You've worked hard to put your lead management process in place. You have defined your waterfall and you have a well-running execution model for how to treat leads as they stream through the system. Lead scoring is working well. Fields are defined in CRM, and you have a steady flow of Sales-ready leads going to the business-development reps.

Your machine is working, and now you are ready to begin an account-based marketing ( ABM) program.

Surely you can leverage the efficient machine you've already built for lead management, right?


Although the parts are generally the same, an ABM lead management process is another animal entirely—and wildly different from what you are now probably doing. Key changes include a different...

  • Definition of lead management
  • Mindset
  • Lead management process flow
  • Interactions
  • Set of key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Use of technology systems

Defining Lead Management Process for ABM Leads

Most current lead management processes are structured for regular demand generation vs. ABM lead generation. So, the first step is to create a working definition for ABM lead management vs. traditional lead management (LM).

The traditional lead management process flow generates qualified leads, passes them (hopefully) seamlessly and efficiently to Sales, and Sales/Marketing processes them through to close.

In contrast, in the ABM lead management methodology, Marketing and Sales work together as a team to identify opportunities for a set of targeted accounts. It is a deliberate, personalized, and strategic approach to lead management applied to top accounts.

ABM Lead Generation Requires a Different Mindset

The biggest difference between a traditional lead management program and an ABM program is the mindset of Marketing and Sales.

The mindset for a traditional program is like a factory: Think about a lead being built as it goes down a conveyor belt. At each station, Marketing does something to the lead to move it to the hand-off point to Sales. In this lead factory, the workers in Sales are not always at their stations, because they have other jobs to do; they often get to the work associated with a lead when they can, and the quality of the end product may suffer as a result.

In contrast, lead generation and management in an ABM program is like working in a factory or workshop that uses the team concept: Sales and marketing unite to create opportunities in specific, high-value accounts instead of performing single and isolated repetitive tasks. All team players have an equal voice, they continually work together, and they are respected as equals in the pursuit of opportunities.

With that new mindset as the backdrop, let's review the stages of a typical lead management framework and discuss adjustments for an ABM strategy.

Lead Management Program Framework: ABM vs. Traditional

1. Defining a Sales-Ready Lead vs. Defining the Right Accounts

The first step in most lead management programs is to carefully define a Sales-ready lead. This activity requires using demographic data, online behavior, and input from the sales team. Quite often, defining a Sales-ready lead is a harrowing activity for Marketing and Sales, but very necessary. That baseline definition sets the course for all future marketing/sales activities, including how technology systems will be used.

In contrast, the first step in an ABM lead management program is defining the right accounts. That is done in concert with Sales, and the resulting baseline definition sets the course for all the following marketing/sales activities and the use of systems.

In a traditional lead management program, the lead is the center of the universe. In an ABM lead management program, the account is the center of the universe.

2. Funnel Alignment vs. One Funnel

The next step in most lead management programs is to align the marketing and sales funnels. Aligning the two funnels in a standard lead management program is like extending the production line in a factory. Marketing and Sales are still working in silos and not looking at the process as a whole. Because of the limited view, the stages created by Marketing and Sales are unique to each group and are uniquely managed by each group. Stages and statuses relate to the lead and systems are set up to reflect this process.

In contrast, in an ABM program, a holistic funnel is created and treated more like the team concept in a factory. The one-funnel concept allows for equal and synergistic responsibility for both teams across the entire process. Stages and statuses now relate to the account, and this different view requires a different use of systems.

3. Same Demand and Lead Generation Process, Different Lead Processing and Routing Rules

The third step in the traditional lead generation model is designing lead processing and routing. This step entails creating detailed maps of how the lead is processed across people, processes, and technologies.

In an ABM lead management program, the same process takes place, but the workflow is different, with different maps are drawn in a different configuration.

  • First, all leads are associated with an account, and the processing and routing of a lead is based on the overall account activity, not just the singular lead activity.
  • Second, how the lead is treated may change. For example, in a traditional LM program, once a score of 100 is achieved, the lead might be sent to the business development team for follow-up. In an ABM model, once a lead score of 50 is achieved, the lead might be sent to the account rep for a follow up call.

The processing and routing of leads in traditional vs. ABM might constitute a big change in process, so taking the time to carefully redefine the processes is critical. The re-definition also requires a different use of systems: for example, lead scoring.

4. Developing Lead Scoring for an Account vs. a Lead

The fourth step in a typical lead generation model is developing the lead scoring programs. This process involves a review of data (demographic and behavioral) with input from Sales. The lead scoring program is then developed and deployed across the marketing automation and CRM systems.

Although the process is the same for ABM lead generation, scoring variances exist because of the nature of an account versus that of a lead. Leads associated with an account might incur a lower score that sets off a contact activity. That happens because other information about the account is known through the other contacts and through the accumulation of an account score.

5. Implementing Service-Level Agreements (SLAs)

The fifth step in a regular lead management process is typically defining SLAs. An SLA describes the roles, responsibilities, and KPIs for both Marketing and Sales. Getting buy-in and behavior change around this document that's been jointly developed with Sales is often quite challenging for Marketing.

In an ABM model, you need to get rid of SLAs—because they set up Marketing and Sales to work in silos—as in an old-time factory model. Rather than SLAs, which are typically department-driven, the Sales/Marketing team needs a joint set of agreements: Team SLAs describe what the team will do as a whole to meet the goals of the ABM program.

6. Creating an Account Scorecard vs. a Lead Scorecard

Let's admit it: If you can't measure it, you can't manage it. Taking the time to carefully consider new or different elements of the scorecard will help you see the difference between the two approaches.

Lead metrics typically include factors such as number of leads in the database, leads sent to Sales, and the conversion rate of those leads. In contrast, metrics for an ABM lead management framework might include the number of leads associated with the account, the percent of total leads associated with the account that are engaged, and the level of that engagement.

Capitalize on ABM Lead Generation and Management Processes

The lead generation and management process is critical for today's marketing organizations, and it takes a lot of time and effort to get right. As you consider introducing an ABM program, you will also need to consider potentially substantial changes or additions to your current lead management processes.

Those changes begin with the adoption, by both Marketing and Sales, of a new mindset.

Creating an ABM demand generation process that generates lead opportunities and results in closing business involves defining the right accounts, creating a holistic and shared funnel, identifying new lead processing and routing patterns, new lead scoring, doing away with adversarial SLAs, and implementing new joint sales and marketing measures.

So, before you get caught up in the promise of ABM, do your homework and address the changes required to ensure your success.

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Lead Management Process for ABM Is Not What You Think It Is: Six Key Differences

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image of Dr. Debbie Qaqish

Dr. Debbie Qaqish is the principal and chief strategy officer at The Pedowitz Group, a management consulting group that helps sales and marketing executives drive more revenue.

LinkedIn: Dr. Debbie Qaqish