There are many levels of customer-centricity and some organizations choose to orient themselves along the furthest edge of this spectrum by changing their sales and marketing orientation towards account-based marketing (ABM). Basically, they identify exactly which target accounts they want to go after (as new business or grow existing business) rather than targeting potential buyers in certain roles in certain types (such as small-medium businesses) of unknown businesses.
I like the way that Celsius International describes the difference between ABM and traditional marketing as the difference between “fishing with spears” versus the traditional marketing technique of “fishing with nets,” as shown in this infographic. You get it, right? With traditional marketing, you put your traps out into the ocean and hope to lure something into your net. Only afterwards do you look at your net to see what are pieces of plastic being carried along the current and what are real fish you can use. Spearfishing requires you to use different tools suited to the often larger size of your prey and that you clearly see your exact target and aim for it and only it.
Some of your marketers may already have seen this sort of alignment in past positions since it’s been around for so long. However, for those who have not, it’s a shocking change of perspective. To begin with, there are several major areas that you’ll need to address with your marketers. Two of the most fundamental are as follows:
Why Specific Accounts
Organizations use different criteria to determine how to select accounts they will focus on. These often include choosing marquee names, footholds in key industries or geographies, and so on. Sometimes, the potential addressable market selects the list of named accounts on its own, such as if you’re marketing to all major U.S-based automobile manufacturers, which is a self-defined list of companies.
When I first encountered ABM, the sales leaders I worked with had a strong intuitive understanding of which accounts were more likely to convert and which were worth the long-term effort. As more and more data has become available, though, organizations have moved beyond anecdotal evidence and validated their beliefs with measurement. Now, for many organizations, the primary consideration for account selection is based on which accounts that have the highest potential customer lifetime value.
Whatever the criteria, marketers need to understand the business reasons for selection and the relative priorities if there are multiple layers of accounts (i.e., one firm where I worked had both a geographic set of accounts as well as “named” accounts that were critical for their industry market share or other reasons) so they are on the same page as sellers.
Then – the tough part – marketers need to internalize that there is no need to go beyond these specific accounts and look for volume leads, the measure of success in traditional marketing that is usually seared into marketer’s brains from repeated ‘conversations’ with everyone else in the organization, especially sales.
Help marketers understand that each account effectively gets its own marketing plan, which is a good return on investment based on the expected value of selling into the account. Visualize the effort to catch net after net of sardines (fish that are each about six inches long) versus spear fishing for an 800-pound blue fin tuna.
Need for Account-level Persona
To execute this level of interaction, organizations will need to have a level of knowledge about their target accounts that at least equals the data traditional marketers have on target buyers. This requires creation of what I call an account-level persona in addition to role-specific personas (that you can cross-reference against to be even more targeted). Some basic information from role-specific personas will likely appear on an account-level persona, such as the account’s pain points, their perspective on you and your competitors (if there is a general sentiment in that geo or industry), etc.
There are also several unique elements your marketing team will need to research for account personas. These include detailed information such as knowing as many of the specific individuals involved in the buying process for your particular product/service (which will translate to the contents of your database, so consider hiring a firm to do research for you on this element). You’ll also need macro-level information on the account’s industry and/or competitive landscape. Get as much information on the external customers your account is targeting as well as internal customers of your key contacts (i.e., maybe you sell to the IT department who often has to support the Human Resources department).
You’ll also want to track financial details. At the most basic level, know their yearly cycles, such as when they are busy (i.e., a flower delivery service is crazed around Mother’s Day) or when they’re planning budgets for next year or next quarter so that you can plan your own marketing and sales outreach calendars accordingly. However, you’ll likely also need to track their revenue fluctuations so you don’t inappropriately try to pitch something when the quarterly earnings report shows a decline.
You may need to brainstorm with your marketing and sales team to determine what other pieces of data might have an impact on marketing or selling. Then, test to make sure you’re using those fields and either remove them if they are not useful or research new types of data if you find you have gaps in what you need to execute.
We’ll talk more about ABM in future posts but, without thinking through these basic level concepts, marketers new to ABM will struggle.
Comments are welcome, especially examples of how your marketers addressed these fundamental account-based marketing issues.