01 Feb Is ABM the Holy Grail of B2B Marketing and Sales Alignment?

Account-based marketing (ABM) is widely considered to be one of today’s most effective B2B marketing approaches. A recent survey by the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) revealed that 84% of businesses said that account-based marketing delivers higher ROI than any other type of marketing. Attractive stuff – and it’s measurable too.

“ABM is the same thing I’ve been doing my entire career, but now we can measure it.” Said Gary Schwartz, VP Corporate Marketing at Vidyo. “We used to say we’d spend $4B year on marketing knowing half of it was a waste, but we didn’t know which half. That’s a load of rubbish now.”

But, for anyone who’s ever tried to manage an ABM strategy across enterprise-scale sales and marketing teams, you know there are way more than 99 problems and every single one of them starts with sales and marketing alignment.

If you’ve ever worked in B2B sales or marketing, you’ve almost certainly heard at least one of the following:

The 5 most infuriating phrases overheard on the sales & marketing floor

  1. “Why did you set up a meeting with John– he’s not even a decision-maker.”
  2. “I spoke with the CEO of Unilever yesterday. It’s not the right time to engage, so can you put them on a nurture workflow?
  3. “I thought we took Unilever off the target account list?”
  4. “They may be the right job title, but they’re not the decision-maker for this account!”

I sat down with 15 senior sales and marketing leaders from fast-growth tech companies in NYC to flesh out a few of these challenges – and they did not disappoint!

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In this article, I’m going to breakdown their most salient ABM advice: from mapping influencers, to prioritizing your key accounts and even a few insider tips for engaging with your most important, and most elusive decision-makers: The C-Suite.

Why Marketing should be involved in Stakeholder Mapping

“One thing I love about ABM, is it’s taking the word ‘leads’ out of our vocabulary” – Heather Teicher, VP of Marketing at ComplySci said. “You’re reminding the entire organization that we’re pitching to accounts, not individuals and it takes more than one individual to make a lot of those decisions.”

The typical B2B sale involves 5.4 client-side contacts according to CEB. Increase the deal size and this number rises significantly. As a result, reaching consensus involves winning over an entire eco-system of C-Suite stakeholders as well as key influencers. But mapping these influencers and decision-makers across accounts can be tricky – especially when you consider that roles and responsibilities are rarely uniform between companies.

“How do we do a good job of really understanding the different bubbles within an organization?” Naseem Rochette, EVP of Sales at Vexata asked. “For example, the person who owns my risk is not the person who owns my benefit.”

Indeed, across enterprise accounts it’s not unusual to be juggling stakeholders from multiple departments. And, when you’re investing significant resources in winning buy-in from everyone in the stakeholder eco-system, it’s critical that you’ve identified them correctly.

“One thing I love about ABM, is it’s taking the word ‘leads’ out of our vocabulary…Leads are people, but you win accounts.”

-Heather Teicher, VP Marketing at ComplySci

Amongst those we spoke to, desk research was a critical first step in mapping. But without real-time, on the ground, information about gatekeepers, influencers and decision-makers, there’s no way to ensure you’re targeting the correct stakeholders. Given that this type of real-time understanding most naturally sits with sales, the question was raised of whether stakeholder mapping should be an entirely sales-owned area. And, if not, what is marketing’s role in this?

In the past, mapping sat with sales. Each person had a few key accounts and knew them inside and out. Indeed, even as ABM becomes more ingrained in enterprise organizations, this strategy still holds strong – but only for the shortlist of tier 1 accounts. So, what about the 400 additional accounts on your tier 3?

“For an individual account, this mapping can be done by the salesperson” James Harris, CEO of Seraph Science, said. “But when it’s across many accounts, this becomes a marketing-led initiative with some sales input.”

At scale, a research team trumps 1-to-1 sales relationships. But wait! I hear you. Aren’t 1-to-1 relationships the whole point of ABM? Well, yes, but only at a certain level.

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Why you should be running a dual ABM strategy

If your target account list is 300 companies long, that’s okay. If it’s 300 companies long and you’re treating every stakeholder at every company the same way, we may have just discovered why you’re not seeing that huge ABM ROI everyone’s talking about. The importance of tiering your accounts and channeling your deepest investment toward the most valuable opportunities was a reoccurring topic throughout our conversations.

“We prioritized 3 tiers for our ABM strategy, 20 big accounts for our top tier,” Jen Gambarini, VP of Marketing at Bipsync said. “We knew from the start that there was no way an inbound approach was going to work for those top 20 accounts, and similarly, running a highly-targeted, outbound strategy to more than 400 companies in our 3rd tier wouldn’t make sense.”

“Inbound wasn’t going to work at the top-end and the highly personalized, targeted networking approach — 6 months of understanding who we’re targeting in accounts and learning/answering specific pain points — wasn’t going to work at the scale of 400+ companies”

-Jennifer Gambarini, VP Marketing at Bipsync

It’s simple social arithmetic: You wouldn’t engage the CEO of Unilever the same way you engage a start-up operations manager, right? So why does your ABM strategy engage these diverse stakeholders in the same way?

For example, if you’re including ABM targets in your general nurturing workflows, there are two particular groups you should remove immediately:

  1. All stakeholders in your Tier 1 accounts
  2. All C-level decision-makers in all Tiers.

Your top tier accounts are always going to be worth greater investment – C-Suite engagement, exclusive events, highly personalized outbound campaigns – but the C-level leaders from your tier 2 and 3 accounts are equally valuable; catch one of them and you bypass every other stakeholder in the account ecosystem.

What are the most effective techniques to engage this hard-to-reach audience?

“Has anyone else noticed that email has gone off a cliff?” Gary asked. The mid-2000s were the heyday of email marketing. The C-Suite was so delighted that the age of telemarketing looked to be winding down that they too bought in to email marketing. Welcome to 2018, where the average open rate is sub-20% according to MailChimp benchmarks. But, there are still effective channels for engaging with the C-Suite (and yes, this includes email).

1. Stop talking about you; Start talking about them.

Many marketing and sales teams start by presenting what they do, outline the benefits and then establish a business case – assuming that if they do all of these things, trust is automatically established. This is false. When dealing with the C-Suite, trust must come first, followed immediately by value.

 

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The C-Suite is more inclined to doing business with people they already trust. So, how do you rapidly build trust with senior decision-makers?

2. Prioritise meaningful engagement

“I prioritize anything that will result in an F2F meeting — the faster you can get to meaningful conversations and learn more about their current situation, the better,” Heather said.

“All tech companies I’ve worked for want to get the message out that ‘Our tech company does THIS. ‘But nobody cares what your tech company does; they care what it does for them.

-Gary Schwartz, VP Marketing at Vidyo

You can’t build intimate relationships through digital platforms alone. Sure – LinkedIn messages, meaningful Twitter engagements, and even quality email are great catalysts, but they won’t solidify strong, relationships with C-Suite executives. Ultimately, the importance lies is understanding how senior leaders assign value. Once you’ve identified this, you’ll be able to position yourself as a trusted advisor through face-to-face engagement.

3. Orchestrate a purposeful hand-off from marketing to sales (or avoid it completely!)

A recent study by Aberdeen group found that 74% of best-in-class organizations have “complete or strong” marketing & sales alignment. To be competitive, marketing leaders will not only have to develop strong alignment strategies, they’ll need to win the trust of sales at every stage.

“When you’re trying to win sales buy-in, involve them in the decision-making,” Heather said. “Talk them through the opportunity cost of hosting an event vs. a campaign.” Involving sales as early in the cycle as possible also ticks another critical box in C-Suite engagement: minimizing disruption in the marketing to sales handoff. Even the most seasoned sales & marketing teams sometimes misjudge the challenge of handing over a Senior Executive.

Think about your own organization: when guiding a prospect through your sales cycle, do you have one person leading them from start to finish? Or is the process fragmented from resource to resource? One person reaching out, handing over to someone new for qualification, then to another who makes the actual pitch.

While this looks like specialization from an internal perspective, from a C-Suite perspective, this comes across as tactical and it lacks authenticity. Over time, this breakdown causes the relationship you’ve worked so hard to build with a key contact in the account to erode – ultimately landing you in their “ignore” bucket. And, given that the C-Suite spend less than 2% of their time with vendors [Harvard Business Review] – which is less than one hour per week – this choreography is critical to success.

Conclusion

By focusing on accounts, instead of leads, you very quickly eliminate many of the time-wasting, squabble-inducing elements of the sales and marketing relationship: Reporting on specific leads, assigning opportunities to those leads, then attributing each opportunity to a campaign. So many errors happen in this reporting process — not to mention many relationships and opportunities are just not this cut and dry. While we certainly wouldn’t endorse getting rid of your CRM system, those we spoke to saw remarkable outcomes when they began monitoring opportunities at an account-level, instead of a lead-level.

Let us know what day-to-day tips you have for improving sales and marketing alignment?

The Authors

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