative connotation with the word ‘lead’. It means someone looked at a White Paper. Well, I do that all the time and it doesn’t mean I’m interested in buying something.”
Instead, she says, sales and marketing must share the customer journey and chart the route along the way with metrics.
“A lot of it is about perception and showing consistency of delivery and follow-up. Everyone’s excited at ‘the big event’ but it’s the ‘after’ part that’s more important, and making sure you have tracking in place. And after that, business results allow you to have different conversation.”
That also means that marketing sheds its ill-deserved reputation for being ‘fluffy’.
“We have clear targets and you can see the contribution and we’re bonused on that,” Howard says. “I’d do it that way anyway, even if we weren’t.”
Automic Software CMO Chris Boorman is also blunt on the challenges of alignment.
“In my career I’ve only managed to work effectively with two sales leaders, including my current one,” he says. “Alignment is about belief in each other and having each other’s backs and excessive communications and alignment of goals. We spend a hell of a lot of effort in interlocks, shared goals et cetera. ABM is not a magic bullet and it’s really hard work to get to a single version of the truth but if you can see a live pipeline together then that cuts through all of the nonsense.”
Click here to download the full ABM Insight Report and learn about more ABM best practices across the following fundamental areas:
- Selecting the right accounts
- Targeting the right decision-makers
- Identifying the right channels of engagement throughout the customer lifecycle
- Leveraging the power of predictive analytics
- Proving the value of ABM
- Managing change to ensure ABM success