Planning for Success, the Cornerstone of ABM

August 4, 2016

Planning for Account Based Marketing

My first job as a B2B sales director came when I was 26. I was starry eyed, errantly wielding the flag of technology and completely unprepared. I’ll never forget the first day in my new role. I stayed up most of the night going over what I would say when I met with my new team. I knew just how I could help solve all of their problems and close their deals. My first meeting in my new (somewhat corner) office was set at 8:00 sharp.

At 8:20 the following day, my predecessor was still packing up his office — my new office. The territory managers were all hovering nearby, waiting for the meeting to get started. I was fuming. I quickly learned that I hadn’t properly prepared for the first day – or for the real duties of the role for that matter.

I soon discovered company CRM was rarely used and, rarer still, was any sort of data entered in a format that could be mined and reported on. Weekly meetings were more like casual discussions and the sales team’s account planning process looked more like happy hour. My first few months did not go as I had planned.

As the final stapler and smiley faced stress ball made it into my predecessor’s banker’s box of memories, I noticed a sign that hung on the wall of his office. It read, “Hope is My Strategy,” and it was meant to by satirical. I found no satire. Since that day I have always used that saying as a reminder to both myself and my team. Simply placing blind faith in the promise that things will work out simply means that they will work out — but in someone else’s favor.

In the past few years Account Based Marketing has seen a resurgence and a clarity that is uncharacteristic for most sales/marketing buzzwords. I attribute this clarity to the fact that ABM works (after all, it’s been around forever). It combines activities that are both tried and true with those that have been retooled for the modern sales era. The critical last ingredient causing its new found fame is the layering in of technology to accomplish scale wherever possible.

The best thing about ABM is that it’s a proven process — no fluff, no filler. This is the way practices should come about: first figure out what works, then apply technology to make it better – not the other way around. To be fair, tech is great, but ABM wouldn’t work without proper account planning. Maybe it’s those early days as a new (mostly underprepared) sales manager omnipresent in the back of my mind, maybe it’s my OCD, but I want a process and a plan — deal by deal. Account planning is really unsexy and at the same time incredibly valuable. The process of deal reviews is nothing new, and any sales manager worth their stack of Glengarry leads is more than familiar with it. However, what is new to the process is the integration of a few core principles.

At LeadMD we follow three steps to be successful at account planning. Here is what account planning looks like for us:

Step One: Establish Account Teams

Before I go on, I have to say that in order to get to step one, we assume that you have already assembled your target account lists. If not, stop, do not pass go, do not collect a signed contract. Go back here and begin by laying down a few foundation items. Good? Great.

Step one is to assign the right account team. Some orgs do this by territory, some by industry — we do it by relationship. Who will be the best to get this deal across the finish line? This goes for the Account Executive and the eventual consultant who will deliver on the project. Once this is assembled we go to work mining for additional connections. Our Business Development team uses LinkedIn Sales Navigator to determine what our relationships are to the buyer. This information will be kept fresh ‘SCRUM’ style every week on Fridays in a pipeline meeting. This is the ‘plan’ for this eventual deal.

Step Two: Establish quarterly account reviews

After we have the correct assignments in place, we determine the problems we want to help solve for this buyer and their buying committee - remember you’re selling to the entire account here so you better have already identified all the buying roles. To identify all roles we do a quarterly touch base where we take the pulse of the customer’s organization. In our world that means evaluating what tech stack is in place at the customer, understanding the customer’s business goals (and not just the fluff term everyone uses in prospecting emails), and formulating a plan to solve these challenges.

For example, let’s say you provide marketing technology. Your space is fairly new but has recently seen an influx of competition because the space is hot, so it’s essential to develop a plan to help you rapidly capture market share as well as educate the marketplace on why you are the best widget in town. This stage requires really deep insight, and we find the vast majority of it comes through our network. Just as relationships fuel ABM, the outcomes from these meetings fuel account plans.

Here are some examples of outcomes you should try to home in on:

  • Big Initiatives in the Account or Account Business Unit
  • Pain Points
  • Opportunities for Improvement
  • Competitive Growth or Threat

Step Three: Establish a bi-weekly scrum session

It’s bi–weekly SCRUM time. At this point we’ve understood what keeps the buyer up at night. We’ve determined how we can gather and maintain information and have translated those findings into a plan of action.

You guessed it, now it’s time to get started.

Marketing, pre-sales, sales and really everyone in the organization is involved from now until the end of time, or when the prospect comes off your target account list. Campaigns, offers, meetings and social interactions are all tied together by an evolving account plan and backed by smart technology, such as lead and account engagement scoring. We use everything from automation to CRM to social to sales enablement tools in this point in the process. I might get a notification on my phone that I need to connect with key members of the buying committee on LinkedIn and send a personalized note. Maybe the note is a handwritten letter thanking them for meeting with our team and giving us the opportunity to provide them a scope of work.  Unlike a lot of marketing automation campaigns, this stuff doesn’t happen behind closed doors. It’s hand to hand, and often face to face.

Recently we shared our entire framework for account planning, which you can pick up here. If you like that, or you just want to see me and some of the top names in marketing and technology dress up like Gene Simmons and talk ABM tech stack, you can download the entire “Monsters of Funnel II: Back 2 Stack ABM” eBook at here.

Either way, I hope I’ve given you some areas you can build right now, today and improve your sales process. I know how difficult it is to be a sales and marketing practitioner. Things are always evolving. One day you’re celebrating a big deal win and the next you’re packing up your office while some kid watches. I knew I never wanted to be in that position, not if I could help it. Hope is not my strategy; my strategy is Account Based Marketing – because it works. 

For more Account Based Marketing trends and strategies, download our Sophisticated Marketer's Crash Course in Account-Based Marketing