Do more with less — Opportunities blossom with ABM

Andrew Haussegger, co-founder and CEO of BBN Partner, Green Hat, headquartered in Melbourne, Australia talked to us recently about Account-based marketing (ABM). Andrew is a public speaker, chairman of the B2B CMO Advisory Council for B2B Marketing Research, co-author of the annual B2B Outlook research report and member of various industry judging panels. This is what he had to say on the topic.


Over 95% of marketing-generated leads in B2B never yield sales results. In any other profession, a 95% failure rate would be completely unacceptable. But in B2B marketing, under the pretence of vague, largely unmeasurable words like brand value, awareness, and goodwill, B2B marketers and agencies get away with it. Especially in a post-pandemic era when the marketing budget is plunging, ABM is an effective way to move forward for most B2B businesses, gain new leads, and retain existing clients.

People talk about account-based marketing with a view that it’s been around forever, but there’s certainly been a change, and there seems to be a resurgence around account-based marketing. We’re going through the next generation of transformation in B2B around account-based marketing, so why is that? I think a few things; one is that at the CMO level, there is certainly more pressure on CMOs and marketing leaders to make a more meaningful impact within their organisations on the business results. Typically, it’s about the top line for marketing and not so much about the bottom line.

See Also: Improving pipeline accuracy with ABM

CMOs have been driving vendors, agencies, and technology companies to develop better and more effective ways of targeting, removing wasteful activities and getting a lot more accurate around how they approach organisations. That’s been the strategic driver, and we’ve seen advances in technology platforms to help in this regard, ABM platforms that operate down through the spine from the top of the funnel, the middle, and the bottom of the funnel, and then data services to help B2B markets identify who’s in the market and who’s not.

We are now in a new era, and I call it transformational. B2B organisations will move to a position of being account-centric in most cases. We are talking about dropping the term ABM over the next couple of years and instead, calling it account-centricity. We’re building our capabilities around accounts as opposed to leads.

 

How do you know if ABM is right for your business?

There are three main areas to help an organisation decide. Firstly, is what we call the timeline from lead to revenue. If you are in a B2B business with a short transaction time, then ABM is probably not right for you. If we had to put a number on it, I’d say about six months. If there’s a lead to revenue timeframe of a six-month duration as a minimum, obviously some could be many years, then that’s the first indicator.

The second is around investment value. ABMs are not an inexpensive exercise; you need to start honing your resources and investment to gear up for ABM. You’re only going to do that if there’s going to be a reasonable return on that investment. Here, deal values around the $100K+, mark, are a good indicator. The other area is the buying party; we are moving away from the idea of a single lead and moving to the idea of a buying party.

We know that when there are more significant investments to be made, there are committees. We call committees the buying party. If you’ve got a buying party of potentially three or more people, including a decision-maker and several influencers, then it starts to look more account-centric. Also worth noting is the revenue per unit of sales. If you are selling, for example, software as a service for $20 per month, ABM might not be the way to go.

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What do you need to start an ABM program? 

ABM requires a few things. One is having a data strategy and being data-driven. We all like to think that we are data-driven. Sadly, many B2B organisations don’t organise themselves, their communications and engagement around the data they are collecting on the customer.

It’s helpful if we have a strategy to decide what data is essential. And we need to know how we will use that to help drive a result? We also need to organise data through the funnel. We need to understand how we use data to negate through the lead nurture and what we’re passing through to the sales team.

About data, we have first-party data, which is what you collect yourself. If we have automation set up on our website and someone engages with pages or content, our automation system picks that up. That’s what we call first-party intent data. Ideally, we’ll be organising that information, running some lead scoring and so on, and trying to organise that information to work out what’s our next best action and how to respond. That’s the first part.

The other new element that’s come out over the last couple of years is third party data. This data is not related to the consumption of our content and our website, but instead, it’s the activities that our future customers are having on the web. It’s helpful to know what other relevant websites they are visiting and what type of relevant content they are consuming.

We see intent data of varying qualities. Still, there’s much better information coming through on intent now than before, and that’s important because intent tells us if they’re consuming content relevant to a solution that we provide and therefore showing some intent to buy something. Suppose they’re consuming content related to a competitor or a competitor’s product. In that case, that’s telling us that they’re potentially in the market, and we need to be thinking about we would engage.

There are two types of intent data. For example, one comes from large data corporations like Bombora and Demandbase, another from publications, trade journals or similar. But there is a problem looming, what’s going to happen when Google gets rid of third-party cookies in Chrome? That’s why we must look at our first-party data collection and analysis and make sure we up our game here much more.

Another critical part is about alignment between sales and marketing. Generally, sales and marketing don’t collaborate in B2B organisations in many cases. They are not making the most of the opportunity to unify their actions. If we can’t get sales and marketing to work in a collaborative, regular cadence together in an organisation, don’t even entertain starting an ABM engagement. That will be a waste of our investment. The two need to work together.

We believe that the fact we call it ‘account-based marketing’ is helping to create this divide. Marketing should not be selecting accounts without getting sales involved; otherwise, it’s a recipe for disaster. The big difference about ABM is that it drives the narrative. You want to target your top five accounts, top 100 accounts, even 500 accounts, so it’s a different conversation. The salespeople are always looking for assistance to be more competitive, and that’s where marketing comes in, and it’s where we see a change of behaviour; we are starting to see tighter collaboration which is a different approach. It is transformational, so there’s work to be done to get it to happen.

 

Where do you start? 

We start with our goals and objectives, but our audience is critical. Whom are we going to target? There are three different models here: one-to-one, one-to-few, and one-to-many. But first, let’s look at targeting. It’s a logical starting point for marketing to go to sales and say, “Look, we want to improve our targeting, we want to find those accounts that we should invest more in and work with you on those. We’ve got to make sure we select the right accounts because that’s where we’re going to be making more investment.”

There should be an agreed ICP an ideal customer profile. Surprisingly, many organisations don’t have that, but let’s say we do have an ideal customer profile list. Our target accounts should be sitting in there. Typically, the tier ones. Marketing has a role here in assisting in validating and enhancing those accounts. They can do this by running some intent services to see what the intent is showing for those accounts and do the same for lookalike accounts. This decision should be a collaborative conversation to come up with the final selection of accounts.

So back to the three models. One-to-one models, which has been traditional in ABM, are basically when a marketing person and a salesperson or sales team work together to collaborate. There’s much manual activity going on, they might decide to write a white paper for that account, do some research for that account, perhaps run a round table just for the executives of that account, and these are all good things to do. That’s the more traditional model that people are familiar with.

As we move to the one-to-few model, we are now looking at about 100 accounts or 200; then we move into one-to-many where we could be looking at 500 to 1000 accounts. We now want to bring those accounts in and start ABM activity when these accounts are showing interest; they’re in the market, they fit into our ICP, they’re a lookalike to other accounts that we’ve already nominated. We start to apply some of the ABM principles where we now begin to be more personalised. We are now widening the funnel at the top and don’t want to be over-prescriptive. We were less personalised up the top, but now we’re becoming more personalised. Then we need to decide how and when to feed that account into the account team.

 

Are there secrets to a successful ABM program?

The secret sauce is found in the first 12 months after we’ve launched our ABM program. It’s how marketing and sales work together, or really, it’s how marketing supports sales. Organisations that are serious about launching an ABM program should have an ABM program manager. They should have somebody in their organisation which is responsible for driving the cadence of success with the sales team.

A good starting point for success is to review activity occurring weekly and monthly and utilise an account feed and an account view to do this.

An account feed is feeding information and activity to the sales team regularly. The account view is an agreed dashboard with a summary section and a detailed section. The summary provides a team with a quick overview of their accounts. It offers high-level data as to what’s happened on these accounts concerning engagement over the last week or so. The detailed view then provides the sales team with a serious competitive advantage. They’re getting information about the buying party on these accounts, such as how many were retargeted and, more importantly, engaging.

It’s important to note that ABM is a slow burn approach and to avoid the salespeople losing interest, it requires ongoing work, the marketing people should be coming in and out of the sales conversations; what’s working? What’s not? What more information do you need? What engagement are we having? The process should constantly be under review.

 

So how do you know it’s working? 

Firstly, not by leads. When we’re looking at bigger deals, there will be committees. We are less interested in one MQL becoming an opportunity and more interested in multiple buying party members engaging at the top of the process. Part of the problem we’ve had in B2B is the invisible committee member; a CFO, for example, who doesn’t sign the cheque because we are unknown to them or they aren’t engaging with us.

Engagement across this buying party is critical. What things are keeping them up at night? What type of content are they looking for? It’s not rocket science, but we need to acknowledge that a second buying party member for the same opportunity is one of the more significant buying signals we can get – and not discard this because ‘oh, we already know about that opportunity!’

We’re looking at things at an account level instead of an individual level. At the start of any ABM program, you should decide what benchmarks should be put in place and then ensure you’ve got the tracking mechanisms in place to measure it.

You may also want to measure deal size and velocity. You want deals to happen faster; the logic is that if you’re focusing on personalising content and you’re automating some of this personalisation and have account teams focused on that account, then you’re doing more to engage that audience. Hence, you expect the velocity to be faster. So, instead of the buying cycle being nine months, it should take six. That’s just a few things to measure there’s lots more. But generally, at the start of these programs, don’t try and measure it too much; get some critical fundamental numbers, look at what the business is asking of marketing and then translate that into your top two or three or four key metrics.

 

Andrew

About the author

Andrew Haussegger is co-founder and CEO of BBN Partner, Green Hat, headquartered in Melbourne, Australia. Andrew is a public speaker, chairman of the B2B CMO Advisory Council for B2B Marketing Research, co-author of the annual B2B Outlook research report and member of various industry judging panels. Over almost two decades, Andrew and his team have worked with global clients such as Nestle, Thermo Fisher Scientific, IBM, DXC Technology, Korn Ferry and various local and regional organisations.

 

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