We’re hearing from many companies that want to engage marketing to support enterprise accounts (usually more than 1,000 employees, but guidelines can be company-defined) or strategic accounts, but they’re not exactly certain what that should look like. Sure, marketing has helped with events and other sales-requested activities in the past under the label of account-based marketing, but they believe maybe there’s something else to be done.

They’re right: There’s a lot more to supporting buying cycles and the customer lifecycle over a long-term relationship. The key is what the company wants its commitment to these relationships to be, and being realistic about what marketing can do, starting with sales alignment.

A little perspective is helpful. Historically, marketing has been welcome to do what it can to attract new business, but enterprise account management has been led by sales. Beyond events and other sales-requested activity, marketing has been unwelcome. Until now. What changed? The customer, for a start. Customer expectations for what a valued partner delivers are higher, and the ways they want to interact are different as well. B2B customers don’t leave their consumer experiences behind when they assess B2B experience quality. Given how much companies know about consumers, and how they use this information to personalize the consumer experience, how is it that B2B suppliers can’t do a better job of understanding and anticipating customer needs? Marketing can address this deficit, but it requires a new mindset around how sales and marketing collaborate.

Our experience has shown that seven factors contribute to enterprise account relationships. Use this list to do a quick audit of what may need to change before marketing can help and results can improve.

  • Commitment. What do business, sales and marketing leaders need to sign up for, and why does this matter? Does senior management understand the expectation of major accounts to receive differentiated treatment?
  • Structure. How do sales and marketing align resources to accounts? Are teams in place that have a clear owner along with supporting roles from key functions, including marketing? Are compensation models or internal silos driving the wrong focus?
  • Insights. What is the engine of information required to define and fuel enterprise account success? Is data being treated as an engine of better insights and better execution based on customer needs?
  • Collaboration and planning. How can sales and marketing work together to define realistic goals and timing for enterprise impact? Has planning become a significant contributor to goal setting and execution, not just a check-box burden?
  • Technology. How can tools like sales force automation and social media bring plans to life? How can pipeline analytics and business intelligence be used to predict future opportunity? Given all the money spent on technology, are technology-enabled processes being developed and enforced in the enterprise account context?
  • Roles for sales and marketing. What are specific activities to support enterprise account coverage? How can marketing align with sales and to accounts to enhance enterprise account engagement and impact?
  • Measuring success. Given lengthy cycles of enterprise relationships, how can sales and marketing prove progress? Are short-term objectives creating unrealistic goals for when revenue impact will occur? Are sales and marketing tracking near-term signs of progress to know if they’re on the right track?
  • If you find that the business is worrying more about what it’s always done than about how best to deliver the most value to its high-value, high-potential customers, clearly it’s time for change.