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No More Excuses. It's Time to Pivot to Account-Based Go-to-Market

You can create an effective account-based go-to-market plan and test it, without having to buy expensive software or a high-dollar sales leader. Here’s an overview of how to get started.
Andy Monahan
Our very own Andy Monahan, showing us what can be done with the right rod and the right lure.
"Account Based Marketing" has been a hot topic in the last few years, but the fervor has died down as the promises of ABM SaaS fall short and companies struggle to operationalize the effort within their organization. In this post, we demystify ABM and show you how to get started.
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There are a lot of ways to think about the requirements for a solid, account-based go-to-market strategy. Let’s start with how to not approach it:

  • “Spray and pray” demand generation and sales. As I write this, we are sitting here in the spring of 2020, and boy-oh-boy is this a bad time to be doing any marketing with less than stellar targeting. (The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has made this abundantly clear.) 
  • Using generic value propositions. If you do this, you are nothing more than noise. Companies of all sizes, but especially those in the middle market, are starting to (or already) feel this pain. 
  • Pushing low-value or irrelevant content. Your would-be customers are trying to understand how you can help them more than ever. Do you even understand their pain points and can you give them relevant information to make their lives easier or to make them more money?

Lack of a lead management model, lead scoring and sufficient tracking. Simply put, companies with clean, efficient journey models and reporting will learn more and outperform those that don’t.

Sorry if that sounds negative, but in times like these, it’s more important than ever to take an honest look at the common pitfalls we see that severely inhibit growth in any environment. The pain just happens to be more acute for many companies of late. 

Here’s the good news: you can create an effective account-based go-to-market plan and test it, without having to buy expensive software or a high-dollar sales leader. Here’s an overview of how to get started:

  1. Nail down your targeted universe. Use what you know and build on it. Determine whether you are targeting on a company or individual basis, and how that will work “where the rubber meets the road” while going to market (paid platform targeting, email list structure, etc.).
  2. Get your process “house” in order. Make sure everyone is on the same page with respect to how the lead & sales process will work; and how it is going to be measured from the top to bottom of the funnel. (Yes, this will force teams to cross lines, especially in  marketing and sales.)
  3. Fill in content gaps. Generate a buyer stage/content matrix; one that will power your contact strategy (when to send what content to whom).
  4. Create & execute a go-to-market plan. Generate awareness by giving, interest by selling, and close business using a thoughtful sales process.

ABM Platforms are entering the “trough of disillusionment”. This may be because of too much hype and overcomplexity in executing a complete plan.

Let's skip the hype and look at the specifics of how you can execute an account-based go-to-market strategy starting now.

First, your data and your targeted universe

The initial task before you is identifying the high value account opportunities that exist for your business. There are many factors that might go into this, but the best place to start is your existing customers. 

  • Who are your best customers (ideal customer profile)? 
  • Have you performed a comprehensive analysis (demographic and psychographic) of all of them, then triangulated the common threads? 
  • If your data makes that task messy, there’s never been a better time to clean it up (it is, afterall, one of the core components of a capital-efficient revenue engine). 

Once you have your ideal accounts defined, you want to gather any information about what has worked (and not worked) from the perspective of targeting in the past. Look at all the relevant data points from your paid platforms, CRM, email tools, etc., and get current feedback from anyone who has a pulse on the customer and market. This obviously includes speaking with sales, but can also involve customer experience, account management, product, or anyone else privy to customer touchpoints or insight.

This can be a little tricky if the outgoing message has not been as relevant to some audiences as others, but think of it as a puzzle piece that fits together with the other pieces we discuss throughout this article.

When combined thoughtfully, this will all provide the foundation for the targeting of industries, segments, accounts and individuals, which is where the power of account-based go-to-market comes alive.

Second, your fundamental process components

Component 1: start with a measurable lead model

This boils down to phase gates and scoring for leads, contacts and accounts. The key is to ensure the rubric is as objective and consistent as possible for passing a lead/contact/account from one status to the next. Scoring of a lead based on actions taken online and offline should go hand-in-hand with lead status. 

Ultimately, lead scoring should be based on a data-driven probability model for a prospect converting into a paying customer, but very few companies have the data or infrastructure to implement that out of the gate. Your first cut, however well thought out, will need adjusting based on how things play out in the actual sales process and revenue numbers.

Component 2: implement an SDR cadence

The sales development cadence is a series of “pre-sales” touchpoints executed when a prospect is determined to be ready. A few key points here: 

  • The readiness of a lead to enter this process is either based on profiling or lead scoring (mentioned above). 
  • The touchpoints should be set based on medium/format, timing, and messaging, content and CTA (if applicable).
  • This is often done over a 30 day period or less, and can be accomplished in large part through automation (overseen by an SDR or BDR). 
  • To that end, touchpoints are often heavy on email, with some LinkedIN (paid & InMail), voicemail drop and some outbound calling mixed in. 
  • The key here is relevance of information conveyed at the appropriate time to the appropriate individual - which may vary by individual across an account, especially if there is a buyer group. 

The output of this process should be qualified, sales-ready prospects, willing to take a meeting, advanced demo/pilot/trial or phone call to discuss the specifics of actually becoming a customer.

Note that at this point a prospect should already be fully educated about the product, how it can help their company specifically and, in most cases, actual pricing. Most companies who have relied on traditional sales begin the education process with a sales person, but that model is quickly becoming less effective. Modern buyers are 85% of the way through their research process by the time they talk with a sales person and companies are feeling the heat of diminishing returns from sales, especially in the middle market.

Once a cadence is tested, refined and optimized, you save time and money by removing ambiguity, guesswork and idle time that are rampant in a more traditional sales process.

Keep in mind that the SDR cadence shouldn’t be linear and one-size-fits-all. A single cadence is a good starting point, but there should be separate engagement cadences that take place when an individual triggers a key event (like requesting more information, joining an automated demo, etc.). It is imperative that these be coordinated such that two journeys can’t happen simultaneously. That ensures that messaging is consistent, non-duplicative and leads don’t fatigue due to an over-abundance of contact. 

Third, your content and go-to-market-plan

With actual targets, a full-funnel lead management model and an SDR cadence, you're ready to create content, which is the first step of the actual go-to-market plan.

Now, despite what you might hear from software vendors, “ABM” is not a mystery. In fact, at the the most basic level, your plan has 4 steps:

  • Ensure all of your content is mapped to the buyer and channel
  • Generate awareness through multi-channel campaigns
  • Generate interest through multi-channel campaigns
  • Integrate your sales process with marketing
Step 1: get to a buyer/content matrix v.1

Content needs to be specific. You are trying to tell your audience exactly how they can solve their problem and associated pain points. This can be done by telling a technical, financial, or personal story. Initially, this content may have very little to do with your product, or only indirectly. You might also do little selling of your product in the initial pieces of content. What is critical is that you add value and be relevant to real people.

A method to approach this is using a buyer content matrix. This tool provides a basis for creation of content based on who the audience is and what stage of the buying process they are in. This then can be effectively mapped to various channels, touch points, and flows to create an overall story for how you can help solve their pain point(s). It is important to remember that this can not only vary across industries and companies, but will very likely vary based on the individual, often based on what role they fill within the buying group.

Content needs to be high-quality and be genuinely useful. This is important for a bunch of reasons. It should help someone in the near-term; perhaps to think through solutions to an issue, even if they are not considering a product or service similar to yours. If it’s very useful, they might forward it to someone at an adjacent company who is considering your offering. It also begins to make you a credible source of information in your industry, which can pay dividends for a long time into the future.

An analogy to needing good content is like a fisherman who has invested a bunch of money in great equipment. They have a nice boat, great electronics, expensive poles, reels and line, but they are using the wrong lure...wrong size, wrong action, wrong color. You might have stellar marketing and sales infrastructure and a great team, but if your content isn’t truly adding specific value to specific people with specific problems, you won’t catch the fish (especially in the noise of our modern digital society).

Side note: don’t forget competitive research, particularly from incumbent players with market share. There is a reason they are doing what they are doing. This goes for content, tactics, web page design, sales touchpoints, etc.

Step 2: generate awareness

Let’s demystify this...quite simply, get your name and helpful content in front of your ideal audience; or as close of a proxy as you can determine at any given time. We are attracting people in the early stages of the buyer journey (Discovery & Education) & helping them become aware that they may even have a pain point. A great outcome here is for someone to give you their email address. This can be done in a number of ways:

  • Your website & blog posts. If you have already generated great content that is targeted to your highest value account prospects - you’ve already done the hard part of organic search. The key then is to make sure this is optimized properly through your website, organic social distribution, syndication and so on. If done properly, your content will pay off with low-cost traffic in the future. The beauty here is that if your content is very specific, those that are attracted to it may be a good potential customer, or referrer. It could even unveil a vertical or company that you never thought of targeting previously.
  • Be generous with information. This might come in the form of events, webinars or Q & As. The startup community does this all of the time in a “pay it forward” capacity. This situation can create trust and credibility...increasingly key ingredients when it comes to eventually attracting qualified prospects. Ideally, you generate the interest for these in a “target rich” environment as it pertains to your ideal customer profile (ICP); but if your information is specific to your ICP’s pain points - they will self select.
  • Paid digital marketing. We call this “digital air cover”, and it works hand-in-hand with other touchpoints. The key here is to get as 1:1 from a targeting perspective as possible. Ideally, this means creating custom audiences at an individual contact level, but sometimes a combination of account & other targeting can be effective as well. There are also some platforms that provide this as a service (though we recommend piloting it yourself before buying software). Like everything else, it pays to experiment if you have the ability to do so. However, the methods for creating virtual “sandboxes” of your ideal customer profile are becoming more prevalent and easy to implement.

Internally, we describe the overall marketing and sales process as “give-ask-sell”. This part is the “give”, where you offer unbiased and useful information to your target audience that helps them in some way with an issue they are likely facing.

Step 3: generate interest

This is where you begin to shift to more demand-generation oriented messaging. This is also where you shift from purely giving to asking for information. Again, relevant content is key - but we are moving through the buyer journey to the ‘Selection’ portion of the buyer journey.

  • Your great content can be repurposed for promotional emails. The best approach is to do this in coordination with organic and social posting of such content, but mutually exclusively from an SDR cadence. Very useful content to your ICP can be gated, which acts as a bit of qualifier to the audience; how serious they are, and how big of a pain point they have.
  • Direct mail (yes, it still works) can be good for adding a potentially high impact, and personalized touchpoint, when targeted industry contacts are well understood; as is the appropriate associated messaging & content. This tactic is 1:1, and is a great opportunity to speak directly to the right person with the appropriate associated messaging.
  • Any of this is coordinated with sales, and in particular the SDR cadence, which should happen mutually exclusively. The previously mentioned SDR cadence is an extremely focused effort on generating qualified sales leads.

Wait...a lot of this sounds like inbound marketing.

That’s because it is - if you take an approach of creating situationally specific content & time the delivery properly to an extremely targeted universe of accounts and the buying group within. Each member of the buying group at a targeted account may have a different pain point, or see the pain point a different way. It therefore pays to convey a solution a little bit differently in each case. The goal here is to not make this too complicated, but highly relevant. Much of your content will be reusable, if packaged slightly differently.

Test, learn and test again

The “formula” here, while testable & measurable for efficacy, is not an exact science. Particularly early on, test big things and, in the words of our own Gary "Voltaire" Schwake: “do not let perfection be the enemy of good.”

Step 4: integrate sales and marketing

While the challenge of integrating sales and marketing has plagued companies since the beginning of business, the good news for you is that, if you've followed the steps above, you've already done a good bit of the work. You have 1) a clearly defined lead model that expresses the customer journey through the entire funnel, 2) content that spans the journey across both sales and marketing, and 3) an SDR cadence that paves the path from marketing to sales.

At this point, integrating marketing and sales means equipping the sales person with visibility into all of the previous touchpoints and carefully choreographing a seemless transition for the customer. In other words, the "handoff" from marketing to sales shouldn't feel like a handoff or even crossing teams. For the customer, it should feel like the natural next step.

So...what does all of this actually do?

The result is simple: all of these components, when put together and executed well, create a situation where a prospective account, along with each member of the buying group, has a reason to be considering using your product or service.

They have been well-informed along the way, each with their nuanced perspectives addressed with rich, relevant content that tells a story of solving a problem very similar to their own. When that happens, you get a very warm set of prospects that are further nurtured through an SDR cadence, and when qualified from that using objective criteria, are genuinely ready to be sold.

Unnecessary background work and guesswork are taken out of the equation. Messaging is highly coordinated and pre-determined. This approach is very sales-focused, but it does not unduly burden sales with prospects that are too “green”, discovery of background information, or uncertain value propositions.

Ultimately, an account-based go-to-market approach provides what every business needs: a sharp point to an efficient customer journey process.


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