B2B marketers are now actively reassessing where the best opportunities lie in the disrupted markets we face. What are the most profitable client problems that we can solve better than competitors; who has them and how can we leverage our strengths so as to reinforce our market position?
The challenges of B2B markets demand an outstanding sales and marketing strategy and executed process for marketing teams to succeed. ABM, Account-Based Marketing, may be the key. A recent LinkedIn survey found that 87% of marketers who measured ROI said ABM outperforms all other marketing investments.
Buyers’ budgets have shrunk and vendors must fight harder than ever for their attention and business. B2B clients will only purchase if they have a problem that needs solving and they are convinced that your organisation is the best one to do it.
The pivotal factor for B2B marketing in 2021 will be alignment – to align marketing and sales teams with confirmed market opportunity, within an engagement process that matches how buyers make real-world purchasing decisions today.
It means setting performance metrics and managing each stage of the sales and marketing process to meet sales targets; also to enable teams with the marketing agility to respond rapidly to a fast-changing business landscape.
Marketers need to align each sales and marketing process, system and activity so as to ensure that the programme is on target and nothing is wasted – neither time, attention nor budget – and everyone in your team knows exactly what they have to do to create and convert leads into profitable new business.
ABM is increasingly seen as the best way to achieve this – especially, but not only for high value and complex sales, with its targeted and personalised approach to sales and marketing planning and execution.
SiriusDecisions has reported that 91% of marketers that use ABM achieve a larger deal size, with 25% stating it as being over 50% larger – whilst 30% of marketers recorded an increase of over 100% in engagement with their C-level targets.
What is ABM?
The ABM approach is said to flip the traditional sales funnel – which is where you create lots of content, generate awareness of your service or product to a large audience and capture leads; then try to move prospects through engagement stages, losing some along the way, and hopefully, finally moving them to the bottom of the funnel, to make a purchase.
According to marketing research firm Forrester, fewer than one percent of all leads turn into customers. This means that 99% of what businesses are doing is not working.
Instead, ABM starts by identifying specific, high-quality accounts that match an agreed ideal customer profile. The task is then to develop a detailed understanding of the buyer organisation, its situation, problems and the opportunities for your business – as well as knowledge of each of the key contacts who make or influence the decision to buy or can block it. These can number as many as eight or more people, from experience.
The marketer’s goal is to define clearly delineated stages in the marketing and sales process: from targeting and engagement, through to designing the solution and getting customer agreement and then the ‘close’, and further client retention strategies. Each stage involves progressively qualifying the lead and nurturing the key contacts in the buyer organisation, based on information that is systematically elicited through research and dialogue – by phone, meetings and digital channels.
A prime benefit of the ABM approach is that it results in more focus on ‘best-fit’ buyers; and therefore less wasted time, fewer lost opportunities and high return on marketing ROI, Return On Investment. The strategy is especially valuable in the current business landscape, where the needs of buyer organisations have invariably changed; they are probably fewer in number in your market than in 2019, pursued by competitors who are as hungry as you are for their business.
What is ABM 2.0?
However, Account-Based Marketing has changed; it has evolved into the new ABM – or Account Based Marketing 2.0. It differs in a number of ways from the traditional, sales-led, key account approach. Now marketing takes overall management of the process, but still very much working and in alignment with the sales team, a key contributor in the strategy and tactical delivery.
There was a tendency with the sales-led approach that, over time, the top salesperson or people ‘go it alone’; they would sometimes see little or no need to share their contacts, prospect data or valuable market experience. They were meeting and surpassing sales targets and rewarded accordingly, so why involve marketing?
This often led to marketing teams working in the dark, unclear about what worked in their campaigns, because they lacked feedback from the sales team. So the results from marketing deteriorated and became ever more discredited in the eyes of sales.
Another consequence was that salespeople tended to neglect to record sales contact data in the CRM system, keeping their own separate spreadsheets of contacts. So there was poor transparency and metrics in the sales process, as recorded in the CRM. This was, and continues to be one of the main reasons why the majority of CRM system projects result in failure.
So sales and marketing alignment has often suffered with the traditional key account approach to ABM. Instead, marketing orientation is required to ensure that everyone in your organisation is fully aligned on how to deliver a consistent brand and message through everything that is communicated to each account, from first to last contact.
A further issue is that traditional ABM usually supports only outbound, direct marketing. But inbound activity has a vital role too, especially in generating positive market awareness, as the essential precursor to, and in support of direct sales contact.
Also, marketing through press and public relations and digital media campaigns is invaluable in getting market feedback and flushing out new opportunities, perhaps from unexpected sources or for new applications.
However, if sales need to adjust to ABM 2.0, marketers have to be prepared to change too. The measurement that matters is revenue and the assessed value of leads at each stage of the sales and marketing process. Subscribers and downloads, for example, are vanity metrics.
The new ABM ensures the delivery of consistent customer experiences. Using it, everyone in the organisation is then aligned with an agreed strategy and tactical plan as to how to deliver a unitary brand and core messages through everything that is communicated to each account.
Marketing’s role is to ensure consistency at each stage in the sales process through the production of the communication, collateral and toolset, such as automated digital communication, landing pages, videos, case studies and more.
The sales team will appreciate the new ABM: it will give them the platform to do what they do best.
Patrick Rea FCIM is Chartered Marketer and GDF Course Director, at the CIM, Chartered Institute of Marketing, the world’s leading marketing organisation.