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The Role of Account Based Marketing in Account Planning

by Donal Daly

You may be aware that I recently published my latest book called Account Planning in Salesforce. (You can get a free extract here.) I was driven to write the book by the need for sales professionals and account teams to maximize their revenue from their existing large accounts and also to build a framework for targeting new customers in a structured more customer-solution-centric way. It turns out that about half of sellers do not know how to maximize revenue from their existing accounts. In Account Planning in Salesforce I spent a little time presenting how I think account planning relates to marketing. I wrote …

As 2013 unfolds, my prediction is that Account Planning will eclipse general marketing as a source of opportunities for revenue growth among winning sales professionals. The ubiquity of the Internet, your customer’s ability to find out about your products and services as quickly as you can yourself, the impact on social networks as a driver of influence and preference, the pervasiveness of mobile devices providing always-on communication, and the growing barriers to customer acquisition all mean that you can no longer be a generalist in your market. You need to be a specialist and expert in the business, strategy and market of those few customers with whom you are working.

I viewed a webinar recently hosted by the excellent Megan Heuer from the equally excellent SiriusDecisions research company. Megan is a smart lady and she and I have bantered in the past about the relative value of Sales and Marketing, concluding of course that they should be two sides of the same coin, each adding a different perspective, both of which added value.

Megan and Sirius are leading a charge for Account Based Marketing, and I couldn't be more delighted to see this account based approach gathering momentum where sales and marketing activity can be truly confluent and deliver synergistic special value. I am passionate about the value account planning can bring and I feel that this is a domain that has been under-served. (Hence the multiple hours in writing the book and making my contribution to the design of Dealmaker Smart Account Manager.) Account Planning is an organizational discipline and Account Based Marketing has a critical role to play. In fact ABM borders on business development, and is where the lines can get a little fuzzy. It means that Marketing needs to stay very close to selling and the account strategy – and in fairness that is not as common as we’d like to see. Applying marketing strategy to sales plans, and influencing the development of the plans can be very effective – but understanding sales is critical.

There is a healthy overlap between the principles of Account Planning and Account Based Marketing. Indeed in the webinar to which I refer it was said that ABM sits on a foundation of solid Account Planning and of course that is true. As I listened to the webinar I jotted down some notes that I thought would be worth sharing and I have used those to structure this blog post. I have supplemented those notes with other thoughts as they came to me, learnings from our customers and a perspective gained from the research I did while writing Account Planning in Salesforce. I say that so that you know that it is likely that any shortfalls are probably mine. But I do want to give full credit to SiriusDecisions for their ABM leadership. Seems only fair.

 

Why ABM Might Fail

ABM, like Account Planning, can be a tremendously reward endeavor, but there can be things that get in the way that you should be aware of:

  • Lack of account insights – If you don't know anything about the account, the people in the account, or their business needs, it is hard to develop an effective account strategy.
  • Lack of alignment to sales goals - Marketing needs to know what sales need to accomplish in order to construct the strategies and activities to deliver on those goals.
  • Overly broad deployment - When marketing tries to take on too broad a role in a specific account or too many ‘specific’ accounts at the same time, it typically does not work. The very nature of ABM is that is has to be account specific and as I said in Account Planning in Salesforce, you need to Focus for Impact.
  • Unreasonable expectations – According to Sirius Decisions, for large accounts, marketing should not be expected to source more than 10% of the sales pipeline (in contrast with 30% of pipeline from general marketing). As sales has a small number of accounts that they are responsible for, so they should be really on top of it in each case and should be developing their own opportunities. (I'm not sure I agree with the 10% number. I think it can be much higher - but this might depend on how you allocate opportunity credit.)
  • Lack of resources - ABM requires dedicated support (Should not be a part time job). This is particularly true if Account Planning is critical to your company. SiriusDecisions would suggest that ideally, if you have the resources, you should have account marketing managers as part of the account team. In Account Planning in Salesforce I talk about one of the roles of marketing as developing Marketing OSAs (Objectives, Strategies, and Actions), a critical part of the account planning and execution process. Someone from Marketing needs to have the aptitude and bandwidth to do this properly if they are going to have a role.
  • Undifferentiated tactic execution – attempting to say the same things to targeted large accounts as you do to the general market will not work. Using generic messages will not work. We know this is true. In fact, if you are positioning yourself as a strategic partner for an account, and they perceive that they are getting the same messages as everyone else, it will in fact damage the quality of relationship.

 

What needs to change?

If you are really committed to an account based go-to-market model (at least for a segment of your market) then you need to change a few things in your approach.

  • The data and insights that you use to develop your marketing tactics must be transformed from the general to the specific. They must be assessed only in relation to the account and industry, and in the context of each of the people in the account that you are trying to influence.
  • Your marketing planning must evolve from theoretical modeling with Sales and Marketing in separate silos into account-focused fact-based analysis account, with Sales and Marketing operating in tandem.
  • Effective account planning is about getting the right Demand Management balance, and you should weave ABM into that context, eschewing the singular focus on short-term opportunities for a more strategic approach that balances the longer-term view with the urgent need to fill your pipeline. Sales needs to stop measuring Marketing purely on the number of leads, but instead hold marketing accountable to account-level SLAs for very specific marketing objectives that are linked to very defined opportunity goals.
  • Account Management, in most companies, has always been owned by Sales (or some off-shoot). To maximize the impact that ABM can have on your account you need to consider sharing ownership of the account management activity with Marketing. This should deliver to Sales complete visibility into what ‘marketing’ is being delivered to the account and continuous nurturing activity to help maximize the return from the account.

 

When does ABM work?

Marketing is usually involved in general corporate marketing, general event marketing, general field marketing. Note! All the words start with ‘general’. ABM can build on all of these and can take advantage of existing marketing services that are horizontal, but ABM is about getting vertical and customized for the account. It should feel different for the customer. The longer-term goal is to create assets that feel customized to the customer but are in fact configured best practices. If well designed, you should be able to re-purpose these assets in several accounts. This is obviously easier when these accounts are in the same industry.

As you define relationship development strategies, specific messaging strategies, account-specific awareness building, account specific references or case studies, applicable win strategies, you should find that you will be able to take a similar approach in multiple accounts but with each configured to the specifics of the individual account. These activities should result in relationship acceleration, your company being seen as different kind of partner than your generic marketing would deliver. You are looking for greater access to the key individuals in the targeted accounts and momentum in opportunity creation and advancement.

But you haven’t a hope of leveraging ABM unless you can build credibility and trust between sales and marketing. You should ask yourself three critical questions:

  1. Is sales open to new kinds of help?
  2. Is marketing invited to join planning and execution?
  3. How can marketing be aligned to best sources of growth

As ever, trust and collaboration are critical. Marketing needs to do the hard work to contribute to insights and planning for the account that add real value. Constant communication is important as the fulcrum around which the iterative process between Sales and Marketing maintain alignment.

But remember that ABM is not necessarily for everyone. Sales teams vary greatly in their approach to their accounts. The quality of the relationship in each account is different. Some sellers welcome Marketing’s involvement in their accounts and accounts teams may be hungry for help and willing to engage. In other situations, Marketing may feel less appreciated. The relationship between Sales and Marketing is not always cozy or cordial. ABM requires work from both and in some cases the sales folks may not be prepared to put in the effort. All these elements factor into which accounts might be good candidates for an ABM initiative.

Don't forget that it is exceedingly rare for marketing to be able to add real value in terms of account research for existing large accounts in which you are truly active. If you have account teams that are properly engaged in the accounts, they will typically know much more about that account than any desk-based research from Marketing can provide. So looking beyond basic research, you should consider perhaps, as an example, relationship development strategies to craft approaches that might help engage key individuals. That may require executive sponsorship programs, understanding the profiles and backgrounds of the individuals and building programs that might interest them. Most account teams know what is going on within the account, but can generally benefit from ‘external’ assistance to help with getting to particular individuals. Marketing should be able to constantly feed the account team with examples, references, competitive positioning etc.

 

How to apply ABM

SiriusDecisions sets out a list of what you need to know to build a plan, categorized into three categories:

Required

  • Account industry
  • Account Buying centers
  • Wallet share (by buying center)
  • Sales goals (by buying center)
  • Current opportunity status
  • Contacts (by buying center)

Recommended

  • Key initiatives (by buying center)
  • Relationship status (by buying center)
  • Relationship map (by buying center)

Best practice

  • Growth trend
  • Competitive environment
  • Engagement history

I think this is a good list to get started with and in Account Planning in Salesforce I expand on each of these in greater detail. You might begin by using this list to ensure that Marketing is aligned to the account objectives so that they can build visibility and credibility; and develop relationship strategies with key executives, decision makers and influencers. And it doesn’t stop just at the account. At the end of the day the mission of account planning and management is to build long-term business relationships in a complex account that enable you to create, develop, pursue, and win business that delivers mutual value. Marketing will also need to align to account objectives for opportunity development specific to align your solutions to the customer’s business needs, and to help with competitive positioning and strategy. They should be the engine that provides the relevant assets. They can help with proof points through reference cases and other external validation of your company’s unique business value, all dome of course in the context of the needs of the customer. For example, there may be marketing initiatives to:

  1. Move a targeted account from disinterest or lack of awareness to engagement and awareness of your company’s solutions in the context of their industry to meet common business objectives
  2. Create campaigns leading to opportunities to position your company as preferred provider of choice
  3. After sale, continue to nurture to strengthen account position for broad and deep penetration, achieving strategic relevance.

 

Risks to Consider and Critical Success Factors

ABM is a critical component of account planning but it doesn't always work. Here are some of the most common pitfalls:

  1. It is not built on a foundation of solid account planning
  2. Marketing is focused on or measure by number or value of leads
  3. Marketing tries to apply its existing tactics to ABM and look to see where those tactics might be used to ABM, rather than considering the objectives for the individual account and then determining the correct strategy.
  4. Sales is not open to collaborating with Marketing and inviting Marketing into their accounts.

So, what do you need to succeed?

  1. Sales (or part of the sales organization) must be focused on a defined set of accounts
  2. Sales is working on account plans
  3. Sales and Marketing can work well together to identify objectives and then develop the right strategies and actions together to make it work
  4. Sales and Marketing need to be aligned to the concept that it is not just about demand gen. It is often more important in certain accounts to be focused on creating awareness and influence than looking just to find the short-term opportunities.

 

Finally …

This might all seem a little hard, and you might well ask yourself “Do I really need a different approach when selling to big companies just because they are big?” or “Does Marketing really need to change?” What’s the matter with just using the very same methods that have worked in smaller companies or in the market in general? Are there really considerations that are so dramatically different that they call into question the basic techniques that succeed elsewhere?

The answer is both “Yes” and “No.” Yes, you need a different approach, but no, you do not need to throw out techniques that succeed elsewhere. Instead you need to build upon them, extending the basic concepts, and augmenting the methodology to yield a model more suitable to the size of the task at hand. The factor that drives the need for this reinforced ‘industrial-strength’ process can be captured in one word: scale. The fact is that a large company is usually a collection of small, interrelated commercial activities, organized by function or geography, specialism or purpose, competitive forces or market dynamics. When approaching any such ecosystem, a deliberate design is demanded. Optimal outcomes are rarely achieved without such diligent efforts.

 


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