Todd Berkowitz, Research Vice President at Gartner, sees Account Based Marketing (ABM) as increasing tensions between sales and marketing in the short-term. While ABM has long been advocated as a facilitator of departmental alignment, he sees ABM as disrupting sales processes and generating friction:
“Between ABM and adoption of various new technologies and data types, there is a lot of disruption that is happening with regards to sales teams. Even if these changes are going to be beneficial to tech companies in the medium-term, and some of the “A sellers” get on board quickly with the changes, there are many sales reps that will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the new world. (This is why I always advise trying an ABM pilot with a select set of reps). So even if there is pretty good alignment and agreement between CMOs and sales leaders, don’t expect all reps to magically do what they are being asked to do. There needs to be an adjustment period, along with good sales enablement, before everyone plays nicely.”
So, while ABM will facilitate agreements in process, messaging, and metrics in the medium-term, it will generate resistance amongst sales reps unwilling to adopt new processes and tools or unconvinced of its value. This friction is probably exacerbated by predictions of sales force reductions due to the implementation of AI and other information and workflow technologies.
Resistance to technological change has long been an issue. Early in the Industrial Revolution, The Luddites sabotaged British plants, particularly cotton and wool mills. While sales reps are unlikely to sabotage initiatives (or their careers), they may hesitate to learn new platforms or adopt new processes. As such, the problem may be more akin to soldiering, the assembly line equivalent of reducing individual productivity to the level of the laggards on the line. Frederick Taylor, the father of time and motion studies, was very concerned about soldiering and recommended piece work rates to create productivity incentives. But sales reps are very attuned to incentives. While they may be hesitant to adopt new technologies, they will do so if they help make them more efficient and effective at selling. So long as sales reps are paid on a commission basis and long-term employment is tied to making quota, the level of soldiering should be minimal.
This isn’t to say that sales reps won’t resist learning new tools. If they believe the time invested in such training is less than the incremental revenue for the lost selling time spent in training, then they will avoid training and learning new tools. However, if they see others on their team benefiting from the new tools, they will not hold out long term. Thus, tool training needs to be visibly supported by management with an emphasis upon the benefits to sales reps (e.g. less time spent on non-sales tasks and more time interacting with customers and prospects, improved account intelligence, improved account targeting and message timing). With the proper incentives and information, resistance should be minimal.
To help ensure adoption, vendors should be looking to integrate solutions into CRMs, email, and mobile devices so that new tools are integrated into current workflows. They should also be providing inline tool tips, initial training focused on their capabilities which provide high levels of efficiency and efficacy improvements, tool-based win stories, and usage tools for tracking training, usage, and ROI. A few gamification elements may also be in order, but they should be organic to the product and not hokey.