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What is ABM?
Account Based Marketing is a high-impact demand-generation program aimed at our largest and most desirable prospects, as defined by Sales.
What’s the difference between ABM and traditional demand gen?
Because ABM prospects are larger, it takes longer to move them into our funnel. The sales cycle is longer, often 12 to 18 months. The buying committee is larger, with multiple roles for users, managers, corporate, and influencers. Prospecting to a large account requires a perfect collaboration between sales and marketing to make the program run smoothly. ABM is a long-term commitment—it takes time to identify the buying committee, determine their pain points, develop content addressing these pain points, track progress for each target, and plan the ten or more touches it will take to convert each member of the committee to consider your product or service. Keep in mind that some of the touches will be from marketing, others from sales.
Important: Don’t stop your regular efforts. These will be your bread-and-butter leads to keep your salespeople busy while you’re working on ABM to attract the whales.
How do I justify the cost of an ABM program?
Run the numbers for a 2-year pilot, and annually after that. In two years, your ABM investment should return at least a 200 percent revenue ROI, based on converting a small number of these large accounts, or it’s not worth undertaking. Keep in mind that with ABM you are developing a scalable program that (if it works for you) will be a permanent part of your marketing. Build your case around that.
Note: Because the sales cycle is so long, you should not expect a return on investment the first year.
How do I train the sales force to follow up on the ABM leads?
Make sure the sales team you assign to ABM are qualified and eager to pursue the leads from the program. Build compensation incentives to motivate them to follow up and report any contact with any prospect from your target companies. If you have more than one team following up, make them competitive, with a bonus to the winner(s).
Assign the corporate leads to salespeople who are comfortable around the C-suite and understand their needs.
What kind of management reports should I undertake?
Monthly reports (one paragraph should be enough) to management should sum up the month’s accomplishments and progress to date. Make sure to mention the names of the prospects you are targeting. Management will recognize the names, and when you finally land one of these whales, management will associate the win with the program.
What goes into the funding request?
What can I do to get ready to begin an ABM program?
Talk to an agency (ahem!) like Verdi, who can help with your planning and has experienced both successful programs and—more importantly—can tell you what can go wrong. And start thinking about the accounts you want in your pilot. It’s never too early to plan your list acquisition strategy.
Now that you’ve read the article, download a one-page Verdi timeline of an ABM pilot, showing milestones. And next: Talk to Verdi about how to plan a successful ABM program for your organization. Simply reply to this email, or book time with Mary Bonaccio, Verdi’s Director of Client Services.
Account Based Marketing is not a new idea, though it has become trendy in the past five or six years, as companies realized that focusing on large accounts requires a different approach from traditional demand generation. The idea of selecting and targeting high-value prospects and supporting key sales representatives with appropriately customized communications has always had a place in B2B marketing, though it was not referred to as Account Based Marketing until the mid-2000s.
But while today’s ABM is considerably more sophisticated than the programs we implemented decades ago, the lessons we learned from our successes and speed bumps do still apply today.
Lesson 1. Engage top management early and often.
Programs like ABM that focus on large accounts require a different and longer-term commitment from management than traditional demand-gen programs. This is because it usually takes longer to convert large prospects into revenue, which means that the payback (ROI) is hard to identify until you start to write proposals to your leads—something that may not even take place in the first year of the program.
The reasons for the importance of this step are clear: Chief Marketing Officer tenure is down to 40 months—the lowest on record, according to Spencer Stuart’s study released in April 2021. At the same time, Chief Executive Officer tenure is at its highest point (80 months). So, if your program doesn’t have approval at the highest level, it can get caught up in politics. In our experience, Account Based Marketing always pays off, given enough time to calculate its impact.
Marketing to management by publishing your ABM Playbook, making periodic reminders of your progress, and celebrating your wins all contribute to the success of your ABM program.
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Account Based Marketing (ABM) is a focused effort to win business from your most desirable prospects. Because these prospects are typically large, and their business is often controlled by a committee of decision makers and buying influencers, your ABM pilot program will span many months, if not years. And once success has been achieved, ABM in roll-out will become a mainstay of your marketing efforts, taking its place beside your traditional demand-generation initiatives.
With that in mind, what are the milestones along the way to a successful pilot?
The first milestone is the development of your ABM plan. As ABM is a program that will impact your largest prospects, you need to build your plan around a close collaboration with your sales team, since they will be responsible for following up on the leads. Salespeople on your ABM team need to have an incentive to succeed with the early parts of the program, even though revenue from converting these large accounts may not hit the books until next year or later. Goals, objectives, and KPIs for success should be part of the plan.
Next is approval of the plan and budget from the highest level of your organization. Because acquiring and eventually servicing these large accounts is likely to affect every part of the organization from senior management to the plant floor, it is important to secure approval and support from all the stakeholders early in the planning.
Gaining consensus on the target accounts—the accounts that deliver not just the revenue you want, but whose culture also makes them a good fit with your firm—is well worth the time you devote to the effort to define them.
The ABM Playbook is the multi-tool in your ABM tool chest.
The ABM Playbook describes your program in key detail, with schedules and milestones identified. It explains how ABM is different from other lead-generation activities and expresses that ABM does not replace those activities. Rather, it is a focused approach to gain traction with your organization’s most coveted accounts, and requires collaboration between marketing and sales, with the endorsement of senior management.
The ABM Playbook is your kickoff communication.
Your Playbook explains the nature of the collaboration, the need for sales feedback to be sure the marketing efforts are effective—and wherever possible to tweak the program to become more responsive as analytics and anecdotal evidence come in. The Playbook emphasizes the fact that your ABM program targets your largest potential prospects and does not typically see a payback in revenue the first year. So KPIs for the program are different from the metrics for other demand-generation efforts going on in your organization—and center around developing a deeper understanding of the composition of the buying committee within each prospect and securing engagement with every level of purchasing agents, influence agents, users, and other decision makers. Spelling out your criteria for success at the outset of the program will allow you to report on the progress you make as you move forward.
Your ABM Playbook sets expectations.
Your ABM Playbook keeps all ABM players on the same page with respect to each person’s role in the success of the program. Your Playbook should be very clear about what each participant is expected to do, when he/she is expected to do it, and why that step is critical to the success and future of your ABM plans.