Characteristics of Successful ABM Leaders and How to Hire the Right One For Your Org

It was the late 1960s, a time long before you could ask Siri to direct you home. A troop of soldiers were hiking the Alps when a storm cloud, out of nowhere, leapt over the closest peak and descended on the soldiers, like a lion pouncing on its prey. They wandered aimlessly for hours. Cold, disoriented and afraid, they argued which was the right way home.

Finally, the leader spoke. His booming voice froze the soldiers immediately. It was so quiet, you could hear the snow fall. He announced he had found a map buried deep in his pack. Relief and hope washed over the soldiers, and the leader proceeded to march them confidently back to camp.

When they arrived and began unpacking, a piece of paper fell out of the leader’s jacket. It was torn from the top of the map that led the troops back to safety, which read, “The Pyrenees Mountains,” not the Alps.

Leadership entails vision, courage, creativity, and action. If you lack these traits, no one will follow you, you will travel alone, and your journey will not lead to your desired destination.

Leading a B2B marketing can is similar. Without vision, courage, creativity, and action you will struggle. It’s not a matter of life and death per se, but nonetheless, a lot hangs in the balance. In this post, we’ll explore what makes a great Account-Based Marketing (ABM) leader. Here’s what to look for when making this crucial hire.

A Cross-Functional and Collaborative Team Player

ABM is a team sport. Siloed departments don’t work. Your ABM leader must be able to understand and work collaboratively with key stakeholders in other departments. Alignment with the counterpart in sales is the most important relationship, but ABM leaders often find themselves working closely with account management, customer success, executive staff, and even engineers.

Look in unconventional places for these people. Some of the best ABM leaders don’t always come up through the rank in marketing (though for this position, they still must have a solid marketing background). Some of the most exceptional ABM leaders that I’ve met started their careers in other disciplines, such as sales or project management.

When interviewing candidates, ask, “Can you describe your experience working with other departments executing your past programs?” Follow up by asking for examples. Another good one is, “What are some of the best tips that you found working with sales reps?”

Analytical and Data-Driven

Metrics for ABM are different than what traditional marketers are accustomed to. It starts with an understanding of demand gen metrics, but you must then layer on account-based metrics. When you add multiple people across various channels over a long period of time, measuring and analyzing success becomes exceptionally difficult. The numbers don’t lie, but, in ABM especially, the numbers don’t tell the entire story. You must be able to connect the dots and make informed decisions, often based on limited information.

Look for people who understand funnel metrics and how opportunities are influenced at each stage of the funnel. Your first ABM marketing hire doesn’t necessarily have to know account-based analytics and attribution (it’s a bonus if they come from a company doing solid ABM attribution), but you must have confidence that he or she will be able to grasp it quickly.

When interviewing candidates, ask, “Can you walk me through your funnel metrics. If you were given $20,000 more in the marketing budget right now, how would you use it?” You really have to dig in on this one and ask a lot of probing and follow up question to gauge their understanding of the numbers. (Note: to do this effectively, the interviewer must also understand the numbers).

Intellectually Curious and Critical Thinkers

ABM required a fundamentally different mindset – you’re moving from thinking in a volume of leads to quality of accounts. You can’t be stuck in the mindset of a traditional marketer. You must ask different questions. After all, if you aren’t asking the right questions, you can’t get the right answers. Some of the best ABM marketers are the most curious people in the room. They don’t blindly follow what everyone else is doing, but rather question the status quo.

Look for people who march to the beat of their own drum. They’re fearless and willing to take risks. They often have the most unique resumes (in visual design and/or work history) and stories.

When interviewing candidates, ask, “Can you walk me through your most recent successful marketing campaign?” You’re not necessarily looking for the most creative and out-of-the-box idea (although that never hurts), but rather how they took a unique approach to a common problem.

Other Factors to Look for in Strong ABM Leaders

Those are some of the key things that I look for in an ABM leader. Though I included some questions to ask for each trait, there is no one single question that will give you a clear answer. You must ask a variety of question and really dig into each. It will take the entire interview to get the full picture

Here are some other questions that I like to ask to help determine if a candidate will make a good ABM leader for your team:

  • What is Account Based Marketing to you?
  • What tools and technologies do you like/use to execute your ABM strategy?
  • Given what you know about our business, why do you think ABM is the right approach for us?
  • How do you understand, act on and measure engagement with your target accounts?
  • Walk me through, from start to finish, the most successful ABM campaign you’ve executed.

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:

  • 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, etc.

The most successful ABM leaders are collaborative, data-driven leaders who understand and can convey the high-level strategy while also diving into the nitty-gritty. Hiring an effective ABM marketer to lead your team will be the game changer that ignites your strategy. As you’re considering candidates, look for strong leaders with the right set of skills, experience, and characteristics.

For more guidance on how to launch your ABM program, download our ABM Starter Kit.