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How to Ensure ABM Success via Organizational Structure

The B2B marketing world is so excited about ABM's potential, that we sometimes overlook a basic business maxim: Structure follows strategy.

Many marketing organizations lack the organizational structure to energize and optimize an ABM strategy and program. In some ways, Marketing's traditional org chart may actually hinder ABM success.

ABM as a Strategy

If we are going to consider changing part of marketing's org chart, let's begin by defining why ABM is a strategy, not a tactic.

ABM is not just a set of marketing campaigns; it is a companywide strategy for how to work with accounts. And it's a new strategy that uses a wide-angle lens to view the complete customer journey, not just the beginning. ABM as a strategy also incorporates marketing both to new accounts and to current accounts.

ABM as a strategy also requires a close working relationship between Sales and Marketing, but also among all elements of your company that touch the customer. Getting everyone, including Marketing, to adopt a broader view of the customer is a strategic move for any company.

Current Marketing Org Charts Support Leads, Not Accounts

As companies incorporate ABM as a strategy, Marketing needs to embrace and support a broader set of responsibilities around customer engagement. Yet, Marketing is often stuck in and hampered by a "leads" mentality and an org chart that supports that mentality.

Think about today's typical marketing org chart. It is focused on lead production for the top of the funnel and for passing "Sales-ready leads" to Sales. There is a demand generation function, and it is measured by funnel velocity and MQL metrics for the top of the funnel. Marketing's entire perspective is based on a funnel-centric view of the world.

ABM, however, shifts the center of the marketing universe from leads or MQLs to accounts. New measures are centered on customer engagement—both wide and deep in an account.

As that very strategic shift occurs, marketing organizations stuck with a funnel-centric approach and organization end up trying to apply part-time, lead-centric resources to the ABM strategy. Yet, lead-centric marketers often lack the required skills, and even more often they don't have the required organizational support. The result: at any ABM effort is less than optimal.

Potential ABM Structures

Over the last two years, I've seen some fascinating org-chart changes as Marketing acquires new responsibilities for ABM. Here are four:

  1. The ABM team functions like an overlay organization.
  2. The ABM team includes a full-time cross-functional liaison role.
  3. Marketing owns its own team of business development representatives (BDRs).
  4. The ABM team reports to the VP of sales.

ABM as an Overlay Organization

ABM requires a lot of coordination across functions. Optimally, Marketing, Sales and Customer Support would working as one finely tuned engine.

Just as some companies with complex products set up product-overlay specialists, a few companies elevate the ABM team to an overlay organization working with Sales, Marketing, and Customer Support.

The overlay team provides strategic direction and strong coordination and collaboration while leaving the systems and tactics to the various functions. The overlay function typically works very closely with Marketing and Sales operations to make data-driven decisions and recommendations.

Elevating the ABM team to an overlay organization ensures that ABM is seen as being strategic and essential to company success.

ABM Team Includes a Full-Time Cross-Functional Liaison Role

More common than the ABM overlay team is a full-time cross-functional liaison role on the ABM team.

I first saw this role on a Marketing Operations team. This liaison was responsible for all communication and communication systems between Marketing and Sales. More recently, I've seen the liaison role apply to an ABM team. In one particular case, that person was responsible for both coordinating and really leading the collaborative effort required for ABM success.

It's is not a junior role; to bring the credibility needed, the liaison role requires knowledge and experience in both marketing and sales.

Marketing Owns Its Own BDR Team

A huge part of ABM success is having an intimate understanding of all elements in the account, resulting in an intimate level of personalization and touch. An effective way of doing that well is to connect the ABM team to the BDR team. I am a huge believer in having Marketing own some element of sales, and ownership of the BDR team is a great place to start.

That ownership accomplishes several goals:

  • First, it helps Marketing adjust its mindset from being an activity-based department to a results-based department.
  • Second, when Marketing has some "skin in the game," it is viewed as a credible partner by Sales.
  • Third, it sets up a better scenario for ABM success.

ABM requires working closely with Sales to optimize both the overall account approach and the specific set of actions to be taken regarding each account. By owning the BDR team, Marketing is closer to the data; it can therefore set up more experiments that will optimize ABM goals.

I've seen marketing organizations become much more agile and revenue-focused once they own a BDR responsibility, and the requirements of an ABM strategy are perfect for that combination.

The ABM Team Reports to the VP of Sales

Given the description of the success in combining the ABM team with the BDR team, I suspect we'll begin seeing some VPs of Sales who want to own this function. In the last few years, I have begun to see the demand generation function report into the sales organization. It seems that once that switch is made, Marketing becomes very revenue-focused. Because ABM is a strategy that involves the key accounts of an organization, I'm sure there is a VP of Sales somewhere who already owns that function or leans heavily on the ABM overlay team or the full-time ABM liaison team to optimize all ABM activities and results.

The Times They Are A-Changing

As more and more responsibilities fall to the marketing team, we will continue to see new organizational structures. ABM is just one example. The real question for marketers is, Will they step up to those new responsibilities with new marketing structures, or will they abdicate those responsibilities to someone else's org structure?

ABM is a wonderful opportunity for Marketing to work cross-functionally to make a real impact on the business. ABM as a strategy helps align Marketing and Sales (and customer success) around a common set of goals. In that collaborative environment, Marketing earns the credibility and trust that have long been denied it.

Owning ABM, including the supporting org structure, ensures a bright future for any marketing organization.