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ABM Requires Sales Account Plan Integration

In his second report from ITSMA, Joe Stanganelli reports on the practicalities of getting Sales and Marketing aligned.

Collaborative teamwork between marketers and salespeople was a top takeaway from ITSMA Marketing Vision 2016 conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts, this month—and so too were all things account-based marketing (“ABM”). The two message points combined in a breakout session on bringing sales teams into the ABM fold.

ITSMA senior associate Lisa Dennis contended that ABM can only be optimized by seamlessly melding the ABM plan with the sales team’s account plan—creating a single process and strategy from which both departments can operate. For Dennis, this requires “knowing what’s driving the clients in the account” and “looking at account intelligence both inside and outside.”

“The salespeople are very focused on ‘I have my number’ and ‘I gotta push the product,'” said Dennis. “So it’s not very outside focused; it’s very inside focused. If we could get ourselves to look outside a little more, [that’s the] biggest challenge. I believe that marketing really needs to take a role in that account planning on the sales side. The question is, ‘In what stage are they in that account process?’ Assess what they have. Compare it to the ABM methodology.” 

The first step to integrating ABM with an existing account plan is to actually know exactly what the account plan is— and if it even exists. This sounds obvious, but it is not so straightforward, according to Dennis.
“‘Is there an account plan?’ That’s the first question that you ask. In some organizations, they won’t let you see it, touch it, smell it—and that’s really tough,” said Dennis. “Are the campaign accounts that we’ve put together actually going to serve that defined account plan for the salesperson?” 

Dennis also emphasized that the ABM-infused account plan must contain specific “core objectives” that go beyond a dollar figure.
“I want to see not only a revenue goal, but [also] a relationship goal or a value goal,” said Dennis. “Nine times out of ten you’ll see gaps right there. That gives you an opportunity to help [your sales team] figure out how to fill them.” 

To these ends, Dennis’s co-presenter Jeff Sands, Vice President and ABM Practice Co-Lead at ITSMA, recommended asking salespeople one prodding question to get to the root of where integration opportunities lie: “When you were making your [account] plan, were there pieces of information that you wish you had that if you had them [and] would have made your plan a little bit more complete?” That one question opened up the door to seal a relationship that is opening up the door in a very robust way,” said Sand of the first time he posed it to a sales colleague. “Just ask the salesperson.” 

One attending marketer described to the room her own company’s recent planning efforts, as she and her marketing colleagues worked extensively with sales teams to integrate ABM with pre-existing account plans for the company’s top accounts. She followed up by asking Dennis if she sees “most companies today doing [that] as part of the initial account planning process”. 

“Ideally, it would have been great to be part of that process to do it together. In the reality, you’re retrofitting,” replied Dennis. “You kind of have to retrofit successfully once or twice before they actually invite you to the table. … What I think that we can bring is to try to marry the now and the very short-term view quarter by quarter to a longer-term view of what’s going on in there. If you integrate the plans, [that] essentially allows you to collaboratively plan the account.”

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