We're in this together: Why marketing and sales alignment is critical for ABM

May 4, 2021

Intellectually, most marketers understand the importance of aligning with their sales counterparts. Sales and marketing can feed each other's strengths. 

Sales likely has first-hand experience and insight that you can't get from a CRM report. Marketing teams usually include the people and tools to design effective ways to communicate. We know that when the two teams work together well, the work tends to be better and performs well.

Here's the "but." 

The fact is that not many organizations can actually make it happen.. 

  • Just to illustrate, here's an example from the content marketing world. According to a Content Marketing Institute research study, only about 46 percent of content marketers felt like they were aligned with their peers in sales. That's less than half. It's also very likely that when you apply that same question to marketing teams in general, 46 percent is probably being generous. 

The reality is that we’re all not as aligned as we think we are. If we're being honest with ourselves (whether we admit it or not), if business was high school, most folks would probably say that marketing collaborating with sales is like the nerds buddying up with the jocks.

But when it comes to planning and executing campaigns, especially the marketer's favorite strategy du jour, ABM, , working together isn't just "a good idea." It's a critical component of a functioning program—even more so when you're talking 1:1 ABM (Don't know what this? We wrote a whole article on it here).

According to Rollworks, alignment actually translates into tangible benefits for both sales and marketing.  Their research found that 66 percent of companies reported increased pipeline opportunities in their ABM plays once they figured out the whole alignment thing. 

We have an inkling of the benefits of aligning, how can not aligning potentially affect your ABM programs?  ? Why is it so critical (especially for that 1:1 ABM we mentioned)?  How do you actually, you know, do it? 

Ask the Right Questions

Let’s say you meet one time with your sales team. You discuss possible accounts to direct your next 1:1 ABM campaign.) 

But they just give you a list of accounts. Okaaay great— so what do you do with that? Nothing! You do nothing because you can't do anything with no insight. 

You need to dig deeper. Really grill the sales team about what they want to get out of an ABM program and what sort of intelligence they can provide you. Start with questions like:

  • What's the primary objective of a given ABM campaign? (e.g.  generating awareness, increasing submissions/leads, etc).
  • Are there specific/named targets within the given accounts who might be essential to the account's decision making?
  • To what extent do we know what the target account's business priorities focus on?
  • Which of our products/solutions/services can potentially address their pain points? How are our widgets (or how we talk about our widgets) any different from our competitors? 
  • What is a realistic timeline for the campaign, and how long should it reasonably run??
  • Are there any events/important dates that we should take into account?
  • Whatever questions these questions lead to….

I think you get the idea. The first step is building an intake document or questionnaire. You can send it directly to your sales counterparts or use it as a guide for discussions. However you use the intake document, it's the best way to kick your 1:1 ABM campaigns off on the right foot.

Don't Forget to Pivot

You're off to a great start with your new ABM campaign. But there will come a time when you have to pivot.. 

You've done all the work you can to get the campaign launched. Thanks to the insight your friends in sales provided, your target list is rock solid, as is your communications strategy. Creative is on-point because sales gave you enough information to craft something special and sure to resonate.

Now that the campaign is in-market, it's time to pay it forward. Now it's your job to actively support the sales team and create open communication on how to improve strategy and tactics. Together, you can chart the performance of the campaign currently in-market and gather less tangible intelligence about how it's going from sales' contacts at the account.

These conversations may yield some surprises. For example, you may discover that a particular bit of campaign messaging is resonating much more strongly than you expected. This is an opportunity for both marketing and sales to calibrate and refine how they're communicating with the account. If your team is on the same page with sales, you won't step on each other's toes, message-wise.

These surprises are okay! Actually, they're a pretty positive outcome. Something is working. It may not be what you expected, and it’s a bit hard to plan for something you don't know about, so it's best to take an agile approach to your ABM campaigns. Keep a mind as open as your communication with your sales peers.

Take the wins and losses as they come, but learn, refine, and yes, pivot if necessary. With the right insight, your team and sales can create something that truly resonates emotionally and intellectually with your target contacts.

Misalignment Missteps

We alluded to the potential danger of not aligning. It's real.   If you, your team, your campaigns and your sales colleagues are all doing their own things, you'll be up sh*t creek faster than you can say, "The KPIs aren't looking good.." 

If you DON’T get all the necessary information up front from sales AND you’re not consistently communicating with them throughout the life of the campaign, you might risk:

  •  Developing exactly the wrong messaging and creative
  • Creating a communications strategy that leverages channels the account targets don't use or just don't care about)
  • Promoting the wrong solutions for the wrong problems
  • Hell, you may even communicate something unintentionally insensitive

And all this means...poor campaign performance = no results for you = no results for sales = no business movement = wasted time and resources = unhappy teams = no one likes you. 

Sorry about that last part. Just being honest. e only say it because we care, and we don't want that for you.

Sustaining Collaborations with Sales

So what can you do to avoid the above scenario? Here are a few ways you can sustain productive collaboration and communication with sales:

  • Stick with them, keep them happy, keep leads coming in and keep accounts (and the key folks in their buying centers) moving through the funnel
  • Form great partnerships with sales team members who honestly  believe in the power of what you can do if you work together 
  • ruly listen to your colleagues, and try to work with them. Show them you’re on their side and they’ll do the same for you.
  • Communicate early successes. We marketers tend not to be a boastful bunch. Sometimes we forget (or feel too bashful)to showcase, package, communicate our successes, big and small. We're helping each other, and it's always a good idea to remind everyone. 
  • Maintain regular communication by setting  a meeting cadence with the account’s designated sales team. No one likes another meeting, but if you want this to work, it's the price you have to pay. These can be informal conversations to review performance, discuss new insights, and plan for the pivots if need-be.

You can even try out a small-scale 1:1 ABM pilot campaign if sales isn't quite bought in. Results tend to change minds fairly quickly.

Best of Friends

If something's keeping your team and your sales counterparts from working as closely as possible, well, you both gotta get over that. We've seen the possible benefits of collaboration and the potential hazards of not aligning. If you're considering a campaign, especially an ABM campaign, working closely with your colleagues isn't just a good idea, it's critical.

After all, nothing brings people together like a big win.