basketball play huddle

A professional sports team wins a championship. As the coach gives his speech he makes a point of summarizing the victory by saying “We just put it together as we went along.”

Of course not.

Behind every major win or championship is a lot of talent, hard work, and preparation (Plays). That successful, long throw from quarterback to wide receiver; that winning, cross-field kick from left mid-fielder to striker; or that last-minute half-court pass from point guard to power forward was not a chance occurrence. That play was designed to work in a certain situation to engage a specific audience. The team ran/tried that play repeatedly in practices until it felt confident in its success. In fact, many professional sports teams will practice plays four to five days in a week just to execute them in a game later in the week. This is how they prepare to win.

Unfortunately, when it comes to account-based initiatives, too many marketing and sales teams only put them together as they go along. Most put a lot of focus on account selection and content development—but then they typically drop the ball with minimal focus and effort on specific play development. As with professional sports athletes, marketing and sales teams must not only have a will to win, they need to have a will to prepare to win. Discipline, endurance, and prepared plays will better their chances of winning the contest.

“Never mistake activity for achievement.”
–John Wooden, legendary winning basketball coach, UCLA

Drawing Up the Right Plays

If you are new to Account-Based Everything (ABE) or Account-Based Marketing (ABM), the creation of plays can get overwhelming quickly as you create them for specific audiences, roles, personas, channels, actions/behavior, etc. You can literally have a play for everything.

Start out by focusing on plays that will drive engagement sooner than later down the pipeline. For example, let’s say you are running a display advertising campaign with Kwanzoo. You may want to have a play in your playbook that identifies those who engage with the ads after a couple of weeks and keeps them engaged by sending them a timely, personalized email with a compelling call to action. As they continue to engage, your play follows up the email with a Sales Development Rep (SDR) phone call.

Other initial, multi-channel plays may focus on:

  • Target prospect response from email
  • Target customer up-selling/cross-selling
  • Event/conference follow-up

You may want to begin developing your plays using a marketing automation platform (MAP) such as Marketo, Oracle Marketing Cloud, or Pardo, but as your plays become more sophisticated (dormant accounts, social media interaction, etc.), you will want to look at a platform such as Engagio with its Engagio Playmaker capabilities.

Let’s say your Marketing Ops team wants to send direct mail packages with bottles of wine to 200 targeted CEOs. Your CEO wants to follow up with personal emails to the CEOs. Your account executives want to engage with phone calls to the relevant Directors of Marketing. Others from your organization want to provide more human nurture. The broad and detailed coordination of these activities could be too much for your MAP. Engagio Playmaker can help make sure everything is well-orchestrated and no one is tripping over another.

Keep Your Head in the Game

As with those professional sports championships, the game can change all the time. Players, actions, and situations all affect the outcome of the game—creating opportunities or challenges. Here are some proven, yet often overlooked tips to help you win:

  • Keep your eyes on the ball: Know where you are in the game at all times. What should your team be doing right now? Which play is working? Don’t be afraid to call a time out. Just as the offensive and defensive teams need to be in sync so do the sales and marketing teams. Communicate and react. Share insights. That communication and insight may trigger a play change.
  • Keep adapting: Creating the right plays takes trial and error—and time. Despite your best efforts, what works well in practice may not work in the ABM game. Be prepared to adapt. Professional sports teams do not just use the same static plays every week. They introduce new or modified plays based on learnings. What works for one account or situation may not work with another. Keep auditing play performance.
  • Keep it simple: Some coaches (marketing and sales VPs) get drawn in to creating huge playbooks to try and accommodate every situation and audience. The efforts become far too complex and unproductive and parts of the team lose focus and ground. Start with a few core plays and build upon their success once the team has mastered them.
  • Keep track of the score: Maybe it is not the plays. Maybe no matter what you do it does not look like you are going to win that account. Or maybe the account is eating up too much of the clock and your time. You may lose that account but learn from it and apply what you learn into new plays.

Time to Win

You have a talented team. You have account-relevant messaging and content. You have selected your accounts and contacts. You have developed account insights. Now pull all that together and build some plays that work based on actions/behaviors, audiences, or channels. Have a handful of plays for each stage of your flipped funnel and go from there. Once you have your core successful plays it is easier to modify them for other situations. This is where your hard work across various processes, teams, channels, etc. all comes together. You have to invest the time here now if you want to see the payoff and wins later.

“Success is Where Preparation and Opportunity Meet.”
–Bobby Unser, famed race car driver