10 steps to ABM success (hint: it’s not complicated)

  •   October 9, 2019

Account-Based Marketing is an incredibly efficient and effective strategy that is driving substantially greater return on investment for B2B marketers – if it’s done right.  In fact, according to a 2018 ABM Benchmark Study by the ABM Leadership Alliance and ITSMA, 99 percent of marketers report greater ROI from their ABM programs than all other types of marketing programs. However, it’s still the early days for ABM. Most companies are just getting started with their ABM programs, with over 80 percent of survey respondents reporting that they are less than two years into their ABM implementation.

So, why the slow adoption despite the great results? Many organizations are reluctant to dive into an ABM strategy because they have analysis paralysis around implementation, rooted in the misconception that rolling out an ABM strategy will require a major change management exercise and overhaul of the marketing team. While ABM requires a shift in thinking, it’s really easy to get started.

Here are ten steps for implementing a successful ABM strategy that isn’t complicated and will not require you to throw away everything you know about B2B marketing:

Step 1: Simplify and focus

Once you decide to embark on an ABM strategy, think of it as a shift to a shared focus between sales and marketing around a target account list and getting to revenue. You’ll want everyone on your marketing team to develop programs with an eye toward reaching their target account list, and ultimately drive revenue.

Take, for instance, the event marketing team. The way organizations put together their event strategy is often a hodge-podge of different reasons. Whether it’s because they’ve always done that event, their competitors are going to be there, a sales rep asked them to go, or they always receive a high volume of leads from that event, this kind of unfocused strategy will lead to too many events that organizations do not have the budget for.

In an ABM world, organizations determine what qualifies or disqualifies an event by the percentage of attendees on their target account list. If it’s a small percentage, then it’s probably not worth paying for a booth or submitting a speaking submission. Instead, buy a ticket for a sales rep to the event and work with their inside sales rep to set up meetings with the handful of target accounts in attendance. You save a lot of budget and time, and your sales team still feels supported.

Alternatively, when you come up with your short list of events, your marketing tactics will be much different, because you’re focused on the quality of engagements with target accounts versus the number of leads. Instead of spending money on a margarita machine or swag to attract people to your booth, you might host an executive breakfast or dinner for your target accounts to get one-on-one time with them. Your guiding principles will be about target account engagement, not about volume.

Step 2: Know who’s on your team

The “M” in ABM is a misnomer. While it stands for marketing, Account-Based Marketing is much more than just a marketing initiative; it’s an organization initiative. In addition to marketing, sales, operations, customer success, and finance all play an integral role in the success of an ABM strategy and need to work together in the following ways:

Sales: Everyone has heard ad nauseam about sales and marketing alignment, but it’s very true: if marketing creates a target account list that sales haven’t bought into, then your ABM strategy isn’t going to work. Marketing and sales need to be in lockstep around many things, but especially the target account list.

Operations: Operations keeps the wheels on with ABM; they make sure your existing technologies can report on and talk in the account language, things like your CRM and marketing automation solution, but they will also evaluate new technologies you may want to deploy. Additionally, they are usually responsible for all the reporting, metrics and KPIs that are useful in determining what is working with your ABM strategy and what might need additional attention.

Customer Success: Customer success plays an important role in ABM because your customers’ buyer’s journey doesn’t end when they become a customer. Customers are still part of your target accounts because there are renewals and upsells in their buyer’s journey, and you need to continue to nurture those relationships.

Finance: Finance loves ABM because it’s focused on a very specific target account list and getting to revenue. A dollar into marketing to support an ABM strategy is far more predictable to its output on the other end than general B2B marketing practices, which makes it easier for finance to budget year-over-year.

Step 3: Understand your team’s goals and motivations

Now that you have your stakeholder committee, it’s time to understand their goals and motivations so marketing can put together the right programs to satisfy these goals. In addition to revenue goals, consider new product launches, customers retention rates, and logo acquisition goals.

For instance, most sales reps do not simply have a one-million-dollar quota to satisfy any way they like – instead, they have a one-million-dollar quota where 25% needs to come from new logos, 25% might come from a new product launch, and 50%might need to come from retaining or upselling customers (or some combination of that nature). Understanding those dynamics will help marketing teams develop the types of programs that help sales fulfill all the elements of their quota, thereby satisfying the goals of the broader organization.

Step 4: Identify any issues or weaknesses

In rolling out an ABM strategy, it’s important to anticipate pushback, as sales teams haven’t been used to working with marketing. Don’t think of this pushback as objections, but instead, think of it as hesitation or unfamiliarity around a new way of doing things. It’s important to educate your team on the value of an account-based approach and build a strong foundation for moving forward on an ABM strategy.

Step 5: Be clear on KPIs and metrics

In ABM, it’s about quality, not quantity. Metrics should be centered around how you are impacting your organization’s ability to hit its revenue number. Instead of focusing on vanity metrics like click-through rates, focus on revenue performance metrics such as average deal size, close rates and funnel velocity.  However, most organizations’ sales cycles are longer than one quarter and showing success in these three metrics will take some time. So, you can add an interim engagement metric to understand whether you are trending in the right direction in the short-term.

For instance, if you are the website manager, how are you engaging your target accounts on your website? Are they getting to the goal pages you want? Are they spending more time on your website or are they bouncing? These engagement metrics serve as guiding principles between sales cycles to determine what you should be doing for your websites to ensure the accounts you care about are consuming and engaging with the content in the way you want.

Step 6: Align on accounts to target

One of the questions we get asked most frequently is how big a target account list should be. At Demandbase, we determine the size of the list by looking at what percentage of your quota you expect to come from target accounts, what are your closed rates, how big are your average deal sizes, among other factors. From that, we get a number which tells us each sales rep will need “X” number of target accounts; then we multiply that by the number of sales reps at the organization to determine how big the target account list should be.  Understanding the size is the first step. Second is filling that list with accounts that are ready to engage with you, which you can do by understanding what your ideal customer profile looks like, disqualifying accounts that aren’t going to buy from you, and then identifying the remaining accounts that are in market for your solution. Additionally, you don’t want to spend time, money and effort going after an account that just signed a three-year deal with your competitor. Some of these insights will be coming through technology and some will come from talking to your sales reps. Making sure sales and marketing are in alignment, once again, becomes really important in developing your target account list.

Step 7: Address your audience intelligently, and find budget

Once you have a target account list, it’s time to understand how to address that list intelligently. As accounts on your target account list get closer and closer to becoming revenue for the organization, you should be spending more and more money and resources per account to ensure they become revenue. Many organizations are laser-focused on demand gen and filling the funnel, which is important, but in an ABM world you should have some of your team, if not everyone, focused on the pipeline. Once something is in the pipeline, it’s critical to focus on how marketing can help make sure it closes and closes faster with a larger than average deal size. And once an account becomes a customer, then marketing should continue to focus on that account to help support the account team’s ability to renew and upsell that customer.

A question I often get asked is how to find budget for addressing your target account list. My response is simple: You don’t need to find new budget. If you focus on target accounts, you will optimize your budget because you aren’t spending budget on really expensive tactics that aren’t getting in front of their target accounts. Instead of casting a wide net and hoping you reach your target account list, you will know who your target accounts are and can spend money only on tactics that focus on those accounts.

Step 8: Align on campaign and segment prioritization

Everyone focuses on sales and marketing alignment, but marketing on marketing alignment is equally important. When you’re focusing on a much smaller set of target accounts, there is potential for marketers to step on each other’s toes. As a result, it becomes increasingly important to take a hard look at the various marketing functions and tactics to understand where they play in the marketing funnel. Make sure you are segmenting your list based on where accounts are in their buyer’s journey and tailoring your message across the channels that make the greatest impact at each stage.

Step 9: Collaborate with and enable your sales team

We’ve talked about sales and marketing alignment and we’ve talked about it with regards to identifying the target account list, but it’s also important to engage your sales team from a sales enablement perspective. As a marketer, you should be thinking about how to enable the sales team to take advantage of the programs you’ve put together. For instance, if you’re doing a webinar, enable your sales team before, during and after the webinar to make sure you (and they) are satisfying your goals.

As the sales and marketing team become aligned on KPIs, marketing will have a vested interested in sales enablement. The best and highest performing ABM programs I’ve seen think of their SDR, or inside sales team, as an extension of the marketing team and both teams have the same KPIs around pipeline generation. With this approach, marketing and sales become inextricably linked and are great partners in generating pipeline for the organization.

Step 10: Ease your way into an ABM strategy

Some people say crawl, walk, run with your ABM strategy, but I like to put a little more context around it. The first phase is really about shifting the focus for the entire marketing team. Likely, everyone on your team is experienced in B2B marketing, so it’s not about throwing that away, but instead, it’s about looking at your marketing mix through new a new lens of whether each tactic or channel can reach your target account list and how to execute it such that it will help drive pipeline and revenue.

Then, in phase two, take all the learnings from phase one and the new set of target account list engagement metrics driving you forward and figure out how to optimize your programs, your budget spend, your headcount and resources to make sure you are doing the most to generate pipeline and engagements with your target account list.

Finally, phase three, you’re ready to run or go all in with ABM. If you think of phase one as a pilot phase, phase three is about making your entire marketing team an ABM machine — it’s not just the demand gen team or digital marketing, it’s everyone in marketing.

Wrapping up

ABM is a marathon, not a sprint. It is a long-term strategy that needs to be built on a solid foundation. By aligning marketing, sales, operations, customer success and finance around shared goals and an account-focus, you’ll be off to a great start with your ABM strategy. With the guidance of these ten steps, hopefully, you see a clear and actionable path to embarking on an ABM strategy that is right for your business.

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