The Demand Generation waterfall, marketers know it and love it: Take an entire universe of leads and let marketing pour them into the dark awaiting void, watch as sales gravity spirals them through a series of smaller and smaller hoops, around and around until… splash – a purchase is made.
For better or worse, this model has been the centerpiece of marketing planning decks for years and it has accomplished the rare feat of capturing the mindshare and unifying the vision of a very busy group. But there’s a big problem with the traditional waterfall – two problems in fact. First, it’s lead centric and in B2B we deal with buying committees or ‘units’. Secondly, the model fails to capture the outbound strategy focused on segments of the lead population that matter most: your best possible buyers.
A Rebuild of the Waterfall
Sirius Decisions recently rolled out their Demand Unit Waterfall, a retooling of the previous model that solves for the first gap. The problem is that the updated model still fails to articulate that the best marketing is highly focused on a group of predefined buyers rather than the ‘take all comers’ strategy that the inbound movement has created.
This is an important nuance when you consider that the majority of sales and marketing alignment issues arise from the notion that marketing is throwing everyone they can over the line for sales to field. Some might call these semantics – but the fact remains that qualification is squarely the biggest issue between sales and marketing. We’ve spent troves of money on marketing automation and other solutions that allow us to score buyers on an agreed upon model. But the fact remains – if you build it, they will come. It’s very hard to avoid the presence of non-qualified buyers when firmographics aren’t held as a gate. This is the crux of what is driving the current Account-Based movement.
The ABM Strategy
Implementing account-based marketing is not an all or nothing proposition. You can set your own criteria to make sure you keep a laser focus on best accounts in play at all times, then scale and tier your personalization efforts based on additional buyer’s entry – something any good content marketing strategy is going to promote. We can use their alignment, or lack thereof, to the target account list as a determinate of time and effort spent on personalization.
To account for these two very different strategies we employ a very specific, hybrid model that marries account-based (outbound) and demand generation (inbound) tactics with personalized retention and loyalty tactics to form an approach that’s always in motion and gives us better insight into which teams and tactics to deploy.
We start by establishing a gate between the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and everyone else – this is our line in the sand to draw. Then we scale our process to capture the entire buying committee within each qualified target, something that’s difficult to do and not often considered by marketing and pre-sales in a traditional demand gen setup.
Once we’ve honed in on our buying committees at these accounts, and can feel confident that we have the data points tracked to determine a buyer’s inclusion in or outside of that bucket, we start following these steps as we move through the hybrid model.
Remember our goal here is to establish a unified lifecycle that can be applied to either an ABM or Demand Gen strategy but can also be measured separately. After all, we sell to units regardless of the velocity behind the marketing and sales cycle. Some accounts we can just afford to spend more time on–it’s really that simple.
Ideal Customer Profile: By adding the Ideal Customer Profile as the target bucket both marketing and sales will target their engagement efforts towards, we then establish an element of focus in what was previously an open gate. By bringing the ICP into the fold, organizations are forced to define this important element. As with any good working funnel, others will fall into it. But immediately, this gate also forced us to expand our ICP to fit the new addition or turn them away.
Again, focus is the name of the game here and marketing and sales can’t do so if every lead is followed up on with equal vigor.
Engaged Unit: Once we establish a qualification gate we’re free to focus our efforts on those that pass through it – but not just the initial lead. When we talk about an engagement, we’re looking across the entire buying committee. Our focus within this step is to understand and get to know everyone who will be involved in the decision-making process and start paying attention to their activities and insights.
Sales and marketing must be in lockstep throughout this stage. There is no baton-pass as in previous models. In fact, sales end up doing a lot of traditional “marketing” work here – curating events, organizing dinners, sending out dimensional mailers – all of which is designed to create engagements that go beyond one-to-one.
Marketing enables sales in the process by curating and providing air-cover for these activities. Both sides are focused on providing value to the buying unit.
Sales Accepted: This stage is all about penetration. After the value shown to the buyer in the early stages, are they now willing to accept your sales offer (a strategy design to open the door at these critical prospects)? Sales offers can be any number of things, so long as it’s customized for the buyer and specific to their business. The pieces you’d typically provide at the proposal stage should be moved to the front of the process and put in play here.
Sales Qualified: This is a huge benchmark and a major opportunity for gathering data. As soon as an account moves into qualification, compare them with other customers at the same point based on your maturity model. That will give your teams the best idea of how to show customers ways to leverage the tools or solutions they’re buying, based on past successes.
Marketing should be focused on objection handling and fostering maturity with the solution at this stage. Sales is doing the same thing but in a more one-to-one manner. In siloed models of demand gen, this was the sole domain of sales teams. Instead, you want momentum to build – and that requires marketing’s involvement.
Opportunity Pipeline: What does your buyer’s next step look like, and how can you get them to take it? Are they selling a budget to their CFO? The message here should come from sales, but also be given the professional, glossy finish of the marketing team in order to be hyper-personalized. If you’ve sent the demo, but not the proposal, you’re in this stage.
Closed Won (Customer): Every trend in this stage is moving toward heightened customer-centricity. The hybrid model doesn’t end when a lead becomes a customer – it doubles back on itself to hopefully create advocates that get customers back into the cycle itself. Trippy huh? Don’t be hands-off here like you may have been in the past; from welcome kits to events, celebrate your new customer’s decision in a way that will turn them loyal to your brand.
Lifetime Value Stages (Blue): So where do sales and marketing teams drop off and account teams take over? That can vary from organization to organization, but sales should always be involved in at least the customer on-boarding process. Even if their role here is nothing more than translating what they’ve learned to your customer success team and then validating that information with the customer, it’s best to not drop off the face of the earth after the sale is closed. Likewise, marketing should stick around to help present those messages.
If there is a point where sales pull away, it’s at “adoption”. At this point, you should be fairly certain if leading indicators tell you a customer will be successful and the baton can be passed to an account manager. This should not, however, be the first time a customer is introduced to account personnel. At some point in the opportunity pipeline, sales should introduce potential customers to the people who will be stewarding them later. You’re selling your own people as much as your product, so start pulling roles up into the pipeline.
Rewiring & Reinvestment
As customers achieve maturity with your product, the next debate becomes deciding on when the ideal time plug them back into your sales process as brand advocates. That decision all comes down to data – what are you getting from them, either by their own expansion or in helping you win new deals?
We’ve put colors and shapes in a process that’s been transformative for our organization. By combining the respective forces of sales and marketing and employing account-based strategies and tactics at each step of the process, we’ve seen qualified accounts move through the pipeline quicker and become advocates in a never-ending cycle of success. Try putting this hybrid model in play and see how your results change.
Meet Justin Gray
Justin is a serial entrepreneur and the CEO and founder of LeadMD, the world’s largest revenue operations agency having implemented over half of the Marketo user base. Justin has made a career of launching successful companies and scaling them, with successful exits of over 200MM+ in the last decade. Justin’s latest endeavor launched in 2016 when he co-founded Six Bricks an online learning startup designed to combat employee and customer churn through experience-based education. Over the past 10 years, Justin has emerged as a strong voice for entrepreneurship, marketing and culture. As a recognized speaker, Justin has been published over 350 times in industry publications and holds his own column, Tribal Knowledge in Inc., while writing for Entrepreneur, Tech Crunch and others. Justin and his wife Jennifer met over marketing and three years later welcomed their son, Grayson, into the world in April of 2017.