Perhaps no sales and marketing approach has seen so much success while facing so many reservations and concerns as Account-Based Marketing.
Organizations of all sizes have become so entrenched in the traditional demand gen model, one that favors quantity of leads over their quality, they can’t envision reorganizing their sales and marketing teams to accommodate the demands of an ABM approach. Many marketing executives I talk to understand the upside of ABM, but ask the same sorts of questions as they contemplate adopting it for their organization.
Here are the top 7 questions we are continually asked regarding ABM.
1. What is ABM, really?
I often answer this question by saying ABM is just good marketing – because it is. But enabling good marketing with a quality tech stack can help take your ABM to the next level. There are five basic pillars of ABM:
Data. It’s important your database accurately reflects your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). In a highly targeted approach, if your target accounts aren’t already in your database you need ensure to get them represented.
Account Planning. This is where you get sales and marketing in the same room and decide the right path to engagement. Who? What? When? Where? Why?
Content. Consider the way you’ve looked at it up to this point – now forget all of that. It’s no longer about casting the widest net, it’s about generating interest in a single member of the account buying committee.
Execution. Once you’ve got everything aligned, and all teams are in place, start marketing!
Measurement. While ABM campaigns have longer sales cycles – some up to 18+ months, it is possible to measure along the way: What the level of engagement within my target accounts? What content finally led to the first meeting? How long did it take to get the meeting?
It’s likely you’ve been doing target account based sales at some level since you started selling. The problem is that (without ABM) marketing is largely reactive to sales. Unless marketing is helping with an event or a specific ask, they are doing regular demand gen tactics: creating content and pushing it out to the world instead of focusing on the one deal sales is trying to land. ABM changes all that, and both departments reap the reward.
2. How do I change my organization’s perception of ABM and get started?
In a traditional demand gen structure, marketing is largely siloed from sales. When sales needs tailored content for an upcoming event, marketing will get involved, but other than that marketing is busy with their own agenda. Most organizations expect their marketing departments to crank out general demand gen content with the hopes to fill the lead funnel. ABM is quite the opposite. True ABM requires pieces focused on one large qualified deal that can be pulled into the sales pipeline. Marketers who are exposed to ABM are quick to adopt the framework and embrace a focused approach. But too many sales organizations don’t see the value in such an aligned structure simply because they haven’t performed that way before. The perception shift starts with the collaboration of the two departments and the commitment to measuring results in a different way, one that paints a more accurate picture of successful metrics (more on that in a minute).
3. Do I have to buy new tech to implement ABM?
The truthful answer is no. Does it make some things easier and better equip you to scale? Yes. The right technology can be immensely valuable, but only if it’s used properly – which means your team must be stacked and trained. But you can absolutely get started without it. I recently collaborated with many B2B leaders to admit there are plenty of ways to succeed without technology – and without it as a crutch. The key is that all the software in the world won’t make up for bad process. So, before you start buying technology, ensure that you understand the process – and have the staff, time and energy to execute on it correctly.
4. How do we get started with a pilot program?
It’s easy enough to say just getting out there and start doing it. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy to try before you buy with ABM. It’s simply too much effort, even if you were to focus on just five key accounts to start. This could mean a 12-18 month process with an average penetration of 20-30% – no one has that kind of time or money to risk. Instead, it makes far more sense to deploy resources you already have in a different manner and implement certain aspects of ABM with baby steps. Again, taking that five account approach, could you afford to do the little things like introduce your account team earlier in the pipeline? Create more targeted content or focus on increasing the relevance and personalization of your emails for just those clients? Probably. Giving up some broad tactics and narrowing down your focus to account level strategy is the best test run you can have with ABM.
In addition, educating your SDR team on marketing basics will pay off big time in your ABM efforts. Although you likely can’t turn your sales team into a functioning mini marketing squad, there are free resources they can sign-up for to learn more about digital marketing, like Six Bricks. By gaining a better understanding of the basics, you’ll have another brain thinking about how to connect your prospects with messaging that will resonate.
5. How are we going to measure success?
The only way to get a realistic measurement of how your ABM activities are performing against traditional demand gen is to benchmark, and benchmark correctly. You must know how you are doing under your current model – what are your conversion rates? How many true opportunities are you creating? Unless you have that, it’s hard to get a true measurement of the lift with ABM. The answer? Start measuring today.
Organizations have become so used to inbound marketing for the past decade that they’ve fallen in love with volume. In ABM, that’s not what’s important. You might try for 6-12 months before you get that first meeting with a target account – and that’s when you benchmark. Yes, engagement is part of the measurement, but we suggest really starting with that first meeting.
Sure, you won’t be seeing volume numbers as high as you were under demand gen, but that’s not a bad thing. If you do ABM right, you’ll see dramatic improvements in your conversion rates and your sales ready opportunities – much truer measures of your overall success.
6. How do we get our sales team on board?
Convincing your sales team that sharing a room with marketing and discussing the same accounts together might sound like a daunting proposition. It all comes down to technology and process. Sales needs to understand that while there are many tools at your organization’s disposal for adopting ABM, their personal touch in dealing with clients one- to-one will actually become a more valuable skill than before. And while you may need to lean on the services of a third party to help transition your technology, the learning curve is far less steep if your teams are aligned.
The process doesn’t necessarily have to change too drastically day to day, but your sales team’s mindset might have to. Under ABM, the focus shifts from all accounts to your best accounts, which may change your salespeople’s relationships with some of their customers. Opening lines of communication with marketing may be the biggest adjustment, as both departments will find themselves doing a bit of the other’s “old” jobs in traditional demand gen.
7. Sounds great, but how do we keep the lights on?
This is a valid question because execs don’t want to put their business at risk by switching things up without a trial run. The simple truth is that many organizations are experiencing great success with a demand gen approach. But every day these companies stick to a more generalized strategy is another day their potential customers are being fed relevant, personalized content by a competitor. By starting small (as indicated above), the risk becomes substantially lower than diving head first.
Whether ABM has been adopted by the majority of companies at this point shouldn’t be the deciding factor when considering making the switch. The future success of these organizations depends on the alignment of sales and marketing under and approach that puts the best customers first and measures the right metrics as strategies and tactics constantly evolve.
We recently released our ABM Framework for all to download, consume and run with. It’s the exact same process we use, not only in house, but also for each of our clients. Check it out here and let us know if you have any questions. Until then, happy planning.