Is your team transitioning to an account-based marketing approach? What should you prioritize as you move to an ABM or ABX strategy?
First, a quick note on nomenclature. For years, we've called this ABM. But more recently, you may have heard people call it ABX. What's the difference?
Account-based marketing (ABM) refers to high-level coordination between marketing, sales, account management, and customer success to gain or grow customers at the account level (and not the individual contact or lead level). With ABM, the idea is that the highest value B2B customers are companies, and to keep and grow a customer, you need to win an entire account, not just one or two people who work there.
What does ABX mean?
Account-based experience (ABX), on the other hand, is really just a more modern way of referring to the same concept, that intentionally incorporates a full customer lifecycle view of an account - from marketing to sales and customer success and everything in between.
In reality, what does ABM mean? ABM has never really been just about marketing, which is why many companies use the more inclusive ABX meaning. We'll probably use them interchangeably here, though I'm sure some purists would object. (Happy to discuss this! Find me on LinkedIn.)
Some B2B companies have already made a full transition to an ABX strategy. But more are starting to think about it, dipping their toes into the account-based waters. But just doing a little bit of ABX might be worse than doing none - it’s confusing and messy for your sales team and customers. So let’s talk about what you need to think about as you make the transition to ABM/X.
Accounts should be your focus, not leads.
First and fundamentally, accounts should be the focus of your organization, not leads. This may sound obvious, but it's the first step in an ABX strategy. We've talked a lot about how you should take an accounts-focused approach across your revenue organization, and move away from leads as your unit of engagement. And if you're going to take an ABX approach, you absolutely have to stop thinking in terms of leads. This may require a big shift in how your team thinks, how your processes work, and even how your CRM is set up.
For example, a lot of marketing efforts are focused on generating leads. Generally, those "leads" are email addresses - new or re-engaged prospects to be qualified and sent on to sales. An ABX approach means you need to start thinking of those email addresses as contacts instead of leads, and how those contacts connect to accounts.
Is your marketing team measured on generating leads? How does your organization define "leads" in this case? Consider moving to a model where you're measuring SAOs (sales accepted opportunities) or demo sets or closed-won revenue. There are a number of models that may make sense for your organization that aren't just the leads you bring in. I'd argue that even if you aren't doing ABM, you shouldn't be measuring your marketing team's success based on something as simple as lead quantity, but that's a subject for another post.
For ABX to work, you need robust account matching (lots of us still call this lead-to-account matching, even though we should be thinking of it as contact-to-account matching). Regardless, when a new email address comes in at the top of your funnel - whether it's from an inbound or outbound motion - you need to make sure it's not associated with an existing account before you do anything else.
Clear rules of engagement are essential.
An ABX strategy relies on a set of clear, comprehensive rules of engagement. You need to be sure you've codified who owns which accounts and when, who engages with which contacts and when, what to do in case of conflict, and more. When you're dealing with accounts as the main unit of ownership, you're bound to run into conflicts because a contact wasn't matched to the correct account, or a rep misunderstood an account's ownership. Starting off with good RoE can help, but know you'll likely need to improve your rules as you go. Communicate that with your team.
We've written about the challenges you may encounter with your rules of engagement here. That's a good starting point if you're thinking about making sure your RoE is robust enough to stand up to a transition to ABX. You should also work through these updates with stakeholders from ops, marketing, sales, and customer success to be sure you're capturing all scenarios and edge cases. Think about how this will impact both outbound and inbound if you need to make any changes to your qualification process, and if you need to update headcount.
Your CRM and workflows will need some updates.
There will be some technical work involved in making the switch to ABX. You'll have to update your CRM workflows, maybe change how certain objects are handled, etc... This could be a heavy lift for your ops team, so plan accordingly.
You may need to update how you handle assignments, for example. You may need to change your round-robin logic, or uplevel your matching rules. Will these changes impact your SLAs in any way? If you have to send new inbounds through more steps, does that take longer to get a new contact in the hands of a rep?
What tools will be affected by these changes? Think about all your sales and marketing tech stack, like marketing automation, chatbots, CRM, sales engagement, routing, and more. Do you need to change your qualification criteria?
Change management will help.
If your organization has been depending on leads for a while, this will be a big change. Don't underestimate the importance of involving your teams early, and using change management best practices as you roll out your new strategy. Prepare training, Q&A sessions, feedback channels, and whatever you need to ensure your teams a) know what's going on and what to expect, b) have an opportunity to provide feedback, and c) get the enablement they need to be successful.
Marketing, sales and customer success need to be in lock step.
Transitioning to a full ABX model means everyone in your revenue organization actually needs to work together. An account is a long-term commitment. From the moment an account learns about your company (marketing), to when they come in for a demo (new business), to when they have questions about the product a year later (customer success), there will be many touchpoints. That means everyone needs to be on the same page - with messaging, with rules of engagement, with expectations, with communication.
This is not easy. Lots of companies say they have "sales and marketing alignment" (blerg, I hate that phrase), but few actually do. You may need to change how you measure success across teams. You may need to update compensation or incentives. You will definitely need to address communication and collaboration. Make sure you have stakeholders involved from all teams from the beginning - before you set your new ABX plan into motion.