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Who Is ABM For and What Is the Right Strategy?

Posted May 15, 2024
Revenue Marketing Report Episode Who is ABM for and what is the right stratgey

Jeff Loeb, Partner & CMO at Chief Outsiders, joins our host, Camela Thompson, in this episode of the Revenue Marketing Report. Jeff shares when an ABM strategy makes sense, when it doesn’t, and how to build a winning strategy around the high-value offer.

Jeff is a B2B SaaS and technology CMO with a strong track record helping companies become category leaders and grow internationally from startups to billion-dollar businesses. He works closely with sales, product, and customer success teams to develop and execute winning go-to-marketing strategies. 

Jeff, day two. Thank you so much. Yesterday, we talked about what ABM is and isn’t and today we’re going to get a little bit more into tactics, which we hinted about but didn’t fully dive into. I know there are so many places we could go. Let’s talk a little bit about the tactics that are deployed after we know who our target accounts are.

“Yesterday’s conversation around intent was a good starting point to this because it all starts with the set of accounts we want to target and the more we can leverage intent data to help drive that, the better. Now as we move down from there and assume, okay, we’ve got our target accounts. Now how do we want to begin our outreach and engagement? Now is probably a good time to introduce the idea of the three flavors of ABM usually referred to as one-to-one, one-to-few and one-to-many. What that means is how many accounts you are going after. By virtue of that, how much customization and personalization and how heavy of a touch you’re going to put in each of those accounts. If you’re looking at a one-to-one program, you typically have a smaller number of accounts that you’re focused on.

“Again, it depends on how many resources you have. I have been involved with organizations that have implemented ABM programs that only had ten or twenty accounts and it was very much a one-to-one based approach. An example was an AI and robotics company that sold multimillion-dollar warehouse management and automation systems and there are perhaps only a hundred potential customers in the world for those solutions. It was a heavy touch to a small number of organizations. I’ve implemented ABM programs where the total market had a thousand companies, a thousand prospects, but they each had long-term contracts and we had good visibility to when those contracts were about to expire in a given year, there were only maybe twenty possible customers. So we aimed our ABM program just at those twenty customers. Those are great examples of perfect candidates for a one-to-one program that has super high levels of customization. 

“In both cases I just described, part of the tactics where we created customized web pages, landing pages for those companies where every aspect of the page was customized. The hero image was an image that reflected their brand and that had their logo, the messaging, the demonstration of our understanding of their business, and their problems were all brought to life in that customized landing page on the website, the microsite really, more than the landing page as an example for one-to-one that level of customization at the website level is super effective and super important. But as you go down the chain to one-to-few and one-to-many, if you are in a one-to-few mode perhaps you’re going after say a hundred to a thousand accounts, something like that. The few aspects of it is you’re still personalizing, but rather than personalizing to the individual company level, you’re  personalizing around a vertical or a persona or some segmentation scheme that it’s not the same for everybody.

“You are personalizing it to their problem, but not necessarily to their company. Then in a one-to-many motion, you open it up much wider and there’s less personalization involved. To the question of what tactics work, you have to start with your understanding of your motion. Is it one-to-one, one-to-few or one-to-many? 

“Another dimension that I will bring into this too is how do you know whether ABM is right for you? How do you know which flavor of ABM is right for you? I’ve got this little two-by-two grid that I use to talk this through with the companies I work with, one access has to do with the complexity of the solution and the buying process. It is also related to how expensive it is. Is this a million-dollar solution, a hundred-thousand-dollar solution, or a twenty-thousand-dollar solution?

“How long does the buying process take? Is it a year long? Is it two weeks long? The whole complexity, and how complex is the buying team? Who is involved in the decision-making? There’s that whole complexity of the sales process is one dimension. Then, the other dimension says that the x-axis or the y-axis is around the maturity of your go-to-market team. How many resources do you have? Do you have a full-bodied marketing team in place? Do you have the ability to do a lot of personalization? Do you have a healthy MarTech stack? Do you have an SDR team? Do you have the ability to report well? Do attribution. Understanding where things are coming from, and the ability to score accounts at the account level vs. the individual contact level. Do you have the right tools from a sales outreach perspective to manage sales cadences? And do you have sophisticated salespeople? Those are all dimensions of good market maturity. 

“If you then think of four quadrants and you start maybe with the most complicated one in that upper right where okay, super complicated system perhaps the robotic solution that I referred to earlier would be a great example of that. Year-long sales cycle, million dollar deals, a lot of people involved in the buying process. Then you also have a super mature go-to-market team between sales and marketing. This is where you can start contemplating doing heavy-duty one-to-one ABM programs and that kind of set of tactics.

“Whereas if you go to the other extreme, let’s say you’re in that grid, that is, okay, it’s not a very complicated product. In the sales process, probably there’s one buyer, and the sales cycle is small. It is a $5,000 item. Then maybe your go-to-market team is pretty immature as well. That’s like a don’t-touch kind of mode. There are different tactics depending upon where you’re in small to mid-size businesses, the biggest challenge is the go-to-market team doesn’t have a high level of sophistication. Perhaps it’s a startup, maybe they don’t have a fleshed-out MarTech stack, don’t have great technology to do intent and lead scoring and attribution, and all of those things. Perhaps they don’t have an SDR team. Then, you have to question, okay, is this the right motion? That is when you start thinking of more of an ABM lite program. Let’s start bringing in some of these concepts, but keep the program more lightweight.”

So many things are running through my head like audience sizes and the viability for advertising vs. very targeted direct mail seems like something that might work well for one-to-one, very small. However, let’s talk about maybe the middle of the range, maybe we have intent, but we haven’t instrumented it super well. The sales team is on board. I’ve seen a lot of tactics deployed, email, digital advertising, and some personalization on the website. But what I see at the center of everything a lot of time is that high-value offer. Can we talk about that and the thought that goes into that in the middle-of-the-road scenario? I know this is hard.

“Sure! High-value offers are one of my favorite topics. I love to talk about this. Just to set the scene, we’re reaching out to this target account audience that may or may not have purchase intent, and may or may not be familiar with our brand. We’ve done all of this work to drive awareness about us. We’ve done outreach. We have connected over multiple channels, sales emails, marketing emails, LinkedIn, phone calls, and the whole array of stuff, and now we finally have the conversation. We’ve engaged and we’re trying to get people to take a meeting, to have a serious kind of conversation with us. 

“This is where the high-value offer comes in because, sure, we can do webinars and we can have e-books and all those traditional things and we can try to do a demo and all those traditional tactics, but those things tend not to offer a tremendous amount of value. There is obviously some value. There is the thought leadership associated with it, but it might not be compelling enough to get a senior level person since typically we’re targeting the range but we are trying to get to the decision-makers and what’s going to interest a decision-maker. That is where the idea of a high-value offer comes in. Again, it involves some level of personalization and some level of customization. 

“Again, it ranges from the one-to-one, you can put a lot of effort into it for one-to-many, less, but Camela asked me to talk about the middle case. How do we do this in a way that adds value, but with some scale, that’s not going to kill us every time we make a high-value offer? That is really the trick, which is finding that high-level offer, that thing that is going to interest a senior-level person to take a meeting. Usually, it’s some unique experience that’s personalized to them, that adds value, that provides some insight that they don’t already have, either about the challenges within their business, best practices, or perhaps how they compare to others in the industry.”

Oh yeah. I love the maturity curve and self-assessment with highly personalized recommendations. We did that together. I’m a content marketer at heart so I love setting it up first of all, but it’s cool since it’s something that I would want to do if I was in their shoes. Where do I rank against other people and what can I fix? That is great!

“And how do you make it interactive and engaging? Your profession, content marketing, has been incredibly successful over the last ten to fifteen years and there has been this whole movement around content. Content is awesome and so important, but it’s been so successful. There is so much of it out there now. How do you make your content stick out?  How do you make it engaging? How do you create an experience around it? That is where developing interactive and engaging tools can be so powerful that do these assessments like maturity model assessments as an example. There are a lot of great tools out there that are making it easier and easier to create these experiences.”

I love Jeff’s emphasis on the experience because it’s so important. Can we give some examples of an interactive play? I know a lot of our listeners are in B2B SaaS with products $50,000 plus a year, something interactive like a self-assessment. How do we hook people in?

”Let’s give a couple of examples of high-value offers that are using these interactive tools. I can give you a couple of examples from my organization Chief Outsiders. Again, we’re fractional sales and marketing executives that are targeting mid-size businesses, and CEOs, helping them with their growth strategies. That’s what we are trying to sell. It fits into that category, a pretty sophisticated sales process. We’ve built out of these assessments that we use both as part of our sales processes, but also part of it is our engagement process because they’re so valuable. They offer a lot of value in our engagement. 

“One of them is based on, we’ve got a methodology which we call “Growth Gears” and it’s core to the way that we think about developing growth strategies. There are three core components to that. There’s an insights phase where we need to understand your internal capabilities as well as the competition and customers. There’s a strategy phase based on those insights, what is the strategy that is going to enable us to grow? Then there is an execution phase. We basically built an assessment tool that allows us to define where you are from a maturity perspective in each of those three buckets. We actually added a fourth one around performance, which in a very short amount of time identifies the big issues, the most important issues since a discovery amongst other things. It’s a discovery acceleration vehicle. When you’re engaged in doing a discovery call, there are a lot of rat holes that you can find yourself going down into that are important.

“However, all of a sudden, you realize time is up and all we did was uncover that one area. Part of the beauty of these sorts of tools is you’ve created this landscape that you’re able to explore from end to end. The beauty of it and we do it in two ways. A prospect can take this in a self-service way and they get a report at the end that gives them a lot of recommendations and that works in a lot of use cases. We can use this as a demand tool, an offer on our website. However, in more of the ABM motion, we want to have a quality conversation and we want to actively walk through that assessment with the prospect because it gives us an opportunity to engage at a deeper level and demonstrate our expertise. It goes back to that experience that we talked about as part of the process. We’re giving them this taste of the value we can provide. That is one example. 

“Another example is right now, here we are in 2024 and AI has been storming the world for the last year or so. 2023 was the year that everybody talked about AI and talked about how it was going to impact their product roadmap and how they were going to enable it. Maybe they were bolting some AI capabilities on the front end. But 2024 is the year of executing and finding that unique high-value way that AI is going to help your business.

“Our customers and prospects are all asking us, how do I identify opportunities, both internally in my business from a productivity standpoint. How can we apply AI in sales and marketing to make our go-to-market engine better? Then also externally, how can we take our product? What are the best opportunities to embed AI in our product too? These are the conversations that we’re having every day. So we built another high-value offer which was an AI assessment that helps identify where organizations are in their AI journey and make recommendations for them as well. 

“As we talked before, it can be used either as a standalone thing, but what we want to do is have a guided conversation where we can do deep discovery and understand what their issues are, but also can demonstrate our strengths and capabilities to drive a sales process.”

I think it’s such a smart thing and I’ve adopted it for my own freelancing. It’s great on a lot of levels. I think just about any company can use this survey to not only figure out if they’re truly in their ICP and set up in a way that would work well with their product, but also offer valuable advice. If I set up a 30-minute call with someone to see if I’m a fit with them, I do have a survey I have them fill out ahead of time. So I can have a more narrow conversation and we go through it together to determine exactly what certain things mean and we can talk high level about where we’re going as we do it. I’ve seen this used in so many applications. It’s such a great play.

“Following up on what Camela just described, not only is it efficient and drives a good effective process, but what I love about is it demonstrates your value. I always talk about it as you want the first bite of the apple to taste good. If you go through that process that Camela just described, you think, wow! This Camela really has our act together. This is amazing! This is so efficient. This is a great process and that’s what you want. You want people to evoke that kind of emotion.”

Yeah, if you have an expert, leverage that, it’s perfect.

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