The traditional marketing funnel is dead and B2B marketers need to shift their focus from churning out leads to winning accounts by sending the right content to the right person at the right time.
That was the overarching theme of “Getting Started with Account-Based Marketing: A Practitioner’s Workshop” on February 12, the first in a series of quarterly events hosted by Atomic Beta, designed to help Ireland’s B2B marketers understand the tools and techniques necessary to make an account-based strategy work.
Held at Dublin’s Dean Hotel and attended by over 40 Sales and Marketing professionals from pharma to fintech to SaaS, the interactive half-day event provided practical advice and actionable steps for adopting an ABM programme.
Atomic Beta’s Strategic Director, Niall Dowling, was joined by two ABM experts from the global B2B Sales and Marketing research and advisory firm SiriusDecisions: Matt Papertsian, who has more than 21 years of experience driving growth for large software firms and early-stage companies and Anthony McPartlin, who previously led global sales operations at Lionbridge.
Here are seven key takeaways from the workshop that will help accelerate the selling process and close bigger deals:
First things first: ABM, as defined by SiriusDecisions, is a strategic approach that aligns demand creation programmes and messaging against a set of defined accounts and goals in a way that is relevant and valuable to those accounts and to sales.
Put another way, it’s Marketing and Sales working together to identify and understand key accounts and create relevant, buyer-centric content for every stage of the sales cycle to ensure the right information is getting to the right person at the right time.
Sound familiar? It should. As Niall pointed out, taking an account-based approach isn’t new; marketers just forgot about the focus with all the talk about funnels, leads and nurture. That said, ABM requires investment, time, resources and refinement to make it work.
Whereas traditional broad-based marketing is akin to a series of well-executed handovers in a relay race, Matt noted that ABM is more like a rowing team: everyone working together to achieve the same goal. That alignment between Marketing and Sales, in terms of account insights, expectations and resources, is a critical success factor for ABM.
ABM is all about identifying a set of key accounts that will drive the most revenue for your business, but Sales and Marketing often operate in separate silos. While Marketing lives in a world of broad-based awareness and lead generation, Sales is concerned with opportunities. The trick with ABM is to get Marketing and Sales thinking about the same thing the same way.
That’s why Matt and Anthony agree that a vital step in any account-based strategy is for Marketing and Sales to sit down together and determine which accounts are representative of the group whose problem your offering was built to solve. The next step is to identify buying centres within those accounts: what function or department is the best fit for your product? Further to that, who are the people working together (the buying group) to purchase a solution and who plays what role: who is the influencer, who is the ratifier and who is the decision-maker and so on?
Once Marketing and Sales are on the same page in terms of key accounts, who’s involved in the buying process and what their specific needs are, you can sell your solution more effectively.
Getting any new initiative up and running in a B2B business is tough, particularly if it impacts sales in any way. That said, ABM reduces the amount of work that sales teams need to do; because the quality of prospects handed over by Marketing is higher, Sales can spend more time working on closing deals. Here’s why:
- ABM aligns to Sales’ strategy
- It focuses on the best opportunities
- It’s measurable
- It supports pipeline acceleration
- It focuses on strategic relationship goals
- It delivers customer-centric experiences
Moreover, there is hard data to suggest that ABM influences bigger deals. According to SiriusDecisions research, 91% of organisations report that when they take an ABM approach, they are more likely to convert that deal from pipeline to closed than with a non-ABM approach.
Additionally, among emerging growth companies in the SaaS space, 22.2% state that marketing influenced revenue increases by more than 30% over the previous year as a result of ABM, while 44.4% report that influenced pipeline is greater or significantly greater.
As Anthony pointed out, these numbers are a result of better targeting, more precise messaging and strategic delivery, which demonstrates the value of ABM to key stakeholders in Sales.
Having said that, it’s worth remembering that ABM is a long-term strategy, not a quick-fix solution, and needs to be baked into the sales planning process early in the fiscal year. That’s when the Marketing, Sales and Product teams need to sit down and agree on the year’s corporate goals, adjust or define the go-to-market strategy and determine routes to market. Once that’s been established, the heavy lifting around choosing accounts, allocating resources and assigning roles and responsibilities can begin.
Account mapping is the cornerstone of ABM; without it, Marketing won’t know what to share with whom and for what purpose, which means that your content will ultimately get lost in a sea of spam.
Some questions to consider when creating an account map:
- Who are the decision-makers, users and influencers you want to target within the account?
- What is the best way to reach them?
- What are their problems and how can you solve them?
- Are there triggers in the marketplace that would make them more or less likely to purchase from you?
Additionally, consider internal factors specific to your organisation that could impact your success:
- Do you already have contacts within the account?
- Do you have domain knowledge?
- How much of their problem can you solve?
Once you understand the target buying audience and where you fit in, you now know what type of content to share with each member of the buying group and at what stage of the journey in order to drive demand and accelerate pipeline.
But before diving headfirst into an ABM programme, take a step back and further categorise your key accounts. There are three distinct models:
- Large accounts: High-value strategic prospects (Tier 1 or Tier 2) that require a highly personalised approach
- Named accounts: A mix of existing customers and prospects, typically mid-sized organisations in mature markets
- Industry/segment: Named accounts clustered by industry, sub-industry or segment
Knowing what category your chosen accounts fall into will not only narrow your focus and determine your approach, but it will also help to set expectations upfront. For instance, because of the highly personalised effort required to target large accounts, Marketing focuses largely on sales enablement and influences more than 75% of all leads.
By comparison, as the lead pool is generally larger for industry/segment accounts, Marketing’s primary activity is driving awareness, which means that while influence is still high (50-60%), Marketing plays a much bigger role in sourcing new leads (25-45%).
No matter what ABM model you choose, identifying what group your accounts fall into will enable Marketing to collaborate more effectively and efficiently with Sales.
ABM is a major change in how B2B companies approach winning new business, and without company-wide support for targeting key accounts, it’s not going to work. Here’s what needs to be understood from the get-go:
- Company: ABM requires coordinated management and resources and only bears fruit over the long term
- Sales: Readiness to lead an account-centric ecosystem with support from the rest of the company
- Marketing: Commitment to target accounts with personalised content based on data-driven insights
Above all else, Matt emphasised that everyone needs to understand that ABM is not lead generation; it’s engagement. You’re trying to reach and build a mutually beneficial relationship with a group of people that are most likely to buy from you. In other words, it’s quality over quantity.
With traditional broad-based marketing such as demand generation, Sales expects to receive more inquiries, more MQLs (marketing qualified leads) and more SALs (sales accepted leads). But an ABM approach requires a mindset shift to thinking about prospects in terms of accounts rather than leads.
So if you’re targeting accounts, you need to measure accounts — not leads. If your ABM strategy focuses on acquiring new customers, the metrics to measure include account engagement, number of new meetings secured and closed deals sourced or influenced by ABM efforts. Similarly, if your aim is to get more value out of existing customers, you will track cross-sell and upsell revenue as well as retention.
For instance, when centralised data platform Dataiku asked Atomic Beta to create a hyper-personalised ABM pilot on its behalf, Niall noted that the goal was to provide the company’s sales team with critical support in penetrating a small number of high-value named accounts in the UK.
By the end of the pilot, 10 accounts had been targeted and four meetings with key decision-makers had been secured by Sales — all thanks to a high-touch campaign, customised for each individual to show that Dataiku understood their specific pain points and could offer a solution.
Once you have chosen the accounts you want to focus on and achieved Sales and Marketing alignment, it’s time to run a pilot programme. Here are some steps you should take to ensure you see the best results:
- Assemble your A-team: Find people across the organisation who are willing to work together to focus their efforts on a targeted approach, ie. from Marketing, Sales, Sales Operations, etc.
- Define what success looks like upfront: What accounts are you going to target and what are you looking to do with them, ie. build awareness, accelerate pipeline, etc.
- Don’t try the hardest thing first: Start your pilot with accounts that you’re more likely to win.
- Get a “before” picture of the account: If you don’t measure where you were at beforehand, you won’t be able to measure success.
- Define a communication plan: Once you have picked the accounts for your pilot, narrowed down your target audience and outlined your objectives, it’s time to determine how you’re going to reach them.
- Revisit and refine: Ensure everyone receives progress reports throughout the pilot and modify the plan as needed.
At the end of the day, an account-based approach won’t speed up the buying process (a prospect will never buy until they’re ready to) but it can speed up the selling process by improving engagement with target accounts, increasing contact activities, reaching key decision-makers and getting meetings sooner.