5 Lessons Learned From Rolling Out an ABM Program
March 22, 2017
To say that Account Based Marketing has exploded is the understatement of the century. We now have events dedicated to it, an entire ecosystem of technology to support it and more “best practices” than most marketers can wrap their heads around. But many marketers still struggle to implement ABM at scale in meaningful ways.
With the roll out of our own ABM program safely in the rear view mirror (yet never truly done), it felt like a good time to reflect on why this is so damn hard. There I said it… ABM isn’t easy.
While Account Based Marketing is really just the recasting of tried and true marketing techniques, it requires some new frameworks and perhaps the use of parts of our brains we haven’t all been flexing. So in no particular order, here are are 5 lessons we learned when launching our ABM initiative.
Decide to be active or passive.
Account Based Marketing is a more direct form of sales support than traditional lead gen or brand marketing. While the goals of the latter are somewhat broad – generating awareness, driving traffic, clicks and leads – the goals of ABM are very focused. You are providing air cover to cultivate sales readiness among a very specific and finite list of accounts. But ownership of who should determine those accounts is the difference between an active and a passive organization.
To state the obvious, without the “A” there can be no ABM. Marketing might need to step up and play an active role in creating target account lists depending on whether Sales or Marketing is better equipped to identify these accounts. In some companies, the sales organization sets the targets, often with help from sales operations. This might be the perfect (or only) solution.
There’s no right or wrong approach – what you do depends largely on resources, skills, access to data and makeup of the sales and marketing teams.
As a small company with a Revenue Operations function that straddles marketing and sales ops, the marketing team took a very active role in setting the target account strategy at PathFactory. More on that in a minute…
Don’t assume it’s not marketing’s job
If you’re struggling to launch your ABM program because of “squishiness” around target account definitions or process, don’t assume it isn’t the job of marketing to take the lead. When we kicked off our target account program last year, Marketing began by doing some analysis to see how past target account efforts had performed.
What became clear was that our target account rationale was lacking some important criteria (i.e. account attributes) and not all targets were worked by sales in the same systematic way. This made it difficult to truly understand how successful these initiatives had been. In order to truly evaluate our success – we needed more consistency in how we both set targets and engaged them.
Marketing set out to develop an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) as the first step in developing our ABM strategy. We partnered with a data provider to get key firmographic attributes and we analyzed a specific cohort of current and past customers and late stage opportunities to uncover the subset of attributes that are shared by the types of accounts we’re most likely to have success with.
We used those attributes as the basis for identifying our target account lists. We then worked with sales to develop a very specific outbound cadence and operational mandate for how we would handle target accounts on the sales side – they would need to be touched roughly the same way over the same timeframe. This ensured we were targeting the right companies and that we were engaging with them in a consistent and predictable way. These two factors made the data much less noisy when we wanted to unpack our success in penetrating target accounts.
Over communicate, over deliver.
This is true of most things but don’t assume that because you rolled out an ABM program and trained your sales team on how to manage, maintain and update their data, that you don’t need to repeat this on a daily basis. Over communicating the goals, mandates and operational elements of how target accounts should be managed will ensure that what you think is happening… actually happens.
When it comes to the “M” in ABM – making sure the sales team understands how marketing will support them can help to keep everyone motivated and aligned. But here again, even if you’ve rolled out an incredible ABM program – don’t assume everyone gets it the first time.
As an example, our marketing team were patting themselves on the back after implementing (in our minds) a truly awesome direct mail program for target accounts. Using PFL, we made it incredibly easy for a sales rep to trigger a direct mail touch to their target accounts as a door opener right through salesforce.com. All they had to do was select a contact, personalize a note and click a button – PFL would send out a very cool and thoughtful gift to help sales get a foot in the door. Easy right?
You can imagine our surprise when after a quarter, the usage of this program was abysmal. You mean… just because we rolled out a sales enablement program, it wasn’t automatically successful? Sometimes it takes a lot of repetition to sell the value of a program and through a lot of communication and reminders, we now have wide adoption and promising returns from the program.
Don’t assume your job is done when you roll out something new – over communicate and remember that marketing is a service bureau for sales. Find ways to enable and empower your reps that are simple and valuable and they will eventually take you out for cocktails.
Process before programs.
Like anything you want to monitor and measure, ABM needs to be grounded in firm process. Just because ABM is the buzz word du jour among marketers today, it doesn’t mean you should start slinging a bunch of account based programs without first thinking through how they map to your current marketing and demand gen processes.
Before you launch your first targeted ad campaign, create some shiny target account email nurture or even begin the process of figuring out how you’ll map leads to accounts, take the time to map out the entire program. If you have inside and outside sales resources – who’s responsibility is it to penetrate target accounts? What does your outbound cadence look like, what does marketing success look like when it comes to ABM?
Account based marketing is the same but different. You’re going to run a lot of programs that look similar to standard demand gen programs – targeted social, display, content syndication and direct mail – but how you think about follow up, measurement and overall program success might look very different so think through the process and operations side before you jump on the latest ABM trend.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Like most things that deliver business value – an ABM program is something that’s never really done. If you’re doing it right, it will require a lot of fine-tuning. You will launch… and then you will measure, you will iterate and you will adapt. Even if you race to the finish line, to continually get value from ABM you need to continually evolve. You may find some channels don’t work well, or your target account rationale needs work. Keep yourself honest by always measuring the success and efficiency of your ABM programs vs. your baseline and set specific goals so you’ll know if it’s living up to your expectations.
If you’re free on March 29, join our webinar with the ABM Leadership Alliance. I’ll be joining Patrice Greene, President and Co-founder of Inverta, as she hosts a panel of B2B experts to discuss the 6 common issues marketers run into when launching their ABM initiative and how you can overcome them through a mix of strategy and technology.