Scaling ABM – no, it’s not an oxymoron, but depending on your paradigm, the very thought of it may feel ‘preposterous’. It needn’t be!
In his recent blog post “ABM Cross-Training from Across the Pond”, Louis Moynihan, Vice President, Product Innovation at Demandbase, very crisply describes the different takes on ABM in North America and in Europe. While in North America, ABM is predominantly technology driven and digital, in Europe, we focus very much on a high-touch and personal approach to grow and develop the footprint as well as high quality relationships with in a client organization. The latter takes time and effort; and budgets in the region of $100k plus/p.a./per account, plus a marketer, are not uncommon. That in itself limits, for most businesses, the number of accounts they can at any one time have in their ABM pool.
You can have your (ABM) cake and eat it!
So while the two approaches seem to be mutually exclusive, why wouldn’t your want to marry the two in order to add some scale to your program? You can have your (ABM) cake and eat it! It takes some careful planning and investment in the right areas, but rewards are there to be had.
…feeling like a kid in a sweet shop
When I was asked to stand up Account Based Marketing at CSC, we agreed from the start that the Centre of Excellence shouldn’t just focus on a high-touch approach for a handful of carefully selected accounts, but instead look at creating and deploying tools, methodologies and best practice that would allow us to apply ABM-like techniques to a much wider group of companies. In our case, we had our eyes on roughly 250 accounts from around the globe. It helped, that the ABM CoE was to be part of our global brand and digital marketing (GBDM) team. After I had had a chance to speak to the rest of the team and get a deeper understanding of our engine room, I started feeling like a kid in a sweet shop! I recalled all the stuff that I would have wanted to do, if only… marketing automation, digital dashboards, IP-based targeting, integration with our CRM system and more… It was all there! Not necessarily all ABM-ready, but ABM-adaptable! So together with the GBDM team, a handful of ABMers and the support of the wider sales and marketing community, we set out to build our scalable ABM ecosystem.
Highly customized service at the top of the pyramid, segment-driven nearer the base (named accounts within named verticals).
What do you need to enable scale?
- Account segmentation – you really want to have a good understanding of how strategic an account is to your business, and what you want to achieve – by account! (new business? Cross- or Up-Sell? Change of perception? …)
- Readily available insight on accounts, buying centre, market or industry and competitors
- An integrated “toolscape” (or one that allows for integration) and digital marketing ecosystem
- Repeatable processes
- Metrics – well, we like our dashboards and measure everything, from program adoption, via sales & marketing collaboration right through to the success of the program at an account level
- A small army of marketers! OK, I’m kidding, BUT neither ‘ABM at the sharp end’, or scaled ABM can happen without not just your systems, but more importantly your wider marketing team talking to each other. Some of the scalability simply stems from collaboration when planning integrated account- or segment marketing plans
Account Segmentation – who is in our ABM target group and what’s the potential?
Account segmentation is extremely important!
Here are some (by no means all) factors to consider
- (revenue) potential
- logo appeal
- past track record and current relationship climate (with us and also incumbents)
- number of ‘like’ accounts (typically by industry vertical)
Once you have gathered the data that allows you to segment your accounts, it’s time to group them. At this point it’s helpful to look at some ABM definitions that cover both sides of the pond. I’ve tweaked one of SiriusDecisions‘ models for my purposes. ITSMA, one of the ABM pioneer organisations, also offers good views on the subject.
By choosing a pyramid to visualise the types of ABM, you immediately get a feel for the number of accounts that can be supported at each level. The closer to the top of the pyramid, the higher the touch and customization requirements. This means your investment will be higher and must offset with appropriate goals – by account! The latter is valid at any level along this ABM continuum and it’s one of the key factors that differentiate ABM from general marketing activities, where goals are often set at a macro level. Not only can personalisation by vertical offer ABM type scale, but it’s a great way to nurture accounts that are still unknown and anonymous to you, ultimately offering you a pipeline of account candidates that are being prepped for more 1:1 custom treatment in the future.
ABM needs insight – gathering insight is very time consuming and not scalable… or is it?
At the core of our program is the philosophy that our sales teams and the ABMers working with them need to have a very deep understanding of their client companies, their most senior leaders and the markets they operate in. In the past, this involved time consuming research, now we have an ‘Insight Platform’, powered by Agent 3. By largely automating the process of collating (and de-duping) information as well as allowing our users to define relevant filters, both sales and marketing are better informed as well as gain time to spend on what they should be doing: selling and marketing. In addition to automated feeds, the teams have the ability to commission bespoke research either ad-hoc, or in the form of a Dossier that gets updated over time. The fact that much of the process is based on machine intelligence means, it’s scalable.
To successfully scale ABM, I believe it’s important that across the board, and across a larger number of accounts, you have a set of repeatable processes. Processes that capture best practice and evolve over time, and that are adopted by any member of the marketing and sales team involved with ABM. It starts with the account segmentation I mentioned above and continues with how sales and marketing engage around an account or segment of accounts. Simply put, we have a 4-step approach: Insight > Planning > Creation & Execution > Measurement. The overall program is supported by a playbook and each step has a set of processes and tools that the ABMers and sales teams can use. This not only delivers consistency, it also allows you to bring field marketers, who may not have much experience of the selling process, to get up to speed quickly, and thus add value and scale to your program, almost from the moment they join the team. For the hi-touch accounts, each account needs a jointly agreed set of marketing objectives that the program is measured against at account level.
The integrated “toolscape”
I found a treasure trove of tools that were only waiting to be used for ABM purposes, when I joined our digital marketing team. Marketing automation tools, dashboards showing campaign performance, funnel, web stats, and much more were already in place – now all we had to do was tweak them to turn aggregate information into account specifics. These are definitely some of the areas, where you might be able to realise the, oh so popular, quick wins.
Our existing marketing automation tool was integrated into our CRM system – providing sales with the ability to customise marketing developed assets, while making sure that marketing could still measure the overall impact of a campaign or asset.
Our marketing dashboard was enhanced to provide account-based information on how our clients were interacting with us on our website – this, again, was integrated into our CRM system.
Proprietary IP identification technology on our own website and beyond: We already worked closely with Demandbase to identify visitors to our site through their proprietary IP identification technology which enabled us to customise our home page for visitors from the group of companies in our wider ABM pool. Taking it further, we used their ad:tech to target the same accounts across the web. The stats showing increased engagement with our brand speak for themselves and it’s now a firm part of our ABM tool kit.
Metrics reporting and measurement – dashboards provide insights and information and ‘fodder’ for continuous improvement
Of course a program is only as good as the results it delivers, I shared some thoughts on measurement in an earlier post. Essentially you need to be able to measure across a number of dimensions:
- results against agreed objectives by account
- overall program impact
- program engagement
A small army of Marketers!
Of course the vast majority of us doesn’t get to hire a small army of marketers to focus on ABM. But by having built an interconnected ABM environment, and established processes and tools that allow you to take a programmatic approach to ABM, you have in fact created a system for ABM that allows team members from field marketing and other marketing specialty functions to join your ABM efforts, and be productive from the start. The rest comes with experience – and your coaching and mentoring. ABM is a team sport!
By taking this approach of deploying different types or degrees of ABM, not only are you hedging your bets (protecting your marketing investment), you’ll also be able to better and sooner spot new candidates for your ‘high touch’ program, as you retire others or move them to one of the less intensive levels of touch.