How to make sure your ABM program is customer-centric

by | Apr 15, 2022 | ABM

Account based marketing (ABM) is three basic things: methodology, strategy, and tactics.

But more than these three things, it’s a go-to-market practice that recognizes customer behavior for what it is at a particular level of the market. Going through the motions of ABM does not make your program customer-obsessed. The customer obsession comes from the new behaviors and investments you’ll make to continuously harvest newer and deeper customer insights a raw inputs for everything that’s great about marketing and connecting with prospective customers in the most non-transactional sense.

Moreover, ABM is the execution of carrying those insights through your operations, strategic marketing choices, tactic selection, and balanced scorecard development for measuring progress and success. These are the things that make an effective account based marketing program successful.

What does an unsuccessful ABM program look like?

As with many things in the world, intent may not determine the outcome, but it most certainly changes the decisions that are made during execution and it is insanely true for ABM programs. Generally:

  • Marketing and sales teams that think they are going to create a winning ABM program by borrowing from last year’s content or (God forbid) content from two years ago, are sadly mistaken unless the last year has been one of amazing growth.
  • Marketing and sales teams with weak outbound marketing and sales efforts, without an intense commitment to testing and learning, will fail.
  • Using key performance indicators from 2013, like MQLs as a measure of marketing strategy and tactic selection success, will fail because they miss the forest for the trees and ignore the reality that decision makers are making important decisions as a group today.
  • Ignoring the sheer volume of account based marketing efforts required to successfully launch and conduct follow-on operations that progressively capitalize on early signals.
  • Thinking that plugging in ABM technology is going to take you to pipeline nirvana. In reality, your ABM tech stack is a membership to a gym–its what allows you to come in with a strategy, execute hard work with discipline after your motivation fails.
  • Running ABM pilot programs, as if when you did the math to see if ABM was a fit, it didn’t already make complete sense or rule you out from selecting ABM as the best possible strategy for your business goals (there are no gray areas).
  • Executing without complete and utter buy in from the executive team. For most, ABM is simply a reallocation of resources to different ends for new reasons. For some though, ABM can represent a 40% increase in marketing budget, although these scenarios are usually where the C-suite doesn’t think marketing is a necessary part of the growth flywheel.

Unsuccessful account based marketing programs don’t happen because the strategy is off. They happen because the behavior changes haven’t taken place to give the methodology, strategy, and tactic selection enough space to carry the organization to the new way of growth they hoped for.

Key takeaways:

Reframe the why behind your need to do ABM and shake loose bad business practices that drive marketing decisions that don’t align with long term growth out of the despair of short-term revenue needs

Unsuccessful ABM programs take high value target accounts through the motions but yield poor sales funnel quality and volume, even when combined with sales outreach.

The foundation of ABM is relevancy and uniqueness, not personalization

If customer obsession is the core of a successful ABM program, its foundation is relevancy and uniqueness.

In a world leaning into the protection of personal information, regulatory restrictions on data sharing, and products like the Apple iPhone letting users opt out of targeting, the days of external data utilization for better targeting are numbered. The implication is that your go to market is going to have to depend on manufacturing your own first party data across as many of the right platforms for your business as you can. This alone will increase budget requirements.

To combat this, we employ an ABM strategy so we are only spending time and budget marketing to highly probable members of the buying council to create our own intent data. Relevancy is the crux of this strategy and 100% of performance depends on being on target.

In what follows we’ll cover the three main areas of growth for SaaS products and platforms that Forester, Gartner, and others predict will be the growth models of the future and how to prepare for them today so your flywheel doesn’t skip a beat.

  • ABM for Product Led Growth
  • ABM for Community Led Growth
  • ABM for Channel Partner Ecosystem Led Growth

A small note on personalized content: Throughout the pandemic we saw personalizations rise to and fall from glory. In our opinion, as teams moved to work from home scenarios, pandemic disruptions, and g-force type digital transformation accelerations created a work scenario where up to 12 hours of work was being approached on average and over time people had to employ ruthless prioritization to maintain some sort of balance in their weeks.

In this process, virtual event participation and clubhouse app infatuation fizzled out just as fast as they came. People stopped caring if you used their brand colors when marketing to them, or know where they went to school, or what band/team they liked. They only cared if you could solve their problem better than their current solution and there was certainly no shortage of problems.

We drove a 480% increase in engagement for multiple clients during the pandemic and as summer of 2021 came to an end, the only thing that drove sales qualified opportunities and conversion to revenue was relevant content and messaging on their preferred channel as they entered a buying cycle.

Key takeaways:

Relevancy trumps personalized content and personalized messaging every single day in 2022.

Your sales and marketing teams can’t continue to live like 3rd or shared party data will be around to support your current GTM forever.

Successful ABM strategy is built on a core of customer obsession

Account based marketing for channel partner ecosystem led growth

What’s wrong with channel partner led growth today?

Channel partner led growth promises a fast rise to exponential new revenue potential. The key word in that sentence is potential, as in, possible, but is it probable. The truth of the matter is that many marketing teams leave channel partners on a set it and forget it strategy with some collateral and events. You might as well call it life support marketing because it rarely utilizes digital marketing to its fullest extent, despite being responsible for over 60 to 90% of some companies revenues.

SaaS channel partner marketing and sales teams deploy marketing development funds (MDF) into standalone marketing campaigns the leverage only a few tactics that have arbitrary campaign lengths like two months because that’s how capital is allocated to the channel partner marketing budget as a function of previous quarter revenue performance.

It’s pretty obvious but its absolutely rampant across large to vary large SaaS platform companies and the companies that model after them. In the same way a parasite infects a host, the opposite is true here. These organizations function on the marketing qualified lead as a metric of ROI, termed proof of performance or POP in field marketing and channel teams. Not only does one person not make a decision to buy a multi-million dollar SaaS platform, but viewing a demo, downloading a white-paper, or visiting the pricing page unequivocally does not mean material intent to buy. It means they were curious.

In closing, all the channel sales enablement platforms in the world won’t fix this, but there is a solution and you guessed it, its ABM in the partner ecosystem.

What’s better than inbound marketing leads? Partner to partner co-selling

Ask any sales team in the world and they’ll agree hands down that an introduction into an opportunity is worth a million times more than a lead that came in through any marketing channels, and it makes sense. Introductions have significantly faster close times and trust is transferred to you as “a friend of ours” from the account relationships holder like a wise-guy in the mafia vouching for the new guy in 1970’s New Jersey, fahgettaboudit.

So what is partner to partner co-selling? As a SaaS platform who has or intends to spend time building our your channel base, your immediate second though should be “How do I pave the way for these organizations working together on deals where it makes sense”. Then you should go back to square one and start designing populations of complementary channel partner target organizations types and creating pods or collections of these partners that will facilitate growth for each-other, centered on your product or platform.

With your partner pods designed, next you’ll need to determine which account based marketing strategies and account based marketing tools will be useful in facilitating their cohesion.

The secret lies in getting them to bring each other into as many deals as possible. Creating this behavior pattern will only drive up the number of times the bring your product into deals. You shoot past the goal of revenue to the behavior and the revenue growth takes care of itself.

With the help of a little bit of MDF deployed targeting the same target accounts with both partner company messages cobranded, you’ve doubled your chances of landing that account.

Imagine if your pod of complimentary partners numbered into the 10’s. Utilizing this strategy you’ve 10X’d your entire account coverage to many points of entry into target accounts and your competition won’t understand how you’re beating them to every deal.

So if inbound marketing is great, ABM for the Partner to partner (P2P) Co-sell is magnificent. What’s it take to get an P2P ABM program off the ground? Well, for starters, the first thing to change is partner behavior. Marketing development funds can be used like putting peanut butter on the tub wall so you can get your dog to stay in the tub while you wash them up. Meet with your partners either collectively at an event our through your channel partner marketing teams and announce what new types of campaigns will now qualify for your MDF. Literally 100% of companies want their marketing budget subsidized so it won’t be long before their teams are looking into ABM. Follow that up with suggesting a preferred ABM partner. If you use an ABM partner, they can contract with each partner independently, use them for your programs, as well as for their own target accounts. Not only are you providing an ease of execution but you’re also gifting your-self with top of funnel transparency for significantly better revenue forecasting across your top or entire partner population. Imagine engagement signals from a the target audience across 100% of your strategic accounts. Intent from key stakeholders enables you to create relevant content (because you’re crowd sourcing insights across your private network), create personalized content for each partner to deploy so the same target account is getting different messaging from multiple angles. It delivers more consistent customer experiences before they are your customer, and will boost revenue above and beyond a traditional partner strategy.

According to IDC, partners that adopt an ecosystem business model will grow 50% faster over the next two years than partners who do not.

Your target account list and key decision makers will never have more coverage than they do in this model. Sure it takes funding but you’re really just reallocating MDF from underperforming one off marketing tactics (Except for last years whiskey and Christmas cookies event, which was sick! Huge ROI) to one that promises to be a force multiplier.

Key takeaways:

Relevancy trumps personalized content and personalized messaging every single day in 2022.

Your sales and marketing teams can’t continue to live like 3rd or shared party data will be around to support your current GTM forever.

Successful ABM strategy is built on a core of customer obsession

Account based marketing for product led growth

The product led growth boom is still going strong but quite mature in terms of its adoption or familiarity. The idea that you’re doing account based marketing tactics when your product is supposed to be doing “all the work” sounds counterintuitive but it really isn’t.

Outside of being a unicorn SaaS platform, there just aren’t that many buyers who know about your product until you’ve hit a viral coefficient that puts you in a position where you have to hire bodies because the market is overwhelming your current sales reps with new contracts.

Except for that scenario, you’re more likely going to be in the boat where the paths into purchase are pretty well automated but also have the “For enterprise pricing, contact sales” messaging on your pricing page.

For these conversions, they’ll be going through a sales process that makes them a high value account just because of the step cost increase involved in bringing them over the line to a Closed/won deal. You need ABM in these cases because you want both targeted reach into populations that may consider your product nascent, or just not aware that you’re tackling enterprise environment level problems yet.

These key accounts represent millions in new revenue because their beachhead deals are multiples larger than the package a step lower than enterprise and the expansion revenue is often an additional 67% larger than the entry deal.

That means that selling tall, deep, and wide in upsell and cross-sell motions facilitated by an account based marketing strategy that covers 50 to 100 of these opportunities, could literally add a few hundred million in valuation to your company.

As with the P2P ABM program above, the PLG ABM program are both account based marketing examples of how growth can be accelerated when the marketing team takes on high value accounts with a high degree of relevancy and as always, customer obsession.

Depending on where your point of entry offering began in the market (up-market, down-market, or somewhere in the middle) you may have a lot to learn about the problems small to medium and even large enterprise customers face when considering using your product.

You need consistent customer experiences for reputation to build and beget more and more growth, especially when venturing into uncharted waters. Investing heavily first in being customer obsessed and studying your specific flavor of enterprise prospective customers will either set you on the right path, or back you off from market entry.

So invest deeply here before considering further allocation to an ABM program, but if you get the right signals, double-down and bring your best fit accounts the best enterprise buyer experience possible.

Account based marketing for community led growth

Community led growth is all the rage as a blossoming but not new approach, especially if you’re a sales and marketing SaaS platform. You might think that account based marketing or ABM isn’t a good fit for this approach and if you do, you couldn’t be more wrong.

The creation of communities or even just the participation in communities is done at the personal level and most often times coincides with building a personal brand by providing value for free and expecting nothing in return.

Whether through thought leadership, answering questions, or just giving engagement freely, you’re using multiple channels to capture mindshare of your people. A great way to see this in action is to identify a sales rep at any company size, big or small, actively engaging in a community without selling.

They get their own brand out there, but actively represent the company brand better than any well-placed digital advertising in some cases.

This kind of community enrichment through consistent participation makes the sales team’s work insanely easier when done at scale. The only catch is that your sales and marketing team will struggle to demonstrate success in the short term, but in the long run (think 18 months) you’ll be doing deals with lightning fast sales cycle times and your customer success teams will have never had it so easy.

Community led growth has a way of informing a targeted audience of how you think about solving their problems, your values, and leadership style, and quality of your product long before a prospective customer enters a sales cycle.

In a way, it can align sales with their own best skill set, and instead of doing outreach, they can keep sales about selling and focus on framing the deal, building a deeper relationship, and building a package that meets customer’s needs.

While communities have less organization that your CRM software, it also has a way of tapping into specific accounts, ABM accounts, better than traditional marketing campaigns and sets the stage for deal acceleration ABM campaigns which is likely to be the second best use of ABM in a CLG model.

Key Takeaways 

  • As you look towards a future where you are promoting your business using account based marketing, it is critical for you to build your program using the tried and true concepts of direct response programs.
  • As someone responsible for generating interest in your products and services, for solving your customers’ problems, and for generating revenue in your organization, you should be focusing on the tried and true methods that focus on the list, the offer, and the creative. In that order.

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