When it comes to account-based marketing (ABM), there is a lot of content you could consult. In fact, if you look up “account-based marketing” on Google, the search will generate over thirty-one million results. With this much information on ABM floating around, it can be hard to figure out where to begin. While it is true that, organizationally, each company will approach ABM differently, building a framework is a critical first step in creating a scalable and efficient program.
As the first full-time ABM practitioner at Evergage, I understand how daunting building an ABM framework for your organization can be. In developing our plan, we learned that there are many steps you need to take before you can effectively execute on account-based marketing activities. You need a deep understanding of where you are already seeing success with your existing marketing efforts, in addition to where you need to improve, so that you can focus on building a framework that is truly results-oriented. You also need to clearly communicate and emphasize how much value this program will bring to the business. Ultimately, with the right resources, proposal, and executive buy-in, building an ABM framework is worth the time and investment. It guides how you develop new processes and adapt old ones, as well as how you envision the program evolving over time.
With this in mind, I wanted to share 5 P’s – based on the various resources we’ve consulted and hands-on experience – that have helped us build an effective ABM framework. Those “P’s” are: prioritize, plan, partner, pilot, and produce. I will describe “prioritize” and “plan” in this post, and the remaining P’s in Part 2.
At first, it might seem counter-intuitive to put “Prioritize” before “Plan,” but strategically, it makes sense. In the context of building a framework, prioritization is critical in understanding what to execute against. You can’t plan activities to reach accounts if you don’t know which accounts to target. More specifically, according to SiriusDecisions, prioritization includes four different activities: assessment, opportunity identification, scoring, and account selection. For Evergage, this meant we needed to conduct analysis on our accounts, opportunities, closed/won, and closed/lost deals to decide which accounts were truly good targets for us going forward. In your own framework, it is crucial to outline what steps you are going to take in order to prioritize your accounts.
The foundational element in our framework is what’s commonly referred to as the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). There were two main tactics we utilized to build our ICP: quantitative and qualitative analysis. Our quantitative analysis consisted of evaluating which firmographic data (revenue, technology stack, industry, etc.) our most successful clients share. Qualitatively, we conducted cross-department interviews to understand what characteristics (propensity for learning new technology, curiosity, being results-oriented, etc.) are shared by our ideal customers throughout the sales and customer lifecycle, and how those types of behaviors affect our chances of long-term success with that customer.
Based on our findings, we built an ICP that we believed truly encompassed our “ideal customer.” Next, we reviewed the ICP with key stakeholders across sales and marketing and made a few minor adjustments along the way. This is a critical step: ensuring that both sales and marketing agree on the ICP. Without that, sales-marketing alignment won’t happen. If marketing believes an account fits the ICP but sales disagrees, what’s the point? Both teams need to collaborate on various activities against these target accounts, and each team needs to believe that these target accounts are worth going after.
Once we all agreed on the elements of the profile, we weighted each firmographic data point by importance and built an account-scoring model in our CRM to help prioritize potential accounts. While we are confident in the findings from our Ideal Customer Profile assessment, we also know that our ICP will evolve and will probably need to change as we mature as an organization. It is important to test and iterate certain elements of your framework over time.
Next, we began the process of determining how many accounts the new ABM program could support (to start) and which accounts it would be supporting. There are many vendors that can accelerate the account selection process through predictive modeling; however, we manually selected each of the ABM accounts based on their alignment to the ICP and the appropriate sales territory. Whatever process you decide is up to you, but make sure you share how you are going to select your accounts and why you are selecting them. Be as clear as possible.
Once you have an idea of how to prioritize your accounts, you must consider your plan of execution. In this stage, you are trying to answer some of the following questions: Who on your team is going to do what? When are they going to do it? How are they going to do it? And, of course — what does it all mean?
In A Practitioner’s Guide to Account-Based Marketing: Accelerating Growth in Strategic Accounts, the book’s authors, Bev Burgess with Dave Munn, state there are three types of ABM:
We are leveraging this model at Evergage. In our framework, we denoted what each tier is for and what kind of support each tier would receive. We also outlined who will execute on what activities at each level. We decided that, for our organization, we want to focus on Strategic ABM and, eventually, ABM Lite. We also concluded that we wanted to focus initially on prospects rather than clients. However, when describing Strategic ABM, Burgess and Munn relay that only 30% of marketers use Strategic ABM for target accounts. Rather, the majority use it to focus on current clients and upsell opportunities. Whatever you decide should be based on what goals you are trying to achieve with your program.
In this step, you should also include an overview of your marketing tech stack and the tools you intend to leverage to run your ABM activities. It’s also a great opportunity to indicate where you may need help (account selection, advertising, etc.) so that you can look to invest in that technology in the future.
We also have guidelines in our framework that specifically state which activities are owned by the sales team and which are owned by the marketing team throughout the prospecting and sales cycle. If you’re interested in learning more about the specific strategies, check out our eBook, The Most Important Part of Your Account-Based Marketing Strategy, which highlights the planning stages of ABM.
Finally, we included a section in our framework that outlines what each specific team member’s role in the ABM program is. This has helped significantly with alignment and transparency around program participation.
Prioritizing and planning are about aligning sales and marketing teams, defining an ICP, selecting target accounts, planning activities and establishing roles. But prioritizing and planning are just the first two stages of building an ABM framework. In Part 2, I’ll cover the remaining three stages: partner, pilot, and produce.