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Marketing and Sales Alignment Starts with Change Management.

 This article first appeared at Sales Hacker.

Account based marketing (ABM) is a growth tactic and revenue accelerator, but many sales reps and even sales leaders are skeptical about this approach. ABM doesn’t work without tight marketing and sales alignment. To get there, sales needs to be all in. That’s why the most important factor for ABM success is sustained change management.

Why is marketing and sales alignment so important to effective ABM?

B2B buying has changed. Purchasing decisions come from buying teams, not a single decision maker. What’s more, the average number of people on an enterprise buying team is now 11, and the average number of digital interactions during the buying process is 27 (up from 17 just two years ago). And McKinsey research shows that digital engagement channels have increased from 5 to 10. In other words, your audience is everywhere, and if you’re not there to influence them, someone else is.

To reach and influence buying teams in this new environment, marketing is shifting from being brand-centric to demand-centric. It’s getting laser-focused on using data to drive actions. 

If sales is not using this knowledge and data to intercept sales-ready leads at the best time, with the most relevant offers, you won’t see the returns you expect on your ABM strategy

At the same time, if marketing’s efforts are not delivering the right kinds of leads, that effort is wasted. To succeed at account based marketing—or account led growth, as I prefer to call it—sales and marketing teams must agree on target accounts and key personas. They must also agree on goals and KPIs and the processes and tools that will be used to achieve them.

And while ABM is the poster child for sales and marketing alignment, the truth is that whenever sales and marketing teams work closely together, companies see shorter sales cycles and increased revenue. In other words, marketing and sales alignment isn’t just about ABM. It’s about growth.

Okay, but change management?

I’ll admit it. I was a change management non-believer. The “change initiatives” I saw happening seemed like a lot of talk and no action. You read the memo and then you tossed it in the recycling bin. There might appear to be compliance at first, but it was short-lived and surface-level.

Over the years, my understanding of and respect for real change management has grown. After all, change management is just a set of tools and practices for helping people adopt and really internalize a change. And ABM is a huge change, involving new ways of working with others in your organization, new ways of thinking about, managing and approaching sales leads, and new ways of using existing tools—on top of the adoption of new tools.

As a growth marketing agency, Iron Horse works closely with marketing and sales organization leadership. We see every day what it takes to break through organizational silos and get out of an “ownership” mentality that is often embedded in organizational culture. 

Before seasoned salespeople will embrace and pour their effort into such a change, they need to believe it’s worthwhile. They need to know what’s in it for them. That’s where change management comes in.

What is the role of marketing and sales leadership in change management?

The most important thing marketing and sales leaders can do is embrace the one growth team mentality and together communicate to your teams that this is the new way. 

If you’re doubting the value of this strategy, your team will pick up on it, and it’s not going to work. 

If your CMO or CRO has not provided a clear vision of how ABM relates to your organization’s growth goals and how team members will be held accountable for making the change, work with them to make this happen. 

6 steps to create sales and marketing alignment that lasts. 

Here are six steps we use with our enterprise B2B customers to help committed B2B sales and marketing leaders create marketing and sales alignment that lasts. 

1. Communicate the vision for the change clearly and often.

For any change, but especially a cross-organizational change like ABM, the messaging and vision must come from the top and be communicated clearly and enthusiastically by leadership at each level. 

For ABM, this means the CRO and CMO are championing this new way of working. One thing leaders often overlook when rolling out a change is the importance of staying involved. This is not a once-and-done executive announcement. Rather, the introduction of ABM should be woven into the fabric of your organization, and leaders at every level should take every opportunity to reshare the reasons and goals for the shift.

2. Create sales cohorts to learn and adopt ABM together. 

Trying a new change by yourself can be frustrating, seem pointless, or just feel lonely. Any little bump in the road can send you scurrying back to what you know “works.” On the other hand, embarking on a new process with a team can be incredibly powerful and motivating. Not only do you have the sense that “we’re all in this together,” but you have the benefit of learning both from others’ successes and their challenges.

To tap into the power of togetherness, we create cohorts of sales practitioners and support them in a focused way as they begin working in the new ABM process. This model works best when you can create office-based cohorts, rather than grouping remote team members. In addition to the benefits of seeing and working with each other every day, setting up office-based cohorts leads naturally to friendly inter-office competition (more on that below). 

3. Identify and communicate clear metrics for ABM.

Consider how you will hold team members accountable for adopting the change. If your metrics are too high-level, you can expect surface-level cooperation—and near-immediate drop-off once goals are met. The best metrics are those that will help sales reps develop new habits that are necessary to ABM. These may include:

  • Creating and updating account dossiers
  • Logging into new tools regularly
  • Creating and reviewing action plans based on intent data with managers or the ABM strategy team
  • Tracking appointments and engagement from target accounts

Whenever possible, tie metrics into other organizational levers, such as bonuses.

4. Don’t think of establishing marketing and sales alignment as “training.”

ABM teams rely on intent data to determine which target accounts are in-market, which buying team members and personas are most active, and when and how to intercept prospects. In our recent growth marketing benchmarks report, 63% of B2B tech marketing organizations stated they use data from two or more intent providers. To sell in this new way, sales reps need to access that data. More importantly, they need to know what to do with it. 

Many ABM rollouts focus on training sales on the tools and process for reviewing intent data—without providing the ongoing coaching and support to help reps become skilled at interpreting and acting on that data. But people don’t master complex new skills through passive Zoom sessions. Make sure to approach this process as a workshop with time and space to practice, problem solve, and iterate to develop mastery. 

We recommend that sales cohorts meet at least once a week over six weeks to surface issues and really nail down the process. After the initial six-week period, continue to make sure they are sticking to the new way of selling by hosting office hours and performing 1:1 outreach based on metrics you track. 

5. Gamify it.

Healthy competition can be a great way to drive engagement with the new way of working. Tapping into sales reps’ naturally competitive nature not only makes participation fun, but encourages the volume and level of participation necessary to start seeing results. And once you have those, convincing anyone who is still resistant to the change will be a lot easier. 

We recommend incorporating all of the following as part of your ABM rollout:

  • Create weekly challenges to encourage participation. Ideas include: the first rep to get an appointment, set up a demo, use intent data in their outreach—and first to close!
  • Showcase top performers or teams on a leaderboard. 
  • Recognize smaller wins and accomplishments with shoutouts at meetings, emails, or via your company Slack channel.

6. Share success stories. 

We’ve all seen how influential user-generated content is for prospects. It’s the same with getting people to buy into a change. A few visible wins can help overcome distrust and motivate others to give their all to the new process. Don’t leave success stories up to chance. Make a plan to identify top performers. Highlight success and sales stories via weekly shoutouts on sales calls, newsletters, training sessions, and awards.

The Iron Horse insight.

The old silos and sequential marketing-hands-off-to-sales thinking are not flexible enough to meet the needs of today’s B2B customers. To grow in today’s market, organizations must think and behave differently. To stand out and achieve success, provide sustained support as sales teams shift into this new way of working. 

Want more tips? Watch our masterclass webinar on making ABM stick with Outreach’s Transformation Practice Leader, Tonille Miller.