Five Steps For Implementing An Account-Based Marketing Program

Sellers have always looked after their best customers. It stands to reason, right? Customers who spend the most need to be looked after or they may go elsewhere. Accordingly, enterprise sales teams have matched their top performers with their most important accounts by focusing on the 80-20 rule (i.e., identifying the top 20% of customers that often drive 80% of revenue) and building structures and playbooks around the goal of best supporting their most valuable accounts.

Now, marketing has gotten in on the act with the rise of account-based marketing (ABM) to support deeper engagement with key accounts. As general manager of the North American business of a global ABM agency, I see on a daily basis how many B2B organizations are increasingly investing a significant percentage of their budgets in ABM, and teams are reporting better ROI from their ABM programs compared to traditional marketing initiatives.

So far, so good. Except that I see too many ABM programs struggle to get their potential return for one significant reason: Age-old silos within marketing stand in the way of effectively implementing and scaling ABM initiatives. To elaborate, organizations often implement ABM pilot programs from one of two starting places: Either field marketing teams leverage their proximity and inherent alignment with key account sales teams to develop small-scale true one-to-one or one-to-few ABM programs, or digital demand center teams leverage martech and adtech innovations to dynamically target a higher volume of accounts with personalized content and creative.

Both approaches bring a lot to the table. But in my experience, both approaches can also be hampered by entrenched silos and organizational friction, which can lead to programs failing.

Field marketing-led pilot ABM programs often succeed in driving alignment and buy-in from sales teams, but these newly minted ABM “orchestrators” also have to liaise with stand-alone teams that manage historically siloed execution functions (email, web, media, creative, etc.) to bring a campaign to life in any given account. They may be able to navigate this by cashing in social currency and good favor for initial, small-scale pilots, but they struggle when it comes to scaling ABM programs over time.

Digital demand center teams are well placed to implement and integrate various innovations to serve personalized content to target stakeholders, landing the right message through the right channel at the right time. However, they might find themselves fighting an uphill battle to gain and maintain the buy-in of sales teams on the front line. Sales teams may find themselves subscribing to a different interpretation of what constitutes ABM and discarding the demand center’s efforts, which leaves them too far away from having actionable, genuine engagement opportunities with their key stakeholders.

Therefore, for ABM to deliver maximum ROI, chief marketing officers have to be bold and address the challenge of long-established organizational structures and processes to set their teams up for future success in implementing long-term, scalable ABM programs. In practice, this means taking five key steps when establishing the foundations of a successful ABM program:

1. Follow common objective-setting and success-measurement principles that span various marketing functions. For example, you could use ITSMA’s three R’s model (reputation, relationships and revenue), as opposed to relying on navel-gazing vanity metrics within individual teams. You could measure relationships by looking at the number of executive meetings created or new stakeholder identities delivered. For reputation, you could measure the number of posts shared on LinkedIn or the number of followers, clicks, likes or engagements with social posts. An increased number of LinkedIn followers in isolation might count as a vanity objective, but when taken in context and as part of an overall engagement program (more followers means more engagement with posts, which means more opportunities to engage further down the line with sales), it becomes a measurable objective.

Why do this? Because driving alignment around common strategic goals changes siloed behavior and cuts through the friction caused by structural inertia.

2. Assign qualified ABM experts to partner with key account teams. This can ensure that they have sufficient bandwidth to deliver a material impact for each sales team, rather than spreading them so thin that ABM becomes an extracurricular ask competing with their day job.

Why do this? Because ownership and accountability coupled with the right experience and bandwidth are the primary drivers of the right outcome in account engagement.

3. Hold “rules of engagement” cross-functional planning sessions with adjacent marketing teams to establish a scalable, pragmatic RACI model for delivering on every aspect of an end-to-end ABM program.Why do this? Because the age-old saying “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail” is true.

4. Take bold action and redirect budgets from traditional areas to fund ABM properly rather than relying on spare pots of budget or discretionary spending to fund ABM.

Why do this? Because we now have enough empirical evidence to show that ABM works, depending on the maturity level it is at, and the symbolism of taking from other budget areas to fund ABM can help drive attitudinal change about its importance — quickly.

5. Define and co-sponsor the ABM initiative upfront alongside the most influential sales leaders in the organization.

Why do this? Because there’s no better way of nipping in the bud any likelihood for misinterpretation of what ABM means for your business.

ABM is rapidly growing in popularity, but as I have explained here, without addressing the friction that established structures and processes can cause for ABM programs, organizations may fail to get the best ROI. So it’s time for marketing leaders to be bold. Rip up the old rule book, and prepare for a brave new world. Rest assured that your ABM program will thank you.

This blog post was originally first published to Forbes.com

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