Account-based Marketing started with large corporations that sold complex, high-value, and high-consideration solutions.
These organizations typically employed large Sales teams that targeted similarly large corporations. It was very much a Sales-led culture where Sales were the main interlocutor with the client - the guardian of the relationship, the educator - the oracle of all wisdom on the product they were selling.
The world has changed - I think we’d all agree.
The digital and business transformation that has been taking place over the last twenty years has changed beyond all recognition organizations, their products and services, and how they purchase.
How companies buy
As we all recall, the old Sales model saw Sales acting as the ‘Educator’. Taking the customer (current or future) through a learning process of the market, the solution, the why, how, where, etc.
It was laborious. It built strong relationships between Sales and the customer.
That model is now confined to the same historical pantheon as Betamax, cassette tapes, and shiny business pens.
Today’s buyer is self-educated. Today’s buyer is informed. Today’s buyer does not need a Salesperson to tell them the what, when, how, why, etc. They know all of that and much more.
The new role of Sales (and Marketing)
There are numerous statistics that point to this change in buyer behaviors with anywhere up to 80% of the buying journey done ‘without the involvement of Sales’
But what does ‘without the involvement of Sales’ mean in reality?
Does it mean that Sales sit back and wait for the Customer/Prospect to self-educate and then ‘pounce’ when they are ready or hope that they will be contacted?
Of course not. That would be the ruin of Sales. That would be the ruin of any business.
So what does it mean?
It means that Sales (and I’ll come to peer-to-peer shortly) need to be there in the places where the Customer or Prospect ‘hang out’.
Sales need to establish a credible reason for them to be part of the conversation, part of the buyer journey, and ultimately, part of the solution.
The bar has been well and truly raised for Sales to be part of that journey, to take part, and to add value to the conversation.
As so much information is now available online, in communities - open and closed, on social media, review sites such as G2, etc. Sales (and Marketing in tandem) need to provide much more valuable information that can help their buyers on their journey of discovery.
Marketing’s role is therefore to help Sales engage with customers and prospects as early as possible in that journey.
What information buyers want
Business (and digital) transformation have changed the world of B2B.
AI, Cloud, Machine Learning, Customer Experience Analytics, etc. are just some of the new ways B2B businesses can be more efficient, effective, profitable, competitive, and, ultimately, closer to their customers.
But this new horizon means that the technology behind these advances is more complex. It requires more consideration and consulting services to purchase, integrate, and deploy.
Purchasers need help.
They need help with these advances. They need help with these technologies. They need help with information overload. They need help to know what good looks like and how to ensure a successful product selection and deployment.
Recent research by Gartner of 1,100 B2B customers shined a light on the information exchange between vendors and customers. And the key finding was that those Sellers who used Sensemaking methods capitalized on any information shortcomings by aiding, organizing, and simplifying buyers’ product research.
And where can they get this help from? They rely on solutions providers as trusted sources of this information.
So, we’re back to square one - Sales need to provide that information?
Yes and no.
These complex solutions will be purchased by and used by very technical people (or technical teams) - think CyberSecurity and CISO, think FinTech and CFO, think AdTech and CMO, etc.
This means that the level of competency they are looking for in their ‘trusted sources of information’ is much higher.
While Marketing’s role is to create the right content to help Sales be the best they can be and be that trusted advisor. And we very much see this in our ABM programs with Sales Enablement strategies, Sales Playbooks, etc.
There is an issue of trust and an issue of competency that Sales can not always overcome.
Sales as a Bridge to Expert Insights
“Decision Makers - like CISOs, CTOs, etc. don’t want to talk to Marketing. No offense! They don’t want to talk to Sales. They really want to talk to their peers. In technical sales, I expect 2022 will see the power of the subject matter expert to become a content creator.”
Richa Pande | Global Head of ABM Campaigns | HP
The Bow-tie vs. Diamond model of Key Account Management has been around for decades.
I think its relevancy is now more valid than ever with much more complex and high-consideration purchases.
The ‘right’ people from each side - purchaser and customer/prospect need to be engaged, asking the right questions, providing the right information, and building the long-lasting relationship.
Our ABM campaigns are seeing great results with this new approach of Peer-to-peer ABM. Here, we assign internal subject matter experts in our customer accounts with their peers in the target accounts.
We equally work closely with our clients to ‘raise the profile’ of these important domain experts, provide a platform for their knowledge about their industry, the challenges their customers face (and the solutions that are available) to be heard.
Research from ITSMA on How Executives Engage showed that executives a) want personalized content relevant to their business, their business challenge (and their company), and b) they want to hear from and be in contact with subject-matter experts who know the subject deeply (far beyond what a Salesperson can).
So, what does this mean in reality? How can you put in place a Peer-to-peer ABM strategy in your business?
It’s a team effort involving Marketing, Sales, subject matter experts, and the C-suite.
- Marketing and ABM teams can build the right account experience to educate the buying committee about the brand, its unique value proposition, etc.
- Sales can build those important relationships with the key decision-makers in the target accounts using the ABM strategy and personalized content to deliver a much more consultative selling approach
- Subject matter experts (domain experts) are connected with their customer/prospect counterparts
While points 1 and 2 are relatively easy to facilitate, the third point can require some careful consideration and orchestration.
SAP has built a very strong Executive engagement model that is worth sharing. Their advice is for ABM teams to formalize the subject matter engagement.
Ensure that your domain experts’ time is carefully managed and that the interventions with clients/prospects are focused on what is important to the account and how they can make a difference.
Sound advice indeed.