ABM’s Big Shift: Top Questions Buyers are Asking

March 26, 2019 By 6sense

It’s a new era in B2B buying and selling! ABM is evolving and organizations are scrambling to catch up to the big shift. But what does ABM mean today? It seems like everyone claims to be ABM technology. What does the new ABM landscape look like? You have a lot of questions and we have answers. Our CMO, Latane Conant, partnered with Meagan French, Founder and Chief Strategist of Lotus Growth to tackle the questions most frequently asked by buyers when looking at their ABM strategy and martech stack.

  • What should an account based process look like? How is this different than my existing lead-based process?

MF: Traditional inbound marketing is a broad-based approach where you’re trying to capture as much demand as possible to approximate your target audience. An account-based approach flips this paradigm. ABM allows you to hyper-focus and engage with your target audience so that more of these accounts convert to pipeline. I see ABM as the primary pipeline generating program for marketing. However, it should fit into a larger brand and awareness level activities.

LC: Companies that continue to have a lead funnel as their primary strategy are struggling. Having ABM as a “side program” doesn’t allow them to expand and scale because their foundation metrics, process, and technology are leads based. To truly adopt and scale ABM, the technology, process, and people need to shift to focusing on accounts and buying teams. 

Shifting to an account focus makes a world of sense when you consider how B2B buying has changed. Buyers are anonymous (no longer filling out your forms), they are fragmented (many buyers on the team across departments and geographies), and they are resistant (they don’t want to talk to sales until they are ready.) So we have to change the way we market and sell in order to be effective. 90% of the early stage research and buying journey is happening in a dark funnel. We have to uncover that activity sooner in order to reach those accounts and create opportunities. And we now have to look at the entire buying team and what their individual buying jobs are vs. one contact or lead. We also have to nurture this buying team along the journey with the right message, channel, and pace.

Bottom Line: Accounts and buying teams should become the unit of measure rather than leads. By prioritizing accounts that are entering the market and taking a hyper-personalized approach, ABM becomes the main pipeline generating program. 

  • Should I just pilot ABM without technology? How much do I need new technology to execute ABM?

MF: There are many platforms that can perform some basic ABM functions. However, many teams focus on the “engagement” piece of ABM without focusing on the measurement piece. You may actually be able to engage haphazardly with your target accounts, but without effective measurement and analytics, your team won’t be able to understand the efficacy of these programs or to iterate or scale.

LC: And it’s less about “technology” and more about great customer and prospect insights. Without an understanding of the buying journey (both the anonymous and known parts of the journey), you risk making “the shift”  but not picking the right pilot accounts. Insights are critical to creating your ideal customer profile, prioritizing which accounts to “pilot” ABM, and measuring the performance of various engagement channels. In fact, the recent TOPO 2019 Account Based Benchmark Report stated that Organizations with a strong Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)  achieve 68% higher account win rates. The ICP identifies the characteristics of accounts that are more likely to become valuable customers. The ICP is a critical element of an account based strategy that separates top-performing account based organizations from their peers.

Bottom Line: Capabilities such as predictive analytics and intent data are key components to your ABM technology. They ensure you create a strong ICP in order to pick the best accounts.

  • How does ABM technology fit with the existing technology I own?

MF: The difference between the success and failure in an ABM program could be the integrations with your existing tech stack.  The more complicated the tech stack, the more potential points of failure, and the more cycles your marketing team will spend on troubleshooting integrations. Having a unified tech stack ensures that your team is minimizing time trying to get systems to talk to each other, and spending more time on marketing.

LC: ABM provides an opportunity to rethink and optimize your tech stack. While the number of martec tools is still overwhelming, the number of ABM platforms is very small. Core functionality like intent data, segmentation, 3rd party contact and account enrichment, digital advertising, predictive analytics, and measurement are now available in a single ABM platform. If you are just starting to invest in technology there is no longer a need to buy 6+ solutions. If you have some of these things in place today, look for vendors who can provide key areas of your ABM strategy today but scale to provide more over time as you simplify your stack.

Bottom Line: Don’t become an IT shop. Figure out how you can consolidate several tools into one technology. And make sure your technology integrates with your other systems to create a seamless sales and marketing alignment.

  • How hard is deploying ABM technology?

MF: Deploying and implementing any new marketing technology requires some effort. The real question you should be asking is “what’s the opportunity cost of not pursuing an ABM strategy and sticking with the status quo?” While I can’t give you exact numbers for how ABM will impact your pipeline, I can tell you that according to the recent TOPO 2019 Account Based Benchmark Report, ABM is 76% more impactful than traditional demand generation.

LC: B2B sales and marketing teams need to consider the cost of doing nothing. Especially in light of the fact that buying behavior will continue to become more anonymous, more fragmented and more resistant. So the longer you wait to implement a strong ABM platform, the more behind you will become. Additionally, your competition is probably making the leap. Our clients see that ABM with 6sense is what gets them in the door first –  creating 40% more opportunities with better win rates and larger deal sizes.

Bottom Line: It will cost your organization more to not implement the right ABM technology.

  • Do I have the right roles to use the technology? How does ABM fit into my existing org? roles and responsibilities?

MF: I encourage all of my clients to think through the stakeholders and practitioners before implementing an ABM platform and strategy. However, it’s possible to get started with ABM and hire for the expertise once you get going. Bringing in an outside consultant for implementation and an initial launch can be a great way to “prove out’ an ABM strategy before hiring headcount around it.

LC: Like any new approach ownership is critical. We talk a lot about an ABM mobilizer – who is going to champion the approach, work cross-functionally as ABM requires, re-think technology, process, and measurement? It’s an exciting opportunity for up and coming marketing professionals. Mobilizers can have many different backgrounds – digital marketer, demand generation leader, marketing operations, BDR leader, or even field marketing.

Bottom Line: A good ABM platform is a partner in the implementation and execution process and will help ensure that you have the right resources in place to fully leveraging their ABM solution.

  • How do I align and stay up to date with sales?

MF: Sales alignment and buy-in should begin early in the process of evaluating an ABM platform. Because a good ABM platform should work on both the sales and marketing side, buy-in is critical. An ABM approach requires a cultural shift towards ongoing sales and marketing collaboration to nurture and close key accounts.

LC: A lot of the age-old sales and marketing friction exists because sales speaks the language of accounts and traditional digital marketing speaks the language of leads. Marketing’s traditional system of record the marketing automation system is designed for contacts and leads. Sales traditional system of record is built for accounts. This problem is exacerbated by both MAP and CRM systems designed for known contacts leads and accounts. As mentioned earlier 90% of modern buyers are NOT filling out forms and when they do it’s mickey mouse, leaving marketing frustrated with volumes and sales frustrated with quality.

Moving to an account based approach supported by modern systems designed for account-based marketing can do a long way in bridging the gap. It ensures everyone is on common ground wholistically looking at the account and activity across an entire buying team. With the right ABM platform and approach, marketing can deliver accounts that are a strong profile fit and in market to buy. Being able to give sales additional insights such as key personas to engage, detailed engagement history, and what those personas care about based on their digital research will enable the teams to target the right account, at the right time, in the right way. This is a dramatic improvement from passing MQLs. Of course, it’s not just the platform – communicating, metrics alignment, and account selection are pretty key too.

Bottom Line: The right platform should align sales and marketing and seamlessly work across your tech stack, creating unified goals, metrics, and account insights.

  • What is the expected ROI?

MF: Rather than thinking about the ROI of your ABM platform, consider the ROI of an overall account-based approach to pipeline. An account-based approach asks that your marketing and sales team focus on key accounts that can deliver maximum value to your organization resulting in higher average contact values (ACV). Deploying an account-based approach to customer success will increase the average lifetime value of a customer (LTV). I’ve had clients double or triple their pipelines generated year-over-year by honing in and perfecting an account-based approach.

LC: Increased qualified pipeline, better win rates, faster velocity, and larger deal sizes are consistent benefits to an ABM approach. The challenge is often making tradeoffs to invest in ABM technology since we don’t have infinite budgets. I suggest just looking at a few key use cases that you can execute quickly to determine ROI and ultimately how to “find budget” for ABM technology. For example, digital spending is usually pretty significant. With better insights, you can perform more targeted segmentation, create a stronger, more personalized message, ensure ads are served to those targeted segments/audiences, and easily track working media results. This alone pays for the technology solution and then some. Another good use case and budget area is Field Marketing. Take your next big tradeshow – when you use insights in advance to understand which of your key accounts are attending and what they care about, you can surround them with relevant messaging to drive them to your booth, parties, dinners, meetings, etc. Talking to accounts you care about is much more effective than hoping someone picks up a pen at your booth and turns into a lead.

Also, depending on your existing techstack, ABM platforms allow you to consolidate technology providing hard $ savings on license costs and soft $ ROI (better adoption, fewer integration efforts, less vendor management, etc.). 6sense customers are able to consolidate 6+ solutions over time to one ABM platform.

Bottom Line: Account-based is a strategic go-to-market decision delivering key board-level metrics. Respondents in the TOPO 2019 Account Based Benchmark Report indicate that account based improves customer lifetime value (80%), improves win rates (86%), and delivers higher ROI (76%) than a traditional go-to-market approach.

  • How are your customers measuring success? What metrics are tracked?

MF: An account based approach is a shift from measuring lead generation metrics to account engagement and account contributing to pipeline. Organizations that have mature ABM programs have given up MQL metrics for “marketing qualified accounts” or “MQAs.” After all, sales teams close accounts, not leads. An ABM approach demands that everyone align marketing activities and measurement around accounts.

LC: At 6sense, we agree the industry is moving to an account-based measurement model (MQA) rather than a leads based model (MQL). Similar to the way most companies derive MQL targets by looking at historical conversion rates from stage to stage, MQA targets can also be derived and tracked against a target. On the surface, it does not seem like a huge change – just swapping one set of metrics for another. However, the MQL paradigm is simply not set-up to credit, score or acknowledge anonymous behavior happening on-domain or off-domain.

In an MQA paradigm, the “scoring” model of engagements must get much more sophisticated to include account firmographics & technographics, lead & contact demographics, and known behaviors & anonymous behaviors on and off domain. In our experience, most marketing teams struggle to agree on basic lead scoring – which program successes should go to sales and which should not. It often comes down to competing opinions loosely justified with imperfect data. Adding another six layers of complexity will break you and your systems. The solution is a predictive model driven by AI. The model can learn and weight the account and lead/contact attributes and behaviors and provide an assessment of the funnel stage for an account. This provides visibility into the funnel before a lead even enters the system. This AI-driven account funnel becomes the replacement for the classic MQL funnel.

Bottom Line: Customers are measuring success based on ABM account engagement, pipeline created, win rates, and average deal size vs. non-ABM/focused accounts. According to TOPO, an account based strategy is extremely efficient at creating sales pipeline, compared to a traditional volume-based approach. This efficiency lets account based organizations focus on the most valuable portions of their addressable market and deliver critical business metrics at scale.

You are going to have a lot of questions as you move forward in your ABM journey and picking the right technology to help you achieve your goals can seem daunting. Check out these reports from leading Analysts that highlight necessary components of a successful ABM strategy and analyze top providers in key areas of ABM.

Request a Demo to learn about how the 6sense Account Based Orchestration Platform, powered by AI can help your business scale.

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