By Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing
Account-based marketing has emerged strongly over the past 2-3 years as a more disciplined, interactive way for sales and marketing to increase focus, conversion and velocity amongst their most important, strategic target accounts. And until recently the best practices around ABM have been found primarily in blog posts, a few white papers and keynote presentations at the right conference.
Earlier this spring, Demandbase published a complete, book-level guide to ABM. It’s a great book for both those just getting started with ABM as well as those looking for ways to scale it efficiently and cost-effectively.
I sat down recently with the book’s authors to dig into a few ABM topics deeper.
There’s a lot of content about ABM out there. How is this book different?
You’re right, there is a lot of content out there and I think that is a good thing. The book, however, is an amalgamation of 7+ years of ABM experience from customers that been developing, growing and winning with ABM, not to mention our own journey of building an ABM strategy from the ground up. It provides practical insights and things to avoid from a marketer’s point of view. The advice in here is not coming from an academic standpoint, but rather is tried and tested by marketers and marketing organizations of all sizes in all industries.
Demandbase has been around since the beginning of the ABM movement. What’s it been like seeing the rapid growth and adoption of ABM?
Refreshing! The concept has been out there for a very long time and intuitively obvious: sales teams and their primary technology (CRM) are account-based, marketing teams and there technology are not. So you need to align the two! Enter Account-Based Marketing. But although it seems obvious, creating a tech category takes perseverance, investment and patience across the investor base. We spent a lot of time over the past 5 years educating the marketplace on the ins and outs of ABM. From how-to workshops to 3 levels of ABM certification (Foundations, Advanced and Expert) and now the book, it’s a lot of education to undertake, but it’s been worth it to advance the practice! It’s really nice seeing it all come together over the last few years, but it also feels like we are just scratching the surface. t’s a fun and rewarding place to be.
How important is executive sponsorship in getting an ABM program off the ground and successful?
It’s critical for long term success, but not necessary to get it off the ground. We have plenty of customers that start small, prove success, and then go get executive sponsorship to expand. And regardless of whether you have executive sponsorship upfront, starting with a pilot is a best practice. With the 100’s of prospect and customer workshops we’ve delivered over the past few years, we’ve never seen two ABM strategies that look the same. Business model, corporate culture, sales & marketing challenges all play into the look and feel of an organization’s particular strategy. So leveraging the best practices in the book and applying them to a pilot, allows you to learn what works, what doesn’t and to set up the processes and data to support your particular strategy. Then, once you’ve got repeatable success, then you can expand to a larger and larger portion of your budget. Additionally, that success is what will garner the support you need at the executive level.
How should companies measure ABM performance & success early on (when those long sales cycle deals haven’t closed yet)?
As we discuss in the book, the golden metrics of ABM success are an increase in close rates, funnel velocity and average deal size. But for most organizations, sales cycles are longer than 1 quarter, even 1 year, so interim measures of success are critical. In general, you want to measure account engagement metrics across your marketing team to show that ABM is working! And crucial to that is having baselines and control groups for comparison purposes. Traditional B2B marketing is often measured in terms of quantity and cost of an outcome (clicks, leads, visits, etc.), but with ABM, measurement of quality has to be integral and focused around your ability to engage your target account list. That’s why these concepts are foundational in our ABM Analytics and Cross Campaign Analytics functionality – they show exactly how your various programs and channels are impacting your ability to attract, engage and eventually close your target accounts.
When you get outside of tech and SaaS companies, ABM adoption is actually still quite low. Why should a manufacturing company lean into ABM, for example? How would a marketing manager there build internal momentum and consensus for an ABM program?
Long story short, it shouldn’t matter what industry a company is in! I think it is more a function of the business model of the company that would dictate if ABM is appropriate or not. On a related note, we’re also not really seeing that lag anymore in our sales process. The last two years, about 25% of our new business came from tech companies. Financial services and healthcare companies each made up 20% roughly, and then we have also seen a lot of telecom and business services revenue. Manufacturing in general, automotive to process manufacturing, is indeed early but we’re seeing a lot of interest and is incredibly ripe for ABM as the majority of marketing and sales cycles are founded on B2B models. Typically these companies sell products that have large ACV’s (Tens to Millions of dollars) and have lengthy sales cycles, which both play well to the focus of an ABM strategy.
What are some key stumbling points for early ABM programs that practitioners should be aware of?
We have identified 3 key pitfalls that well-intentioned marketing orgs fall into when embarking on their ABM Strategy:
Over-complicate ABM. ABM is not rocket science. It does not need to be a 200 point plan full of change management. It starts with a simple change in focus for both sales and marketing on 1. A Target Account List and 2. Revenue. Evaluating your strategy and all of your programs on these two factors will get you well on your way to ABM success!
Buy technology to “do ABM”. Just don’t. First Identify the problem you are trying to solve, develop a strategy, and conduct the evaluation I just referenced on your existing tactics. Once that is done, you’ll start to figure out where you might have technology gaps, and then you can find the tools to help fill them!
Think of ABM as just a marketing initiative. We did ourselves a disservice calling it account-based MARKETING. It truly is an organizational strategy, that first and foremost, needs the buy in and collaboration with your Sales counterparts. You can “do” ABM all you want as a marketing team, but if the Sales team isn’t bought in, it will fall flat!