Projects don’t fail, people do.

That might sound a bit pessimistic, but after six years in varying client service roles amidst the cluttered martech landscape – I know this to be true. I’ve directed and consulted on hundreds of projects – with timelines and dollar values ranging from the modest to The Entire Budget for the Whole Department for the Next Year and a Half. My team and I pride ourselves on being prepared, organized, and innovative. Every time a new engagement comes across our desks, we ensure the scope is within our expertise, and all the tools are set up to see us through from kick-off to completion.

And yet, some projects are not successful.

The greatest trick that any solution provider (technology or otherwise) can play is to make you believe that your current processes, colleagues, professional relationships and interdependencies don’t matter or don’t exist. The reality is that a large part of my work has to do with politics, change management, consensus building, and evangelism.

In short: The People are The Project.

Their roles and relationships inform their perspectives and more often than not, the success of the project has to do with an organization’s willingness to transform how they think about their long entrenched ideas and processes.

It’s with this understanding that we began this blog series “Account-Based Marketing: In Real Life (IRL)” in partnership with our friends at Demandbase. Many organizations are switching from lead-centric to account-based marketing and sales. Here at Inverta, we consult on these transformations first hand – and wanted to share some of the situations that we encounter marketers who stop being polite, and start getting real about ABM.

Part one – Organizational Alignment IRL

“Wait, I’m sorry … who Are you?”

Who? – A 500 million dollar financial services SaaS software company – B2B

What? Phase one (ABM Target account list in the 100’s)

*These anecdotes are inspired by true events but any resemblance to actual people is purely coincidental, or whatever they say in the movies.

The Story:

At Inverta, we begin many of our ABM projects with a discussion around Organizational Alignment. “Organizational alignment” is a readiness metric – it’s just a fancy way of asking whether or not everybody who needs to be involved with what we’re doing is actually on the same page with what we’re doing. While the discussion is pragmatic – it can be very eye opening and help us quickly assess the dynamics of a company and its culture.

A client of ours had just kicked-off a phase one ABM project, and we were about to have the first remote teleconference around organizational alignment. The goal for this first phase of ABM involves grouping like accounts into clusters by vertical or other attributes that will allow for relevance at scale.

Our project champion was Kelly R., Vice President of Marketing with 9 months under her belt at Kelly R. had the enthusiastic nature and affable attitude of a creative, yet down-to-earth marketing leader. She shot for the moon—and was clearly beloved by her team—two of which had joined her on the call.

Also joining us on the call was the Senior Vice President of North American sales, Don T. During the initial kick-off and project planning, I’d only interacted with Kelly R. so this would be my first glimpse into the larger culture. When Don T. joined the call, he announced his name and politely engaged my small talk – informing me that his weekend was great because the Dallas Cowboys got a win. I’m a Patriots fan and he was a Tom Brady sympathizer, so the exchange was safe and cordial.

When we had full attendance on the call, I suggested we do a round of introductions which is customary if the group is small enough and there are new people to the project on the call. I went first, followed by Don, then Kelly’s two marketing managers, then Kelly R. When introductions were complete, I thanked Kelly and turned to my PPT where I’d prepared some discovery questions. This is when Don T. cleared his throat and began,

Don T: “Guys, I’m sorry – what’s the purpose of this call again?”

Me: “We’re here to talk through some of the fundamentals of an ABM approach and make sure we’re on the same page about some of the key initial decisions – target account selection, how we’re going to cluster the accounts, and some of the marketing/sales responsibilities as far as the initial plays go.”

Kelly R: “Don, we’re thinking of doing a more account-based marketing strategy in the upcoming year, and so Inverta is here to help us with some research, messaging, and plays.”

Don T: “Wait, I’m sorry … who are you?”

Me: “My name is Ashley and I work for Inv …”

Don T: “No, not you. Kelly is it?”

It was in this moment that I understood that at – the Senior Vice President of North American sales didn’t know who the Vice President of Marketing was. Make no mistake – the was still right for – but it became clear that some additional, extensive ground work would need to be laid before we could move forward with discussing target account selection.

1. Biggest Successes – Uncovering this lack of alignment during the discovery phase of the project is the best time to do it (if it isn’t revealed during the sales cycle)– and honestly, I consider it a win. What we were missing was consensus around the best way to go to market for and some good, healthy, regular communication between the marketing and sales leadership. But we had collaborative, positive attitudes on both sides – and that’s 85% of the puzzle.

2. Biggest Red Flags – Transforming from lead-centric to account-based marketing requires charismatic leadership. After learning that Kelly R. hadn’t introduced her plan (or herself!) to the sales leadership prior to the call made me feel like we’d have some serious, additional consensus building to do if this project was going to be a success.

3. Biggest Takeaways – Change requires leadership and leaders listen. In this scenario, it’s hard to believe that the sales function had any input in any of the initial planning done by Kelly and her team up until this point. The next time you are doing planning and some of your programs require the cooperation of multiple functions – be sure they are involved in your brainstorming from the beginning.

After we organize some knowledge transfer between Kelly and Don, and some ABM education for both teams – we’ll start talking about target account selection and how the team should go about prioritizing the accounts they want to pursue.

Stay tuned for our next installment of ABM IRL:’s Target Account Selection!