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Sales-marketing alignment fuels successful account-based marketing

Account-based marketing has been successful in boosting sales and helping marketers personalize messaging, but it requires alignment between departments that is often lacking.

Account-based marketing has taken business-to-business marketing by storm. Marketing automation platform vendor Marketo Inc. recently released an ABM product, and Oracle Eloqua has had an offering for some time. Several lead-focused marketing automation platform executives have recently left to form new ABM companies. The account-based marketing momentum is real. But is ABM right for your company? And if so, how can it help you?

Account-based marketing coordinates targeted marketing and sales activities directed at groups of high-value accounts. Companies often develop highly or moderately customized marketing and sales efforts directed at a targeted group of large accounts, accounts in specific industries, or companies at different stages of the customer lifecycle. The true sweet spot for ABM is in large accounts.

Targeted marketing and selling are nothing new. What is new is the ability to run highly tailored account-, industry-, lifecycle- and persona-specific programs at scale. Today's new marketing tools and profile data can help marketers to identify the right segments, customer profiles, target companies and people; execute coordinated marketing campaigns; handle accounts and leads; and measure results -- and do it all at scale. Marketers now have the tools to execute and coordinate more targeted account-specific strategies and campaigns than ever before.

The most successful companies realize that account-based marketing is a cross-functional exercise -- beyond even sales and marketing. That's one reason why some industry visionaries are moving toward the term account-based everything: coordinated marketing, sales, service and more. However it's labeled, let's take a look at the state of account-based marketing today.

Earlier this year, market research firm SiriusDecisions Inc. and ABM industry group FlipMyFunnel independently published research that sheds light on ABM trends among B2B companies. Let's take a look at adoption, investment plans, tools and goals.

ABM adoption

Account-based marketing is still relatively new. According to FlipMyFunnel, 49% of respondents have an account-based marketing program in place, but only 30% of respondents have been running ABM for more than a year. SiriusDecisions found even more widespread adoption, possibly because it uses a broad definition for ABM, encompassing any type of company-based segmentation (large account, industry, lifecycle). So, it's no surprise that 87% of respondents surveyed said that ABM is extremely or very important overall to marketing efforts. In addition, 71% indicated that they have staff fully or partially dedicated to ABM, and 27% of respondents stated that their companies are investing anywhere from 11% to 30% of their marketing budgets on ABM.

Planned ABM investment

How are companies planning to invest in account-based marketing going forward? Seventy-three percent of companies are planning to increase their ABM investment in 2016, according to SiriusDecisions, and 71% plan to add new tools to support those efforts in the next year, according to FlipMyFunnel.

Tools used for ABM

How are marketers using tools to scale their account-based marketing efforts? The top tools used to support ABM are Salesforce automation (80%), marketing automation (74%) and account-based advertising (62%), according to SiriusDecisions. Interestingly, more companies are investing in tools (as many as 68% for some tools) than services (only as high as 44%) to support ABM, found SiriusDecisions. This trend is common across marketing as marketers shift from traditional advertising to programmatic and tools-based marketing.

ABM goals

ABM is all about the money. Traditional lead-centric marketing is used to generate lots of leads and marketing-qualified leads at the top of the funnel, whereas account-based marketing is used to drive pipeline and deals at the bottom of the funnel. SiriusDecisions found that marketers' top three goals for ABM are increased revenue/bookings, increased pipeline and higher quality leads. Similarly, 25% of FlipMyFunnel respondents use ABM to generate revenue, 22% to accelerate pipeline and 17% to better align sales and marketing.

Warning signs

To be successful, account-based marketing requires tight alignment between sales and marketing teams for tactics from account selection to lead handling and metrics -- and everything in between. But the opposite appears to be happening.

From 2015 to 2016, the number of tightly aligned sales and marketing teams actually decreased from 34% to 22%, according to SiriusDecisions. Does this lack of engagement point to sales teams becoming disillusioned with ABM? And what does that say about the future of ABM? Only time will tell.

Disclosure: TechTarget offers a project intelligence data and tools service for ABM.

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