The transition to an account-based go-to-market strategy can be a bit scary for marketers and sellers. In most areas of business (and life in general) change is rarely easy, even when you truly believe the outcome will be a positive one. We hear from marketers pretty regularly who really do believe in the value of an account-based approach — and are perhaps even employing some ABM tactics — but just don’t know how to fully flip that switch.
Matt Heinz, cohost of our CMO Coffee Talk series, recently launched a LinkedIn survey to sample how many marketing teams have transitioned from a lead-based to an account-based marketing approach. The results, as shown in the chart below, revealed that 27% of marketers have already transitioned to account-based, 36% have not, and 37% are “currently working through it.” (See the original post on LinkedIn here.)
So what does that “working through it” process look like, and what are the biggest hurdles?
Every team and organization is different, with its own unique strengths and challenges. But there are some similarities we hear across the board when talking to our own customers and future customers about what they had to (or will have to) overcome. Here are three of those top challenges:
#1 Fear of the unknown
Running our same plays and continuing to do things because “this is how we’ve always done it” can feel easier and safer. But for today’s B2B revenue teams, maintaining the status quo isn’t sustainable. ABX is no longer a hot new trend or buzzword, it’s become the norm. Back in 2019 (which feels like about 12 years ago now), Forrester predicted that by 2025, B2B demand generation efforts would focus predominantly on accounts, not leads. And since the events of 2020, that shift has only accelerated.
Fortunately, facing the fear of change is well worth it, as our team at 6sense can attest to. Some of the changes we’ve made within our own go-to-market strategy seemed crazy even to a few of our own leaders at the time they were proposed. In her book, No Forms. No Spam. No Cold Calls., 6sense CMO Latané Conant wrote about our journey into true customer-first, account-based experience:
“With a new initiative we termed Project Bold Moves, we declared that we were done with the old ways of doing things. Specifically, we took a stand against forms, spam, and cold calls… It sounds crazy to ban these three pillars of sales and marketing, I know. And truth be told, not everyone rallied behind me when I proposed this overhaul. In fact, one person quit my team over it. The head of sales gave me some serious stank-eye — especially when he heard the “no cold calls” part of the game plan. In his experience, the way you create pipeline is by pounding the phones. But once he understood that I was not saying no calls — just no more wasting time on cold calls — he warmed up. He put his trust in me, and the rest of the team jumped on board too.”
The implementation of Project Bold Moves was far from perfect, and there were plenty of missteps along the way. But the effort proved to be the correct decision and right path forward and has resulted in record growth for our business.
We didn’t let the fear of the unknown stop us from undertaking Project Bold Moves. Instead, we set our sights on all our knowns. True, we were giving up the information we could glean from an ebook download form. But we didn’t need that information because of all that we already did know. We already knew which accounts were on our site. More importantly, we knew why they were on our site, thanks to our intent data. And we knew what stage they were in on the buying journey. And those are the types of insights you don’t get with a form fill.
We didn’t have to spam our lists or cold call our prospects, because we knew enough about them that we never needed to make contact unless we could provide real value at just the right time in their buying journey. Even our biggest skeptics had to admit that implementing a true account-based, data-informed approach wasn’t just effective, it actually made their jobs easier.
The best part of this change is that it has totally transformed our customer experience. And research shows that can have ripple effects across the business, beyond improved client satisfaction scores. A better customer experience can yield a 10% - 20% reduction in cost to serve, 10% - 15% percent revenue growth, and happier employees, according to McKinsey & Company.
That research has certainly borne out in our experience. By leaning into our knowns instead of fearing the unknown, we were able to transform our customer experience, and our business.
#2 Gaps in data
A common concern for marketers and sellers moving from a lead-based to account-based strategy is not knowing which accounts to target, how marketing will “get credit” for their efforts, or how sales will prioritize outreach. These are of course very legitimate concerns, and all rooted in the same problem — lack of access to the right data.
Simply deciding to shift focus from individual leads to accounts isn’t enough to ensure sales and marketing are working the right leads — those from accounts that are in-market and ready to engage. In fact, nearly 60% of organizations that claim to be “account-based” are still devoting a lot of energy to generating Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs). And that alone is a good indicator that they’re using the wrong data.
Why? Because designating an MQL relies on arbitrary values being assigned to activities like form fills, downloads, and click-throughs. And we know these kinds of actions don’t tell us a whole heck of a lot about whether someone is an ideal fit for what we’re selling, let alone whether they’re anywhere near ready to buy.
The other problem here is that in B2B, individuals generally don’t make big buying decisions by themselves — 10+ employees could be involved in a single purchase decision for their organization. Think of it this way: If you’re selling pencils, you may be looking at just one decision-maker (Go get ‘em, Tiger!). But if you’re selling health insurance plans, you’re looking at an entire committee of stakeholders with different personas and different needs. Effective account-based marketing requires intelligent data that tells us what all those people care about, so we can tailor unique messaging and outreach to each of them.
With an AI-powered account engagement platform that uses predictive modeling to help you uncover demand and identify (and prioritize) accounts, you can close the data gaps that are keeping you from being truly account-based. You’ll get real, actionable insights about your accounts in real time and learn more about what all those different peeps on the buying committee are researching, so you can serve them up a killer experience.
Oh, and that predictive data can help you avoid the major FOMO you’ll feel if you miss out on all those perfect-fit, ready-to-buy folks out there you wouldn’t even have known about otherwise. The thing is, buyers today do most of their research anonymously. So if we’re sitting around waiting on them to raise their hands to let us know they’re in the market for a product or service like ours, we might have to keep waiting… and waiting… and… you get the point.
#3 Changing hearts and minds
The people on your revenue team may have spent years getting used to a certain modus operandi and may be hesitant to leave all that lead-chasing behind to embrace an account-based approach. Especially if, over the years of siloed and disparate data and metrics, some level of animosity or mistrust has formed among the team.
Sales and marketing relationship issues? Maybe it’s time for Revenue Team Therapy.
Watch the other episodes of Revenue Team Therapy here.
While it may take some work to get everyone on board with an account-based strategy, it’s a worthy hurdle to clear. Imagine emerging on the other side of this transition with a more functional relationship between sales, marketing, and operations — with everyone aligned on goals, data, and metrics. It’s revenue nirvana!
Getting the entire team focused on common goals and a mutual understanding of what it takes to achieve them eliminates a lot of the traditional sources of friction. With a robust account-based strategy, everyone from marketing to sales to ops to customer success is working from the same playbook and toward the exact same goals. And research from Forrester (SiriusDecisions) shows annual company revenue and brand awareness increase by more than 8% and average deal sizes increase by more than 6% simply by having better team alignment.
Paired with the right technology, sales and marketing get the same view into which accounts are showing meaningful activity, where they are in their buying journey, and what efforts are working to get them moving through the funnel. With an account engagement platform that integrates seamlessly with your CRM, marketing automation platform, and web personalization tools, you’ve got your hands on a single source of truth across the entire revenue team.
What happens when you take the leap?
When revenue teams work through their obstacles to embrace a tech-fueled, data-driven, account-based approach, great things happen. The proof is in the pudding — or ROI, in this case. The companies that break old habits and jump into account-based with both feet see real, measurable results.
6sense customers know all about this hero’s journey and are seeing the results: a 35% increase in average deal value, 20% improvement in opportunity conversion rate, and a 20% reduction in deal cycle time when those super-savvy, super-aligned revenue teams focus on accounts identified by 6sense.
So if you’re in the “currently working on it” camp, let this be the motivation you need to push through your objections, win over hearts and minds, and go all-in on your account-based strategy.
You say you want a revolution, well, you know… we’re leading a movement. You in?
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