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What CEOs (and their CFOs, CROs, CMOs…) need to know about ABM

Why “trying ABM” is destined to fail, and what you need to do to succeed.

Account-Based Marketing (ABM) is the latest trend in B2B sales and marketing...and with good reason:

A full 87% of B2B marketers surveyed by ITSMA reported that the ROI from their ABM initiatives outperformed their other marketing investments, and companies are seeing 3x higher win rates with larger average deal sizes (91% of companies reported increases in average deal sizes with 25% seeing average increases of over 50%) when using ABM.

Quick time-out: while we’re using the term “account-based marketing” or “ABM”, we believe account-based is a full company initiative, and that account-based everything is probably a more accurate term. But for now, we’ll stick with the better-known ABM, even though the rest of this article is about a full-company initiative.

The results speak for themselves, but, as always, there’s a catch:

ABM might seem like a trend, but you’re destined to fail if you treat it like one.

ABM isn’t just a passing phase - it’s a complete shift in mindset, executed through a data-driven go-to-market strategy that didn’t have the tech or tools to support it at scale until very recently. And, while ABM can produce amazing outcomes for those who succeed, it can be a giant waste of time, money, and resources if it’s not implemented effectively.

So, how do you increase your odds of success?

Find your why and nail the 4 key focus areas we’ve outlined below.

Why do you want to implement ABM?

Businesses everywhere are struggling to find ways to stay competitive and overcome a whole new host of issues in our new world of remote and hybrid work:

  • Today, 43% of buyers want a ‘rep-free’ buying experience
  • Reps are having even more difficulty getting in front of the right stakeholders, especially now that they’re remote (70% of reps reported this as their primary challenge)
  • 49% of organizations cite pipeline and demand gen as their top critical incentives

Given the landscape, ABM is perfectly positioned as the next shiny object, so why do many businesses find themselves fizzling out after the first several months of testing it? 

While 80% of marketers agree that ABM improves customer lifetime values (and 86% say it improves win rates), the short-term metrics with an ABM approach look different from the results from a traditional ‘volume approach’:

Getting a couple dozen webinar attendees that actually fit your ideal customer profile (ICP), instead of a couple hundred can be jarring, so, if your entire team isn’t fully committed to staying the course and trusting the process, your ABM attempt is likely to be short-lived.

Successfully pivoting to an ABM strategy requires effort and buy-in from all levels of your organization from the CEO down:

  • The CEO really needs to drive the executive vision and expectations around committing to an ABM strategy. Without a strong stance from the top, businesses can falter at the first sign of difficulty.
  • The CFO must educate the wider organization on where revenue comes from today and where the firm is looking for it to continue to grow in the future.  
  • The CRO has to implement compensation that drives the right behavior from the sales team
  • The CMO has the pivotal piece of driving alignment behind ABM, and establishes the “why” for cross-team buy-in and collaboration.
  • The entire C-Suite needs to understand that the shift to ABM is a sizeable undertaking, and it will take a little experimentation and a lot of patience to realize positive long-term results. All leaders must make sure their teams are supported with the budget, tools, and human resources they need at each stage of implementation.  

Yes, ABM can help you overcome a variety of challenges from slowing sales and difficulty uncovering untapped opportunities, to declining wallet share and general stagnant growth, but it requires the support and investment of your whole organization to drive the strategy to success.

It sounds like a basic question, but, if your answer is “because everyone else is doing it”, ABM probably isn’t the right choice for you right now. 

ABM won’t survive in your organization unless you’re solving a real business problem.

So, what problem are you solving?

The 4 Key Elements for ABM Success

Now that you’ve identified the problem(s) you’re looking to solve, here are the 4 key elements you need to address to see ROI from your ABM program - 

1. Data-driven target account selection and prioritization

Ah, the “A” in “ABM”.

An Account-based strategy won’t succeed unless your accounts are intelligently selected, so how do you know which businesses to target, and how do you prioritize them?

Many businesses start by targeting accounts with high “Engagability” (meaning, targeting those accounts who are most likely to engage). 

This process starts with:

  • Current customers
  • High Engagement Scorecard Contacts
  • Previously Engaged Contacts
  • Lower Inbound Scoring Thresholds

After this list is exhausted, who should you target next?

Find the best targets with Intent data 

...Did you notice anything about the target buckets we just mentioned?

They’re not very time-relevant, they don’t allow for effective prioritization, and they don’t change very much.

Your current and previous customers make up a very limited subset of accounts, and, just because they were a customer in the past, doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be a great target now.

...and this is why 70% of B2B marketers plan on using 3rd party Intent data like Bombora’s Company Surge® - Intent data is by far one of the best indicators of overall account "engageability" (positive or negative).

Chasing the wrong accounts can be more damaging than not targeting the right ones, so be sure you’re making the best account selections by analyzing the relevant Intent data. 

2. Integration of account-based efforts with existing demand and product-led programs

Going “all in” on ABM doesn’t mean throwing out your existing marketing and sales efforts. It just means adding higher levels of orchestration to your current strategy.

...and there’s good reason to do so:

Buyers are becoming increasingly channel-agnostic - meaning they rely almost equally on sales reps and web research at every stage of the buying process (from problem identification, all the way to supplier selection).

The diverse members of your B2B buying committee are consuming information from multiple sources (online and offline) to get a complete picture of their options, so you need to be present in all of those places to help them on their journey - A simple eBook or email sequence just won’t cut it anymore.

You need to be orchestrating your efforts across channels such as:

  • Digital Ads
  • Web Personalization
  • Marketing Email
  • Direct mail
  • Exec Outreach
  • Email
  • Phone
  • LinkedIn 
  • Video

Whether you realize it or not, you’re probably doing all of these things already, but they’re likely done independently by different people across marketing and sales who aren’t communicating with each other.

If you can just aim these efforts at the same accounts with the same message, you’ll already start to see an improvement.

Orchestration is just leveraging multiple channels and multiple functions to meet a specific objective for a specific list of target customers - and it produces amazing results.

As opposed to one-off communications, an orchestrated, measured ABM strategy generally leads to high-value offerings - sales meetings that provide such unique and timely business value that they compel a prospect to engage.

4 examples of high-value offer types are:

  • Market trends, data, or vision: Informing or challenging a buyer committee with the latest market vision, proprietary or 3rd party data analysis
  • Collaborative planning: Solve buyer challenges by offering a point of view and a collaborative plan of action
  • Customized experiences: Customize existing content - eBooks, slides, and whitepapers - to address precise buyer challenges at specific accounts
  • Peer experiences: Share similar situation use cases from industry peers with similar challenges, processes, tactics, and tools

So, don’t ditch your current marketing and sales efforts - Focus on collaboration and orchestration across the two departments and the rest of your org to greatly increase your impact and effectiveness at target accounts.

3. Reporting and forecasting model adjustments

Ok, as we mentioned, short-term results from ABM can look a little different, and this should make sense.

(For example, if you’re targeting specific accounts instead of just blasting messages out on social media, you should expect to see a lower overall turnout on your webinars.)

In order to properly set expectations across your organization, you need to plan your reporting and forecasting metrics appropriately.

Make no mistake, this can be challenging, especially if you’re used to the traditional way of doing things.

According to the most recent survey from Gartner, ‘Measuring Overall ABM Success’ was the largest challenge reported by marketers implementing Account-Based Marketing (at 42% of respondents in agreement). Similarly, ‘Proving ROI’ was the 4th biggest challenge (with 34% of respondents agreeing).

When measuring ABM, your metrics should be sure to cover these 3 focus areas:

  • Relationships: How deep does your influence reach into the account?
  • Reputation: Is the account’s perception of your company improving? Are your customers being educated on your offering?
  • Revenues: Are you showing growth in your pipeline and on specific opportunities?

A ‘best in Class ABM Dashboard’ includes the following: 

  • Coverage: Do you have sufficient data/contacts at the account?
  • Awareness: Is the target account aware of your solution?
  • Engagement: Are key personas from the target account engaged with you? Is this engagement increasing over time?
  • Insights/Analysis
    • Program Impact Are your programs reaching target accounts? Are they having a long-term impact?
    • Influence - Are your programs improving sales outcomes? (Velocity, Win Rates, ACV, Retention, etc)

Your funnel also needs a slight overhaul since you’re starting with a fixed number of target accounts instead of a transient number of leads:

Note: Just as with your marketing strategy in general, you shouldn’t throw out your existing funnel when adding in an ABM approach. Most accounts like to use a ‘double funnel’ to track both efforts in parallel:

4. Cross-functional alignment - Including supporting infrastructure and operational processes

One big reason ABM can’t be tested on a whim is that it takes nothing short of a full team effort to work effectively. Each role has different responsibilities that need to be carried out for the overall implementation to work.

To help drive alignment on your ABM efforts, consider involving all of the critical  roles in filling out an ABM Charter like the one below.

Without alignment, you have far less chance for success.

Here are some of the most common mistakes and hurdles we’ve seen when the key players in an organization don’t work in concert:

Not involving sales upfront

  • Often, ABM is seen as strictly a marketing activity, so sales aren’t involved from the beginning. The friction comes when sales is brought in later without being given a say in the target account list, the account data, and the process in general.

Using old tricks with the new dog

  • Your current demand gen tactics need to be updated to be way more personalized and thought out with an ABM approach. Again, Sales and the CRO need to be brought on board early to discuss methods for adapting to the new model.

(Remember: Uncovering what each specific account is interested in is where Intent data really shines!)

Not selling your CFO

  • As we showed in the last section, ABM requires a different set of metrics and a different method of forecasting. It’s important for your CFO to understand how and why things will look different and ensure you have buy-in before launching your program.

Looking for ABM love in all the wrong places

  • Traditionally we looked for a ‘winning campaign’ or tactic that produced the best results. With ABM this doesn’t often exist because the approach is much more customized and personal. Don’t try to replicate individual campaigns - focus on the overall strategy.

Not giving your Ops team time

  • ABM can mean a complete overhaul to your systems, workflow automation, and how you track success. Make sure you’re giving your Ops team enough time to prepare for the change.

Casting too wide of a net

  • Repeat after me: “Not every account is a good target.” Look, we know it’s hard to let go and tell yourself that you’re not going to focus on a particular account, but overloading your basket, or picking the wrong accounts is almost guaranteed to sink your program. Proper account selection is vital to the success of your efforts.

Are you ready for ABM?

The stats are out there, and they all show that ABM is an amazing tool to increase everything from your revenue to your customer loyalty and relationships...when it’s implemented correctly.

Hopefully, now you have a better picture of why you need cross-functional alignment and commitment and what in your process needs to be adjusted or reinforced to increase your odds at success. 

ABM works because truly focusing on our customers is a mindset, not a passing strategy.

For more insights like these, be sure to watch the full webinar co-hosted with Gartner and Inverta here.