07 Jun Supercharging your ABM strategy by targeting the C-Suite
Account-based marketing has been the epitome of marketing hype in 2018, but as many experienced B2B marketers will tell you, it’s an old principle with a new name. Targeting specific named accounts with a tailored programme in pursuit of greater deal size is not only a smart way to cut through a busy digital economy, it relies on a key social need: trust.
ABM’s renewed significance is arguably due to rapid advances in automation and data management capabilities– both of which enable a more scalable and practical ABM programme. Moreover, due to shrinking returns from inbound marketing practices, updated programmes are being implemented to streamline customer acquisition processes and bolster the revenue pipeline.
Indeed, 87% of marketers implementing ABM say that it provides higher ROI than any other type of marketing, according to ITSMA. These improved relationships can lead to increased retention — and an increase of 171% in average annual contract value (ACV.)
The results are difficult to dispute, but how do you optimise this strategy? And how do you target the C-Suite effectively?
Sales & Marketing Collaboration
ABM diverts from the usual practice of “casting a wide net” to attract a small number of leads and instead, flips the funnel, allowing for a sharper, more focussed targeting strategy for landing specific accounts that are actually profitable for your company.
ABM programmes focus on sales and marketing having a defined set of target accounts, with view to applying a highly personalised campaign to the designated individual account.
One of the greatest benefits and arguably an essential requirement of ABM success, is the shared strategy between sales and marketing. Indeed, we discussed this topic in-depth at our last event, ABM: The Holy Grail of B2B Marketing.
Many believe that technology is the most important element for underpinning ABM strategy. However, Nicky Briggs, Research Director for ABM at Sirius Decisions, highlighted that, “it isn’t about technology – it’s about strategy and building the organisational muscle needed to build successful programme.” The practice of ABM simply will not work without cross-departmental support and collaboration. “ABM is absolutely a team sport,” Nicky said.
ABM demands unprecedented sales and marketing alignment, in what Nicky described as “the house model.” Like an actual house, this model stresses the importance of secure foundations. So, what are the characteristics of a strong ABM framework.
9 Key Pieces of ABM Preparation Advice
- Start with a pilot and call it a pilot. This provides a window of opportunity to learn from the experiment and try different tactics with less vulnerability.
- Set clear parameters for strategic success.
- Tier your accounts because they’re not all equal.
- Organise your leads logically and match them to people with the right skills to market and sell to them.
- Complete your account intelligence initiatives. This take a lot of time, but it’s the only way to ensure you’re communicating properly
- Don’t forget the business case. If you’re going to scale your ABM efforts, you need a business case. This requires that you keep detailed success metrics through the campaign.
- Use the infrastructure that you already have and then fill in the gaps with tech.
- Get the right buy-in. ensure all key influencers from marketing and sales are involved and aligned
- Ensure you have a change management strategy in place. Does everyone know what to expect? Have educational resources been shared? Do you have buy-in from the right influencers?
Jon Miller, former CMO of Marketo and founder of Engagio, echoed many of these sentiments in an interview with Forbes, “when you agree on the desired accounts and you get everybody aligned on that focus, you’re ultimately just going be more efficient, which usually makes you more effective.” But achieving this level of effectiveness isn’t easy!
Synchronisation amongst marketing, sales development, sales marketing, inside sales, LDR’s, customer success, and importantly, leadership, is imperative for ABM to work well.
This is especially true when attempting engagement from the top down.
The C-Suite, who spend less than 2% of their time with vendors, (less than one hour a week,) are a notoriously elusive audience in the B2B marketing world. For this reason, it is important to tailor ABM strategies to reflect the c-suite’s primary interests. Indeed, they have the budget, strategic visibility and influence to unlock bigger opportunities much more rapidly than their more junior counterparts.
Implementing an ABM strategy is tough and it entails a hell of a lot of time researching markets and talking to CMOs. Nonetheless, there are tactics that can be employed to ensure the multitude of c-suite stakeholders are engaged.
1. Engage them in the reverse order
Once interest is established, most marketing cycles focus on understanding the prospect’s pains, then explaining how their product could alleviate this pain. This benefits-led approach can work with managers, but when building relationships with C-level prospects, a trust-led approach will get you much further.
What’s the difference? Instead of diving into the benefits of your solution, you need to prove you’re trustworthy and valuable to them. Share a valuable, salient case study or industry trend you’re seeing in similar businesses. This will enable you to earn trust by positioning yourself as an advisor first, and a marketer/salesperson second.
2. Be trustworthy in your story-telling
As a B2B marketer, you understand the importance of story-telling. While this remains a critical aspect in marketing to the C-Suite, this group tends to be less curious about the details (“the how”) and much more interested in the big picture (“the why”). Focus on communicating your understanding of the market and their specific challenges. Then, bring something new to the table that they haven’t thought about before. One framework you can use to achieve this is SCQA (‘Situation – Complication – Question – Answer’) This framework encourages empathetic assessment of a challenge and welcomes strategic level debate – key ingredients for crafting a compelling message for the C-Suite.
3. Approach from a place of neutrality
The aim here is to become a trusted and credible source of unbiased information. Senior business leaders are smart and they will immediately identify agenda driven content – which is basically anything produced by a vendor. Consider developing a separate brand for thought leadership activities. Partnering with trusted institutions, such as vendor-agnostic consultancies or esteemed publications is a good route. Also consider creating a topical LinkedIn Group or hosting unbranded events.
4. CEOs like LinkedIn just as much as marketers do
LinkedIn remains the platform for B2B marketing. There are three tactics that can be implemented in order to get the best out of the tool, so far as avoiding a sales pitch and cutting straight through to the c-suite. Firstly, ensure you’ve joined relevant groups so as to maximise your content distribution opportunities. Secondly, use LinkedIn for its primary purpose of networking! Connect with the c-suite, share relevant content and regularly engage via comments and sharing. Thirdly, implement the SCQA method to send hyper-targeted, stimulating content that will keep the reader hooked beyond the first sentence!
5. Catch them in the evenings
Social media can be great for initiating contact, but the real relationship building happen during face-to-face interaction. Out of office engagements, particularly outside of normal work hours have proven successful for global tech leaders such as Oracle NetSuite, SAS Analytics and others. Moreover, exclusive networking events are also a great way to delve into the boardroom’s strategic mind-set!
6. Use a single contact point for authenticity
Maintaining the authenticity of an interaction is critical when building any relationship. So, when organisations fail to design a purposeful marketing-to-sales handover, this process can come across as very transactional. When your prospect is a C-Level leader, you can’t afford to compromise this relationship. Consider appointing one point of contact to guide the prospect through the entire process, increasing consistency and nurturing an authentic relationship.
“It’s important to actually have that authentic conversation and really understand first-hand what kind of challenges the customer is facing – how they act – how they interact – and how they view us – it gives them a completely different insight – and I think that is absolutely imperative.”
-Luis Fernandez, VP and Country Manager at Baseware
7. The Bottom Line
The ABM strategy for engaging the c-suite is two-pronged. On the one hand, it is all about establishing a healthy and aligned relationship between sales and marketing. On the other hand, it is about the power of personalisation, which is made possible by rapidly building face-to-face and digital rapport. A combination of the two is absolutely vital to the success of your ABM strategy.
The C-Suite have a limited amount of time on their hands to interact with vendors. However, utilising the little time they do have with personalised, in-person engagement is necessary to building these valuable relationships. When a sales or marketing leader engages effectively, they’re able to have meaningful, authentic engagements that build trust and increase the likelihood of conversion.
It goes without saying that perfecting your ABM strategy is time-consuming, but it’s exactly this commitment to detail that drives authenticity.
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