There is no ‘I’ in successful ABM

Contributor John Steinert explains how alignment across an end-to-end process helps sustain and scale your program.

There is no ‘I’ in successful ABM

When I saw this video of cadets helping each other scale a high wall, I was immediately struck by how planning, preparation and teamwork can clearly blow away making it up as you go. It’s a simple demonstration of the executional power of repeatable processes that can scale (pardon the pun).

It reminded me a lot of what we see in the account-based marketing (ABM) practice at our company. Within leading practitioner groups, we’ve noticed companies getting much better at end-to-end orchestration of marketing and sales.

They’re applying a TEAM approach — a repeatable order of operations that we think can serve as a useful framework for any company as it evolves toward the account-based approach. By explicitly applying elements of this simple acronym, ABM leaders are more successfully building and sustaining consistent return on investment (ROI).

T for ‘Target truly active prospects’

When you compare a successful and mature practitioner’s ABM programs to their general-purpose activity, you’ll realize that, while their list provides all the potential candidates for the program, it’s the activity they can see within accounts that determines when and how they will orchestrate each particular intensified thrust.

To get to this point of preparation and differentiation quickly, beginning practitioners should embrace the concept of prospect demand activity as their ABM catalyst for action (or, as SiriusDecisions calls it, “Active Demand”).

Preparing properly for ABM success has never been as simple as narrowing the focus to a very specific set of accounts. Standard campaigns executed to a smaller number of accounts are economically suspect from the start, and there’s no reason to expect that they’ll work any better delivered to a named list than they do at larger scale.

In contrast, what we see with high-ROI ABM is first, that it comprises specialized actions, and second, that these actions get triggered only under a very specific set of conditions: There must be clear demand signals that the team has agreed will be acted upon. And the team must be adequately prepared to take the action that has been agreed.

The rapid triggers that characterize this new world of active demand can make adapting general purpose campaign processes to ABM difficult. And yet this reality is something that sales encounters on a daily basis.

Since ABM success relies on marketing and sales working in concert, the necessary adjustment here depends on adjusting marketing’s outlook to include a more sales-like view. Experience shows that when an end-to-end process for ABM is designed specifically to be more responsive to change in the market, combined teams gain momentum much faster. This process begins by concentrating the team’s attention on intercepting active demand.

E for ‘Engage complete buying teams’

Among our clients, significant ABM success is correlated with obtaining a much better awareness of broader activity within the account. Critically, though, seeing the deal in action early enough is only the beginning of improving wins. According to CEB, a unit of Gartner, there are, on average, 5.4 players involved in purchase decisions — all of whom need to be influenced in your favor.

There is no ‘I’ in successful ABM

This complete buying team includes a range of titles and roles who typically do not do solution research themselves, thus it’s common for them to never turn up in any funnel. And yet, your sales team knows they’re out there and that you’ve got to get them involved with you.

If you expect your sales team to point itself toward accounts you can see are in a purchase cycle, not only do you have to show them that your insight is based on the behaviors of multiple people, you need to give them a roadmap to senior players who can influence the complete decision-making group. And then you have to enable them with the content and guidance that will help them break through — requiring a combination of data types including both purchase intent and key contact information from high-quality providers.

A for ‘Accelerate concerted action’

ABM programs live or die based on their ability to impact the business. To be able to act swiftly when you need to, you can’t work on the same timeline that you would for broad-based programs. Instead, there are three key enablers to consider building into operationalization:

  • Content frameworks that support sales conversations with technical, end-user and financial decision-makers. For marketing, you may extend this to key asset templates that can be quickly modified to address account specifics. For sales, these are guides providing verbal inroads necessary to penetrate a deal.
  • Diagrammed plays that require specific actions of marketing, inside sales reps (ISR), sales development reps (SDR)  and account execs. Without these in place, by the time you’ve gotten the team’s attention, the deal could well have passed you by.
  • Scaled-up capabilities to identify activity within your target accounts. As you narrow your focus to a much smaller total number of accounts, it’s unlikely your owned and earned channels alone will expose enough real demand activity within your list to drive the kind of results that justify continued ABM commitment. You need access to outside sources of intelligence about deals taking shape to get in early. You also need executional capabilities that can engage prospects not yet visible in your funnel.

M for ‘Measure things that matter’

While goals like total addressable market awareness and coverage are key responsibilities of marketing, they unfortunately deliver little short-term tangible value to downstream colleagues. And that’s why, for ABM to succeed, the marketing team needs to adopt different measures if it hopes to get sales to sign on to a collaborative effort.

Stubborn fascination with top-of-funnel “vanity metrics” is antithetical to what truly drives more revenue per account — the top-level measure of any successful ABM program. For those looking to succeed at ABM, top-of-funnel KPIs are, at best, an interesting reference point. At worst, they’re a dangerous distraction from what it really takes to make ABM work.

Rather than pursuing acceptable averages across the whole market — click-through rates, top-of-funnel conversions — ABM is all about improving your percentages within a specific account list.

  • Are you seeing the demand present in the account?
    • Active demand — How many companies on your list are showing purchase intent in a given week?
    • Engaged demand — What percentage are you successfully engaging via your available channels?
  • Do you have the contact information of the key players necessary to go after a developing deal?
    • Available demand units — Within your target account list, how well-populated are the potential buying units and the key decision-maker personas?
    • Targetable demand unit resolution — How fast are you making progress on filling this out?
  • Are you missing deals within target accounts because they are invisible to you?
    Measure: Your sales at-bats as a percent of total at-bats within your list. There are ways to estimate this and to triangulate on it using public announcements and install data from third-party providers. The best way is to look for trustworthy providers in your space who can offer full verification of deals in process and post-purchase research-based data.
  • Do you know who to focus calling on and what to say if you can get them on the phone?
    Tele-engagement with active accounts/Conversions to meetings among visible suspected deal cycles. Being able to see more deals developing does you no good at all if you can’t deploy your tele-resource effectively. Inside sales teams need permission to focus differently when activity occurs within a target account. And they need to be enabled with much better intelligence about how to talk to the specific account.

Take a TEAM approach for real impact

The processes, and particularly the on/off switch you use for ABM, must not simply be copied from other marketing activities. The difference we see among leading practitioners is that instead of concentrating on an ABM list all the time, they use behavioral triggers inside target accounts to tell them when to launch an ABM play.

A huge systemic challenge exists for marketers before they can even consider a move to a more account-based marketing approach. If they take a reactive approach to other internal organizations’ differing priorities, they will remain too inconsistent and slow to act for real ABM success.

The way over these barriers is to think of them as an end-to-end process connecting all players involved, highlighting elements that should be in place in order to make a real go of it. By embracing elements of a TEAM framework, more and companies are realizing impact from ABM.


[Article on MarTech Today.]

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

John Steinert is the CMO of TechTarget, where he helps bring the power of purchase intent-driven marketing and sales services to technology companies. Having spent most of his career in B2B and tech, John has earned a notable reputation by helping build business for global leaders like Dell, IBM, Pitney Bowes and SAP – as well as for fast-growth, emerging players. He’s passionate about quality content, continuously improving processes and driving meaningful business results.

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