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Account-Based Confusion: Enterprise Edition

By Mark Ogne

Mark Ogne is the founder and CEO of ABM Consortium.

In our first conversation about Account-Based Confusion, “Don’t Give in to Account-Based Confusion,” we expanded on ways to simplify the view of what ABM is and how to approach the strategy. I received a ton of great feedback on how we described it, so I’ll start by sharing that again:

Every organization has a finite audience who can hear their value propositions better… find it more valuable… are willing to pay more for it… and need it faster. Simplifying the cacophony of confusion in the market, ABM is nothing more or less than the strategy to identify, target, interact, and close business with those companies.”

Today, I’d like to dive into what I see as the most significant opportunity in the ABM market, helping enterprise sales and marketing organizations break beyond this confusion and find their path to success.

Confusion starts when “best practice” conflicts with what you know to be true:

Am I supposed to select accounts based upon Intent Data or predictive analytics? If so, what do I do with all the others who will need my offering but aren’t yet in a buying cycle… ignore them?

Should I “surround” my target accounts with campaigns coming from all angles or should I focus on display ads? For that matter, how does any of this match up with my inbound programs and nurturing? What about my sales team and their activities and knowledge?

Speaking of sales, how do I get my sales team involved in these programs?

Then, if my ABM program starts to produce results, what do I deliver to sales… leads, or some type of qualification?

Oh, then after all these decisions, how do I measure success? Is it as simple as setting a rule that counts media impressions and website visits?

No, none of these are right, but all lead to one point… There’s a ton of confusion about ABM, and more questions than answers.

Most ABM “best practice” fails to make sense to enterprise sales and marketing leaders

Why? It’s simple. The core of these best practices is flawed for their reality. The majority of ABM platform vendors assume that all marketers are only trying to acquire net new leads. And, since they have no existing relationships at their target accounts, controlling account-based programs across sales and marketing systems has no value. So, they don’t do it. They solve simpler issues like sending more messages or generating website traffic.

While most marketers need leads and website traffic may be necessary, this advice doesn’t address the needs of enterprise organizations.

The reality for most enterprise organizations is that they have years of digital exhaust, representing prior interactions, with nearly all target accounts they have on their radar. These people are in untold numbers of nurturing flows, receive direct mail and BDR phone calls, and have periodic meetings with their sales team.

In this environment, cross-channel customer experience, or, control of sales and marketing messages across channels, is a primary driver of ABM success. Delivering another ad or buying a new platform to “surround” target accounts ISN’T the right answer because the addition of a new silo of activity is more likely to create audience confusion through mismatched content strategies and overmarketing.

Let’s take a step back

Let’s first pivot to an understanding of what the needs and challenges look like within enterprise companies, not just ABM bumper sticker slogans.

  • The three most challenging barriers to threaten ABM strategies: Measurement (connecting to revenue with “real” indicators), Coordination (between business units, with sales, and messages across channels), Agreement (Exec buy-in). (Demand Gen Report)

  • 70% need to show an impact on pipeline and revenue, and 67% need to prove ROI across all marketing… yet 48% can’t track activity or measure transitions across buyer stages, and 80% simply report on media and website activity (no connection). (Demand Gen Report)

  • 66% of marketing leaders identify personalization across customer experience as a priority… yet 86% can’t control personalization across two or more channels. (AMA)

  • Of the 18% of ABM programs that produce measurable, high revenue impact, 85% of them do three things consistently: They identify target account needs, they select content based upon those needs, they deliver that content with consistency across 2.5X the channels of lower-performing programs. This research was the key to our focus when we created the concept of ABM Orchestration. (ABM Consortium)

  • Programs that are responsive to audience needs, AND control this needs-based message across three or more channels, produce a 251% lift in engagement. (ClickZ)

There are real, tangible gaps in needs and objectives. These statistics back up my premise that ABM is primarily a data challenge, not a media challenge. Data strategy underlies measurement, personalization, cross channel orchestration, audience targeting, and customer experience.

Enterprise Sales and Marketing Priorities for ABM Success

I’ve been considering the application of enterprise ABM for a few years. Using this as a lens to view vendor offerings and case studies, I have found the following ABM capabilities as highly differentiated between enterprise and smaller organizations.

  • System Administration – the tools you use must be able to separate teams by their work, process, and execution, but must also be able to share data and learning, and deliver hierarchical reporting across these teams. This idea of multi-tenancy is critical. Without it, marketers face a crippling decision; either they co-exist in a conflicted platform environment, unable to separate program activities and share insights, or they need to purchase separate platform instances and suffer from the inability to recompile consistent reporting between teams.

  • Data management – within a tech stack, marketers need the capability to identify target accounts, campaign inclusion, and buyer interactions across systems. With this complete view, ABM transitions from a tactical silo to a strategy. Functionally, you need to onboard, organize, cleanse, map and append data from across existing sales and marketing systems. These systems include CRM, MAP, Intent, Predictive Analytics, data lakes, and external data like account firmographics and technographics, contact data, and audience identification.

  • Centralized account knowledge

    • Account needs, topics of interest, and stage of the buyer’s journey needs to be available to all sales and marketing systems. The “central nervous system” of your ABM program, this data asset is a core requirement to gain consistent content strategy across platforms and channels.

    • The means to target messaging must be a coordinated capability, regardless of channel or platform. This coordination of content approach is critical to unify customer experience and impact. Consider how antithetical this notion is to the debate among account-based advertising vendors who debate types of cookies… this decision cannot exist in individual execution platforms.

    • This knowledge needs to be adapted and become actionable at the speed of engagement. Even standard batch versions of AI will become irrelevant in this environment; they’re not fast enough.

  • Execution systems

    • Your ABM solution should be able to inform other systems how to act account-based, delivering the how, when, and what of your sales and marketing. This approach minimizes the likelihood of channel message conflict, forcing you first to examine content and campaigns for each target account before adding them to new streams of content. Start by first finding ways to include your existing delivery capabilities. For example, you shouldn’t need to train a team of BDR’s to use a new email platform if you already have one.

    • Triggered execution – If ABM is to reflect the changing needs of target accounts then top-down campaign strategies can perhaps only exist in very early stages of the buyer’s journey, where the expressed needs of a target account are unidentified.

    • Coordinated Orchestration across multiple channels – buyers interact with you across channels, so your account-based activities need to coordinate those interactions, holding consistent content strategies between them. Different than “surrounding” accounts using a campaign-based approach, this is about learning account needs and adapting your program to match audience needs.

  • Measurement – While a lot of reporting strategy is situation-specific, the core issue to solve is to analyze how target accounts do two things: 1) how they interact with your content across your sales and marketing systems; 2) how effective you are at advancing each account across your funnel or buyer’s journey stages.

ABM is all about properly managing your leads. Marketing and sales need to work together to deliver results. Find out how they can with “Do More with Lead Management.”

Read the guide.

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