It’s just not working anymore. Something has to change.

Let me tell you a story about what’s gone wrong with a really important relationship and how you may be able to save it.

It starts like this: Not long ago, sales complained that marketing wasn’t helping. “What do they do all day? Who cares about all that brand stuff?” they said. “What we need is more leads.” So, in an effort to be seen as more relevant and make a measureable impact on growth, marketing invested lots of time and money in getting really good at delivering a high volume of leads. They deployed marketing automation, established lead scoring, created personas and content, and nurtured the heck out of lots and lots of leads before sending them, properly qualified, over to sales.

Fast-forward to discussions we’re having with clients today: “Sales doesn’t want our leads,” say the marketers. “They tell us they already know about the leads we send, and we’re not helping close the deals they already have in the accounts they care about.” For many companies, what sales really wants now is not lead volume. Many sales organizations are moving to target account models, and they want support building relationships and finding and closing the right deals in their defined universe.

Unfortunately for marketing, these needs are not well served by the high-volume demand engine they’ve been building and measuring. Fortunately for marketing, the technology and processes used to create the demand engine can be modified and updated to work in an account-based model. Yes, this relationship can be saved, but it will take some effort.

First, marketing has to re-imagine its contribution to sales and to the business overall. It may be that the high-volume demand engine is still appropriate for certain parts of the sales organization. Understand the structure of the sales organization and how different types of reps work with their accounts, and determine the best role for marketers to play in that context. Marketing investment doesn’t have to be one-size-fits-all. Since, in many cases, marketing will not be delivering a high volume of leads, success must be measured differently, with emphasis on influencing demand as well as sourcing it.

Second, planning has to change. When planning support for a defined universe of accounts, marketing must begin by understanding the opportunity within those accounts and the goals sales has set for growth and relationships. With these insights, marketing can contribute to the sales account team, recommending actions to support those goals. Sales, in turn, must be open to marketing providing different types of support (e.g. account profiling, customer lifecycle nurturing, dynamic content serving, pipeline acceleration) that fit an account-based model. Marketing’s existing technology and process investments can be leveraged for these new options. In fact, without the demand engine foundation marketing has worked to build, the move to an account-based approach would be a lot harder.

As with every type of relationship, ongoing communication is key. If the sales and marketing relationship is to be saved, both sides have to get over any past issues and be ready to try something new. It worked for building alignment around high-volume demand creation, and it will work again as sales and marketing look to build even better alignment in the account-based model.