By now, we’ve all heard about account-based marketing.
The savvier marketers amongst us know that it’s not really anything new. The savvier salespeople may be wondering exactly what their role is in something called account-based marketing.
Leading research and advisory firm TOPO has taken the concept of ABM and lifted it up to an organizational-wide movement they call account-based everything.
To get the scoop, we interviewed TOPO Chief Analyst Craig Rosenberg and TOPO Demand Generation Analyst Tom Scearce to learn what an account-based everything approach entails and how you can get your organization on the same page.
WTF does account-based everything mean?
[Tom Scearce] We define account-based everything as the coordination of personalized marketing, sales development, sales, and customer success efforts to drive engagement and conversion at a targeted set of accounts. There are five defining attributes:
- Targeted, high-value accounts
- Intelligence-driven programs/campaigns
- Orchestration across marketing, sales development, sales, and customer success
- Value and personalized buyer experiences
- Coordinated high effort/frequency outreach
What is the tipping point between traditional major account list management and successful ABE strategies?
[Craig Rosenberg] I think most companies have managed a major account list in the past, I just don’t think they have committed the resources from the entire organization against that list. It’s typically just the “house list.”
I know an organization is committed to being account-based when I can see that:
- The target account list is carefully designed to reflect the Ideal Customer Profile. We are especially impressed if that account list is created based on quantifiable data (either internal CRM/ERP data or predictive data from external sources);
- Efforts are coordinated across multiple organizations, channels, and touch types, and;
- They execute personalized campaigns – not batch and blast with horizontal offers. As close to one-to-one marketing as possible.
We talk a lot about Sales with ABM, but isn’t it bigger than that? Doesn’t the entire org have to be involved?
[CR] Yes, and yes. That is the very basis of “Hello, Account Based Everything.” In account-based everything, you determine your Ideal Customer Profile, develop a target account list, and then align everything in the organization to capture the target accounts – marketing, sales development, sales, customer success, product, executive team, etc.
[TS] So, as examples of this all hands on deck focus on target accounts:
- Marketing runs multi-channel campaigns against these accounts.
- Outbound sales development focuses exclusively on these accounts with heavy air support from marketing.
- Sales is enabled to win deals at these accounts.
- Executives are involved from start to finish in closing these accounts.
- Customer success is aligned to deliver a customized onboarding to these accounts.
- Account management works with marketing to drive upsell/cross-sell against these accounts.
Product makes roadmap commitments to attract and retain these accounts.
And so on…
Honestly, what % of sales and marketing folks are truly prepared for ABM from a skill set perspective?
[TS] We are still collecting data on this, but I can tell you what we know so far:
Sales: Generally speaking, enterprise sales reps have been fundamentally account-based for years and are the most prepared. Sales reps that have been living off the volume and velocity demand gen funnel for years will need retraining. These are reps that have been receiving heavy volumes of leads and are accustomed to choosing what to work on based on where the buyer is in the buying cycle. In Account-Based Everything, the sales reps have to be prepared to work an account early and instead of throwing opportunities away, building value and creating opportunities at accounts.
Sales development: There is change involved in getting to account-based sales development. They can’t just be a templatized batch-and-blast organization. They need to be a personalized as possible to capture opportunities at these accounts. That said, sales development is moving to account-based faster than anyone. Our data is still coming in, but 30% of sales development teams are moving to account-based in 2016. That number keeps rising.
Marketing: We have spent the last 10 years training marketing on the volume and velocity game. Account-Based Marketing is a return to actually having to practice the “marketing arts.” Thoughtful, one-to-one campaigns that engage and persuade buyers within target accounts. There is a major mindset adjustment from looking at MQL numbers to looking at the world on an account-by-account basis.
Craig, you and I have joked in the past about some of the common traits of marketers and one of those seems to be an aversion to face-to-face or phone conversations. How does that effect ABE?
[CR] The big question we get is “Who should run Account Based Everything”. The answer is marketing. They are the best fit for project managing the operation.
This means lots of communication. This isn’t just about setting up nurture flows in a marketing automation system. There is serious collaboration here and hiding behind a screen is not going to work. Old school marketers are actually great at this. This what they used to do before the quants took over.
Hyper-personalization gets a lot of press (I’ve written about it many times), but that is incredibly hard to do at scale. What does ‘scale’ really look like with ABM?
[CR] We believe that the level of personalization is based on the ACV:
- Hyper-custom: For high value, high ACV accounts, we recommend not taking any chances here and creating highly personalized, highly customized campaigns. An example for this is a company that creates content specifically for a single account. One of our favorite stories was of a social media monitoring company that would create a social media report about the company they are targeting and run company-only webinars, created custom videos walking through their findings, etc.
- Semi-custom: For larger target lists, hyper-customization is going to be difficult. An example of semi-custom in Sales Development would be sending emails that are 80% templatized and only 20% customized or in marketing, making generalizations about groups of accounts and sending them content related to their market. For example, a company that targets companies moving operations overseas might send them content on international operations with a mention that they know they are moving overseas. So custom, but not fully customized.
- No personalization (templatized/horizontal): If the market is SMB and wide (the phone system market is an example), then templatization is mandatory.
ABE makes sense and is a license to be genuine. Does that mean it’s doomed to fail?
[CR]You are such a skeptic. No. There are always going to be organizations that lack the marketing acumen to pull this off. And yes, they will fail. But the early returns on account-based campaigns from companies that are actually committed to it are impressive. It works.
I view ABM as 90% human and 10% technology – a. is that accurate b. how do we train for these skillsets when they aren’t already present?
[TS] Well, the technology stack will continue to support Account Based Everything, but I think you’re referring to the fact that organizations will have to communicate, hand-craft meaningful campaigns (lots of them), talk to accounts (no e-commerce), etc. So I think you are making a great point, but I think 90-10 is a bit high, maybe 75-25 now and 60-40 over the next one-to-two years.
[CR] Also, a few things are happening now to address the skillset/resource gap:
Marketing: A new organization is arising within the marketing department – the Account Based marketing organization. Keep in mind; volume and velocity marketing won’t die for companies that sell to the small to low-mid market. That group has to be separate from the Account Based Group. That has been a major struggle – we have spent 10 years hiring, training, setting expectations with demand gen leaders that they are quantitative, tech-focused, etc. Account-based requires project management, campaign creation skills, messaging, etc. But again, it’s a godsend for veteran marketers who couldn’t get down with the techno-marketing trend of the last 10 years.
Sales development: Account based sales development leaders are hiring smarter, thoughtful SDRs who can research and write. They are training them to create custom or semi-custom campaigns. Sales dev. is different than other areas of the organization because the team turns over every 14 months. It’s actually why transition is happening so much faster in that organization than the others.
Sales: Again, hunter-type, enterprise sales reps are ready and have been for a while. The “wait for leads” and “only work on deals closing tomorrow” reps will struggle. However, over the last two years, we have seen a move to add value-based selling to the volume and velocity market. Sales leaders have been working on re-training reps to create custom value for their prospects. It’s happening and will continue to happen.
How long should an AE (new biz rep) own an account they sell?
[CR] The first thing to remember is that in an account-based scenario, organizations assign reps to accounts because they give the organization the best opportunity to close that account. Traditional territory design (geographic) is obsolete. For example, many organizations are verticalizing sales. The sales rep with expertise in selling healthcare will be assigned healthcare accounts regardless of geographic location.
That being said, in an account-based world, rep assignment should be emotionless. If that sales rep is no longer the best person to close that account and they have made no progress, then they should be re-assigned no matter what the timeframe has been. For example, a sales rep is assigned GE and has not made progress. A new sales rep has sold to the CIO of GE in the past and has relationships with multiple stakeholders. The account should be re-assigned.
Another factor to remember is that the entire organization will be attacking these accounts. In an Account-based everything scenario it is very hard for the sales rep to hide. Marketing and sales development will be launching campaigns into those accounts and creating activity.
What are some of the biggest barriers you encountered in orgs embracing ABE? How were they overcome? Or were they?
[TS] The biggest barriers we see are:
- Marketing fear: Cycling lead volume down from 6000 leads to 1000 leads is scary.
- Sales development fear: “What happens if they go through their 100 accounts and get no traction?”
- Sales fear: Sales will work on anything that moves for fear they won’t have enough pipeline to hit their number.
- Talent: We have spent ten years stocking the shelves with volume and velocity talent – they either change, or you get new people.
[CR] And by the way, the answer to fear is to start small and grow the program. Start with the best sales rep, best SDR – focus them on the ICP and start making some money. Then you can still get your 6000 MQLs, etc. Once you prove it, starting beating the crap out of it.
We spoke a while back about the importance of the executive being highly visible and participatory in ABM (CEO inviting people to a dinner, etc.). I think this is a play that many execs will be uncomfortable with. Will they simply fail?
[CR] I was recently talking to a VC who has been investing in companies for 20 years now. I asked him what he has learned over the years. He said, “the number one factor in a company’s success is that the CEO must be the real sales leader. If the CEO is not your number one sales rep, you will fail. If you look at some of the biggest B2B companies ever built, you see executives who are willing to do anything (ethically) to get deals done. Larry Ellison, John Chambers, Mark Benioff, Steve Ballmer, Mark Hurd… the list goes on and on. Sales-centric leadership will get behind this.
That said, there are many executives that will feel uncomfortable with the Account-based Everything process. I don’t think they will “simply fail” … their companies might, but the programs probably won’t. Executive involvement in Account Based Everything is key, but there will still be a number of elements of the program that will drive target account demand.
Will we still be talking about ABE in 24 months?
[TS]People will be talking about Account Based Everything 24 months from now. Account Based Everything is not a trend. Account-based approaches have been around since we started selling to businesses. What will change in the next 24 months is:
- The ABE tech stack will mature, and a real account-based platform will emerge to support ABE at scale.
- ABE will be in full operation – There are a lot of kinks to work out now so there will be failure and optimization.
In 24 months, Account Based Everything will have lots of full successful operational use-cases. I can’t wait.
I spoke to a CEO of a well-known software company a few weeks back. We are implementing ABM in their org. They stated that they “really didn’t know what was going on with the whole ABM thing.” Are they doomed to fail?
[TS] Not to be cynical, but the CMO should maybe starting updating his/her resume. The company is doomed to fail at ABM if the CEO, board and exec team aren’t prepared for new metrics. Remember, organizations got addicted to big MQL numbers… those numbers won’t look the same.
Account-based has better “down-stream” metrics (ACV, sale cycle time, etc.) but that takes time. Without proper expectations on what the metrics will look like in the near-term, they are at risk of abandoning too soon.
You can learn more about Craig, Tom, TOPO and account-based everything by clicking here.