Jodi Lebow
/ Director of Marketing and Demand Generation, VersionOne

Account Based Marketing is not about integrating a new tactic into your existing approach. It’s about transforming the way you market, sell and support customer success.

Two years ago, VersionOne faced a challenge. As we moved from transactional to enterprise sales, we found ourselves competing with blue-chip, high-tech titans such as Microsoft, CA Technologies and Atlassian to secure our share of a global market.

We knew we couldn’t outspend them, so we had to find a way to outsmart them: Account Based Marketing (ABM) helped us do it.

ABM turns the traditional sales and marketing funnel on its head. Rather than casting the net wide to catch as many leads as possible, ABM narrows the focus on an ideal customer profile and actively targets that customer through personalized outreach.

For us, ABM was a way to achieve more with less. It was a gamble, but one that paid off.

By creating a detailed, disciplined picture of our ideal customer, identifying them earlier and personalizing the buyer journey, we transformed our growth potential.

Within 12 months, VersionOne drove 2x more sales opportunities by implementing an ABM strategy, and we blew past our most optimistic goals for every key metric:

  • 88 percent of target accounts showed awareness & engagement
  • Target accounts accounted for 40 percent of enterprise initial pipeline
  • 31 percent of tier 1 target accounts became sales appointments
  • Opportunity size for target accounts was 45 percent higher
  • Exceeded opportunity creation and enterprise initial booking goals

Here’s what we learned along the way:

 

Change everything, including the mindset

Many firms talk about ‘doing ABM,’ but most fall far short of true ABM. ABM is not about integrating an account-based tactic or technology or campaign into your existing approach. It’s about transforming the way you market, sell and support customer success. We changed everything—the leads targeted, the messages used to reach them, the channels leveraged, the activity tracked and the insights collected. We redesigned our lead scoring, our technology stack and our internal processes, and then we led the change that needed to happen downstream to ensure leads had a consistent experience with sales.

Everyone had to learn to think and work differently, so education and communication were critical.

Marketing needed to align the mindset and get everyone working hand in hand—marketing, SDRs, sales execs and the customer success team. Half of the job is educational: marketing needs to communicate the strategy and explain the approach so that everyone understands their role. The other half is promotional: marketing needs to have a strong WIIFM message to get the sales team on board. Show how ABM will benefit them by delivering more qualified, motivated leads while reducing the amount of time they need to spend chasing unrewarding prospects.

We found that tracking and sharing key metrics regularly with the extended team helped to keep sales in the loop and give them a sense of how today’s activities would impact tomorrow’s wins.

Measure the value of account based marketing from the get-go

Measuring from day one helps you demonstrate the value of ABM and gain support sooner, and it also helps you see what’s working and what’s not so that you can adjust, refine and optimize as you go.

Start by establishing a baseline that outlines the existing levels of awareness and engagement. Then make sure your stack is capable of tracking those levels moving forward and connecting them to key revenue metrics. Our ABM scorecard sorted accounts according to whether they were tier 1 (the most promising), tier 2 or tier 3 and tracked the levels of awareness, the number of marketing qualified accounts, sales appointments, opportunities, annual contract value and a host of additional metrics for each tier.

Choose an account based marketing partner, not a technology

ABM is hot right now, and there are hundreds of technologies that you can add your stack. Over the last couple of years, we have looked at and worked with many technology providers. (Our current ABM stack includes Bombora, Everstring, Engagio, Terminus, Uberflip, Marketo and SalesLoft to name a few.)

It’s easy to be dazzled by all the cool tools, but to see success, you need those technologies to align with the broader strategy and support the big picture. We found it important to align ourselves with vendors that had a clear understanding of ABM as a whole and a commitment to innovation and experimentation. Look for companies that are leading the way and talking about ABM as an integrated, end-to-end discipline. Those vendors will deliver value in terms of the guidance they offer and the quality of the solutions they provide.

The VersionOne team was named to the 2017 Terminus ABM Superheroes List and awarded Account Based Marketing Program of the Year at the 2017 SiriusDecisions Summit, both exciting and humbling honors from our partners who recognizes the efforts we put into developing and executing this strategy.

Prep your sales development reps

The performance of your sales development representatives (SDRs) is critical to the success of your account based marketing efforts, so you’ll need to teach and empower them to deliver personalized, high-touch human outreach that aligns with the rest of the buyer’s experience. If ABM ends the moment a lead connects with a salesperson, it undoes all the work you’ve put into the early stages of the buyer journey.

We developed an SDR “insights machine” that gives each rep a complete view of every lead, including deep firmographics and company histories, a list of the content the lead had consumed, the web pages they frequented and any activity generated by colleagues at the same company. With this information in front of them, they had the data and tools they needed to deliver more helpful, relevant, informed service.

We also invested in training for our SDR team, so that they knew how to use this information to approach these targeted accounts with the right messages and follow-up. We showed them how to interpret the data to further their understanding of the lead’s needs and priorities and help the lead move on to the next stage in their journey.

By preparing and empowering our SDRs, we created a buyer journey that transitioned leads from digital to human outreach seamlessly and delivered more qualified leads to our sales executives.

Focus on engagement, not leads

Because account based marketing involves reaching out to good prospects earlier, you’re likely to get into conversations with your leads earlier. That has implications for your metrics.

We found that ABM connected us to leads months before they were ready to start actively planning an initiative that required our enterprise platform. That’s not a bad thing (in fact, it’s a good thing to get the jump on your competitors), but it does mean that the cadence of the conversation—and the conversion—needs to change. We needed to find new ways to nurture and educate these leads, and we needed to find new ways to track this early activity in order to capture the true impact of our marketing efforts. Focusing on engagement activity instead of active sales opportunities enabled us to measure what mattered and pursue the strategies that delivered results.

Attack account based marketing in sprints

Defining content assets and buyer journeys for multiple industries, roles and segments can seem intimidating, and many companies shy away from ABM for that reason.

But it’s much more doable if you break it down into micro-stages. Start with one segment or vertical. Build on that. Learn from it. Apply the learning to the next initiative. And keep adding to that activity until you’ve effected your transformation.

This agile methodology not only makes ABM less overwhelming, it makes it more effective, enabling you to learn quickly by testing and experimenting on the fly. At VersionOne, we used sprints to set up a continuous cadence of plan-execute-experiment-learn that helped us ramp up quickly, see results sooner and fast-track our learning.

 

Here’s the bottom line.

Account based marketing isn’t something you can sprinkle over your existing strategy. It’s a transformation that needs people, processes and technologies to come together to deliver a high-touch, highly personalized experience.

But it’s a transformation that begins with a small step. Don’t wait until you have all the elements or a fully formed strategy in place. Find a first, small step and pilot your first ABM initiative. You’ll find that the learning, the momentum and the positive impact will grow faster than you expect.

 

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