Last week, we had the pleasure of hosting a roundtable discussion with a group of fifteen B2B executives in marketing and sales who shared their thoughts on – and experiences with – the challenges of making ABM core to the culture of their organizations. The goal was to provide a platform to share and learn from each other and build a professional network of sales and marketing peers; the group explored a range of key topics, from how to get buy-in for the shift to a one-to-one approach, to how to identify the right resource and technology tools to drive adoption across the sales and marketing function. In an unconstrained, energetic, interactive discussion, there were many salient points raised on best practices, challenges and other observations across a variety of ABM topics, with three key themes emerging: Don’t rely solely on the sales team to identify the right set of key accounts.
While some of the companies represented at the roundtable focused their ABM programs on targeting new prospective accounts, others used an ABM-led approach to identify cross-sell and up-sell opportunities within existing accounts. Some took a clustered or programmatic approach to ABM, while most derived more value from a one-to-one strategy. Despite the differences in focus and approach, they all had one challenge in common: identifying the right set of key accounts for their ABM programs. Select the right set of accounts and an ABM program will be widely adopted by marketing, more appreciated and respected by sales and more valued by the C-Suite for its ability to drive revenue. Choose the wrong accounts and it’s almost impossible to succeed. While it’s well-worth collaborating with the sales team to identify the right accounts, don’t rely solely on them to come up with the list. Sales teams have a tendency to automatically suggest Fortune 500 trophy brands or gravitate to companies or people they’re most comfortable selling to, overlooking a broader pool of more qualified targets based on a more strategic-level of qualification.
There are lots of tips and tricks out there for building target account lists. While some companies depend on predictive modeling technology to help identify the accounts most likely to convert, others prefer to conduct manual audits designed to evaluate key criteria including:
Based on the output of the audit, a company will be able to identify a list of top accounts, which should be evenly split into a test group and a control group. The former gets a fully planned and executed ABM strategy; the latter gets a more traditional demand generation approach. By splitting the program into two groups, it will be more manageable but, more importantly, it will prove the impact and value of an ABM-led approach making it easier to make the case for more budget and more headcount to scale the program.
- Buying team (power users, economic buyers, technical buyers, internal champions)
- Recent deals
- Hiring patterns
- Financial performance
- Partnership ecosystem
- Relevant references / referenceable sector experience
- Social proof
Scaling ABM requires a balanced combination of the right people resources and the right tools.
Getting an ABM program off the ground and proving initial impact is the easy part, but scaling an ABM program to demonstrate a sustained level of value through increased revenue is a much bigger challenge. While some companies try to scale by applying ABM principles to larger cluster-based programs, others insist that ABM needs to adhere to a more exclusive one-to-one approach to be truly effective, which makes scaling programs inherently more challenging. During the roundtable discussion last week, there was a general view that for an ABM program to be truly successful, an ABMer should not be required to support any more than five accounts at a time. This is a manageable number for a pilot program designed to prove ABM’s value to an often-skeptical internal audience, but when the program expands, it needs a combination of the right accounts, the right talent and the right tools to ensure its ongoing success. To resource effectively at scale, it’s important to put the right dedicated person in place. Often the best ABMers come from a field marketing background, with a deep understanding of the sales process and strong relationships across the sales team. The more insightful, resourceful, consultative, communicative and adaptable they are, the more they will be able to grow with the program. But even when you find that perfect person, it’s important to support them by tracking what’s done throughout the program so that assets and tactics can be shared across multiple accounts while retaining a highly personalized approach to each.
Having the right people in place is only half the battle when scaling a program. Research reported by eMarketer from ITSMA found that having the right technology and tools to scale ABM programs is crucial. Identifying the right combination of tools can streamline and improve the all-important communication between marketing and sales, collect account, sector and stakeholder insights, execute personalized campaigns, and track results. While technology is no replacement for creativity, having access to real-time, actionable insights to inform marketing strategy and direct sales engagement is the single most important element required when generating more qualified opportunities that are quicker to close. The more marketing understands sales, the more value it will provide, the more respect it will get and the more alignment it will create between the two functions. Adopting ABM to increase the perceived value of marketing and alleviate its sibling rivalry with sales is an issue that we discuss regularly with our customers. To truly understand any function in any business, the best and most obvious way is to shadow that team on a periodic basis; this is even more crucial when you’re talking about two different business functions so closely aligned and so heavily dependent on one another for success. The best way to prove value and get respect from sales is to spend a day in their shoes by joining them on prospect and customer meetings, listening in on discovery sessions and participating in sales strategy meetings. Only when you understand how sales engages with and motivates prospects and existing customers can you shift away from a demand generation-focused, campaign-driven mentality to an always on, real-time ABM approach that is more in-step with the pace of the sales team.
Marketing needs to realize that ABM is essentially marketing’s version of what sales has been doing for quite some time on a one-to-one basis through social selling. Marketing can add value to this one-to-one key account approach by leveraging the power of the data-driven tools and technologies that inform engagement strategies. Accessing relevant, real-time insight into how individual prospects or customers and target accounts are behaving – both online and offline – and automatically serving up personalized content to drive them through the sales funnel is a salesperson’s dream, and the key to getting marketing the respect it deserves. Such was the appetite to share best practices and learn from each other’s challenges, the lively two-hour discussion could have lasted well into the early hours of the morning. If it wasn’t for the fact that our guests had homes to return to or flights to catch, we would have been tempted. Instead, we’re opting to host a follow-up roundtable event later in the year where we’ll take one or a combination of these key themes and explore each topic in more detail. Thanks to everyone for taking time to share your experiences with each other, and special thanks to Burghardt Tenderich, Professor of the Professional Practice at USC Annenberg, for moderating the ABM Roundtable.