ABM (Account-Based Marketing) is a high-stakes B2B prospecting strategy. To win more accounts through ABM, we need to move to the prospect’s side of the table to begin to really understand what they are looking for, how they are looking for it, and how they get things done. That, my friends, is profound competitive differentiation.

Thus, I’m going to start off with a customer story.

In my agency days, I worked on a large domestic automobile account, the agency’s largest account and greatest source of revenue. Part of the arrangement was a yearly account review.

So here we were around the conference table, on their turf, listening to the results of the review. We got high marks for our work, which was not a surprise. We got low marks on responsiveness, which was.

Our EVP leaned across the table and cut to the core. “We need to get back to basics. The problem is that we’re on Madison Avenue and you’re in Detroit. I want to rent space in your building,” he told the client. “I want to open a satellite office so our people are here when you need them.” And every one on our team sat back in their chair.

In retrospect, what pushed everyone back was being on the verge of a deeper definition of and commitment to value.

Compelling Value is Personal

Value is more than your product or service―that it “works” is table stakes. Value is more than answering your email and delivering to schedule. Value is more than a tight positioning statement or clever creative.

Value is getting under the skin of an organization and into the DNA of the people on the team. It’s understanding their personal and professional pressures and how they get things done. Value is helping them to do business.

Opening an office inside of our client’s headquarters gave us the ability to walk down the hall, to have coffee with them and really get to know the people. Walking down the hall turned us from agency guys to being part of the team. The responsiveness concern vanished.

Demonstrating this value is the basis of profound competitive differentiation. It’s how to win at ABM.

This deep dive used to be the wheelhouse of sales.

Would You Like to Talk to a Salesperson?

Actually, no.

And for the most part, neither does any prospect. There is a vast swath of statistics that say about 70% of the consideration journey takes place prior to engagement, and it is getting longer. We don’t have to be scientists to see if we can engage earlier, then we can walk down those same halls.

The priority is gaining indepth prospect intelligence through our willingness and investment in listening. Prospect persona research is designed to go beyond the obvious and generate the indepth understanding of the corporate and the individual and how they articulate their goals and pain. It provides illumination on learning behavior and generates insights into “how things get done.” Prospect personas also serve as rallying point for Sales and Marketing.

Two Steps to Taking ABM Where It Has Never Gone Before

This gives ABM two things it didn’t have before:

  1. In-depth prospect intelligence that comes earlier and provides greater insight.
  2. The ability to channel that prospect intelligence into consensus.

Driving Consensus by Identifying the Champion

We’ve noticed four trends in ABM:

  1. The consideration journey is getting longer.
  2. The decision-making process is becoming more complex.
  3. There are more executives involved in the process than ever before.
  4. The single biggest reason ABM fails is “no decision.”

The goal of doing all this is to win the business. In every buying center, there is an “internal mobilizer” who pushes for team consensus. Not unlike herding cats, this unofficial team leader is persuasive in meetings and correspondence to which prospective vendors are not invited (but often decides their fate).

This champion may change depending on the issue, problem, responsibility, or a host of other reasons. The point is to understand who is the champion and what makes them tick.

In recent win/loss ABM research, we were interviewing internal consensus champions to glean more “after the fact” insight, validate what our client learned in prospect persona research, and sharpen their approach.

We asked an executive from a win: “What was the most important benefit the company brought to bear? What aspect was most important to the sale?”

His response: “My salesman. He helped me, and our company, to get a critical problem taken care of.”