Improving pipeline accuracy with ABM

This article examines how approaching sales and marketing with account-based marketing (ABM) lifts efficiency across the board. To kick things off, we discuss a topic that is dear to the hearts (and careers) of sales leaders, CEOs and CFOs, but which Marketing is typically far removed from the revenue pipeline.

Is your pipeline keeping its promises?

Every B2B company, every sales leader and every salesperson has a pipeline of opportunities, each at some stage of the buyer’s journey – from discovery to won or lost status. Having a pipeline is the easy bit. It’s making sure this crucial list is accurate that is not as easy.

The impact of a pipeline with poor predictability can send shock waves throughout the business, affecting not only careers but also production planning, investor relations and much, much more. Importantly, a low-accuracy pipeline breaks the CEO’s promises to the board, making it extremely difficult to determine and execute business strategies.

You can’t close deals out of thin air

“10X” B2B companies – those that outperform their competitors by a factor of 10 or more across a range of key aspects – are known for being quick to deploy new best practices and technologies that can raise the efficiency and effectiveness of their sales and marketing efforts. The majority are either already working with ABM or are taking the first steps to obtain the benefits of this laser-focused approach. Furthermore, all 10X companies are obsessively focused on the accuracy of their pipelines.

Driving this obsession is the simple fact that you can’t close deals out of thin air. For an opportunity to enter the pipeline, there has to be a chance of closing it that is based on more than just sheer hope. Yet many B2B company pipelines are far from accurate because:

  • Deals are pushed from month to month, and from one quarter to the next
  • Inappropriate revenue props up pipeline numbers
  • Too little is known about opportunities key to pipeline health

The result is an overstated pipeline. And by “overstated”, we mean pipelines that are more than two or three times the end-of-game reality, losing the majority of expected deals. To put it simply, if you have a pipeline that consistently closes at just one-third of the projected deals, your sales team is wasting two-thirds of its precious time!

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It’s in the pipeline – but is it real?

Recently, our ABM team discovered “opportunities” that had been in the pipeline of a client for more than a year – in an industry where the typical sales cycle is just 3-4 months! That’s a sign that something is horribly wrong. And in our experience, it’s likely to be a combination of people and processes.

While the focus of this article is the difference ABM can make, let’s take a quick look at the people side because salespeople and sales leaders are only human, after all.

Some salespeople are just overly optimistic, coming out of every new business meeting with a smile on their face and a solid feeling that they have almost landed yet another indestructible opportunity. Others are driven by a need to show they are working hard, both to their colleagues and their managers. Still others put their pipelines together based on a misguided perception of what their sales leaders want. And some may be falsifying their pipelines to cover up a lack of results. These are all people issues, but they can be addressed by process changes.

Embrace the process change

We suggest (at least) two specific ways, used in combination, to improve pipeline accuracy. The first is to introduce the systematic, targeted discipline of ABM. The second is to acknowledge that deals are lost or won in the discovery stage of the sales cycle.

Most people are still new to the concept of ABM, a business-wide strategy that prescribes (in simple form) the following steps:

  1. Identify the company’s ideal customer profile (ICP)
  2. Create a list of target accounts that match the ICP
  3. Identify people and roles in each of the relevant buying centres
  4. Systematically open channels to each member of the buying centre
  5. 5Ensure each buying centre member receives personalized, relevant messages that make them aware of your company and its offerings
  6. Measure, report and refine the approach to raise win rates, speed up sales cycles, increase deal size and boost profitability

ABM improves pipeline accuracy by striving to ensure that the accounts (both new business and existing customers) salespeople are working with are already determined to be a good fit for the company’s offerings and capabilities. Essentially, we’ve already identified that companies on the ABM target list are a good fit, so part of the qualification process a salesperson would normally go through has already been completed.

ABM also lifts the chances of pipeline success by speeding up the sales cycle. As every sales leader knows, the longer a deal takes to win, the higher the likelihood that something will go wrong. ABM speeds up the cycle by winning over more members of the buying group more quickly – in fact, salespeople in an ABM-enabled company will often hold back from conducting initial meetings with prospects until they are sure enough members of the buying group are familiar with and positively disposed toward their company!

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Discover the difference

Of course, part of a 10X, high-performing strategy is to wait to put things into the pipeline until you’ve done a qualified discovery that covers the following points:

  • Have the account and the opportunity been qualified correctly?
  • Have we properly identified the buyer’s pain point? What is the reason they want to invest? Is it a must-have, must-do from their perspective or just a nice-to-have, nice-to-do?
  • Do we understand the timeline? Are there key events that give us great confidence the deal will close within the timeline stated in the pipeline?
  • Have we presented a solid business case to the prospect – with a quantifiable ROI?
  • Do we understand how the company makes decisions of this nature?
  • Is the revenue being entered into the pipeline at the appropriate time in the sales cycle?

Get the answers to questions such as these and your pipeline close rates are likely to experience an enormous improvement. Having discipline like this doesn’t mean, of course, that you drop every deal for which you don’t have (or can’t get) the answers. It just means that you push those deals aside, for now, to focus on finding and working with more promising opportunities.

Interested in learning about how we can help with ABM?

Find out more about ABM

 

Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash

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