ABM playbook

“It’s physical-first.”

“It’s long tail, grind-it-out relationship building.”

“You’re not spending money on media, you’re spending money on meeting spaces.”

This is how an award-winning, tier one ABM play was described to me at the IT Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) “Marketing Vision” summit in early November. The relationship-focused, low scale, highly customized series of events had this digital native scratching her head. No bulk email communication? No targeted ad buy? How could this be?

Yet, as the 2-year long, thought-leadership and innovation event focused play was described to me – it became clear that that events tactics used to initiate the relationship were designed to align with the buying center of this strategic account. Each element was highly choreographed: the type of information they liked to receive (provocative thought leadership), through the channel they trusted most (peers and subject matter experts), in a setting that would command their attention (executive briefing).

Account-based marketing is truly the child of marketing and sales alignment – so much so, that our friends at Engagio coined the term “Account-based Everything” to more accurately describe what happens in an account-based approach. In the scenario above, marketing and sales were together known as playmakers who worked in such close concert with one another that it was nearly impossible to determine where one function stopped and the other began. After all, when one account means the difference between your company staying in business or not – nobody has got time for a turf war.

While the example above is an extreme, the ABM play can take on many forms (digital included – thank goodness!) based on the play’s specific objective. In a programmatic scenario, technology plays a much more significant role in communicating personalized, relevant content at scale. While the execution may lean slightly more toward marketing or sales depending on the skill sets required, both functions move in tight alignment with one another for the life of the play.

Therein lies the difference between a traditional marketing program and a coordinated play. Marketing programs are executed in traditional demand creation scenarios – where there is a more deliberate hand-off of demand from marketing to sales. Marketing lays the foundation, and sales puts up the house. Marketing shops for the fabric, sales makes the dress. The sequential nature of activities allows some level of separation. At best, you have coordinated functions who are on the same page. At worst, you have ships passing in the night.

In contrast, there is no room for misalignment in a play. None.

Below are some other key differences between a play and a program:

  • Entity focus – Traditional demand creation marketing programs take a “leads first” approach to targeting – using firmagraphic attributes like industry or job role to enhance relevance. Marketing plays also communicate to the individual, but use an account-centric approach to targeting, using inferred attributes that help identify job role as well as the role in a buying center within the overall account.
  • Customer Insights – While an insight-lead approach to traditional demand creation has been shown to boost response – one could argue that it’s still considered optional for marketing and sales organizations that are structured by product. However in ABM, customer insights are the very foundation of each play design. True account-based marketing and sales require deep, comprehensive research to identify the internal and external factors facing their target accounts. This knowledge establishes a solution as a credible source, and creates more relevant conversation with the buying center.
  • Success Criteria – Traditional demand creation focuses (somewhat frivolously) on classic marketing attribution. Typically, we’ll see successful outcomes of marketing tactics aligned with opportunity value to determine things like marketing sourced and marketing influenced revenue. Account-based marketing plays can sometimes run over 12-18 months and involve hundreds of marketing and sales interactions, making any accurate attribution impossible! Instead, influence becomes a better measure of success. Are there certain marketing interactions that are correlated with successful sales outcomes or desirable deal attributes? Are certain tactics associated with things like shorter time to close, larger deal size, or better account coverage? These correlations show whether or not the play activity is successful.

Playmakers are associates from the marketing and sales function that work together to achieve the unique goals of an account-based marketing and sales approach. Although the entity focus, the need for customer insights, and the success criteria also differ between a program (or campaign) and a play – the difference between the two is underscored by the simultaneous, mutual interchange between the two functions.

What are some other reasons that the marketing program (or campaign) differs from the account-based play in your organization?