Blog, Account-Based Marketing (ABM), Digital Marketing

The Road to ABM: Small Steps Not Leaps

A 20-year marketing veteran who has built inbound marketing programs at scale, explains why he recommends that companies dip their toe into account-based marketing (ABM) before jumping right into the deep end.

Hard cutover or gradual migration?

During a recent conversation about migrating from traditional inbound marketing to an ABM campaign strategy, 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 blog “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 expand. These prospects were run through phone, email, and postal outreach programs. The results were quickly positive resulting in a 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 a 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…

ABM Campaign Strategy - From Inbound to Outbound

Positive ABM campaign 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 campaign 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 the new pipeline while we continued all the inbound programs. Going forward, the plan is to add 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 ensured there was capacity within the lead qualification teams to run the outbound ABM campaign 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 campaign. Some might not consider these programs “true ABM campaign” but rather a targeted sales play – but I believe that’s just semantics. The bottom line is: my job is to drive pipelines and deals and these methods have been successful.

My experience has been mostly positive gradually migrating to ABM.

How to support the transition from inbound to outbound?

Transitioning from an inbound to an outbound approach requires careful planning and support. Here are some of the ways to facilitate this transition:

  1. Set Clear Expectations: It is crucial to establish clear expectations for the outbound Business Development Representatives (BDRs). They should understand that their role is focused on connecting with companies, securing introductions, and setting appointments, rather than closing deals. Clearly communicate the objectives and goals of the outbound strategy to align everyone’s understanding.
  2. Define Activity Metrics: Define the specific activities that contribute to the outbound efforts. This can include phone calls, text messages, social media engagement, or other relevant actions. By setting clear expectations on the desired activities, sales leaders can ensure that reps know how to allocate their time effectively.
  3. Provide Comprehensive Training: Invest in training programs to equip the outbound BDRs with the necessary skills and knowledge. Salespeople should not be left to figure it out on their own. Offer training on various aspects, such as effective call openings, compelling voicemails, impactful email strategies, and the optimal frequency of follow-ups. This training will empower the BDRs to engage with prospects more effectively and increase their chances of getting a response.
  4. Track and Measure Performance: Establish a system for tracking and measuring the effectiveness of outbound call activity. Monitor metrics such as response rates, appointment-setting rates, and conversion rates to evaluate the success of the outbound efforts. This data can provide insights into areas that need improvement and help refine the outbound strategy over time.
  5. Encourage Continuous Learning: Foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement. Encourage BDRs to share best practices, success stories, and challenges faced during their outbound activities. Regularly review and update training materials to incorporate new insights and techniques that can further enhance the effectiveness of the outbound approach.

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Larry Stein

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.

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