Account-based marketing (ABM) is surging today throughout marketing organizations everywhere, but the concept is not new. Sales teams have been strategically focused on a handful of high-value targets for decades, primarily in silos, with careful planning utilizing “blue sheets” (Miller Heiman’s tool for analyzing complex selling opportunities) or other proven sales methodologies. What’s different today? Just ask a marketing leader about a “blue sheet” or their sales organization’s approach to key accounts (also called strategic accounts, high-value accounts, target accounts, etc.), and you’re likely to get a blank stare.
Enter a handful of ABM technology platforms, and suddenly marketing organizations are becoming ABM junkies. They are buying technology platforms hoping for yet another silver bullet to help them stay in front of their customers, wherever they are online. Over the last few years, I’ve been working with global organizations to help them implement an ABM strategy, and I am finding the same thing over and over.
Don't get me wrong; ABM technology platforms are incredibly powerful when used correctly. What I’m suggesting is, before implementing another new technology, determine what problem you are trying to solve with the technology and develop the strategy first for solving the problem before investing in the technology. The two should support one another. Here are a few tips to get the ABM conversation started:
1) Sit Down With Your Sales Leadership Team
Explain to the sales leadership team that your marketing team wants to partner with sales to support and penetrate or expand revenue with their high-value, target accounts. Be prepared to explain exactly how you will add value. Remember that “this cool new technology that allows us to…” is not a valid reason. This is a strategic partnership — they don't care about the technology. They care if you can contribute to their business outcomes. When done correctly, ABM will create quantifiable sales and marketing alignment long term. The end result of this discussion should be an agreement from sales leadership to pursue this approach — even if it is a pilot. Next, identify three to five strategic accounts where marketing and sales can partner. In addition, be clear about desired outcomes for your combined efforts for which both teams will be held accountable.
2) Partner Campaign Managers With Sales Reps On A Given Account
ABM is sophisticated demand generation and not for the faint of heart. Newbie campaign managers (CMs) will struggle mightily with this effort, so select CMs who know your company and your business well. Those with a proven track record of designing successful campaigns will have greater credibility and are more likely to get sales’ buy-in and partnership. It is also critical to select a sales person or sales team that is receptive to a marketing partnership. The sales team on a given account plus your CM and a content partner make up your ABM team — for one account. Each high-value target account should have a similar team.
3) Educate Teams On How To Execute ABM Initiatives
At a minimum, your process should be documented and include CM research time, when the CM is becoming as knowledgeable as their sales partner about the target account. This knowledge includes their experiences with your organization and how they position themselves in the market. Plan a discovery meeting for marketing and sales to share and learn from each other what they know about the account and their industry’s current environment.
4) Develop Specific Tools And Templates For Your ABM Campaigns
Develop specific tools and templates for your CM team to use to create an ABM campaign. These tools should include a target account-specific marketing plan, an account persona template, a buying group map, and a detailed campaign plan with core themes and messages by persona, over a given period of time. Account-specific content is key to ABM and should be discussed during campaign design. Note also that the campaign design is done in conjunction with sales to ensure the marketing messages align with the sales strategy.
Once you have documented a strategy with sales, built a process for designing and executing an ABM effort, developed tools to execute your campaigns, aligned and educated both sales and marketing and started to build unique campaigns — now you are ready to consider ABM technologies. Why wait? Because if you’ve developed the strategy and process I’ve documented here, you now know who you are going after, why and how — and have custom campaigns ready to drop them into when they do engage with you. Otherwise, you’re just using cool technology to pull in high-value targets to drop into generic campaigns — exactly the opposite of what ABM is intended to achieve.
Bottomline: ABM is not a quick fix, but when strategy and technology are combined, ABM has the power to drive predictable streams of revenue from your most profitable accounts.