What Happens When ABM Leaves Out Sales – and How to Fix It


Account-based marketing (ABM) is a wonderful approach with a terrible name.

Having worked in sales for more than 20 years – helping our team of SDRs generate over 10,000 appointments per year for B2B tech companies, I owe a lot of our success to ABM programs. It can be a wonderful thing when sales and marketing are totally aligned, working in lockstep to fill pipelines, move funnels, and drive revenue.

But things also go south quickly when ABM strategies are created on the marketing side of the house without much input from the sales team. The fact is ABM isn’t really account-based marketing at all.

Sales is a big part of ABM, but all too often the sales team gets left out of more than just the name.

The ABM alignment problem

ABM strategies always start with good intentions. When the marketing team leads the charge, they do often have the sales team in mind.

They’re thinking about all the complaints from the sales team about marketing-qualified leads being too small, too cold, or otherwise subpar. They’re remembering the time a sales leader commented on how difficult it is to get in with the big prospects. Or they’re seeing all the buzz about ABM and how it can help the sales team close bigger deals.

Thinking that ABM will be mutually beneficial in helping them and the sales team crush their goals, they go for it.

The problem? The marketing team often begins creating the ABM strategy in a bubble. They fully intend to educate the sales team on this new initiative and provide them tools to execute it properly, but they fail to bring sales into the process of building the strategy in the first place.

If it’s still early days for your ABM strategy development, it’s not too late to bring marketing and sales together. Marketing leaders: invite sales to the table. Sales leaders: ask your marketing colleagues if they’ve thought about ABM or lead the charge yourself (inviting marketing to the table from the beginning, of course).

But if your ABM is already underway, it’s likely that things aren’t going as smoothly as they could. Let’s break down the most common issues and how you can overcome them.

Issue 1: no emphasis on account-based prospecting

Example: Marketing wants to implement an ABM approach, but sales isn’t on board yet. They want to continue to operate as usual without any constraints. So, they keep prospecting for the same types of buyers they always have.

They treat ABM target accounts as just another prospect, giving them the same or less attention than the leads they found through their own prospecting efforts.

How to overcome: This challenge often comes down to leadership at the highest levels within an organization. You need to spend some time breaking down the silos and explaining to both sides the advantages of the whole team working together.

Sales needs to understand the value marketing can bring by softening up the target accounts with ABM messaging – and marketing needs to understand the value sales can bring by clearly articulating the value of your solutions and tailoring that value to the audience.

One of the best ways to get sales to buy into focusing on the ABM target accounts is to involve them in the creation of your target account list. Ask salespeople who their ‘dream’ customers are and figure out if there are any accounts they’ve been pursuing for a while without much success.

Issue 2: your total addressable market (TAM) shrinks

Example: You’re seeing traction within many different verticals and are excited about your growth potential with all these potential buyers. But marketing forges ahead with an ABM program that’s focused on just a short list of accounts. Suddenly, your total addressable market (TAM) gets smaller and it feels like you’re just leaving money on the table.

How to overcome: With the TAM shrinking, your meeting velocity will reduce, and that never looks good for any sales development team. But skilled and astute sales teams will turn this into a positive.

Suddenly, you have permission to hyper focus your efforts on landing those big accounts. This inevitably leads to larger deal sizes and bigger wins. And that’s not all. Focusing your efforts on a smaller number of high-value targets provides a great opportunity to gather better market intelligence.

Taking the time to dig a little deeper into each prospective account will help you gain critical insights like:

  • What tools they’re using
  • How they’re currently solving their problem
  • Some of the common competitors (they aren’t always who you think)
  • Who’s making the decisions
  • Business impacts around the problems your solution addresses
  • Many other key pieces of intel that can help sharpen your sales efforts

Issue 3: SDRs lack key insights

Example: Marketing knows why they selected each target account, but the SDRs on the team aren’t intimately familiar with these reasons and use a one-size-fits-all approach in their outreach.

How to overcome: Create a “battle card” for the SDR team and leave no stone unturned. This should include positioning statements and nuggets that are relevant by industry, persona, and even account. It will be important to spend some time with your SDRs to explain this approach and arm them with the right information to be successful.

It may sound obvious, but an informed sales team starts with solid, intentional training. Do some role playing with the SDR to work through what the correct application of these key insights should look like. The cross-collaboration and time marketing spends with your sales reps here will pay dividends in the long run.

Issue 4: the marketing message doesn’t resonate

Example: The scripts, sales enablement pieces, marketing blueprints, persona insights, and other collateral marketing provides the sales team looks great and sounds even better. The sales team happily puts these new tools to use, but doesn’t see it translate into pipeline or deals won.

All of a sudden, it feels like another case of marketing not understanding what it really takes to be in the trenches, sealing deals. They stop using the materials, messages get inconsistent, and both teams get frustrated.

How to overcome: When creating the ABM messaging, no doubt the marketing department based it on informed research. But the key with any ABM program is a willingness to be nimble, agile, and adaptable.

The best way to avoid this issue in the first place is to allow the sales team to be an integral part in crafting the messaging. They’re the ones on the front lines, speaking the customers’ language. But it doesn’t always play out that way and tweaks will need to be made even when it does.

When it comes to hitting the right messaging notes with your ABM program, there should be constant feedback loops between sales and marketing. What should be in those feedback loops? Discuss what intel the sales team was able to gather from target accounts and look for the common threads for messaging tweaks and adjustments.

Maybe there was a technical buyer that wasn’t accounted for or maybe there are security concerns around using a new product that there’s no messaging to address. Review which communication channels the sales team is finding the most success with. Some types of messages are easier to explain over the phone or may not be as appropriate on LinkedIn.

Finally, examine who lives in the win column both by persona and industry. Figure out what these accounts have in common as well as any commonalities among the accounts that haven’t responded or haven’t closed.

Once all this information has been gathered, use the knowledge gained and apply it to the next iteration of messaging. We’ve found that in most cases, the 80/20 rule will apply. Keep 80% of your core message the same and experiment with changes to the other 20% over time.

Bringing sales and marketing together in perfect ABM harmony

Yes, marketing often leads the charge with ABM. No matter how often we rail against the name, most of the world will continue to refer to it as account-based marketing. But as the issues above demonstrate, collaboration between marketing and sales is essential from the very beginning.

While the growing popularity of concepts like RevOps has blurred the lines between sales and marketing, most organizations still have a long way to go. And it’s never more apparent than with a fledgling ABM program.

Until everyone accepts that all client-facing teams must share the same tools and data and work as one cohesive unit to drive revenue, these challenges will persist. If Abe Lincoln were a modern-day CMO, he’d remind us that an ABM house divided against itself cannot stand.

An ABM house united, though, has the sturdy foundation to become a revenue-filled mansion.

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