Account Based Marketing is not as simple as it sounds. ABM initiatives fizzle for four common reasons that you can avoid. To achieve the many promised benefits of ABM, enterprises should commit to fundamental changes in process, technology, and training.
However, when asked about top priorities for ABM in 2020, survey responses did not completely align with challenges. Instead, participating executives showed intention to focus on Execution, Data Quality, Alignment and Measurement in that order.
Why is “Lack of ability to execute” the challenge that rose to top priority? Perhpas because no one is quite sure what good looks like… ABM is still evolving, and the goalposts keep moving. As I pointed out in a recent blog, “ABM technology is not a silver bullet.” Purchasing a robust software solution does not guarantee that your employees will know what to do with it.
Skill-building should come before and during ABM technology implementation. Technology providers will, of course, argue otherwise. But what good is an expensive vehicle if no one can drive it? Consider starting with the tools you’ve got, pick some spot solutions as your program matures, and go full-funnel when your MarTech can’t keep up.
Based on “ABM Execution’s” place at the top of the priority list, it seems executive understand that skill-building comes first.
2 DATA QUALITY
According to Demandbase, “Data quality is holding ABM back from success…Contact and account data quality is an issue that has plagued the success of digital marketing programs since the invention of CRM.” This may be why Demandbase acquired Engagio, which has superior customer journey and attribution tracking capabilities. It’s certainly why executives participating in their ABM Market Research study ranked Data Quality as the number one challenge and second priority after Execution.
Many blogs have been dedicated to the data quality, but ABM has a few specific problems:
Poor record-keeping in your CRM system of record. Garbage in, garbage out. Upgrade your key-account data quality, consolidate activity histories from various databases, append and cleanse account data, and hold your staff responsible for accurate, comprehensive, and timely system updates.
Interoperability between core systems and tools used by Marketing & Sales. Wherever possible, create bi-directional syncs between your CRM, MAP, and all peripheral sales and marketing tools. What good is a great ABM marketing program if the BDRs using Sales Loft cannot incorporate the data into continuous conversations?
Understanding of baseline performance data before setting lofty ABM goals. Benchmark your performance data. Know your baselines for inbound and outbound marketing tactics. Set modest goals for ABM in year one and two. Do not arbitrarily set a goal of 30% revenue increase without benchmark attribution numbers from last year.
3 SALES & MKTG ALIGNMENT
When Demandbase asked companies to rate their sophistication across the five core parts of an account-based approach, executives gave these responses in order of strongest to weakest:
Marketing and Sales Alignment
Establishing a Unified Account Foundation
ABM Content, Web Personalization & Ads
Running ABM Plays
Measurement of ABM
Executive perception of alignment between Marketing and Sales may be wishful thinking. In our experience, ABM initiatives succeed when driven top-down across the company. They fail when Sales thinks ABM is another Marketing trick to make them do more administrative work. They also do not succeed when a small marketing team (sometimes just one person) tries to do ABM “on the side.” ABM must be a commitment on both sides.
ABM requires senior executive commitment and sponsorship across all Marketing and Sales functions. Some best practices include:
Assign an executive leader/sponsor to the ABM initiative. That sponsor was the CEO, CMO, or Head of Demand Gen in >60% of successful enterprises surveyed. Authority and ability to influence matters.
Actively work (top-down) to communicate the initiative and reinforce strong cross-functional alignment.
Invite Mktg/Sales leaders to participate in an ABM Council tasked with implementing a pilot.
Get agreement with Council on the goals of the ABM initiative and pilot program.
Schedule regular KPI reporting and progress reviews with ABM Council.
Create milestones on the roadmap when practices from the ABM pilot can be expanded and converted to standard operating procedures.
Along with Data Quality issues, many companies have associated gaps in their Lead Management processes. In particular, lead scoring models are often inadequate to identify Marketing Qualified Accounts (MQAs) accurately. Account Engagement Scoring (AES) is an important practice because it triggers activity more quickly when intent is evident across several key-account contacts.
The ABM Council recommended in the previous section is the appropriate place to review and improve lead management processes, definitions and hand-offs for target accounts. Here are some additional concepts the Council should define and decide together:
Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)
Account Data & Hierarchies (Tiers)
Lead Matching and Contact Linking
Buying Center/Committee Profiles (BCPs)
BCP Journey & Campaign Development
Orchestration – Cross-Team Plays
Attribution Assessment and ROMI
In Demandbase’s study, participating executives who described having full, mature ABM programs placed “Measurement” as top priority, with Execution moving to second place. Because what gets measured gets done.
In summary, ABM can be game-changingly-effective but it’s not easy. Successful ABM requires skill-building, data enhancement, top-down sponsorship and cross-functional commitment.
Diagnosing ABM readiness from the inside isn’t easy. The Pedowitz Group specializes in guiding enterprises through ABM readiness and implementation. No matter where you’re starting, from preparing to planning to piloting, TPG’s ABM consulting solutions can move your program forward.
My premise was that the thought leadership produced by the hundreds of ABM software vendors gives the impression that ABM is all about the software. In fact, companies that are just beginning their ABM journey should start with the tools they’ve got, pick some spot solutions as the program matures, and go full-funnel when your MarTech can’t keep up.
However, if your organization has a mature ABM program, a silver bullet may indeed have arrived. On June 16, Demandbase announced the acquisition of Engagio. The combination of these top full-funnel ABM providers should create “software to strive for”. Since DemandBase’s strength has always been data management and enrichment, and Engagio’s has always been measurement and analytics, the combination should be hard to beat.
Each platform captures and attributes data differently, the combination of which has great potential. Demandbase claims to use a proprietary IP data algorithm PLUS cookie targeting, allowing intent-driven insights driven by AI with machine learning. Engagio claims to be best at lead matching, analytics and attribution using both IPs and cookies. The blend potentially adds up to an unbeatable account tracking capability.
You may be ready for a Full-Funnel ABM Solution if your existing MarTech is stretched to the limit in these key areas:
Account and Contact Selection
Account Insights / Intent Tracking
Content Management / Personalization
Sales/Marketing Engagement Orchestration
Performance / Attribution Assessment
Be deliberate in selecting a Full-Funnel solution. With the combination of Demandbase and Engagio, it may make sense to start due diligence there. But there are other choices, each of which will claim to have the exact functionality your company needs. That’s up to you to determine – make sure your purchase criteria are specific. Also be sure to involve stakeholders from Marketing, Sales Development and Field Sales so that everyone wil buy into the decision. Otherwise you’ll have an expensive subscription without broad adoption.
ABM vendors may be telling you that their software is essential to get started. But here’s an idea: Start with the tools you’ve got, pick some spot solutions as your program matures, and go full-funnel when your MarTech can’t keep up.
Try this experiment at home (since that’s likely where you are this spring).
Type “Account based marketing” into Google’s search field.
Count all the ads. How many are from ABM software vendors?
How many Complete, Ultimate and Definitive guides are offered? Also produced by the tech vendors?
How many blogs? Were they written by SMEs working for the tech vendors?
Look at the second and third search pages (novel idea, right?). More ads?
All this might give you the idea that ABM is all about the software. Even the industry associations, ISTMA and TOPO, are featuring proprietary pay-to-play research, much of which describes how technology can improve your ABM program. So it might even seem like the right software would be an ABM silver bullet.
There are hundreds of SaaS solutions that can help your company improve its account data, identify unknown prospects, predict intent to buy, automate targeted advertising, visualize attribution reports and even personalize content delivery. Depending on which site you reference, there are >200 vendors who would love to tell you about their ABM solutions. Many of these claim to be “full funnel” providers (one-stop shops).
So the question becomes: How does a company pick?
Or maybe the question is: Do you really need to pick?
The answer is, of course: It depends. Maybe you can start with the tools you’ve got, pick some spot solutions as your program matures, and go full-funnel when your MarTech can’t keep up.
You Should Start Low-Tech if you have not yet met ABM Readiness Requirements:
Even if your company has these Requirements nailed, you may be able to ramp up an ABM program using just your core MarTech stack. The major Marketing Automation Platforms, combined with Salesforce, provide 80% or more of the functionality you’ll need.
You Should Pick Spot Solution Software if that other 20% is conspicuously absent. For example:
Your customer data is so fragmented or incomplete that you can’t identify a robust Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) or accounts like it.
Automated advertising and content syndication have proved to be a strong source of prospects from your target companies.
Many of your potential targets are unknown or coming through social media channels – and you need to identify them and understand their intent.
You may be ready for a Full-Funnel ABM Solution if your existing MarTech is stretched to the limit in these key areas:
Account and Contact Selection
Account Insights / Intent Tracking
Content Management / Personalization
Sales/Marketing Engagement Orchestration
Performance / Attribution Assessment
Picking a Full-Funnel solution won’t be easy. Every vendor will claim to be complete – or to have the exact functionality your company needs. Start with the big players and put them through their paces. Make sure stakeholders from Marketing, Sales Development and Field Sales get to participate in the selection process and buy into the decision. Otherwise you’ll have an expensive subscription without adoption.
If you didn’t check all the prerequisites – or want to start without investment – consider a phased approach to ABM.
A good phase one is to build your ICPs, BCPs and CXPs (read our blog for help with the acronyms). In other words, identify your ideal customer profile and accounts like it, understand the buying center personas within those ICPs, and create orchestrated journeys for each. This will maximize the customer experience for key clients while you work on more advanced ABM tactics and techniques.
To optimize your approach and returns, consider working with a strategic consulting team like The Pedowitz Group to design and implement a phased roadmap. Like most things in life, ABM isn’t an “all or nothing” proposition. Your path to increased key-account revenue will be different than the next enterprise. Just Remember: There is no ABM software silver bullet. Success comes from a strategic roadmap and disciplined rollout.
Diagnosing ABM readiness from the inside isn’t easy. The Pedowitz Group specializes in guiding enterprises through ABM readiness and implementation exercises. No matter where you’re starting, from preparing to planning to piloting, TPG’s ABM consulting solutions can move your program forward.
Account-based Marketing can mean massive change for enterprises. But it can also start as a modest initiative. Explore three ways enterprises can take small steps towards big change.
Lesson 1: Identify Your Ideal Customer
Signs your Enterprise isn’t ready for ABM
ABM concepts that any Enterprise can use to get ready
How to Identify your Ideal Client Profile (ICP)
ABM has become an enterprise buzzword during the last decade, so you probably know the definition. But according to ISTMA, who coined the term, ““Account-based marketing (ABM) is a strategic approach to designing and executing highly-targeted, personalized marketing programs and initiatives to drive business growth and impact with specific, named accounts.”
According to Engagio’s 2019 ABM Market Research Report, about 75% of B2B companies have piloted or started building out an ABM program, but less than 5% have had a program more than 2 years.
As many of these enterprises have discovered, ABM requires a lot of preparation. Here are some of the signs your enterprise isn’t ready for full-on ABM:
Undefined market – trying to sell to everyone
No MAP or full ABM Tool – or many unconnected instances
Marketing competency at one-off emails or drip campaigns only
Focus on only one stage of buyers journey – little to no content otherwise
Inability to track and manage leads through your pipeline with attribution
Disregard between Marketing & Sales – serious silos
Can’t get Sales to participate
Can’t get Leadership to sponsor
After seeing that dealbreaker list, you may be wondering if your organization is ready for ABM. No worries, any enterprise can you benefit from key ABM concepts. Here are three important ABM concepts that can benefit your company while addressing three of the most difficult dealbreakers
Undefined Market – Identification and increased personalization of ICPs
Focus on Only One Stage of the Buyers Journey – Coordinated BCP Journeys within ICPs
Disregard between Marketing and Sales – Orchestrated Marketing and Sales Plays
Let’s dive into the first ABM concept: Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). An ICP is a detailed description of a prospective client that would benefit greatly from your product or service and therefore generate significant business value. It’s basically a yardstick that you hold all your accounts up to so you can determine which to cultivate with personalization.
To arrive at your ICP, consider your company’s best clients: attributes such as industry, size, location, current and future profitability, and which are the easiest and best to sell to. If you don’t have enough data to judge, you probably need to improve your customer intelligence that before launching into ABM.
Example from a Vendor Seeking to Sell a Check Fraud-Detection Solution to Big Banks:
Many enterprises know their target industries but have undefined markets within. Marketing may be trying to sell to sell to the total addressable market – when Sales knows that some clients are worth more effort than others.
By identifying your ICP and targets like it, Marketing and Sales can focus on the key accounts. But that’s not as simple as just asking a few seasoned sales guys who the key accounts are. Here are some steps to follow:
Create a top ten list of customer accounts in each of the following categories:
Best to sell to
Longest lifespan and LTV
Weight each based on the following criterion:
Industry you have the best track record with
Geography you can support best
Annual revenue & growth potential
Likelihood to need your profitable products
Technology they use
Level of technology maturity
Number of Employees
Size of customer base
Length of their sales cycle
Do the math. The account with the highest score is your ICP or yard stick. Others may be close runners up. You may discover that you don’t know enough about some accounts to hold them up against your ICP, in which case data enrichment may be required. But you’ll have your ICP yardstick.
Next time we take a look at how you can create personalized journeys for key players within your ICPs. Many companies choose a mixed-tier approach in which they handle a top few accounts with white gloves and the rest with some degree of personalized marketing. Your path to ABM will be unique, but taking the first step is critical.
Lesson 2: Carry On Multiple Conversations
Understanding buying committee personas (BCPs) within your ICPs
Creating coordinated BCP Journeys – the right message at the right time
Personalizing BCP messages
Once you have identified your company’s Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and have assessed institutional knowledge about potential target accounts, use both to weight the strongest contenders into tiers. Those with a good ICP match and lots of institutional knowledge may warrant a strategic ABM approach. Conversely, the less you know about an account, the more traditional your marketing approach should be.
The Styles of ABM…
Traditional marketing for named accounts
Programmatic ABM for one-to-many marketing, often customized by industry
Scale ABM for one-to-few customized marketing to key roles in your top 100 accounts
Strategic ABM for one-to-one personalized marketing to your top 10 accounts and key contacts therein.
Many companies start with a mixed-tier approach in which they handle a top few accounts with white gloves and the rest with traditional or programmatic marketing.
After you have identified your target accounts by tier, then you should consider roles within those targets. Buying Committees or Centers are common in enterprises preparing to make large investments. Each participant has a committee role to play and needs decision-making information tailor to suit. Because another acronym is always nice, we’ll call these roles Buying Center Personas, or BCPs. T
While the Champion who got you in the door may require constant nurturing, other BCPs may come into play at later stages and need specific information. For example, Security and Compliance ratifiers may need product specifications in various formats.
Though Revenue Marketing is an infinite customer experience loop, a more linear view (like the chart below) may assist with planning by helping stakeholders visualize the journeys within a buying committee. Consider taking some experienced Marketing and Sales stakeholders through an exercise to model the journeys. This will help clarify when BCPs participate and what information/content needs each has. You may discover a need to create more stage-specific content or to develop several similar but distinct campaigns running in parallel.
Finally, consider which type of content and which channels will be most effective for each BCP. A template like this can help you prioritize content development based on value and effort.
Example: this electronics retailer knows that to reach potential Champions at target account Acme in the Manufacturing industry while they are in consideration stage, they will need to produce a variety of materials and use multiple channels. They will then need to map this outreach alongside any campaigns planned for their BCP peers in other roles.
Each BCP journey may be different but should be coordinated to work together in order to maximize the account opportunity. Personalization plays an important role here. Instead of sending the same content to each person you think is on the buying committee, consider tailoring the copy as well as content offers. Acknowledge each BCP’s pain points, role and information needs. If possible, offer custom content. A Champion or Decision Maker may respond to a recorded webinar with an introduction for their company or an eBook with a custom cover letter and highlighted sections. A technical or security ratifier might need both design specs and implementation use cases. Procurement and Legal may work best when you offer your documents on “their paper”. Targeted media should support these messages.
Sometimes contacts hold multiple BCP roles and could receive overlapping touches, so account monitoring is crucial. Sound like a lot more work than “batch-and-blast”? With tools like dynamic content, program cloning and DAMs, personalization no longer means starting from scratch on each version. But expect personalization to take more and more internal bandwidth as you hone in on your ABM target accounts. Personal conversations take more time, but they are worth their weight in lifetime value.
Lesson 3: Play Together Nicely
Understanding your customers’ experience (link to my previous blogs)
How Orchestration / Sales plays lead to a better CXP
Other questions to explore before diving into ABM
This blog series describes some important ways in which enterprises can benefit from ABM concepts without going all-in:
Identify Your Ideal Customer – Create your ICP and use it as a yard stick. Hold all your accounts up to it and tag the most ICP-like for personalization.
Carry On Multiple Conversations – Plot concurrent buying journeys for buying committee personas, including which assets each BCP will be offered and how.
Play Together Nicely – Orchestrate cross-functional sales plays between Marketing, Inside Sales and Field Sales.
For the purposes of exploring the third concept, let’s consider the customer experience. Imagine that Marketing taken it upon themselves to identify key BCPs within key accounts and has nurtured each according to their information needs. Then an unaware BDR or Field Sales rep calls the account for a random conversation. Or an event presentation contradicts the communications. Does that look coordinated to the customer? Not so much. My blogs on Customer Experience explain how dire that disconnect can be. Hence the third ABM concept you can and should consider: Orchestration.
Coordinating cross-functional plays for key ICP accounts creates the optimum customer experience. In orchestration, each client-facing internal team has a role to play in moving the BCP journeys forward. Marketing, Sales and Sales Development all have assigned touchpoints and they must be coordinated so that the conversation is continuous. Kick-offs and regular touchpoints can be an effective way of making sure all teams are rowing together.
Events are a good place to start orchestration. Touches may range from personalized emails to custom LPs to onsite hosting to personal follow-up. To be most effective, these touches need to be well staged and well executed.
It’s a good idea to map out touchpoints and tools so everyone is clear about their role. For example, many SDR teams like to use cadence marketing tools such as SalesLoft and Outreach. That’s fine so long as their scripts match the marketing messages, support the journeys and follow campaign timelines. The last thing you want is an SDR calling a key account BCP about something totally irrelevant. Same goes for Sales handling after the SDR handoff. The idea is to play together.
To conclude, many enterprise leaders think that ABM is as simple a picking their best accounts and giving them extra marketing and sales attention. But here’s a partial list of questions you might want to ask internally to determine if you’re ready for full blown ABM.
Does your company have a MAP synched with its CRM?
Does your company target its sales efforts at a known/defined set of companies?
Does your company design different campaigns for key segments or personas?
Does Marketing deploy multi-touch, multi-channel campaigns?
Does your company have content directed at different targets?
Does your company have content directed at different stages in the buying journey?
Do Sales and Marketing collaborate to create and close key opportunities?
Can you track Target Account Pipelines across Marketing and Sales?
Will Sales and Marketing leadership sponsor and participate?
If it seems like your organization might need more time to get ready, consider starting with the three concepts we’ve explored in this series: ICPs, BCPs and Orchestration. Moving forward with these three ABM techniques will help your company prepare for ABM’s many benefits, including maximum lifetime value from your best accounts.
About the Author
Lorena Harris is a Senior Strategist with The Pedowitz Group, joining after VP-level positions at several Fortune 500 companies. She specializes in designing roadmaps for change across marketing operations, programs and campaigns. The content referenced in this blog was developed while in the employ of The Pedowitz Group and is therefore their product.
As we discussed in part 3 of this series, even the largest and oldest companies are facing a new B2B selling environment where “old school” marketing and sales just doesn’t work anymore. Instead of talking TO your prospects, you need to listen to what they want. Instead of hitting leads with more disjointed messages, you need to deliver the right information at the right time in the right channel. Continuing to sell from the Inside-Out won’t work. Brands must learn to sell from the Outside-In.
What happens to companies that resist change? Let’s take a look:
In CXP Lessons 1-3 we looked at an unfortunate company called Acme. They were industry leaders but are now seeing competitors eating away at the prospect and customer bases. Why? Acme has failed to deliver the experiences that customers now require. Instead of delivering relevant information at the appropriate time, Acme blitzes prospects with unrelated emails and poorly-timed sales calls. They fail to understand customer buying needs, instead walking them through traditional funnel stages. At Acme, it’s about what they want to sell and when, not what the customer needs.
If Acme’s story sounds familiar, it’s because we all regularly engage with companies that have out-moded customer experience (CXP) models and out-of-date marketing tactics. They haven’t figured out how to get with the CXP program! The good news is – many companies have successfully transformed. The bad news – it’s a big job. But consider the cost to your company’s future if your approach to CXP doesn’t change from Inside-Out to Outside-In thinking.
As the global marketplace changes, many companies are recognizing the need to evolve not just their marketing tactics, but the many ways they interact with prospects and customers. What used to work for them is no longer effective as competitors employ newer tools and techniques to nurture, sell and serve clients. Systems, data, and processes must be integrated in order to enable a Revenue Marketing model that is based on continuous, personalized communication.
But lip-service doesn’t make it so. Real changes are required to get to Revenue Marketing and the optimal Customer Experience. Executives must clearly communicate the CXP vision, functional silos must be bridged, systems must be integrated, and data must be used in the service of customer engagement.
Focusing on the customer’s experience versus your standard procedures will evolve your customer relationships to a new level. As you move towards Revenue Marketing, your customers will experience fewer disjointed communications, more relevant and timely information, and offers that enable their own growth and revenue. They will purchase, buy more, renew, and even advocate. You’ll see breakeven, profitability and maximum life-time value.
If your marketplace is changing without you, it’s time to commit to CXP. As in all of life, profitable long-term relationships require personal two-way communication and commitment.
As we discussed in part 2 of this series, even the largest and oldest companies are facing a new B2B selling environment where “old school” marketing and sales just isn’t as effective. Companies that talk TO their prospects instead of listening and working WITH them are starting to lose out.
Large B2B corporations are often filled with silos. Corporate marketing, product marketing, sales development, field sales and other groups may all be talking TO prospects and customers without regard for the overall conversation. A lot of disjointed noise doesn’t make for a great customer experience, and prospects are screening it out.
One of the outcomes can be loss of pipeline. Companies that still think in terms of sales funnels are surprised when the expected opportunities don’t fall out the bottom. Often their response is to push Marketing to pour more leads into the top.
What happens when the funnel starts failing? Let’s take a look:
Company X – let’s call them Acme – has always focused its marketing and sales efforts around “the funnel.” They see the world in terms of Marketing Leads, Sales Leads, Opportunities and Customers. Of course, Sales doesn’t always value Marketing Leads, and Marketing efforts aren’t always in tune with what Sales is trying to sell. But the execs look at the funnel metrics religiously to see how many leads are making it through. Recently the velocity has slowed, and more leads are falling to the floor. Naturally, Marketing is pressured to make it rain and big campaigns are planned. But like many companies, Acme doesn’t have a way to measure effectiveness. Funnel results are their metric. How can they match their efforts and metrics to customer needs instead?
If Acme’s story sounds familiar, it’s because we all regularly engage with companies that have outmoded customer engagement models. Instead of considering prospect needs, they toss leads into an artificial funnel or buying stage path and see what comes out the other side. These companies don’t realize that more isn’t always better. As customers, we’d all like to see fewer but more relevant emails and no obvious break in the conversation when Marketing hands off to Sales.
This scenario often occurs in mature companies struggling to evolve as their market changes. Tactics that used to work for them are showing signs of age. Newer technologies and tools are giving their competitors better ways to nurture and sell clients. They know they must integrate systems, data, and processes in order to enable aRevenue Marketing model based on continuous communication (an infinite loop). But their funnel approach is familiar and change is hard.
Companies like Acme must refocus their efforts on the long-term versus the immediate sales need. Instead of spraying emails, Marketing learns to nurture prospects with stage-appropriate offers based on their interactions – the right message at the right time in the right format and channel. Likewise, Sales learns to engage at the right time, tailoring their approach based on activity history. Campaigns feature cross-functional plays and all customer touchpoints become orchestrated.
If your prospects are not fitting into your funnel, consider changing your model. As you move away from one-sized-fits-all marketing towards personalized messages, your customers will experience fewer disjointed communications, more relevant and timely information, and offers that enable their own growth and revenue. They will purchase, buy more, renew, and even advocate. You’ll see more opportunities, greater profitability and maximum life-time value.
As we discussed in part 1 of this series, much of today’s B2B selling cycle happens online without human interaction. When done right, the brand delivers a clearly-defined experience driven in large part by the customer’s previous digital behavior. The customer experience may feel self-driven but is actually tailored based on data insights that the brand has gathered.
But this tailored experience doesn’t always start smoothly or proceed logically. Sometime the brand has not reached that level of marketing sophistication and sometimes the digital relationship is just too new for the brand to have much data to go on. But more often, the brand just doesn’t realize it’s not all about them anymore. It’s about the customer, dummy!
At the beginning of the journey, brands and their potential customers must get to know each other and learn how to design a win-win relationship. If the brand is talking about themselves rather than listening to customer requirements, the relationship is likely going nowhere.
What happens when a customer relationship develops poorly? Let’s take a look:
Company X – let’s call them Acme – has been marketing and selling the same way for a long time, and it’s been working well. They are the 800-pound gorilla in their space. Half of their customers are legacy, and net-new business comes from referrals and brand-building activities like events. Life was good until competitors built disruptive platforms and started delivering highly-touch service. Now Acme’s Sales team are losing deals and they are pressing Marketing for more and better leads. Marketing feels that Sales is too old-school and mishandles the leads. Finger pointing and blame-throwing ensue and customer requirements get lost in the mix.
If Acme’s story sounds familiar, it’s because we all regularly engage with companies that have gotten too comfortable as leaders in their industries. Think Telecom and Transportation. The Baby Bells were dominant until disruptors like mobile networks, Skype, and chat came along. Transportation modes from airlines to taxis had it good until WebEx, Uber and the like. We could list many examples, but the lesson is clear – no industry leader is safe from disruption. This is tough news for brands that have never had to build win-win customer relationships or design customer experiences that anticipate prospects’ next needs.
Even the biggest brands would be well served to take a fresh look around. They’ll find that prospects and customers no longer want to be talked AT – they want to be worked WITH. Consider the downsides when the buying journey doesn’t align with the prospect’s requirements. The prospect may be leaving a trail of digital breadcrumbs but still not being seen. Why would they stick around?
Getting customer-focused can be enormously difficult. It means integrating systems, data, and processes in order to enable customer-focused campaigns. Instead of spraying emails, Marketing must learn to nurture prospects with stage-appropriate offers based on their interactions – the right message at the right time in the right format and channel. Sales must learn to pick up the conversation and engage at the right time, tailoring their approach based on activity history. All customer touchpoints become orchestrated. TPG calls this evolution The Revenue Marketing Journey.
Focusing on the customer’s experience versus “the way we’ve always done it” will evolve your customer relationships to a new level. As your company moves from tactical to modern marketing, your customers will experience fewer disjointed communications, more relevant and timely information, and offers that enable their own growth and revenue. They will purchase, buy more, renew, and even advocate… a win-win relationship. If your prospects are saying that “it’s not all about you” anymore, consider adapting to their needs. Evolution is not just an advantage, it’s a requirement.
Company X has just built a new eCommerce site and is consider adding an extra layer of cyber security. VP Bob volunteers to research the product category. Google points him towards Acme, a mature leader in the space, and he downloads a comparison guide, but it finds it difficult to determine if Acme is comparing apples-to-apples with other vendors. And once he signs up, Acme bombards him with emails. Bob gets an irrelevant email almost every day and Acme ads show up on his favorite sites. But instead of making his due diligence easier, all these random touches are making it more confusing. Then the sales calls start…and he can tell Acme know nothing about him or Company X. It seems clear that Acme wants to do business on their terms, not his. How is Bob to proceed?
If Bob’s story sounds familiar, it’s because we all regularly engage with companies that market poorly. Despite many advances in B2B Marketing tools, techniques and tactics, most companies have yet to tie all that together for the benefit of the prospective client. The result can be huge gaps between a prospect’s desired shopping experience and reality.
This often occurs because Marketing and Sales processes evolved in silos independent of the Customer Experience. Fixing that requires a concerted top-down, bottom-up effort to refocus outside-in, versus inside-out. Instead of spraying emails, Marketing learns to nurture prospects with relevant offers based on their digital body-language – the right message at the right time in the right format and channel. Sales learns to engage at the right time, tailoring their approach based on prospect actions. All customer touchpoints become orchestrated. The Pedowitz Group calls this evolution The Revenue Marketing Journey.
Focusing on the customer’s purchase experience versus your company’s requirements will take your customer relationships to a new level. When Bob gets the right sales, service and support, he will be happy to engage. Acme will purchase, buy more, renew, and even advocate. You’ll see breakeven, profitability and maximum life-time value.
If your prospects don’t want what to play it your way, consider adapting to their needs. The easier you make their lives, the more they will support you – a win-win outcome.
In the last decade, Marketing Technology (MarTech) has proved to be a powerful integrating force within B2B enterprise marketing groups. But counteracting that strength is a powerful and persistent weakness.
Since joining The Pedowitz Group, and in my own B2B marketing strategy consulting practice beforehand, I have rarely encountered a large organization that doesn’t have a SILO problem. As companies grow through M&A, each acquired company brings its own MarTech, data, staff and processes. Few enterprises are good at assimilation, so the silos persist, and gaps often deepen–especially if the leadership in the acquired company is strong.
Business units are generally organized around product lines, and business unit leaders are incented to defend that territory, staff and budget. To ensure that revenue increases year-over-year, they allow rogue marketing groups within the units to bombard customers with emails. These groups are often called Field Support or Sales Enablement, each has access to a detached email program, and their messages are all about product announcements and promotions. The end result is the same for the customer – dozens if not hundreds of irrelevant emails from the same company each year. Many opt out. Few buy more.
Most leaders conceptually understand that silos and rogue marketing are counterproductive for the long-term, but from a practical standpoint each is OK with doing whatever meets their unit’s immediate need for leads. It’s all about keeping their funnel filled. Customer experience then suffers, as does cross-sell, retention and life-time value. I could write for days about the opportunity cost of silos. But how can an enterprise address this problem? Follow these three steps…
Change the Model
As TPG’s Debbie QaQish points out in her blog, TPG ONE™: A New Approach to the Customer Journey, “It’s time for B2B marketers to reimagine the funnel. Rather than a funnel that ends with delivering an MQL to sales, the customer engagement economy now requires a holistic view of the customer journey or customer lifecycle. Rather than marketing and the rest of the company working in silos across the customer’s journey, there needs to be a highly coordinated effort.”
Put another way, sales funnels are vertical like silos. What these companies need is a horizontal model, bridging the silos. Business units must stop propping up their own growth at the expense of the overall customer relationship. The longer leadership waits to introduce that new horizontal model, the more opportunity is lost.
Silos will persist if leadership continues to give a wink-and-nod to rogue behavior in the name of short-term revenue gains. C-level leaders must relentlessly enforce a new cross-silo business model until it become a way of life. Consistent and persistent communication about integration must be part of every leader’s job.
Executives often choose to jump-start such a change by bringing in a marketing consultancy like mine. Such groups have the outside perspective to see the silos and recommend ways to bridge them. Changes can be technical, process-driven, or organizational. Then best-practices can be overlayed. Here again, leadership must enforce and reinforce to make sure the beauty isn’t only skin-deep.
Don’t Look Back
Leaders, as new managers join your company, there will be a tendency to back-slide into territory-defending postures. Don’t let this happen. Silos are the one thing keeping your marketing organization from real impact. And poor customer experience is the one thing keeping your enterprise from maximizing each client’s life-time value.