Sales and marketing teams start their account-based sales (ABS) and account-based marketing (ABM) programs with strategic intentions.
They focus on their ideal customer profile. They target those that are in-market and those that should be showing intention. They’re watching those accounts that are trending and consuming their content.
But then things change.
All of a sudden ABM programs become tactical with a focus on leads and filling the pipeline. They take their eyes off the end goal, which should be revenue growth. They start worrying about how many touchpoints are sales and marketing hitting.
How much are we expanding our LinkedIn networks with target accounts? How many emails and Inmails are we sending? How many gifts did we send out through Sendoso? How many phone calls are we making?
While it may be more targeted, we’re still engaging in a bunch of “push” tactics. This is why:
- Sales and marketing teams are getting account-based awareness vs. account-based revenue growth.
- A recent ITSMA study shows that less than one-third of organizations engaging in ABM are experiencing significant business improvement.
- Sales and marketing teams are challenged to win with the 60% of accounts that see “no reason to change now” and those that are either stuck or falling out of the funnel.
Through the mini case studies below, you will see how sales and marketing teams need more strategic focus and strategic intention behind their ABM content, messaging, prospecting, and nurturing.
You will see how ABM was used to:
- Create $2M wins with an account that sales and marketing were “chasing” for more than five years with no results.
- Drive internal discussions and create a consensus in favor of an e-commerce firm.
- Change Sephora’s buying behavior, increase margin growth, and penetrate the C-suite
ABM Example 1: How wins were created with accounts that were previously unresponsive to both sales and marketing
Because of intent data platforms like Bombora and 6Sense, many sales and marketing teams are now focusing their account-based efforts on in-market accounts. While you want to chase the low-hanging fruit, the competition is also chasing the same 10% of accounts that are searching and open to buying. That means you will get smaller deal sizes as you will face pre-defined buying needs and price pressures.
You can get larger sizes with the 60% of the market that is stuck in the status quo if only sales and marketing would create the buying vision the “stuck” accounts need. However, as Brent Adamson and Matt Dixon show in The Challenger Sale, very few organizations are able to create that buying vision. They mention that only 14% of content and messaging is communicated in such a way to suggest a valid reason for a change.
For more than five years, Schneider National pushed out generic messaging around “better people, process and technology”. Sygma heard Schneider’s story from the competition before and they did not see their gaps and personal impacts for them to want to change. They did not see themselves in the “story” that was being told, which is why they ignored all outreach (social, email, live, and phone conversations) by sales and marketing. The content and messaging had no commercial impact on the buyer.
Schneider had the right contacts. Schneider’s VP of Sales was connected to Sygma’s VP of Logistics on LinkedIn. But sales did not have the right content and messaging to make a human-to-human connection. It’s why they needed to redesign profiles and content to show mid-market firms like Sygma how they were being underserved by their transportation management system (TMS).
Schneider needed to show how Sygma and other target accounts were being treated like the “middle child” by their service provider. They needed prospects to acknowledge both their gaps and the impacts to operations across the supply chain, the P&L, employees, KPIs, service performance, and customers.
Ultimately, Schneider needed buyer-centric profiles, content, and messaging that spoke to the human buyers (vs. “at” them) within key accounts they wanted to win, protect and expand. You cannot speak “to” human buyers if you do not have industry, company, rank/role, and personal relevance.
Unfortunately, most sales and marketing communications stop at the industry and company relevance and then we wonder why prospects do not respond. Once Schneider increased their relevance, Sygma and others started to pull business development through six-month sales cycles. Schneider was used to seeing 12–18 month sales cycles. Sygma became an account that will be worth $2M–$6M depending on how long Schneider retains them as a client.
Tip: Read how Schneider used ABM to also drive wins with Milacron, Vizio, and Treehouse Foods.
ABM Example 2: How an e-commerce firm used ABM to drive a buying consensus with a “stuck” manufacturer
In a recent Stop the Sales Drop podcast, Mark Stouse, CEO of Proof Analytics, told Eric Gruber that the analytics show that ABM has a greater impact at the middle and bottom-of-the-funnel than at the top.
Yet most organizations do not think about how they will strategically accelerate accounts toward revenue. They do not think about how they can use ABM to drive a buying consensus across the organization. In fact, Mark Stouse said that most ABM content and campaigns work against the objective of ABM as it promotes “self-interests” vs. “team interests”.
An e-commerce tech firm learned that there should not be a hand-off between sales and marketing once selling conversations begin. They used ABM to get conversations with a healthcare products firm that serves long-term care (LTC), skilled nursing, assisted living, hospice, and VA facilities.
This firm wanted to move from a traditional phone and fax sales system to a modern, self-service e-commerce platform. But, the firm has two sides of the business to support: new purchases which are in strong demand, and rentals. Our client’s software that was designed specifically to integrate with SAP’s ERP does not have the capability at this time to meet the needs of “rental” businesses.
Despite having a team-to-team call and seeing a demo, the executive buying team at the healthcare product firm was still hung-up on what to do with the rental business. They did not see the risks, costs, and impacts of choosing an e-commerce platform that sits outside the ERP but accommodates both sides of the business.
Sales tried having further conversations with the team. But the VP of IT acted as the gatekeeper and kept the distance between sales and the “buying team” that was collecting requirements in a vacuum and having internal conversations. Instead of giving the team time to make a wrong decision, marketing and sales worked together to create a consensus in their favor.
Content was created to show the effects of working with an “Outside SAP ⇨ In” platform like Magento and BigCommerce and how it would impact:
- Go-live time and performance
- The P&L beyond development costs
- Corporate initiatives as IT would be tied to the e-commerce projects for six to 12 months with the other platforms
- Margins as other platforms do not enable customers to segment customers and their pricing by profitability nor provide configurable products whose final features and prices are calculated in real-time by the customer
- IT operations after the go-live that would need to put “manual processes” in place as the ecommerce platform is not automatically synchronized and integrated with the ERP
- The sales team that will still need to focus their time on re-orders vs. driving new business
- Distribution, service performance, customers, and ongoing revenue
The healthcare products firm needed to see how their decision will have widespread impacts across the company and on customers. Marketing and sales worked together to ensure a “win” vs. taking a 50/50 chance that the buying team would make a decision in their favor.
Tip: Here is an article that helped sales and marketing create a buying consensus.
ABM Example 3: How ABM was used to create margin growth with Sephora
Even though revenue derived from existing customers account for 70.1% of total results, many service and technology firms are challenged with customer churn. There’s also a huge gap when it comes to penetrating new business units or in cross-selling/upselling.
The challenge lies with silos and the traditional handoff between sales, marketing, and account/customer success teams. In rare instances, do the three departments work together with shared common goals and metrics and execute jointly to win, protect and expand specific accounts. This provides a great growth opportunity for the teams to work together to not only identify the best margin and revenue growth opportunities but also help named customers “see” how you help them solve business problems in a way that increases their loyalty. In the mini-case study below, you’ll see how a client changed Sephora’s buying behavior.
Sephora’s warehouse and DC were not scaled to meet the needs of a fast-moving operation or the needs of their 2300 global stores and their e-commerce customers. For example, the manufacturer’s tech did not enable the warehouse to prioritize replenishment, which led to delayed orders, waves, and carrier moves.
They weren’t engaging in planned distribution where the warehouse knows how products will ship to stores even before it arrives at the warehouse. While they implemented automation for expected volumes, the company lacked fulfillment automation for surge demands caused by new, hot lipstick colors or holiday demand.
Driving this, most tech implementation consultants functioned like the manufacturers’ line workers: reacting, not proactively strategizing. Our client, a JDA implementation firm, kept receiving a shortlist of 30 pain points needing coverage within six weeks to go-to-market causing our client to build for “wants”.
Because our client was not having the right customer discussions, Sephora would treat our client as technicians and pay for man hours vs. strategic value that has higher profit margins and revenue growth. And Sephora would try to penny-pinch and negotiate on the number of hours and resources that would be needed for different projects.
There was no conversation involving our client in the go-to-market planning of new products or lines. They didn’t have the content, stories, and messaging to show how building for 30 software points, only seeing 5–8% of the entire picture is leading to missed details and requirements as there’s no visibility into pipelines, growth plans, customer-driven needs, and current/future operational bottlenecks.
They weren’t able to show the impact and how it delayed retail/e-commerce presence, wasted marketing dollars, increased days in inventory, slowed cash conversion cycles, missed customer shipments, and created out-of-stock conditions.
They weren’t able to show Sephora how the current reactive IT approach was allowing Ulta to beat them in customer loyalty and for Amazon to make inroads with the high-end beauty market as GTM time for new products and shades were increased by six months. Ultimately, they didn’t have messaging, content, and support for the “why evolve” conversation that needs to happen to change buying behaviors and expand profit margin and revenue growth.
Once the client was able to shift the customer conversation with profiles, content, and messaging that was designed specifically for the why change or why evolve conversation, they were able to change the client’s perception of the firm from “technicians” to “strategic partner”. Our client joined leadership in the planning stages.
They added value with processes that will show how changes would impact the warehouse, distribution, and transportation under different scenarios and allow the beauty retailer to adapt and scalably align with new system changes without disruption to stores or customers. With this added value came more profitable revenue growth that was stronger than trading dollars for hours.
Time to rethink how you’re using ABM
ABM should be used for more than just filling the funnel. It should be about getting accounts to revenue and existing accounts to greater revenue.
You’ve learned that ABM can be used to:
- Win with previously unresponsive accounts
- Accelerate “stuck” accounts toward revenue
- Protect Tier 1 accounts
- Change buying behavior
- Create margin growth
- Expand accounts with the greatest revenue growth potential
Now, your next step: learn how to rethink ABM for your next revenue opportunity.