While ABM continues to win as a top marketing approach for high-value accounts, our resident account-based marketer Heidi Vandermeer from Uberflip sat down with ABM expert Robert Lesser, principal consultant at The LAX Boutique, to chat about how marketers can leverage ABM at their organizations for large accounts.
Uberflip: Tell us a bit about yourself.
Robert Lesser: I run a sales and marketing consultancy called The LAX Boutique. “LAX” stands for Large Account Xperience. In my practice, we’re seeing a double alignment problem that we help to fix. The first alignment problem that our customers face is getting marketing to align with the sales team. The second is a problem on the buyer side, where the champion at a large account has to work with the sales team to sell the solution internally, and there’s a challenge for the buying champion to align with their own buying team.
Uberflip: Can you start off by walking us through the different approaches to ABM?
RL: The first type is one-to-one, which I call Bespoke ABM. It’s focused on tailoring and personalizing content on a one-to-one basis with these large accounts. The second type is what we call Segmented ABM, where a marketer is looking to form groups, segments, or clusters of accounts to target. Finally, there is the one-to-many approach to ABM, which we call Digital ABM, because much of the marketing and sales approach is digital to scale to target large segments of the market.
One-to-one ABM targets a handful of accounts, perhaps 50 or so. Segmented ABM (one-to-few) typically targets hundreds, and the third level, Digital ABM (one-to-many) targets thousands of accounts.
Uberflip: What makes ABM different when focusing on large accounts, and why?
RL: It goes back to the challenge of selling into groups and not individuals. The saying goes that people don’t buy from people, it’s actually groups of people buying from groups of people, and that’s what ABM is all about. When you’re selling to large accounts, the buying groups are typically six to 12 people in size.
Correspondingly, when you’re selling into large accounts, it can’t be the “lone wolf” salesperson anymore. It must be a team approach. The whole concept of teams selling into teams makes the marketing and sales approach that much more complex.
Uberflip: When it has to be this team approach of marketing and sales, many companies struggle with alignment on these two fronts. How do you align marketing and sales when there is traditionally this big gap?
RL: Broadly speaking, what you’re traditionally seeing in a sales driven culture is that marketing has been relegated to working the top of the funnel. Sales has not found much value with marketing initiatives because typically once they’re engaged in an account, everything is run through them. Sales is the orchestrator, and they handle everything. More times than not, when they’ve gone to marketing, it’s been piecemeal, and tactical. Perhaps an event here, content piece there, but for the most part, they’re working that account alone.
This approach for sales and marketing collaborating together to develop accounts is something that’s a conscientious, strategic decision to get marketing adding value throughout the sales cycle, not just at the top, but right through to close. It’s a fundamental change in the approach, and quite frankly one where marketing is actually getting a seat at the table.
So now what we’re seeing is that marketing is being involved with account planning and pipeline reviews, where traditionally that wasn’t an area that they were involved because they weren’t expected to contribute. It is a fundamentally different role for marketing in ABM, much more so compared to sales. The goal is to get both parties working together, recognizing that it can’t just be that single salesperson developing that account anymore.
Uberflip: Many organizations are still having difficulty with this. Any recommendations on where to start?
RL: I think this is a challenge to which marketers are rising. Before, the demand gen approach was trying things out, seeing what resonated, doubling down on the winners, and eliminating the losers. Now, this approach for marketing is much more consultative with sales and much more consultative with customers.
There are two places that we have to start with. One is on the customer side. Within large accounts, it’s extremely important to really understand the buyer journey and appreciate what the buyer has to go through, and the hoops they have to jump through in order to adopt a solution.
In fact, recent research that has come out in the past year shows how many of these buyers are overwhelmed. Many of them throw up their hands, and even though they love your solution, they don’t have the capacity to take on a new solution. Understanding what the buyer has to go through in terms of adoption is crucial. Generally, sales and marketing take this journey very personally. However, a lot of the journey doesn’t have anything to do with us. It has to do with the hoops that buyers have to jump through to get a solution implemented.
Really understanding the journey and the steps the buyer has to take is important in understanding what obstacles they face, when their perspective changes, and how you need to change their perspective. Starting with that buyer journey is really important.
The next place to start is the sales team. It’s interesting when you start to compare the buyer journey and the sales journey side-by-side because we’re seeing two different perspectives with an overlap. Having worked with sales teams in the past year, they tend to see things happening in their sales process that are either curious or disappointing. These are telltale signs or inflection points in the buyer journey—it can be when the customer or the prospect goes dark, or when there’s an unexpected delay.
The goal of working with the sales team is to understand from their perspective where there is buyer friction, and more importantly, how can the organization get ahead of that friction.
To give you an example, working with an enterprise client who is a global leader, we found that their prospects were buying wrong. You can appreciate this juxtaposition—there’s this organization in which everyone thinks it’s doing everything right with a huge brand presence in the market, yet when the sales team started to get engaged with them, the evaluation would result in a dead end or the deal getting stalled. In working with this sales team, we spent time mapping the buyer journey and were able to understand how we could preempt a buyer from taking the wrong path.
We’ve seen with other clients that we can take a prescriptive approach to help avoid these pitfalls in the buyer journey. It’s about trying to get ahead of the buyer journey. If we talked about the theme of our conversation today, it is how can marketing influence the sales team and the buyer along their buying journey. This helps our sales teams sell faster, sell more, and to have repeat sales into these accounts. For the buyer, it’s helping make their journey as frictionless as possible, and turning their initial enthusiasm for a solution into an organizational purchase.
Information gets lost along the way, and it’s also enthusiasm lost. Anyone trying to make a major purchase in a large account may start off with the best intentions from the buyer champion, but they get tired. This conversation we’re having is all about enabling that buyer and making sure their initial enthusiasm doesn’t start flagging because they are our champion. We have to do everything we can to make it as easy as possible for an organization to adopt our solution. And it’s not easy. We know it’s not easy.
Want to hear more? Stay tuned for Part 2 of our interview with ABM expert Robert Lesser where we’ll get into the tactical aspects of marketing into large accounts.