The Starting 5 for a Winning ABM Strategy

Every successful basketball team relies on five principal players who are the best in their respective roles, and also have chemistry to seamlessly run plays and execute on a game plan. Similarly, a winning ABM initiative depends upon having these five “key players” each perform their role and interoperate nicely.

This year’s March Madness (NCAA college basketball tournament) has certainly had its share of bracket-busting surprises—guess we can all stop daydreaming about how we might have spent the extra cash from the office pool!

Every basketball team relies on five principal individuals to be the best in their respective roles and also build chemistry to seamlessly run plays and execute on a game plan. Similarly, a winning ABM initiative also depends upon having your five “key players” each perform their role and interoperate nicely.

Ladies and gentlemen, here’s the starting five for ABM:

  1. Systems, at Center, anchoring your offense
  2. Data, at Power Forward, powering your ability to score using high percentage shots
  3. Processes, at Small Forward, penetrating the defense and always driving for the score
  4. Content, at Shooting Guard, using form and repetition to rack up points from long and medium range
  5. Analytics, at Point Guard, looking for the fastest and most efficient way to convert, and distributing the ball to the most productive and consistent scorers

1. Systems

Martech & salestech tools to store, manage, and engage your contacts and leads

Before you undertake an account-based marketing initiative, you need to have the right systems in place. First, you need what Gartner calls a “system of record”, such as Salesforce or other CRM—a place to store and track your account data, contacts and leads.

HubSpot is an example of a hybrid to the next layer up in the ABM stack, which is a “system of engagement”, a process-oriented tool that enables you to segment your ABM contacts, create customized offers, launch email campaigns, etc. Many marketers are using Marketo, Oracle Eloqua, or Pardot as their system of engagement. To complement marketing’s ABM efforts, SDRs, inside sales, and many field sales teams use sales automation systems, such as SalesLoft or Outreach, to automate how they engage with all the target contacts and accounts in their territories.

Along with having the right systems in place, you also need the right marketing ops and sales ops expertise to manage and integrate those systems effectively and use them efficiently. That’s where teams start driving leads to conversion and driving revenue. When you have your CRM and automation systems in place and some ability to manage them, the rest of the players will all be more efficient and effective.

2. Data

Complete, detailed info to help you plan, prioritize, and personalize your ABM engagement

So you have your systems of record and engagement in place. Next, you need the right data to power your ABM machine.

Scoping your total audience

To scope your ABM effort effectively and to increase and maximize the number of high-quality shot attempts, you first need to understand the total audience for your target buyers, aka your total available market (TAM). That means fresh, accurate, complete firmographic, demographic, and perhaps technographic data that can help you answer these key questions:

  • How many accounts are there that fit my ideal customer profile (ICP)?
  • How many contacts are there at those accounts that fit my buyer personas?
  • How many accounts and contacts I can go after given my budget and resources?

Even if you’re paring your TAM down to a smaller set of accounts or a single persona for your first phase, it’s important to make those decisions within the context of your total audience and a bottom up measurement of your total addressable market.

Once you know your TAM, you need a clear understanding of your coverage, i.e., do you have the right data in your system of record to engage with that audience and personalize that engagement effectively. Ask yourself:

  • Which accounts fit my ICP and do I have their complete firmographic details?
  • Who are the contacts at those accounts that fit my customer personas?
    • Do I have their complete, accurate contact details (current title, email, direct phone, etc.)?
    • Do I have data about their areas of interest/responsibility/pain points so I can personalize our outreach to them?

In working with B2B companies from start-ups to enterprises across many industries, we find that most organizations are missing up to 80% of their total target audience, and up to 50% of the data they do have is incomplete or outdated. Contact discovery can help fill that gap.

The importance of data quality

If you define the right buyer personas and you’re selling to the people who are the most likely to buy your product or business service, you’re taking the highest percentage shots, and that is typically going to result in better conversation rates.

Picking the right targets depends upon having complete and accurate data to analyze, particularly if you’re trying to use predictive tools. No matter how your team decides which accounts to target, starting with account and contact enrichment can help ensure that you’re making decisions based on a complete and accurate picture of your situation.

Since ABM depends upon actually engaging your targets, data quality becomes even more vital as you start running campaigns. Because data decays at an alarming rate, you need email addresses that have been verified. The gold standard is a 95-100% deliverability rate, so you should seek a guarantee from any data vendor that they will provide that level of quality. Having direct-dial phone numbers is also key so that your sales team can follow up with contacts efficiently.

If you can take high percentage shots, maximize quality shot attempts, avoid blocked shots, and give your sales team additional methods to score via phone and social media, you’ll be running an efficient, high-scoring, multi-threaded offense that impresses everyone with its point production.

3. Processes

Planning which channels to use and how you will execute your ABM strategy

Defining your ABM processes is about aligning your goals with the tactics you’ll use to achieve them—deciding how you’ll use your core systems, and what others you may layer on top. Over the last several years, the martech landscape has expanded exponentially to include many specialized ABM tools.

Will you do ABM advertising and retargeting with tools such as Demandbase or Terminus to drive inbound? You’ll still need a defined process for how marketing and sales will handle each inbound lead. You also need to consider how often you’ll be sending emails, will marketing or sales send them, and will they have customized landing pages per account or by segment? How might you layer in buyer intent to identify new accounts and demand centers and integrate them into your ABM process? What about custom events? Direct mail? Each medium or channel you consider needs a well thought out and documented execution process in order to drive revenue. In short, with your “big men” (systems and high-quality data) anchoring your offense, you can develop a plethora of plays to penetrate the market, and produce more points.

4. Content

Personalized messaging that engage your target audience

So, you have all your systems and processes in place and you’ve perfected your audience data. Now, what the heck are you going to send them?

Whether you’re doing bespoke videos, direct mail, display ads, email campaigns, or all of the above, running ABM efficiently means developing resonant content that can be tailored for each account and buyer persona, and be repurposed. One reason that 92% of B2B companies see higher opportunity-to-close rates from ABM accounts (per the SiriusDecisions 2017 State of ABM Study) is that the messaging and content are highly tuned to the target buyer.

Our customers have achieved great results by segmenting their ABM lists by title/seniority and then sending a high-level message about innovation and line of business goals to the C level and more nuts and bolts tech benefits to the practitioners. They also segment their lists and content by the size of the company they’re targeting, since pain points will differ. You can read a case study here.

Where a good generic email campaign may get 10-20% open rates…with engagement and conversion rates following from there, we’ve seen customers who hyper-target their content get 50-70% open rates, 25% engagement rates in a first call and an 8% conversion to a meeting within five to seven business days. Sure, it’s a little bit more work to personalize and tailor your content, but it’s 5-10x more effective.

Here is the truth in basketball, and in life—it takes hard work. No one does ABM because it’s easy. Whether we look at Steph “Chef” Curry, “Pistol” Pete Maravich, or Trae Young (likely College Player of the Year from Oklahoma as a Freshman!), the players who consistently make 35’ jump shots that touch “nothing but net”—the ones who make the impossible look easy—they invest countless hours in the gym, practicing on form, repetition, and adaptation.

5. Analytics

Measuring & optimizing your ABM programs

Now, your systems are all in sync, you’ve got a process for fresh data and customized messaging and you’re engaging your targets with tailored content. You’re scaling. Now it’s time to measure and optimize your ABM program. Here’s what you’ll want to look at:

  • Content: Which messages, subject lines, creative have driven the most engagement & revenue?
  • Systems/Mediums: Where am I seeing the best conversion rates, the best ROI? Should I change my targeting slightly to get more specific?
  • Data: Can I optimize my target personas? Add/remove keywords or change exclusions? Tweak titles slightly? How might that change my TAM?
  • Processes: Can we be working leads more efficiently? Is our lead/account scoring accurate? Do marketing & sales still agree on whom to target?

We’ve seen customers with optimized systems and processes hone in, exclude the noise and perfect their target personas by 20% or 30% achieve 2-3x conversion rates as a result. ABM practitioners who can use analytics to measure and optimize all five areas of their program are truly MVP level…or 4+ on the SiriusDecisions ABM Maturity Model.

The point person for revenue and growth at your company is always going ask: where should I distribute the ball, where can I most quickly and efficiently get a basket, how can we set up for the winning shot, which players and plays are going to perform for me? And while slam dunks—large deals won—certainly dominate the highlight reel, your overall marketing and sales performance comes from putting each of the 5 players in their respective positions, choosing the most productive player for each role, getting them to interoperate well together, and measuring the results.

All US professional sporting leagues—NBA, MLB, and NFL—have moved to advanced statistical tracking & analysis to improve their rosters, prepare for games, and even which match-up to leverage for the final shot. So, we need to create a discipline to track our ABM statistics, regularly review performance, and use those analytics to adjust and optimize the players, the plays, and the substitutions we need to win the game.

The 6th Man (or Woman)

Sales-Marketing Alignment

Did we say five? There’s one special element that we haven’t mentioned yet, but it’s the core of a winning ABM solution (and the topic of another important blog post): sales-marketing alignment.

Great teams usually develop great team chemistry by choosing complementary players, emphasizing awareness of each players’ skill/situation/current condition, over-communicating on general and specific game situations (including asking for help and warnings about surprise defenses), developing discipline to run the offense, play defense and rebound, and having great adaptability to game situations.

Likewise, sales and marketing teams need point players to open the lines of communication, institute discipline around joint planning, budgeting, and resource allocation; adapt to situations like “End of Quarter”, and jointly agree on key players, plays, hand-offs, and how to measure results.

For a winning ABM program, your teams must choose their starting five and operationalize these pillars of ABM, but also collaborate on your ideal customer profile (personas and target accounts/criteria), a joint process to engage contacts across channels, and also agree on the KPIs you’ll use to track and measure your results.

Rob Weedn

Rob Weedn is Founder & CEO of DealSignal. Having worked in B2B marketing and sales for many years, Rob is passionate about helping revenue generating teams meet their goals by providing them with the immaculate contact and account data they need to target, engage, and convert prospects effectively. Follow Rob on Twitter @robweedn.

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