Many companies hear the buzzword "account-based marketing (ABM)" yet have a blind spot on how sales is affected by a change from a lead-based model to an account-based model.

C-Suite executives are particularly guilty of this. They will get philosophical buy-in to an account-based strategy but not truly understand the ramifications of that decision specifically around the sales team. This scenario is typically found in a SaaS-based company that has an existing lead motion that is defined/reported on, and there is a strong desire to grow even faster. So a C-Suite-level, knee-jerk reaction may be, "Let’s try an account-based strategy!"

What's in This for Sales?

Let’s look at this situation with a sales productivity lens, specifically around systems with which sales teams interact. What does introducing an account-based strategy potentially represent to sales?

The analogy I often use with how adding an "account-based strategy" impacts sales is one with a police person. You are essentially taking a "beat street cop," a sales representative or cold-to-qualify sales development representative who may be used in a transactional motion. Changing that person into a "private detective," assimilating vast amounts of data and moving from a lead-based approach to an account-based approach is not an easy transition.

So where exactly should marketers be mindful of complexity creeping into an account-based strategy? What should you do about the complexity?

Here are three areas:

1. Extracting Meaningful Insights

Sales has limited time to digest new information. Any time new systems are introduced (to marketing automation and systems like Salesforce CRM), there is a high potential for more clicks that slows sales productivity dramatically. Sales teams need fewer clicks in their system of record (typically Salesforce) to maximize their selling time and not be hopping across systems, tabs or pages (a consistent blind spot for marketers who don’t work in these systems) to glean critical insights when time is tight.

How do you head this complexity off in both of these scenarios? Presenting this data in a simplified way in their workflow will be critical through improved workflow in Salesforce, which may also include lead-to-account matching. Either find a skilled Salesforce administrator who has sales process mapping understanding and/or augment with an experienced agency partner that can facilitate this workflow.

Make sure marketing is mindful of how sales works in systems; for example, lead activities corresponding to account activities in one place or view in Salesforce. In addition, training will be required on how to interpret this data, so be mindful of new requests of your sales enablement function.

Related Article: A Framework to Operationalize Your Account Based Strategy

2. Presenting too Much Marketing Information to Sales

Marketers often get overly enamored with our "Star Trek" speak of how the account-based sausage is made: lead scores, account scores, second-party intent, third-party intent, intent scores, etc. 

Learning Opportunities

A case study worth evaluating is from Brian Kardon, CRO of InVision, who had been a CMO previously and one of the few in the industry to successfully bridge that change. Brian stated it best when asked for advice that he’d give marketers in a situation of change management (30:30): “One (piece of advice) is simplicity. For the sales team, I think all of us in marketing have big eyes, and we want to create great dashboards and (onboard) new tools. So I would really simplify the life of a salesperson.”

How do you help solve for too much marketing information into sales?

First, sales absolutely should have input in this account-based qualification process on its initial set up (and ongoing tune-ups) including the definition of a marketing-qualified account.

Next, sales should not be subjected to seeing how the marketing-qualified sausage is made on every single transaction. Again, the training ramifications are heavy in this kind of model, so marketers will need to simplify their presentation, perhaps as simple as presenting just the marketing-qualified account with the ability for the sales person to "double-click" into more information. A skilled marketing operations resource and/or agency partner skilled in business process may work best in this environment.

3. Recognize Today's Limited Attention Spans

With a majority of people having Zoom fatigue over the last two years, attention spans are limited, so sales capacity to absorb change is limited. This is a call for simplification when embarking on a different sales motion for sales.

Sandra Freeman, VP of strategic marketing of Demandbase, shares how to break through this obstacle (8:47): “When I presented (my plan) to sales, I just made it super simple. It's one slide. It had four buckets: data, advertising, direct mail, high value offers. Having that in like a simple PDF, putting it in the Slack channel, doing it again and again. Otherwise, you're going to waste your time, every single meeting explaining what each thing is like and go into confusion mode.”

Related Article: 5 Hard-Earned Lessons on Account-Based Strategy

Being Mindful When Introducing New Motions

In summary, every company right now is seeking more growth. The key is being mindful when introducing new motions, new ideas or new technologies to your sales team. Fewer disruptions to existing selling process (evolutionary changes) in a distributed/hybrid work environment that we are all in right now are going to be more welcome vs. revolutionary changes. Sales productivity could be dramatically altered if a strategy is not thought through carefully.