Account Based Marketing: Tactic or Strategy?

Building the AccountLast week’s post generated some interest in how to make ABM happen at a low level – the execution level. I suspect since I went from the general to the particular campaign tactics that I inadvertently created some confusion in my points.

Ultimately, the post was about how to begin applying ABM to your marketing operations and campaign frameworks today, and not wait for a new ABM marketing tool.

A commenter called me out on this saying that I was confusing strategy and tactics. I gave this more thought and think that this is an inherent problem with ABM: is it a Tactic or is it a Strategy?

One point I made was that a firm in the Customer Development mode or one focused on a small number of Enterprise Accounts will always consider ABM a strategy. It’s what they do and they are setup from marketing to sales to work solely on Accounts.

If we look at Lean Data’s ABM ebook, as quoted by David Crane of Integrate, they agree with me:

“Take a hard look at your business model. Are you a high-volume SaaS solution company? If so, you probably would benefit more from targeted lead marketing strategy. But if that same business is seeking to chart a different course by having top-tier sales reps focus solely on large enterprise accounts, ABM absolutely will have value.”

ABM is a Strategy (for some), as well as a Tactic, (for others). I suspect that most B2B marketers considering ABM should look at it as a tactic to be applied to lead nurturing. Eventually, ABM could be run by an Account Marketer or BOFU Marketer (field marketing anyone?).

DemandMetric’s September 2015 study clearly showed that tactical application is likely most in use, with 41% of firms over $500MM already using ABM. Such firms likely have a separate Enterprise team that needs ABM. And these firms also were using ABM the longest, with 42% over 1 year of use. The smallest firms were using ABM the least, with 67% of companies under $24MM just starting to use it and 42% of medium firms using it less than one year.

As a marketing framework, ABM has a strong point to make: marketing and sales are about adding Logos, not people’s names to your website’s Client page. Yet, people make decisions, not companies and we still have to build a list, one person at a time. Integrate’s KC Cox (and others) have pointed out that no matter how much you automate, Sales must get in there and use the human touch to understand relationships, the politics, and when to close.

What Sales Does to Build Accounts

Salespeople have been practicing “ABM” manually for 100 years. They tirelessly keep in touch with the leads that come in, slowly building a relationship and increasing their network within the firm, finding Champions, Users, and Decision Makers. This traditional sales process involves both inbound leads and prospecting.

I did this back in my Sales days, finding all the right people to bring into one giant meeting at a government agency. We won that sale. I also spent a year visiting several Universities in California to build support for a large purchase, had the big meeting, and did not get the budget approval. It was very manual, and very expensive to meet each person.

Could I have automated more of that process? Yes, such as keeping the leads aware of our benefits and other developments. Would that have made me more successful? Only if ABM had reached the right people at each university – people with budgets and needs that I could not uncover with prospecting. A large organization is always going to be hard to crack.

The Sales Account approach includes finding several people. In Demand Gen, the first two groups will show up the most and we often leave it to Sales to complete the relationships in the CRM and by phone.

  • Researcher – the intern, associate, or manager who does that “60%” of the research into solutions.
  • Influencer – these could be key people on teams related to the service. In Martech, these may include IT and Sales, for example.
  • User Champions – the people who really want this to happen because they have the burning pain. They are usually Managers and Directors. (in small firms and buys, this may be enough).
  • Executive Sponsor, or Executive Champion – the VP (or higher), who can own the initiative and push it through. This person may also be the Decision Maker if the project is small.
  • Decision Maker – the person who can sign the approvals for budget and contracts. This may not be the Executive Sponsor.
  • Purchasing/Contracts – the contract manager who can ensure you get paid.

Wouldn’t Sales love it if all of this data were in their lap, with each person clearly marked as “Ready to Hear from Sales”?

What Should be Automated in Account Building?

ABM suggests that much of this Sales process can be automated, which implies an ABM product that can do certain things:

  • Relate leads to each other through their Titles, Company Name, and Domain Name.
  • Report on Account metrics, such as Accounts at each Lifecycle Stage, Coverage (depth) of Buyer Personas, Awareness, Engagement, Program Impact, and Influence, as described by Jon Miller.
  • Understand how to identify the Account and modify inbound and outbound communications to tell the firm’s story more clearly to each person, yet coordinate that specifically for that industry and Account.
  • Limit email to that group of related domains to avoid going into the spam filter.
  • Push Account records into an Account.
  • Push Account records into the proper nurturing stream.
  • Push Accounts to the right salesperson.

Thus, I see an ABM tool automating the nurturing step of the process and the data relationship step of the process. Humans have to be a part of this process and know when to stop the marketing and automation.

Where are the ABM Tools and Platforms?

There is no separate ABM platform to add to your CRM-MAP constellation. Thus, my advice to marketing operations professionals the other day, was to first modify their nurturing framework to be able to focus more on Accounts, using a modified content grid and buyer personas.

Scott Vaughan of Integrate, seems to disagree in an unrelated interview, and was cited in the comments:

“Using email and nurture through your ole ‘reliable’ marketing automation system to nurture within an account is not an ABM strategy.”

I disagree a bit with Scott here because most firms still need to learn and test ABM concepts. They can, and should, do this with lead nurturing and the MAP.

The Demand Metric Survey also showed that technology is not necessarily the barrier, with only 11% reporting technology was a barrier. Instead, 34% reported they did not really understand ABM at all, with another 17% saying they had “other reasons.”

And this is the challenge because all the tools and training have often been about leads, not Accounts. Instead of worrying about the technology platform, as I have suggested, try applying ABM in the process and nurturing tactics first. Understand it, track it as best you can, and by the time you are ready to expand, there will be new ways to scale the effort. 

Tools to Operationalize ABM

This blog is about bridging the gap between high strategy concepts and getting down to the brass tacks of putting the messaging out there, whether that’s on a website, email, landing page, or elsewhere. There are serious details in running a demand generation campaign just as there are in running an ABM program. In the previous post, I offered a framework for handling ABM tactical applications to plug into your tools.

Fortunately, you already have most of the tools at your fingertips today:

  • CRM
  • MAP
  • Data Cleaning and Appending
  • Retargeting
  • Content refinement
  • Dynamic Content in Emails
  • Account Based reporting
  • Predictive Scoring – this is one area I believe is ideal for the predictive tools, assuming you have enough data.

Is Demand Generation Dead?

Most of you out there are at a larger volume SaaS firm where lead counts matter. ABM will be part of your constellation of tools, especially as your firm works to add Enterprise logos. Your funnel will then have a few pipes running leads to a separate set of ABM funnels, working each group of Accounts by Industry, or another segmentation. In other words, a more developed bottom-of-the-funnel system.

Certain consultancies, project shops, and high value advice firms will find ABM a better overall strategy to winning clients. Companies focused on only Fortune 500 type firms will use ABM as their strategy.

Still, I would caution against throwing out the demand gen concepts of building an audience and then combining touches to move people closer to talking to sales. Many consultancies have built large audiences for their content and point of view as part of their marketing. Only a small number will buy at anytime, but you never know when a long time follower will be promoted into a role where they can hire you for a project.

Account Based Marketing Managers

ABM is a different way of thinking from the typical lead generation demand marketer. Instead of leads, you want Accounts. Accounts, however, are made up of individual leads! Thus, I suggest that your firm may want to hire an ABM Manager to interface closely with Sales and Marketing Operations. This new hire can think in terms of Accounts and be in charge of the sales-marketing alignment required.

The standard funnel setup looks like:

  1. TOFU Team (Content, Inbound, Ads)
  2. MOFU Team (ABM?, Demand Gen, Events, outbound emails, webinars, sales tools)
  3. BOFU Team (ABM, testimonials, case studies, reference accounts)

My initial instinct is to have a BOFU team run by an ABM marketer. If your firm has a traditional “field marketer” it may make sense for them to shift to the BOFU team as Sales’ ABM go to person.

Demand Metric’s survey, however, reported that those firms using ABM reported higher impact in MOFU, where “accounts choose to interact further with a vendor.” A full 32% of firms said ABM impacted the mid-funnel, while only 13% impacted the bottom of the funnel. If ABM, then, is about influencing the individual leads to include your firm in an RFP, meetings, or call backs, then it makes sense to put ABM techniques higher up in the funnel.

To me, this supports the idea that ABM lead nurturing programs are an appropriate starting point in terms of technology and technique. The ABM programs would then start at the Mid-Stage content and attempt to encourage sharing in the organization so you can collect more Coverage.

In terms of staffing and workflow, the ABM Manager may work for Demand Gen and cover the Middle and Bottom of the funnels. Each organization may need a different setup.

ABM Tactics vs. ABM Strategy

Last week I mentioned Terminus as a method to begin ABM using retargeting. Marketo’s RTP also claims to help run ABM. These are tools, which are part of the overall strategy. They help keep messaging in front of leads and can use Account segmentation to send the right message repeatedly.

Interestingly, others disagreed. Scott Vaughan followed up his earlier quote with:

“Neither is using advertisements to target and retarget a group of people because they work at a company and came to your web site.”

Yes, absolutely doing retargeting is not a strategy; it is tactic that should fit the overall ABM plan. If your ABM plan indicates that retargeting CXOs is not aligned well with the way you sell to CXOs, then surely do not spend the money.

The Funneholic discussed many tactics to use in ABM in a recent TOPOhq post. A few of these tactics can be automated, while others require careful segmentation, and still others are for Sales to work directly.

Ultimately, with 76% of firms (Demand Metrics) reporting they are testing, considering, or not using ABM, there is a long way to go. These firms should absolutely decide to test the tactics of ABM first, with new frameworks and focused nurturing programs. If the results look good, then it makes sense to consider a separate ABM team or moving to ABM as a complete Sales-Marketing strategy.

What are your plans for ABM in the next year?

Image Credit: flickr Salford University


Account Based Marketing Operations

With Account Based Marketing (ABM) all the sensation the past few months, I had to consider how ABM would work with marketing operations now that there is clamor to shift the burden from Sales to Marketing.

I assume Marketing is being asked to do this because Sales no longer feels it has to do the traditional job of building relationships with multiple stakeholders at Medium to Large businesses. When I was in Sales, I was taught to find various champions and supporters who could bring me to the budget holder and/or key decision maker. Often the decision maker would then pass me to the Purchasing or Contract Manager (at a very large firm) to complete the process. To me, this is perfectly fine and part of the sales role.

Now that Marketing can automate nurturing, it seems natural to ask us to automate part of the Account building process instead of having a sales manager personally reach out and craft messaging one person at a time. Why not automate part of this process to, ostensibly, speed up the sales process and help salespeople cover more ground?

The hype around ABM misses the point about nurturing and account building: how to actually do this. I do not mean literally “how ABM should be setup in the system,” but what to even say to each Account, and then how that story can be told over time. This led me to consider how nurturing is supposed to work and I saw that ABM and nurturing are, essentially, the same thing. Except that ABM helps the marketer focus more attention on a set of companies instead of a higher level breakdown of Solution or Industry tracks.

Yet, there is still a piece missing from the process: the story.

ABM needs the narrative for how the service, or firm, helps another firm. And part of that process is advocate marketing – arming key supporters inside the target Account with the details to sell the service internally up the management chain. Some firms might even bring in an evangelist to do this work.

I do not see ABM being dramatically different from regular lead nurturing. If you are telling your story well through the nurturing process, then your leads will be armed with the right information to go to their management well before they need to call Sales. Ideally, Sales can reach out at just the right moment when some of the Account leads are preparing their case to senior leaders.

The difference in ABM, however, is that you are building a campaign to help the targets build a case for your businesses to work together. Automating this process is challenging because there may only be three people in your database for a company; sometimes there could be 50. While some studies suggest (SiriusDecisions, Corporate Executive Board, and IDC) anywhere from five to 20 people are involved in a services purchase at a large firm, you likely do not have all 20 on your mailing list. Tim Riesterer at Corporate Visions suggests that even if 60% of the buying process is complete for the lead purchasing researcher, there are still plenty of others at the Account who haven’t been involved yet.

That is what ABM is about: ensuring that more of the people at the Account are involved in the story before Sales gets involved. And I agree with Tim (if you click the link), that Marketing, ABM, and Sales need to fully consider how Sales educates and coaches the rest of the Account once some of the leads reach MQL.

Again, ABM does not, and should not, absolve Sales of their role in Account building and coordinating the BOFU process.

Wait, so is ABM methodology still worth it?

Is it worth automating and customizing a program to meet the needs of such a small number of people? Engagio says “yes” and is promising a method of handling this. But this still begs the question. How do you find that messaging as a marketer? Wouldn’t the salesperson who speaks directly to several internal people be a better person to handle this? Wouldn’t they hear the keywords people use and reflect that back more easily than a marketer who is all about larger audiences?

If you are thinking of ABM, I would strongly urge you to establish your lead nurturing programs first. Understand the story you are telling over time and how to do this well. Once you do, the possibilities for telling that Story to just one Account will become clearer to you.

Operationalizing ABM

The critical part for those of us in marketing operations is how to build ABM systems in a way that allows us to report on them too. It is not enough to come up with the creative, we have to design the workflow, deliver the content, and provide the data.

Requirements for ABM Programs:

Components Criteria Considerations
Account Target List Your named account list with Company Name and Domain Name. IS will be more precise, but CONTAINS may help. But beware “cisco” vs. “San Francisco”
Buyer Persona/Title List Segmented People by Persona or Title Again, watch those filters. Buyer Personas will help more here, but Titles or Level work too. Coverage reporting is mostly about Level. Sales’ input on Level & Function will be important for messaging.
Story for Each Persona Collect content and design dynamic content matrix. Do you have the messaging clear for each Persona?
Account Personas Segment by Account, Industry, Size Do you have the story for each Account Persona?
Data Cleaning + Appending Automated deduping, data appending, should be operational by now. How much of the Account and Title information is filled in?

Are you using Progressive Profiling to fill in more?

Territory Management Ensure that you can send on behalf of the Salesperson, SDR/LDR, or Field Sales as appropriate. This may require segments or smart lists to go beyond Lead Owner in Salesforce. Your CRM admin and Sales team need to have the update and territory change process very efficient or you risk embarrassment or missed opportunities.

Here is the Dynamic Content Matrix I mentioned. This is a simple one, so consider just how complex this may become with several Account and Buyer Personas. You will have to build out Segmentations (Marketo) and many nested smart lists to process this efficiently.

Account Persona (Segmentation) Buyer Persona 1 (Segment) Buyer Persona 2 (Segment)
Technology SaaS Startup Marketing Manager Marketing Director
Manufacturing Multinational Marketing Operations BU Level Marketing Director

The nurturing process is multi-level and doesn’t inherently have to start with ABM:

  1. Generic Nurture for new leads with little detail designed to glean more data.
  2. Focused Solution oriented nurturing as we learn more about each other.
  3. Targeted ABM nurturing to arm the buyer with the right advocacy tools.
  4. Customer ABM nurturing for general engagement.
  5. Customer ABM nurturing for product engagement and use.

Reporting on ABM

Jon Miller of Engagio suggests several metrics for understanding the success of your ABM programs: Coverage, Awareness, Engagement, Program Impact, and Influence. Here, Engagement is defined as “number of minutes spent with your firm.” Time spent with your firm can include website time as well as a 15 minute call with Sales. Time spent with you can often mean time not spent with your competitors, although Jon may disagree with that.

I like the idea of Coverage. Coverage looks at your data cleanliness and number of Account Contacts in one view to answer whether or not you have sufficient reach into the Account. Your team may have to define what “depth” means at each type of Account by number of staff or revenue: VSB, SMB, Enterprise, etc. I might argue that at least 10 people not in Sales and with at least email address at a medium sized business gives us 75% coverage. Jon Miller suggests using this metric to focus the team on building the right list at each Account. This concept may work much better at justifying spending on list building activities and databases such as Discover Org and specialist publications than simply “Number of Records.”

Marketo’s Revenue Cycle Modeler has an option to track Accounts once a lead reaches a certain Revenue Stage. This option is selected at the Stage in the Modeler editor. Usually, this option is selected at the SQL and later Stages. It pays to check this box regardless of your reporting intentions so that Marketo can at least track that data. Once you have it, you can go into Revenue Cycle Explorer and use the Model Analysis (MA) by Company report to track by Account. The challenge here is that you assume your Account data is very clean.

Where Does ABM Make the Most Sense?

I do not have any particular numbers here, so this is my hunch.

Retargeting. ABM activities can, and should, start with online ads and retargeting based on engagement with certain kinds of content. Your coverage rating can tell you where to refine the messaging to deliver more of a certain kind of lead.

Website Personalization, such as HubSpot’s COS and Marketo’s RTP is probably the most effective tool at each stage of the funnel. Once you have enough data, your site can morph into the right site for the CMO of a Manufacturer, or the marketing ops manager at a media firm.

Outbound Email works if it is designed as a nurturing program. ABM should not be a label for “personalization.” ABM requires a high level of database segmentation and dynamic content use. Since a majority of firms are in Stages 1-3 of the Marketing Technology Maturity Model, I suspect it would be a big challenge for most firms to segment the database this way. As I said earlier, build those Nurturing Programs and get used to that system before you try to build out an ABM system, which requires much more nuanced matrices of content and people.

ABM may make the most sense to implement in three very different situations: early stage startups; new product launches; and mature firms which can dedicate field sales staff to large, named accounts.

  • Early Stage startups and New Product launches are where Customer Development is critical as well as landing the “right” reference clients. ABM can be very powerful
  • Mature Firms: When I worked for mature firms we wanted marquee clients for prestige as well as revenue. I had a pretty clear list of targets in my territory in each industry. I believe this works well when a company can dedicate field sales staff to territories by geography, industry, or named accounts. In fact, this is a question I ask during my discovery sessions with clients: Do you have named accounts you want to score or route differently?

ABM Campaign Ideas

This is entirely up to you and your team, and of course, the type of business and audience you are building. The most basic campaign concept is to use Marketing Automation to pull in the territory manager’s (Lead Owner) name and contact info to make the email appear to come from a real person who would be that lead’s contact at your firm.

If anything, ABM should make the “territory campaign” obsolete, reducing the need for salespeople to batch and blast their territory for meetings or asking Marketing for such campaigns.

Influitive recently conducted an event based program for the top 125 “most wanted” people at their target accounts. This is a creative campaign, which caught the attention of ABM advocates as well as many of their targets, even if only 8 (6.4%) of them showed up at Dreamforce. While creative, this is the kind of campaign that is not automated, and to me, does not exemplify the latest thinking in ABM. The campaign was about attention and not about long term nurturing or building depth at a target account. Sure, Influitive may have a brief opening to tell their story, but this is akin to a cold call tactic, the opening of the door, not a comprehensive ABM strategy. If opening the door is the first step, there should be a clear nurturing plan in place to interweave sales and marketing touches at the right moments.

I know another firm, ScaleArc, that targets specific infrastructure and ops staff at target verticals with a combination of emails and direct mail meeting incentives to land an appointment. To broaden coverage and engagement at several levels of the account, ScaleArc then asks the initial meeting sponsor to invite multiple team members. The company also leverages community events that draw lower-level, more technical staff – taken together, these various campaigns tie together to build ScaleArc knowledge within Accounts. Maria Pergolino at Apttus has a similar program she shared on a video (14:50) with Craig Rosenberg and Jon Miller. Note how this program works in physical touches with digital and phone calls. Think about the workflow and martech stack required to properly deliver that experience.

When you consider the story to tell each Account and Buyer Persona, perhaps one part of the nurturing program is ensuring that certain lower level personas are given the tools to build a case for your firm (and the solution) at the Account. Perhaps this would be a Late Stage stream, yet it could easily be the starting point for the nurture process.

More Resources on ABM

Account Based Marketing should be approached as a method of lead nurturing that is more focused than the standard list building and outbound content. If I sound skeptical it is because I believe most B2B marketers have yet to master the marketing operations required to track and run the existing marketing strategy. ABM is a shift in mindset, strategy, and operations that should be approached very carefully.