Finding The Right Balance Between Effort And Results
It’s clear that account-based marketing (ABM) is here to stay, but marketers seem as confused as ever. At the 2018 FlipMyFunnel one-day conference in Boston on August 8, Sangram Vajre of Terminus started by surveying the crowd as to whether ABM is hype or real. While most people are doing some sort of ABM strategy, few feel that they are doing it well.
Why is there so much confusion? Because the conversation has been developed by a slew of technologies rather than by leading marketing strategists and practitioners. Technologies help to scale an existing ABM strategy, but purchasing ABM software alone will not ensure a successful ABM program.
The FlipMyFunnel conference was a tremendous opportunity for marketers to engage with the best and brightest ideas of our time. If you’re considering an ABM strategy or want to see how yours stacks up, this article covers the key components of designing a successful account-based marketing strategy.
Marketing And Sales Alignment
Many marketers confessed they are tired of being told that sales and marketing need to be in alignment. The truth is that the silos are shifting as we see more marketers being tied to the metric that matter most: revenue. Sure, a marketer can only do so much to move leads through the buyer journey, but marketing should be seen as an influencer, not a lead producer. This shift is imperative for an account-based marketing program.
The first place where sales and marketing need to gain alignment is on the account selection. Deciding on which accounts to target can be a major challenge between sales and marketing, as each department has diametrically opposed motivation.
Marketing wants to choose accounts that have previously engaged or that show a strong propensity to buy, because the motivation is to show that the account-based marketing strategy is worth investing in. Sales will look at their named accounts in their quota and choose accounts that they’ve been unable to gain traction in. Somewhere in between is a happy medium.
Instead of focusing specifically on the account names, marketing and sales should focus on criteria. What does it mean to be a qualified account? Start with the basics, like an agreement on firmographic data (company size, revenue, industry, geography), and then layer filters on top of that.
Those filters could be previous engagement, such as people who have opened emails or clicked on your ads. If you’re using predictive modeling software, look for your top accounts. If you don’t have predictive tools, examine your recent customers for commonalities. How did they engage? What influenced them? Do they have pain points in common? Which products or services were they using previously? What patterns do you see in the data?
You’ll want to narrow the selection criteria down to about 10-20 accounts for your pilot program, so you can do a manual test first before determining which technologies you’ll use to support an ongoing ABM strategy. By gaining agreement on the criteria instead of the accounts, you can make a logical argument for account selection and set the marketing team up for success.
Once you’ve established your target buyers and the accounts you want to go after, you’ll likely need to build your database. Data is the backbone of any account-based marketing strategy.
There Is No MQL In ABM
A marketing-qualified lead (MQL) is a term reserved strictly for inbound marketing, where marketers pre-qualify leads to ensure intent and a match on the buyer profile using behavioral and demographic lead scoring.
Account-based marketing takes a different approach. Everyone in the ABM program is already pre-qualified, so instead of determining if a lead is qualified, you’ll need to determine when a lead is qualified for sales to engage. These determinations are best made as a team between sales and marketing.
Another key workflow to agree on is sales outreach. Traditionally, companies have set up their sales team with a more seasoned account executive (AE) giving direction to a junior business development representative (BDR). This person is usually early in their career and needs a lot of help on how to reach out to accounts in a meaningful way.
The workflow has been that the BDR is responsible for setting up meetings with the account executive. AEs have traditionally waited for their BDR to set up these meetings, but in the case of ABM, everyone has to be working on the accounts.
The sales team from Terminus illustrated a fantastic structure for the division of labor between BDRs and AEs. They showed a sample buyer personas matrix in which you have the executive decision-maker and the lower-level users. The BDRs reach out to the lower-level users, while the AEs reach out to the executives. Coordinating this two-pronged approach to sales is a brilliant way to gain traction on an account.
The final component to successful sales and marketing engagement is to agree on the content. ABM means getting personal, so developing personalized content for both marketing and sales will increase the propensity of a target account to buy.
In account-based marketing, metrics matter. Tying marketing results to pipeline building and revenue is imperative because you’ll want to determine your ABM ROI. This metric is needed to build your case for an expanded program if the ABM pilot yields significantly better results.
But before you get to quarterly revenue, you’ll want to report on some key metrics along the way. In ABM, we talk about engagement as opposed to lead generation. Engagement can be measured in several ways, so gaining agreement with sales on which metrics matter most will allow for weekly and monthly reporting that demonstrates program success based on numbers in addition to your anecdotal feedback.
Key metrics for account-based marketing focus on engagement rates. These need to be defined by your team, but they’re similar to behavioral lead-based scoring. Assign points to your emails, ads and event attendance, as well as landing page dwell time, frequency and page visits.
Determine which thresholds indicate intent versus influence. Engagement rates should focus on the percentage of accounts that marketing has managed to engage. If you have 20 accounts and 12 are actively engaging with you, your engagement rate is 12/20 = 60%.
Another key metric is account penetration. Out of all the contacts you have on an account, how many of them are engaging with you? You can examine this number by account or the aggregate. If you have 100 contacts on the 20 accounts and 40 of them are engaged, you’d have a 40% account penetration rate.
When you sell into an account as opposed to a lead, you’ll want to use the number of companies (not contacts) as your measurement for percent of sales-qualified accounts (SQAs) or opened opportunities to measure the pipeline attribution to the ABM program.
Pilot programs are recommended to show the success of switching to an ABM model. Technology is needed to scale an ABM program. Investing in ABM software can be a major line item on the budget, so building a business case as to why this initiative should be considered is critical to allocating funding for the program.
Be sure to look at average time to close, win rates and overall conversion rates, and compare them against the sales average to see if ABM has been effective for your target audience. Comparing ABM metrics to the average will help build your case, but the most important number to look at is return on investment (ROI).
Because ABM requires more work to personalize the outreach and sales effort, ROI calculations should include salaries, to determine if you’ve reached a higher ROI than with the standard campaigns. The decision to scale the program or not will depend on whether the return is higher.
Testing levels of personalization and finding that right balance is the key to optimizing an ABM strategy. At the FlipMyFunnel conference, the one tactic repeated in multiple sessions was personalized videos. Of course you’ll get a much higher conversion rate with personalized videos than standard videos, but what wasn’t clear from the presentations was the impact on sales.
Does it close deals faster? And what is the ROI? Sure, it may sound simple to shoot a two-minute video for 100 prospects, but ultimately that time could be spent on other sales efforts. Factoring the time it takes for personalization into your return on investment will help you to determine the optimal level of personalization.
Account-based marketing is all about relationship building. Although your pilot program will likely focus on prospects, as you scale and expand, you should focus on other parts of the buyer journey, like pipeline acceleration and customer marketing. Your customers are your best influencers, so ensuring that they are happy, engaged and talking about your products or services is imperative to growing a business.
The most successful top-of-the-buyer’s-journey content features customers. Not just testimonials, but case studies with actual metrics. One ABM campaign saw a 4X conversion rate on ads that used a personal customer story rather than targeted name-based ads. When a customer case study was presented on a landing page, it saw a 3X conversion rate over those with personalized thought-leadership content.
Developing and testing those stories will help you determine what type of content to focus on. Remember to apply the ROI metrics to find an optimal level of personalization between return and scalability.
ABM requires building relationships and finding the right balance between effort and results. It’s important to run a pilot because you’ll inevitably have areas that don’t perform as well as expected. It’s OK to make mistakes and learn from them. In fact, that’s how you’ll find the best account-based marketing campaign for your organization.