At the end of 2015, we knew the B2B marketing and sales industry would continue to go through a massive evolution in 2016. We knew the customer experience would be forever changed due to the rise of software tools and marketing technology (MarTech) solutions.

There was a lot of buzz last year about account-based marketing (ABM), and as an industry, B2B marketers have MarTech to thank for that. A relatively new market itself, the MarTech industry as a whole has grown from about 150 software solutions in 2011 to nearly 4,000 MarTech vendors in 2016 offering B2B marketers a variety of data collection, personalization, and automation tools.

All of these tools are supposed to help B2B marketers support their respective sales teams to grow revenue. However, purchasing a new tool for your marketing team is worthless without a solid strategy.

Enter account-based marketing (ABM)

ABM is the most laser-focused type of B2B marketing strategy. It's about aligning your marketing team's resources -- time, money, tools, and activities -- on a best-fit set of companies you want to do business with.

Now that 2017 is here, it's time for CEOs and executive leaders to get on the ABM bandwagon. For a B2B sales organization to find success in the modern age, CEO buy-in for account-based marketing is absolutely critical.

Here's why: Forrester Research states that less than 1% of leads ever generate revenue for B2B companies, which means B2B marketers doing traditional lead gen waste 99% of their time, energy, and money marketing to people who will never become customers.

The reason the conversion rate from leads to revenue is so low is partly due to expectations from the executive team. For a long time, marketing's success was measured based on the ability to generate qualified leads (MQLs) to turn over to sales.

Every week, month, quarter, you name it, someone else on the executive leadership team would ask, "How many MQLs did we generate?" or "How many registrants did we get from that event?" This was because of the structure of the B2B funnel.

The idea was that through content marketing and various activities, more leads would be poured into the funnel and trickle through the sales cycle to become new revenue. But according to Forrester, that's just not true. More MQLS doesn't equal more revenue. The B2B funnel is broken.

Flip the B2B funnel on its head

What everyone in B2B needs to realize is that MQLs are a vanity metric.

Marketing and sales need to be aligned around the same success metric: revenue. These two teams need to be married, and the only person who has the authority to "ordain" this marriage is the CEO.

As the leader of the company, there are three metrics every CEO should care about:

  1. Growing revenue
  2. Sustaining this revenue growth
  3. Committing to customer success (retaining revenue)

CEOs need to do away with MQLs and align the marketing team's goals around revenue. There's a direct correlation and benefit of doing ABM because it focuses on revenue, churn, and stronger pipeline with best-fit customers for predictable revenue patterns.

In 2017, there will be even more buzz in the B2B world around how MarTech can support the ultimate customer experience through an account-based strategy.

This helps to ensure your resources are allocated to the right people who can become revenue generating customers for your company. To explain how MarTech aligns with account-based marketing, use the #FlipMyFunnel model for ABM: Identify, Expand, Engage, and Advocate.

Here's how the account-based marketing and sales process works

Identify: Your B2B marketing and sales (or "smarketing") team collaborates on a list of target accounts, or the companies which are the best-fit for your business. For this to be done, you need to create an ideal customer profile (ICP).

Expand: From your list of accounts, you expand the company information with contact information. These contacts will be the people you engage with directly during the sales process (a.k.a. your buyer personas).

Engage: Using a strategy of content marketing activities -- such as hosting events or webinars, emailing content like white papers or e-books, and connecting on social media -- helps to create velocity and progress your target accounts through the sales process.

Advocate: Even after you've successfully closed your accounts, there's still more work for the marketing team to do. If the mantra is true that 80% of your revenue comes from 20% of your customers, then B2B marketers should be doing everything in their power to help retain customer accounts and keep them happy.

In 2017, there will be even more hype in the B2B world around how MarTech can create the ultimate customer experience. ABM is truly the future of B2B. It's time for every CEO to buy-in.