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Customer Success: ABM’s Secret Sales-Marketing Alignment Weapon

Is your company investing in ABM this year?

Recent research suggests 92% of companies recognize ABM as a “must-have” B2B marketing strategy. However, only 20% of those companies have had full ABM programs in place for more than a year. But for those companies that do, the results are paramount. A study by ABM Leadership Alliance shows that companies with ABM programs have seen a 171% lift in contract value, with continued growth as their program matures.

Implementing a successful ABM program takes careful planning that starts with C-suite buy-in, leveraging data, and developing a strategy that aligns your Sales and Marketing teams.

There’s been a ton of buzz about best practices for sales-marketing alignment. But there’s one crucial element that many organizations may overlook: insights from their Customer Success team.

“Honestly people don’t talk about the potential role of the Customer Success team enough,” Brandon Redlinger, Director of Growth at Engagio, said.

Your Customer Success team is on the front lines when it comes to managing clients your company has already connected with in a positive way. When first implementing ABM, your current clients can provide a wealth of information that can help you shape your strategy.

Identifying accounts

The first step to building an ABM program is identifying the right accounts your organization wants to target. Since you’ll be focusing on only a handful of accounts, targeting companies with the best chances of success will help your team yield higher ROI from the get-go.

Your select accounts should fall into a series of “tiers.” The first tier will be a small handful of high-priority accounts your organization wants to target with specialized one-on-one marketing campaigns.

Terminus CMO Sangram Vajre suggests focusing on what he calls “high-acceleration opportunities” to start.

“That account has already raised their hand – they’re interested in making a deal, and it’s going to happen within the sales cycle,” Vajre said. “You just need to determine what content you need to get everything going.”

The second tier should contain several hundred accounts you want to target, implementing a blend of one-on-one or one-to-few marketing campaigns dependent on the account. Your third tier, the largest, should be approached with a mix of ABM and traditional marketing strategies. These leads may require more nurturing before they’re considered qualified for more targeted ABM approaches.

Consider roping in your Customer Success team along with your top Sales reps for insights on which companies and industries have responded well to past campaigns.

“Your sales rep will know what personas bite and when, or what their buyer journey looks like. Most of the time, you’re selling against the status quo – so you need to identify where the points of resistance are likely to be,” Manny Medina, CEO at Outreach, said.

Your Customer Success team may also be able to offer more nuanced advice. For example, they’ll be able to identify the most common pain points when it comes to renewals, and how companies fare with integrations or onboarding – all important issues to consider when creating campaigns for similar target companies.

“Customer success are the ones that can say – these types of companies or industries are the delight to work with, or not,” Redlinger said. “Even back at the account selection phase, I think it’s important for Customer Success to give some of those insights — figuring out who will stay, who will renew, and who will expand.”

Developing personas and campaigns

Once accounts are selected, a strong ABM program will incorporate a range of different campaigns aimed at different personas within an organization. ABM may require more than one or two customer profiles – especially with top-tier accounts, where your targeted leads have already been identified.

“There could be different amount of decision makers,” Redlinger said. “When that happens, it complicates things a lot – you have to be able to navigate all these different relationships.”

 It’s important to focus on a range of personas – from the high-level decision makers, to the employees and managers who may be using your product or services every day.

“The first thing you learn in Sales is that you have to go from the top down, but you have to do both,” Medina said. “You have to approach from many angles and win the hearts and minds of the people whose lives you’ll change.”

Marketing and Sales teams can turn to their Customer Success team as a resource to help test messaging and campaigns on current customers that may have similar personas to potential prospects.

“You can use this as a kind of beta for the ABM strategy,” Medina said. “Use your Customer Success team to test messaging, especially if you’re launching a new product.” Current customers will be able to provide the feedback you need to make tweaks before engaging new prospects.

“This is a progressive change of culture,” Medina said. “Grab a handful accounts and test. Map the buying cycle. What marketing is really good at is testing what works, and now they’re doing it with a very specific purpose.”

Engagement and metrics

In order to achieve true Sales-Marketing alignment, both teams need to be united under one clear and defined goal. And, as Vajre experienced first-hand — that isn’t always so easy.

“It was very painful at times,” Vajre said of his own experience implementing ABM at Terminus. “Marketing was no longer going to celebrate an e-book download – we were only going to celebrate if we saw engagement accounts.”

Engagement is key here. Under an aligned ABM program, the success of campaigns is measured by how active accounts are with your campaigns – whether that be participating in a webinar, talking to a sales representative, visiting your website, or even taking a demo. Sales and Marketing efforts work in sync, rather than as separate entities. Success is then attributed based on the overarching level of engagement a company has with your brand.

Vajre calls it the “account engagement journey.”

“If you start engaging in the right way, you’ll be better at getting into deals early,” Vajre said. “And when you see there’s no engagement, if there’s no change, your team can tell that the chance of the account closing is pretty minimal.”

Redlinger says it’s important to equip your Sales and Marketing teams with a tech stack that will effectively pull all data under one roof – allowing both teams to implement, measure, track and manage every campaign associated with an account.

“You need a workflow system to help people do the outreach,” Redlinger said. “When both teams aren’t seeing the same thing, how can that really be alignment?”

Customer Success can help bridge this gap by retroactively measuring engagement from prior campaigns. These numbers can help your Sales and Marketing team create potential benchmarks and expectations when setting up new engagement goals for similar personas.

Seeing success

Implementing an ABM strategy doesn’t happen overnight. ABM Leadership Alliance research shows that 46% of companies not immediately seeing results are still in the early stages of deployment. Many companies first implementing ABM are also focusing their efforts on current customers to test their messaging – which means less pipeline attribution for ABM programs.

“A lot of the time, companies may feel the Marketing team is ready {for ABM} but the Sales team isn’t,” Vajre said. “And when companies are not fully aligned, marketing teams have to start with a pilot program. This may be easier for smaller businesses – for enterprise, it takes longer.”

Medina says that companies may want to start their pilot programs by implementing ABM techniques only up to certain points in the funnel.

“It’s really hard for a wholesale change for a big or a mid-size company,” Medina said. “People tend to boil the ocean – you need to be able to measure success.”

Research suggests that it can take up to a year or more for companies to start yielding real results, as companies develop more mature and refined ABM models. The best way to help speed up the process is to:

·       Ensure your company has C-suite buy-in

·       Identify key accounts

·       Work with Customer Success to define pain points and key personas

·       Craft and test targeted messaging with current customers

·       Unite your Sales and Marketing team under the same engagement goals

·       Build a tech stack that allows accessibility to key data and analytics

“I think this is just the beginning with ABM, there’s a lot to learn when balancing the relationship between the human side of things and the automated side of things,” Redlinger said. “Companies need to really know how to leverage tech.” 

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