The Road to ABM: Small Steps Not Leaps

by | Dec 8, 2017 | Blog

Hard cutover or gradual migration?

During a recent conversation about migrating from traditional inbound marketing to Account Based Marketing (ABM), a colleague noted that the optimal method was a hard cutover, but that this would put a serious hole in his pipeline. He reasoned that this would entail a complete shift in targeting, team capabilities, tools, programs and more. Given that there is a certain sales cycle associated with driving leads and opportunities in this fashion, he believed this would blow a hole in the pipeline for six to 12 months due to the product sales cycle. This colleague is a super smart leader with deep demand gen experience. However, I disagree agree with this assessment, and I have yet to see this method in practice, so I thought I would share my thoughts and solicit feedback from my fellow B2B marketers.

My experience for over 20 years has been as an inbound content marketer building programs to scale inbound leads and automate qualification into the sales funnel (see my recent blog on “continuous pipeline“). The concept of ABM is compelling, with benefits including increased focus, activity orchestration, and higher conversion rates due to customized messaging targeting specific accounts and personas. Since I have also seen funnel conversion rates drop over the last five to 10 years, ABM is a natural solution. However, in my experience at several different companies, the migration to ABM was a gradual process, not a hard cutover.

Fast ABM results with a land-and-expand model

At one company, where the focus was to drive end-user trials in a land-and-expand model, we developed a target account list based on the past customer lifetime value (LTV), selecting a list of prospects most likely to not only land, but also to expand. These prospects were run through a series of phone, email and postal outreach programs. The results were quickly positive resulting in significant pipeline in just two to three months. Gradually, we added additional components including digital marketing, and we more fully integrated our online and field events to better address all stages of the customer journey. The result was positive pipeline impact in just a few months, all while, we continued most of our inbound marketing programs.

The marketing team then built out contact lists using agreed upon personas, designed email and phone outreach programs, and rolled out the new systems and processes to the reps. In just two to three months we drove over $500K in new pipeline…

Positive ABM results with an enterprise SaaS model

At another company with a SaaS-based enterprise software application, the goal was to add-in a focused outbound ABM program to the existing inbound programs. We started by identifying the use cases where we had high win rates and successful deployments. We then selected accounts based on size, industry, technologies deployed, and other key criteria as a target list from which the sales reps selected the specific accounts based on their past experience. The marketing team then built out contacts lists using agreed upon personas, designed email and phone outreach programs, and rolled out the new systems and processes to the reps. In just two to three months we drove over $500K in new pipeline – again, while we continued all the inbound programs. Going forward, the plan is to add-in both digital marketing and events.

Developing the muscles for outbound account-based marketing

In neither case did we stop our inbound funnel, rather we designed the new programs to work with existing programs while we developed outbound ABM muscle. We made sure that there was capacity within the lead qualification teams to run the outbound ABM programs while still qualifying inbound leads. Also, in both cases we started with simple email and phone campaigns and later moved to a more fully orchestrated ABM program. Some might not consider these programs “true ABM” but rather a targeted sales play – but I believe that’s just semantics. The bottom line is: my job is to drive pipeline and deals and these methods have been successful.

My experience has been mostly positive gradually migrating to ABM. How about you?

Larry Stein is Principal Consultant at Technology Marketing Strategies, a consultancy that creates comprehensive demand generation strategy and programs for technology companies that encompass people, programs and systems delivering against business plan requirements. Before founding Technology Marketing Strategies, Larry held senior marketing roles at technology companies including Alteryx, Pertino and Dell. Follow Larry on Twitter @TechMktgStrat.