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.
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:
|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:
- Generic Nurture for new leads with little detail designed to glean more data.
- Focused Solution oriented nurturing as we learn more about each other.
- Targeted ABM nurturing to arm the buyer with the right advocacy tools.
- Customer ABM nurturing for general engagement.
- 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
- Docurated’s Top 50 Resources for ABM
- Terminus (for ads)
- Marketo’s 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.