How to Actually Implement Account Based Marketing: Marketing’s Most Buzzed About Technique

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If you’ve attended a B2B marketing conference lately or subscribe to any marketing newsletters (like OpenView’s), you know what account-based marketing is. But, if you’ve been living under a rock – or if you live in Boston like me, a snow pile – you can consult the more than 76,000 results a Google search for account-based marketing provides.

So, now that we ALL know what account-based marketing is, let’s talk about how to actually implement it…yeah, that part matters. While we might all be familiar with ABM, less of us know how to actually put the strategy into place and fewer still have mastered it. Determining whether or not ABM is right for your business and how to put it into practice are vital components of any successful evaluation and subsequent roll out of ABM.

To help provide insights into these questions, I sat down with TrendKite’s VP of Marketing, Russ Somers, who transitioned their company to an ABM model to make the most out of their marketing and sales resources. TrendKite, an analytics software platform helping brands and media companies accurately measure the impact of their PR efforts, is a young startup going after some of the largest, most sought-after organizations in the world. Their customers include Evernote, Hershey and Vanderbilt University, just to name a few.

Here’s an exclusive look at TrendKite’s transition to ABM and how other startups can apply the same practices and lessons learned to their own businesses.

Clues You’re Ready for ABM

“Account-based marketing is an optimization problem,” says Somers. “You’re trying to match the right account with the right seller at the right time. You want to direct your marketing efforts at the accounts that really matter to you instead of spraying generic marketing across your universe.”

Somers knew TrendKite was ready for ABM when the organization reached a new level of maturity. “We had reached a point where sales was scaling predictably,” he explains. “We’d captured a large database of accounts and had well-defined roles for market development reps, account execs, and senior account execs.” For TrendKite, which targets mid-market and enterprise customers, their universe of prospects at first glance is large so it was about optimizing their reach across top priority accounts.

Somers’ BDR team was delivering demos consistently and had developed efficient quotas; but he knew TrendKite had the potential to further optimize their resources. “You need to start with a selling model that works with some level of scale and repeatability,” he says. “And you need to be spending enough in marketing and cost-of-sale that a more efficient deployment of resources will gain measurable improvements in performance.”

Tips for a Successful Rollout

Somers’ rollout plan included three stages: educating the team, getting buy in, and then building out the process. “Getting the people in place is always the hardest, right?” Somers asks, explaining why educating the team was the first step in the plan. “We started with an education process for both sales and the executive team. We looked at what other companies were achieving with ABM, how they were achieving superior results, and then asked what would happen if our team achieved those same results, or even half that.”

The educational component of the plan included presenting simplified ABM concepts to the core idea of ranking accounts within TrendKite’s existing database. Once the company started looking at hypothetical numbers, the educational phase transitioned to buy-in as the team began to discuss potential outcomes. “We looked at the numbers and asked what would happen if the top ten percent of our accounts were ten times more likely to convert” Somers says. “We tried to project how much more money we would make and how much more productive our sales team would be.” The projections were exciting to say the least.

Elements of an Effective ABM Structure

With the sales and executive teams educated and fully onboard with ABM, Somers moved on to building out the necessary implementation processes. “For us, it was a pretty simple matter. We already knew a few factors that make one account more likely to close than another, and then we did the regression analysis to identify the specific predictors of a good, high-quality account for our database.”

This part of the process was iterative. “The first time we rolled it out, it was not as successful as we might have hoped,” Somers says. “But, it has gotten better with each new distribution of accounts. We run regressions on it pretty regularly to understand the results of what we’re doing and compare it to a historical baseline.”

TrendKite started with the three fundamentals of segmentation: firmographics, demographics and behavioral data. Somers explains, “From a firmographic perspective, positive predictors include if the company operates in a certain industry — say travel and leisure or manufacturing — as well as things like company size and propensity to buy marketing technology.” Somers also used various tools to learn about a specific company’s tech stack and their existing investment in marketing automation. On the behavioral side, he focused on data about the prospect’s engagement with TrendKite content to help determine viability.

This overall process helped Somers prioritize lists for all marketing tactics. “We certainly use it to prioritize the lists for outbound, but we also use it to prioritize inbound to understand who to reach out to right away so we can optimize the sales cycle.”

For the people part of the ABM equation, Somers made sure that each part of the team had a clear role. “Marketing is the arbiter and sales is the customer,” he explains. “In the role of the in-house customer, sales has to believe the account-scoring and segmentation methodologies make sense, or they won’t care and they won’t use them.”

To cultivate confidence in the approach, Somers made sure he could provide proof of performance. “Proving over and over that — yes — this worked better than last time and next time will work better than this time is a really important part of the process.”

The ABM strategy also follows all the way through to customer success. “Our product and marketing teams have done a phenomenal job putting together content that enables not only sales, but also customer success,” Somers explains. “We’re able to take all our segmented knowledge of the customer across the entire business.”

TrendKite uses multiple software solutions to support their ABM efforts, but one that stands out for Somers is Terminus. “Terminus is essentially a marketing platform,” he says. “But, unlike other retargeting technologies, it lets us target people based on firmographic criteria. This allows us to go back to companies we want to serve, and it’s very effective. For instance, when we create two queues of accounts from the same vertical and warm half of them using Terminus prior to outreach, we see a 2x response from the ones that weren’t warmed.”

Concepts for Smart Measurement

“Ultimately the key success metric is whether we sell more,” Somers says. “I view our goal as maximizing MRR over the long haul.” But, that doesn’t mean that ABM doesn’t have benefits across all the other elements of sales and marketing, including acquisition, renewal, and upsell. Understanding any aspects of the strategy’s performance, however, requires rigorous and ongoing measurement.

“We regularly run retrospectives,” says Somers. “We break down the accounts by decile in terms of account score and then we run a regression against win rates. If you’re doing it right, you get high r-squared. We tend to have an r-squared between 0.85 and 0.90, which is quite high. It means the our decisions about which decile an account should be in, are approximately 90% accurate.”

Whatever performance metrics and measurement techniques you use, consistency is important. “The key thing is that you can’t just set it and forget it,” Somers says. “Set it, run it, and then continually test, tweak, and analyze so you are actually getting the returns you thought you’d get.”

We want to hear from you? If you have rolled out ABM – how does this compare to your experiences? If you could do it all over, what would you do differently?