How to Operationalize Your Account Based Strategy

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There’s a sharp divide between marketing and sales when it comes to successfully pulling off an account based experience for their prospective clients. While gaining strategic alignment at executive levels is relatively easy to do, the execution alignment across and within teams is challenging. Said differently, operationalizing an account based experience is where companies are currently falling down.

Conversica CMO Rashmi Vittal commissioned a new research report around the challenges and opportunities in account based marketing (ABM). “Now, with effective Account Based strategies in place, marketers and salespeople are pulling in the same direction more, but this new research indicates their execution of the ABM strategy is failing,” said Vittal.

What’s Preventing Businesses From Getting the Full Value of ABM Initiatives?

While companies align strategically on account based strategies, what is preventing them from using ABM to its maximum effectiveness? Of the 227 surveyed:

  • Marketers are twice as likely to point to a lack of cooperation with Sales as the reason for ABM not operating at maximum effectiveness.
  • 40% of marketers attribute ineffective ABM processes to a lack of cooperation between sales and marketing, whereas 19% of salespeople feel the same.

Consistent with our own informal LinkedIn polling of 55 people, account based execution is an area driving sharp divides across all industries.

When an account based initiative is first introduced or re-introduced to an organization because of an unsuccessful first attempt, we typically see companies embark on one of two stages — strategic and execution alignment.

A Boston-based SaaS high technology CMO (name redacted to protect the innocent) shared a clear example of the executive dialogue in/around an account based strategy: “We (CEO, CRO, CMO, CFO) all agree we need to do Account Based Sales/Marketing, we just don’t know how to go about it.” They are not alone judging from our experience and the research above. But how do you think through these stages if you are either starting or restarting your initiative?

Not all account based experiences start from the top of an organization. But all successful account based experiences do involve executive support at some point in the introduction or re-introduction process. To achieve success, typically there is an account based executive sponsor (CMO) and an account based owner (someone in marketing who does this initiative ideally in a full time role).

Related Article: Marketers, Are Your ABM Efforts Helping or Hurting Sales?

Account Based Initiative Stage 1: Strategic Alignment 

As the survey indicates, most companies quickly agree at this stage. Strategic alignment happens when the CMO, CRO, CFO, CEO commit to the initiative. What is also characteristic of this stage is while all parties expect outcomes, they often lack a common definition or vision of what success is beyond “revenue growth.” Complicating this scenario is the potential investment of new account based technology. The risk for non-marketing executives is the perception that “we’re doing an account based strategy because we’ve made an investment,” when in fact, a considerable amount of other work needs to get done.

We frequently see executives at this stage fail to reach alignment on definitions and understanding of what ABM means. We recommend taking these two steps to help you improve the odds of success with your account based initiative:

  1. Start with definitions. What does account based mean to key stakeholders? Conduct a brief workshop with cross-functional participants to align on the definition and realistic objectives of an account based initiative. Either bring in outside help to facilitate or conduct internally with the goal to make sure you reach a common understanding of what is and is not possible in account based initiatives.
  2. The ABM owner needs to lead executives through a discussion of maturity curves of account based experiences such that expectations are set and roadmapped accordingly. This is particularly important around measurement, data, technology and operational process readiness. The risk without this step is executives will expect instant results without an understanding of the time, energy and financial commitment it takes to pull this off successfully.

In our experience, the ABM owner and its executive sponsor conduct regular check-ins with the team once Stage 2 kicks off.

Related Article: Account-Based Strategies Go Nowhere Without Cross-Functional Collaboration

Account Based Initiative Stage 2: Execution Alignment

Execution alignment has two sub-stages: philosophical and operational alignment. The framework of actions/benefits guide the substages. The account based owner can lead this, either augmented with external agency support or on its own. Marketing should lead this effort with cross functional input.

Philosophical Alignment Operational Alignment
Funnel stage definitions Progress — Operational Pilot aligning sales/mktg. Tests around personalization to see what will and will not scale
Org roles & responsibilities at varying stages Research — Provide Sales or SDRs the right templates to research accounts, to arm them with the right information to engage.
KPIs to measure impact  
Quick win identification assigned by group Training — Cross-functional sales and marketing training is brought to life to support the organization

Detailed execution game plan

Effective Measurement — A ‘unified’ funnel view of Account Based, Lead Based, and Partners all in your CRM.

Account based sales and marketing can be a monumental challenge for companies looking to get more out of their revenue efforts. The lack of alignment between teams, the difficulty in figuring out what success looks like, and lack of clarity around how analytics can be used to measure progress all contribute to this problem. However, resources are available on how you can make ABM work for your company if you take these steps into account when developing an ABM strategy or process. For example, define what it means to succeed with ABM early on so everyone knows where they need to improve, while also considering what’s happening internally — both within teams and across departments. Make sure every team member understands the impact they have on each other during the customer journey by using analytics strategically.

Jon Russo is a three-time global CMO in successful public and private SaaS companies in Silicon Valley, New York City and Luxembourg for over 10 years, scaling businesses through three successful exits including an IPO as well as two acquisitions representing over $3 billion in market value. Today, he leads B2B Fusion, a sales and marketing performance firm with an expertise on Account Based Strategies and its measurement.

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