The #1 reason why an ABM pilot program doesn’t make sense

by | Apr 9, 2022 | ABM

Wouldn’t a pilot campaign be a great way to try out account-based marketing? This  new approach to marketing that you’ve heard so much about.

Does your team think that keeping your brand in front of the top 5000 people who influence the decision to buy your software or service is the best way to enable sales opportunities and target larger accounts?

Does this make mathematical sense for your business? If it does, you do not need account-based marketing (ABM) pilot program.

Marketing is at a crossroads.

Most businesses will stick to the tried and true traditional marketing efforts, at least for a while. But some businesses and agencies are digging deeper and taking the lead. They understand that since we are saturated with the noise of so much media, blaring 24/7, it’s going to take a lot for their targeted audience to hear their message. Account-based marketers, make the effort to find out who their client’s customers are, where they live and what they respond to; then they package that message and offer, knock on the customer’s door and deliver it them on a silver platter. Not really, but you get my meaning. Wouldn’t you pay attention to someone who went so far out of their way just to get you to listen? That is why account-based marketing has such a high response rate and why smart companies are investing in it.

But it isn’t a campaign.

 

Traditional Marketing vs. ABM

At some point around 2013, marketing and sales teams decided that increasing the volume of marketing qualified leads (MQL) would lead to more revenue. That hasn’t worked like they’d hoped.

So what happened? Marketing teams get KPI’s set for them to hit MQL volume targets and as teams do, they align their decision making with hitting the KPI target that provides them job security and bonuses.

When campaigns are pitched to clients, they ask for campaigns to be short and cheap, to limit their risk of not hitting their KPI goals. They count case study downloads, white paper downloads, and click-throughs, as MQLs and pat themselves on the back.

The marketing teams hit their quotas, and sales teams begin the work of contacting people who were just interested in content, until they convert or unsubscribe.

 

ABM is a long-term proposition.

ABM is best viewed as a strategic initiative, with a level of investment and planning appropriate for a fundamental shift in the way a company drives revenue. Pilot campaigns are modest in scope, without the lead time, personalized content, technology, research, and data that a more thought-out strategy merits.

ABM has the most value for companies with long, complex sales cycles.

ABM works best with tiered account strategies

Companies looking to get started with ABM are more successful if they integrate ABM over time, based on a tiered account strategy:

  • Tier 1 (One to One) – Highly personalized, “white glove” outreach to key accounts
  • Tier 2 (One to Few) – Personalized and segmented outreach to key industries
  • Tier 3 (One to Many) – Broader demand generation to the wider market

In a tiered structure, a company can continue broader demand generation (Tier 3) but introduce more targeted, personalized outreach to higher-propensity industries or personas (Tier 2), via channels like paid social ads.  Then, as specific, high-potential accounts show awareness, engagement, and intent, those accounts shift to a high-touch, Tier 1 strategy.

Adopting a phased, crawl-walk-run approach to ABM allows companies to optimize their strategy over time, as lessons learned from a broader approach – which messages, personas, content, etc. are resonating best – can be applied to the more high-stakes, Tier 1 plays. Early results can also inform target account selection (based on which accounts are showing engagement) vs. the standard pilot approach of “these are the accounts that sales want to go after.”

When an ABM pilot campaign makes sense

An account-based marketing pilot campaign is a best practice test run for the wider full-scale ABM strategy. An ABM platform takes team of 5-7 people to run a pilot campaign. From the beginning, marketing and sales should be partnered, participating in cyclical communication throughout the program. For a more cost-effective option, hire an experienced B2B ABM agency to help you execute your ABM pilot campaign.

Execution of a  pilot campaign should be given about 45 days and results analysis should start between four and six months after the launch to get a complete picture of your campaign. ABM goals are usually in line with revenue goals, but smaller goals such as engagement and new opportunities are very important as well. If your pilot program has positive results, the campaign can be worked into your overall ABM strategy for a full rollout.

ABM – Your long-term, go-to-market strategy

A tiered approach allows a company to dip its toes in the ABM waters, and then scale investment based on proven success. But it also reduces the overall risk and improves the chances of ABM paying real returns on investment. 

What should an ABM program launch look like

Setting an ABM growth vision

Defining the vision of how your company will grow using ABM as a strategic pathway to sustained growth is critical to tying back your activities to the needs of the business. It will help you select ABM campaign types, determine ABM process management practices, and guide you to a full implementation and greater ROI outcomes.

Setting an ABM strategy

Once you have a vision defined, you’ll want to set your ABM strategy. This should include the types of target accounts that have significant meaning to your business growth. That might look like channel partner accounts for a partner assisted revenue play targeting sales teams, sales engineers, and professional service teams who need to be able to resell your strengths. That might look like current customers that are only consuming a third of your platform or service offerings and you need to up sell or cross sell to capture more wallet-share. It will almost always include net new accounts, competitor take downs, and win back targets.

Account selection needs to align your ABM activities to business strategy so you can allocate resources and deploy funding towards the right ends. This also helps determines which tactics are appropriate for service the final goal.

Performance Audit

Your ABM program launch should not kick off without an initial investigation into successful execution of both marketing and outbound sales team efforts. I know that sounds rudimentary but you want to start where you’re already doing well if possible. ABM success doesn’t rely on this, but it can definitely accelerate efforts when you’re getting off the ground and need early signs of success to extend your political capital. Don’t forget to include any account based marketing programs that were hacked together.

The key here is to inform the formal structure of your program, your tech stack selection, and realistic goal setting with as much context as possible.

Sales team, key accounts, and trust building for more scalable efforts

Dare to lead

Bringing your sales team onboard with your “ABM pilot” says a lot about your certainty in your strategic roadmap for performance. We’re all on the revenue team, but we need to inspire confidence in our counterparts so we can get the support we need.

The word pilot automatically triggers a “we’re not sure this is right for us” strategy, when ABM fit as a strategy is determined mostly by the customer (how long it takes them to buy, the size of deal they’ll do, and deal complexity that requires more than a small team to make a decision.)

Go in strong and lead them with the confidence sales people need to allocate time away from what they view as important. This help establish your ABM launch program as one of their top priorities that they care about.

Key accounts

Your sales team pays their bills, creates options for their families, and enriches their lives with incentive compensation. (If they don’t ABM isn’t for your organization.)

They are not likely to jeopardize those checks with some flight of fancy from the marketing team.

Those relationships are special and when they’re introduced to the program, ensure that you’re positioning ABM to be the wind at their backs, the air cover they need to do amazing things in their accounts. They will be your eyes and ears on the ground to surface intel you’d otherwise not be able to get from Bombora, G2, Aberdeen, or otherwise.

Target Accounts

Almost nothing inspires sales engagement with an ABM program like opening up one of their target accounts, except bringing them similar accounts to their sweet spot accounts.

Looking for other similar accounts to a target account ensures that your content gets better utilization and opens the window of success.

Just because Nike happens to be on a list doesn’t mean they’re approaching a buying window. However Adidas, Reebock, or Vans definitely might be (yes these are brands but you get the point).

Don’t let your scope simply be confined to wishlist target accounts.

Launching Expectations

Decision makers within your team and counterparts will all want to have their expectations set before giving complete buy-in. Your tech stack selection, resources required for support, and metrics planning will all go a long way to build trust. More important than any of these is the value you’re going to facilitate that make their lives and the research job of your future customers, easier.

When setting expectations, base it in a reality formed from the context of your historical performance analysis–that mean realistic goals.

We laid out the first step above but to take it further, you should build an investment pro-forma for the program that doesn’t over promise.

ABM isn’t magic and its not a trend. Its highly target and focused marketing strategy, methodology, and execution patterns that result in efficient allocation of capital for better and more sustainable opportunity identification and revenue production.

In order to do this you need to understand the different and probably new measurement criteria you’ll use to evaluate progress on your road to success. The number of new contacts engaging with your brand inside of target accounts over your historical baseline will go a long way to recruiting buy in after you launch. Engagement is great but its not revenue, and at the same time, it’s far more than your organization could demonstrate historically.

Identify more KPI’s like this to consistent message out to your teams.

Technology Selection

When we think about the support and focus we need and the technology that might facilitate it, also consider the investment pattern required to be effective.

ABM gets a very bad rap because some teams buy a sliver of a stack for a few hundred thousand and get low performance.

In reality, you haven’t run robust ABM campaigns at scale and haven’t learned which channels, which messaging, which content is most effective yet. Should you invest in tech before learning anything, building a culture of focus, and the muscle memory for smooth running systems and processes for execution. Sure you can learn it on the run, but its insanely difficult, even for the well funded and well organized. The time to business value just gets delayed if you don’t launch, learn, and build as you become smarter about what you actually need, not what you think you might need.

ABM pilot program vs. launch program

Having stood up fully scaled ABM programs for over 25+ SaaS and service companies from $20M in revenue up to $3B in revenues, I can tell you that even using the phrase “ABM pilot” or “pilot program” creates doubt throughout the entire process.

If ABM is right for your business, you need to pursue a strategy that brings that about with confidence. There’s really no gray area.

Get your program started on the right foot, with the right guidance. We’d love to help you set the foundation for a fruitful go-to-market shift.

Key Takeaways

  • It’s really pretty simple: you can’t dabble in ABM.
  • Launch correctly, with buy-in across your organization, and scale from there.

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Put the power to decide in the hands of those on the front lines.

The very best in Demand Gen and ABM technology enabled service subscriptions for B2B teams.