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Equal effort toward culture and capabilities is the recipe for ABM success.

Read Time: 5 Mins

As a former SiriusDecisions and Forrester analyst I spent years talking to companies about the value of Sales and Marketing alignment, especially in account based marketing (ABM). I used case studies and anecdotes to illustrate the value of alignment. Recently, at Iron Horse, we set out to push past anecdotes and prove the value of alignment with data. Our research is conclusive—companies with high (11-40%) annual revenue growth show strong ABM alignment between Sales and Marketing. 

So why do so many companies that would tell you they’re aligned still struggle to see ABM results? 

Consider this sampling of responses from high growth marketers and sellers about what they need most from the other team to be more effective at ABM:

  • 53% of high growth sellers told us they want Marketing to collaborate on detailed account planning. 
  • 55% of Marketing respondents from high growth companies would like Sales to be involved in the content creation process.
  • 53% of high growth marketers want Sales to provide a feedback loop on what is working and the quality of opportunities and insights.

These high growth marketers and sellers may be aligned on the fundamentals of their ABM program. But they are lagging in the human aspect of working on the same team. Getting there requires a cultural shift. 

Here’s what I mean.


Making the cultural shift necessary for ABM.

ABM is both a method and a mindset. As such, you need to invest equally in the capabilities (technology and skills) and mindset (culture) shifts for ABM success. Neither is easy. The methods shift can be forced—“this is how we do things now”—but the mindset shift is a bigger ask. 

It’s a fundamental re-thinking of the way Sales and Marketing work. Your teams can keep their business cards, but if you’re really serious about driving sustainable growth with ABM, everyone’s roles are about to change. In the new culture, everyone will work together toward the sale—some people will pick up the phone and send over SOWs, others will create the content that serves as the starting point of the relationship that leads to that deal. Everyone will play a role in marketing, too. Some people will pore over Google Analytics and figure out what your audience is most interested in and others will report back what they’re hearing from phone calls and conversations.

Everyone’s pulling in the same direction because everyone’s responsible for the end result.

Over the years I’ve had companies that have found success making this shift tell me what the results looked like on a day-to-day basis. Here are a few examples that have stood out in my mind. (See if you can tell which quotes are from Sales and which come from Marketing.)

There was absolutely no argument about the “numbers.” That used to take up at least half of the meeting.

We are now invited to sales planning meetings, not just a results readout and we sit at the table as a participant, not along the back wall as an observer.

We don’t need to create a “black list” of reps that haven’t followed up on leads, and we don’t hear “these leads are no good.”

BDR churn is way down. Providing good enablement, great insights, and quality opportunities means a higher success rate—and less staff turnover.

We are finally speaking the same language—opportunities and buying committees are the common denominator vs. leads—marketing qualified opportunities, BDR qualified opportunities, sales qualified opportunities.

There are no battles for credit or blamestorming anymore. That was such a waste of time, but now everyone understands all the contributions and we have a joint view of success/failure.

How do you know when you’re there?

When we work with a client on piloting or scaling an ABM program, we look for certain areas of operational alignment that we’ve come to understand can only happen when this mindset shift has occurred. 

Here are four signals that your teams aren’t just talking the talk, but are living and breathing alignment every day.

1. SLAs are used for setting expectations, not policing actions.

SLAs such as turnaround times for asset creation or building an email sequence are important for planning. But too many SLAs can indicate that Marketing and Sales are forcing collaboration through rules rather than true unity. When we see a lot of SLAs—especially SLAs around when and how teams will update each other on account engagement—it’s a red flag. It signals that Marketing and Sales have not built the trust necessary to effortlessly collaborate on shared revenue goals. If this sounds familiar, it’s time to put resources toward building that trust.

2. Marketing and Sales are proactive about staying aligned.

Sales and Marketing may be separate functions, but to succeed at ABM they need to recognize their “team” is not bound by reporting lines. People who think of themselves as on the same team don’t wait until scheduled touch points—or worse, after the campaign or program is over—to work out problems and identify improvements. Instead they connect regularly and organically to evaluate and make adjustments to key dimensions such as targeting, messaging and KPIs.

3. Teams define success based on revenue goals, not functional goals.

Truly aligned teams understand that incremental, function-based KPIs are just waypoints on the path to the actual goal: revenue growth. If your marketers or sellers are still focusing on what I call coin-operated or transactional metrics such as clicks, opens, and registrations, rather than looking at the results of actions taken, such as meetings and pipeline growth, it’s a clear sign that your culture is not there yet. (If this is you, here’s how to drive buy-in for evolving marketing measurement.) 

4. The value of and commitment to alignment is consistently and frequently communicated—in words and actions.

Frequent and consistent top to bottom communication is a key component of change management. But operating in alignment requires more than words. Not all companies will or should go as far as reorganizing Marketing and Sales under a single revenue function. Other signs include tying incentives to aligned behaviors (and removing incentives that get in the way of collaboration), creating opportunities for Marketing and Sales to practice and be coached in the new desired behaviors, and frequently and publicly recognizing success stories rooted in the new way of working. 


The Iron Horse insight.

You may have heard the expression “culture eats strategy for lunch.” I’ve witnessed that many times. Passive-aggressive behavior, selective hearing and sabotage through rumor mongering can all kill a great strategy and plan. 

ABM is an opportunity to increase functional alignment between Sales and Marketing and alignment is a critical success factor in growth. Sales and Marketing leaders should actively collaborate, and ideally co-create the new operating norms and watch for authentic instances of behavioral change.

To learn more about how high growth companies are achieving this alignment, join our upcoming conversation, Maximizing Revenue: Unifying Marketing and Sales for Success.


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