How to ABM Like a Boss (Part 2): Establish an ABM Team

If you’re just digging your feet into ABM and looking for pointers on how to build a successful account-based strategy, then How to ABM Like a Boss is the definitive blog series for you. No need to read through a stack of posts from a dozen bloggers. This is it. It’s like reading an eBook but in an easier and more digestible way. The blog series covers how to create a budget, build an ABM team, get your data ready, select your target accounts, personalize your content, and measure and realign.

Check out Part 1: Build a Budget and own your ABM!

Great teams are built with great people.

Leaders of the most iconic brands share an appreciation for the people that helped build them:

“The competition to hire the best will increase in the years ahead. Companies that give extra flexibility to their employees will have the edge in this area.” – Bill Gates, Microsoft

“The secret of my success is that we have gone to exceptional lengths to hire the best people in the world.” – Steve Jobs, Apple
“If you always hire people who are smaller than you are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. If, on the other hand, you always hire people who are bigger than you are, we shall become a company of giants.” – David Ogilvy, Ogilvy & Mather

“I will only hire someone to work directly for me if I would work for that person.” – Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook

The list goes on.

By now, you know the importance of ABM. But finding the right person to lead your ABM team can be the difference between success and failure.

The research proves it. In our 2020 ABM Market Research Study, we identified common characteristics of high-performing companies, and one of them was they “have a dedicated ABM leader with ABM in their title.”

In this post, I’ll share our blueprint for hiring an all-star and building your ABM team.

How to find the right leader for your ABM team

Write Your Job Description

The first step is documenting your ideal candidate and what is needed for the role. In addition to the key characteristics noted in the section below, define precisely what this person will be charged with. Common responsibilities include:

  • Selecting and prioritizing target accounts based on the Ideal Customer Profile
  • Developing the Marketing strategy for strategic accounts
  • Orchestrating and contributing to the creative and storytelling aspects of ABM campaigns
  • Collaborating with Sales to plan, execute, and optimize the ABM program
  • Managing Marketing operations, reporting, and expectations
  • Building out and overseeing the ABM tech stack
  • Managing your ABM budget

While finding someone with fitting industry experience is a given, the following outlines relevant background for this position:

  • Strong, proven leadership skills
  • Excellent communication and presentation skills
  • Experience working directly and successfully with sales teams and managers
  • Marketing competency in relation to demand generation, Sales enablement, revenue generation

What Characteristics Make a Strong ABM Leader?

The most successful ABM directors are collaborative, data-driven leaders who understand and can convey the high-level strategy while also diving into the nitty-gritty. They’re interested in the “business of business” and work tirelessly to continually up-level their ability to navigate the complex web of relationships in organizations. This skill set relates to how well they orchestrate your ABM program, including how they convert account information into insights that can be applied to target buyer personas.

In general, ABM leaders are:

  • Seasoned, senior B2B marketers
  • Intellectually curious
  • Strong communicators (written and verbal)
  • Well-rounded team players
  • Able to hold their own with account executives
  • Insightful about the nuances of the buyer process
  • Well-versed in monitoring and optimizing Marketing across channels
  • Experienced with solution Marketing and/or field Marketing
  • Adept at leading teams and managing relationships and projects

Interview Questions to Effectively Assess Your Candidates

Whether you’ve identified potential candidates within your organization or from outside, you can gauge their ABM leadership abilities from their responses to the following questions.

Note that you’re not necessarily looking for a specific answer, rather you’re looking to determine a candidate’s thought process. According to Laszlo Bock, Google’s VP of People Operations, “The second-best predictors of performance are tests of general cognitive ability (26 percent).”

Ask these questions, but also ask for details. Dig into each answer. Find out the specifics.

What’s your definition of ABM?

This may sound like a basic question, but you’d be surprised how many people fail to ask it. What you’re looking for is alignment with your vision of ABM. The answer will give you a good baseline for what to expect from an ABM program run by the candidate.

Why do you think ABM is a good strategy for our business?

Let them ask you questions about your business or tell them to make their best guess based on the research they conducted before meeting with you. This is a critical question because ABM is a time- and resource-intensive undertaking. Anyone who doesn’t fully understand the business implications could lead your organization down a costly path that yields insignificant returns.

Describe your process for launching an ABM program.

Here’s your chance to find out whether this person could hit the ground running, thinking strategically while overseeing the smallest details. In an ideal world, the candidate will have gotten an ABM program off the ground at another company, and even spearheaded an ABM pilot program. If they had to bootstrap the initiative by working with existing marketing resources, find out how they went about it and pulled together an effective team.

If you had an unlimited budget and could buy any technology to help execute your ABM strategy, what would it be?

Being technologically savvy is important to fully leverage ABM. Once the candidate offers a response, ask follow-up questions to drill deeper, like:

  • Why would you choose those?
  • What in particular about each of those is valuable for executing on ABM?
  • Which have you used in the past and to what effect?
  • What is required to get up to speed on those?
  • Which other technologies did you integrate those with and how?

Make sure this person can really get into the weeds with the technology and not just talk at a high level. They need to be able to get their hands dirty.

How do you gauge engagement with and movement within target accounts?

Your ABM Director needs to be comfortable aggregating data from multiple systems and digging into it. In this response, look for proof that the candidate understands the complexities of a sometimes lengthy account purchase process and how to pinpoint meaningful milestones.

Describe your experience working with other departments executing your past ABM programs.

As an ABM leader, this person will be interacting with other departments frequently. Make sure they understand, appreciate, and respect the other departments, especially Sales.

Describe an ABM team you’ve led or been a member of – including the key roles and responsibilities – and what did and didn’t work.

While the makeup of the core ABM team varies by organization, it often includes people from Sales, Marketing, Professional Services/Support, and Solutions/Service Consulting. Understanding who does what and how everyone interacts is essential to leading a team to success. Asking the candidate to present the pros and cons of a previous ABM team experience should provide insight into their ability to think strategically and problem solve.

Walk me through, from start to finish, the most successful Marketing or ABM-specific campaign you’ve executed.

Spend the most time on this question. Don’t let the candidate gloss over any details. Ask them to explain what they did and why they did it. Look for multi-channel engagement, examples of experimentation, and meaningful measures of success. You want to see a deep understanding of an account-centric process, but you’re also looking for grit, teamwork, curiosity, and critical thinking.
Hiring a dedicated ABM leader should be the game-changer that ignites your strategy. As you’re considering candidates, look for strong leaders with the right array of skills, experience, and characteristics. Whatever you do, never underestimate the soft skills that will fuel this person’s ability to rally the troops to drive more account-based revenues.

How to build your ABM team without having to invest in more headcount

It’s not enough to hire an ABM leader and expect them to do everything. You must build the right team around them. Going back to the 2020 ABM Market Research Study, another common characteristic of high-performing companies is they involve more of their Marketing team in the unifying efforts, channels, and tactics.

Many organizations can get overwhelmed by thoughts of building an entirely new ABM team around their new leader. But the reality is you can get started with ABM right away and increase your team’s involvement over time.

In fact, integrating an ABM strategy into your current way of working doesn’t require a wholesale change. Once you have designated your ABM leader, you can call upon your current Marketing team to support your strategy. It’s a matter of identifying the required roles, properly structuring your team, and aligning Marketing with Sales.

Map Your Resources

Don’t think about ABM as a complete transformation of how you generate revenues. Instead, think of it as a new discipline within your existing operations. What you need is a team that applies its existing skills to focus on programs targeted at named accounts.
The in-house skills you harness will depend on the size and makeup of your Marketing organization. Many Marketing teams include the following roles in some capacity.

  • Corporate Marketing
  • Product Marketing
  • Demand Generation
  • Field Marketing
  • Marketing Operations

You know who handles what in your Marketing organization; the next step is determining how your team can support your ABM efforts. To start, answer these questions:

Who helps determine your optimal business segments and your ideal customer profile (ICP)?

Specifically, who reviews historical, firmographic, technographic, and engagement data? Who evaluates the ICP and how it changes over time? Often, this will be Product Marketing, so have them own this part of ABM.

Who reviews account data on a regular basis?

This includes:

  • Lead-to-account matching
  • Building out accounts for key titles (purchasing and enriching data, and ensuring data accuracy)
  • Mapping parent-child relationships in CRM
  • Labeling accounts by tagging in CRM
  • Ongoing management of data (de-duping, enriching, etc.)
Who drives orchestrated play strategy and execution?

Namely, who is responsible for driving opt-ins and developing plays, from early to late-stage? Who is charged with defining actions for key personas, crafting messaging, and creating content? Usually, this is in Demand Gen’s purview, so they will most likely handle these ABM activities.

Who communicates key information to Sales and other stakeholders?

In other words, who rolls out target account selection to Sales and interfaces with the team regularly on Marketing programs? Who works with Sales on account plans and updates them on where there are opportunities? In many organizations, Revenue Marketing and/or Marketing Operations handles this.

As you can see, there are likely already people in your Marketing team that are equipped to handle many aspects of ABM. By getting key members from your existing team involved in critical ABM activities, you can get a robust ABM program off the ground nicely.

Get Your Team Involved in ABM

Once you’ve mapped your current team to the key activities above, you can figure out where to get people involved in the ABM program. At a high level, the following shows where they could contribute.

Here’s a more explicit overview of the ways your team members can play a role:

Product Marketing can help define the ideal customer profile (ICP) and the segments to pursue, which will in turn inform your predictive scoring model.

Marketing Operations can help build out an account foundation, making sure leads and the right information are mapped to accounts so Marketing and Sales see the same information.

Demand Gen and Sales can collaborate to get a sense of where target accounts are in their path to purchase. For example, are you focused on the right people for these accounts? Are they aware of your products or services, or are you trying to sell them additional products? Understanding this helps define your objective, which in turn informs the types of programs to run. They can also work on orchestrated programs and examine results.

Ready to build your Account-Based Marketing team? Get tips on writing the job description to find the perfect ABM leader, interview questions to ask, and insight on how to build an ABM team without adding more headcount. Read part two of the definitives series How to ABM Like a Boss: Establish an ABM Team.

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Align Your Involvement With Results

The heart of any ABM initiative is an aligned Marketing and Sales team that’s dedicated to large accounts. And the more sophisticated your ABM program gets, the more you involve your team.

Apply the crawl, walk, run approach. Start with a pilot, dedicating a certain percentage of your team to the program for a pre-defined amount of time. The goal is to prove that this program will pay off. After racking up some early, meaningful wins, commit a percentage of your team on an ongoing basis so your organization can scale to pursue key segments. Once the ABM program has proven successful in that regard, assign team members to a dedicated ABM team or ABM demand center.

By taking a methodical, well-paced approach to ABM, your team can provide the support and enablement that helps ensure success.

Check out our Sales and Marketing Unification toolkit, for the resources you need to get your organization working together and executing on B2B performance.

There you have it: you’ve just built yourself a killer ABM team. Once you find the right ABM leader, the rest will fall into place. But that is a crucial role, so don’t take it lightly, and don’t rush it.
In the next installment of How to ABM Like a Boss, I’ll cover how to get your data ready for ABM. We’ll get in the weeds again with extremely tactical and practical advice!

Director of Demand Generation, Demandbase

Brandon possesses extensive experience helping organizations create and orchestrate strategic programs that help to retain customers and power sales execution. He’s passionate about the intersection between tech and psychology, especially as it applies to growing businesses. He enjoys reading, playing hockey, and most outdoor sports. Check him out on twitter @brandon_lee_09 or connect with him on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/brandonredlinger/.