A little yoga makes for a lot better ABM: How to design in flexibility to unleash agility
How do you take your Account-Based Marketing to the next level? Contributor John Steinert shares “ABM yoga” tips to foster collaboration between your marketing and sales teams and enhance your ABM agility.
Recently, while sitting in an airport departure lounge, I was thinking about how insights into prospect purchase intent were changing sales and marketing’s internal behaviors, when a fellow traveler rolled out a mat practically at my feet and launched into a set of gravity-defying yoga asanas.
At this moment, something clicked for me: More and more, I’m hearing successful Account-Based Marketing practitioners ascribe their rapid progress to new levels of collaboration. They say they’re winning by becoming more “agile” — i.e., more flexible and responsive.
To help more of us get started on this path, I’ve mashed up some recent learnings as three sets of “ABM yoga” tips for you to consider.
1. Designing in more flexibility at the start
While I don’t think you’ll ever catch me in a yoga class, my wife assures me I’d experience a diverse mix of folks. What they share in common, however, is that they all go in to do yoga with a similar purpose, and they do, in fact, come out feeling very good. So we could say that they’re aligned in both process and outcome. And that’s what we see from ABM clients, too.
Before doing ABM, smart marketers align by making sure they connect with like-minded sales collaborators. Aligned project leaders make commitments to each other and to the process to work together toward their shared objectives.
Here are some of the concepts they use to nurture this collaboration:
- Flexibility by design: Teams agree to treat the effort as a learning initiative relevant to both sales and marketing roles. They model the flexibility necessary to take mutual responsibility for shared outcomes.
- Flexibility in targeting: They establish an explicit process for creating the ABM list, including how to modify it opportunistically. Flexibility is embedded right into their targeting concept.
- Flexibility in KPIs: They design a combination of both shorter-term guideline KPIs specific to each discipline (examples: account scoring rules, next-action SLAs or service level agreements) and longer-term strategic KPIs that they will share — thus replacing typical KPI shortsightedness with hybrid models able to more flexibly support both short-term realities and longer-term aspirations.
- Flexibility in management process: They commit to meet on a regular basis, with specific expectations for these sessions, as well as a method for handling ad hoc exceptions. Built-in collaboration processes enable the ABM program to evolve because the team can be more adaptive as a coherent whole.
2. Achieving ABM agility
Once I was on the plane, my mind started making more connections between yoga and what we all do for a living. I could see that while flexibility gets you started out right, effectively converting this into action is what grows your momentum.
This got me thinking about athleticism and agility — which spurred thoughts about agile development and agile marketing. (Check out the “Agile Marketing Manifesto,” the work of Jim Ewel and McKinsey’s step-by-step guide.)
Then, I felt a second piece click into place: Agile practices are now being talked about all across the corporate value chain. So sales and marketing are now truly talking the same language on multiple fronts. Not surprisingly, that’s what clients are showing really works best when pursuing ABM.
The agile movement arose because classic software development processes were too inflexible. Early converts believed there had to be a way to deliver value to customers faster. Now, marketing and sales are understanding that they need to solve similar challenges in their own worlds. And because both are really about the customer, they need to behave as one team to solve things holistically.
While the relevant pieces of agile will differ depending on your particular ABM situation, several principles clearly apply practically everywhere:
- Fail fast: When you start out, there’s a whole lot you’ll be unsure about. Working agilely as an explicitly collaborative sales and marketing team puts you in a much better position to agree on necessary changes, make them more quickly and move forward together.
- Use iterative development: Instead of spending time creating bulky comprehensive campaigns, in ABM, you should start with a few strong, simple plays. You should organize to be able to deliver iterative enhancements to this as you go.
- Think structured “release”: When a new change or addition is ready, make sure both marketing and sales are entirely on board and prepared for what each will have to do. In agile software development, a release is scheduled when a group of features is truly customer-ready. In ABM, a release should be when all the pieces are in place and each player is ready to act as required.
- “Product” backlog: No team is going to have the resources to act on everything it learns instantaneously. By documenting ideas as they come up and adding them to a living, evolving ABM plan — a backlog — teams can stay focused on what’s working now and evolve the “product” at a pace that the organization as a whole can effectively support.
3. ABM agility requires some core functionality before it can deliver more functionality
Agile software development aims to get functionality to users as quickly as possible. The analog to this in marketing and sales is to provide better help to prospects as they look to solve their business problems. In ABM, we need to support that by providing better information and interactions. Expecting to do this without making any real changes to your standard M.O. feels like Einstein’s definition of insanity.
But real ABM agility does not only depend on new attitudes — you must, at a minimum, look for new data sources and content development processes. Knowing this, successful ABM practitioners are making sure to be up-front with stakeholders early on. They’ve recognized they need to make significant toolkit improvements before they can commit substantive ROI. Here are four areas where we see this in action:
• Organizational changes: There are some real cultural differences between marketing and sales. But there are important similarities, too. For example, both thrive on information. And both source and use content.
In the best ABM teams, we see marketing and sales come together early to sort out their various strengths and gaps. From there, they reconfirm what each can expect from the other right now and what they need to work at improving for the combined team moving forward.
For example, successful ABMers are leveraging the natural agility of salespeople to think on their feet. Instead of focusing on creating only final digital assets in isolation, marketing is working to create new frameworks that give sales self-service elements they can mix and tune on the fly.
• Data changes: Because it acts at scale, marketing leverages systems that rely heavily on quality data. ABM innovators are discovering that data sources like real purchase intent offer a new level of access to active demand — with the best also making it easy to take definitive actions. Marketers are proactively sharing these assets with sales, thus enabling the whole team to understand the opportunities and take full advantage.
• Qualification changes: Not long ago, state-of-the-art B2B demand generation focused exclusively on “leads” as their defining qualification focus. The problem is that leads are lone individuals, and individuals don’t tell you much about what’s truly going on at the account as a whole.
This past May, with the release of SiriusDecisions’ “Demand Unit Waterfall,” what’s really going on inside an account became a lot clearer. Now, advanced ABM practitioners are coming together around the buying centers within accounts as their key units of interest.
Sales and marketing are working together to effectively identify what truly indicates a deal coming together. So instead of chasing or, conversely, ignoring leads, they plan their plays together and orchestrate them comprehensively to go after these distinct buying units within a given account.
• Content changes: Unfortunately, if you’re not willing to invest in improving your content, I believe your chances at breakthrough ABM are slim to none. And even if you’re already accessing better insights like real intent data, better content development remains hard to do.
This well thought-out work from Avitage shows how agile marketers should be re-engineering their content approach to solve for more effective ABM. It explains that, instead of thinking in terms of static assets, the team needs to support “conversations.” By studying what conversations occur across buyer’s journey stages, their process can deliver better conversations at greater scale. It’s got the built-in agility to deliver better ABM ROI. And as such, it brings this month’s conversation full circle.
Unlike in classical demand gen, where marketing and sales are in many ways separate and distinct, in ABM, they’re unified into a collaborative team of diverse strengths. In practically any ABM case study you’ll find, ABM success is coming from an intense sales and marketing collaboration.
In our world of enterprise tech, by designing in flexibility and organizing for and investing in agility, we’re seeing teams leverage this to succeed at a higher level. While I’ll be the first to admit that this kind of yoga is not easy, its benefits are proving abundantly clear.