sales forecasting

A VP Sales Guide to Account-Based Marketing

As you’re hopefully aware, when you want something from another party, it’s almost always better to tailor and customize your pitch, instead of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. This truism is exactly what’s behind the concept of account-based marketing — and more and more companies seem to be realizing it. According to a 2015 survey, 92 percent of organizations view account-based marketing as a “must-have” for B2B marketing efforts.

So what exactly is account-based marketing and what do you need to know as a VP of Sales? Like the name suggests, it’s an alternate approach to marketing that focuses on individual accounts rather than a more broad-reaching, indeterminate effort. Companies that practice account-based marketing focus on a select few high-value accounts, then create content and campaigns that are targeted to address the specific challenges faced by these accounts.

Account-based marketing is an application of the well-known Pareto principle, which estimates that “80 percent of outputs come from 20 percent of inputs.” In other words, a few good clients are worth their weight in gold. The practice is in vogue right now because organizations are realizing that it works. A survey by the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) found that roughly 85 percent of marketers saw better returns from account-based marketing than any other approach.

The benefits of account-based marketing don’t just stop within the department, however. Adopting an account-based approach has the ability to affect other parts of your organization for the better — in particular, how you manage and run your sales team. This is because account-based marketing and sales management actually have quite a few things in common. Here’s a look at how the two practices correspond to each other.

1. Reliance on Data Integrity

Data integrity is absolutely paramount when it comes to account-based marketing. To begin with, there’s the account and contact data that you need in order to know where to even get started analyzing your prospects. Once you have this in place, you’ll also need to mine this data for information about your prospects’ behavior and preferences.

This process, in turn, helps you build key buyer personas that have a similar organizational role, motivating factors and obstacles to purchasing. Finally, you can use these personas to create highly relevant targeted content and messages for each of your accounts. Each of these steps, building upon the last, relies upon the basic integrity of your data in order to succeed.

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Sales management, too, is a highly data-driven process. Understanding how your prospects have behaved in the past, and how they’re likely to behave in the future, is only possible through access to a quality CRM database. Unfortunately, companies that rely on traditional methods of data entry and manage their pipelines using spreadsheets are putting their forecasts at risk: It’s estimated that 88 percent of all spreadsheets contain “significant” errors.

2. Cooperation Between Teams

Account-based marketing is only made possible by close collaboration between your sales and marketing teams. The sales team needs marketing to do their work well in order to bring in viable leads. However, often the two departments aren’t quite in sync, which means that they end up targeting different audiences and accounts.

Successfully implementing account-based marketing requires a true alignment between sales and marketing. Both teams need to come together and agree on the specific accounts that will be targeted and the messaging that will be used to do so. Your sales team should serve as the method of delivering your marketing team’s message.

Of course, cooperation between teams is also essential for effective pipeline management. By understanding where the gaps lie in your pipeline, your sales reps are giving your marketing team insight into what strategies to pursue. If your forecasts for the next quarter are weak, for example, then your marketing team may choose to spend more money promoting a particular product, or in a particular territory. The relationship is also reciprocal: Information about your upcoming marketing campaigns can help your reps focus on the accounts that those campaigns will hit.

3. Not “One-Size-Fits-All”

By now, it should be clear that account-based marketing is one of the least “one-size-fits-all” approaches that your business can take. If you’re focusing your efforts on a few high-value targets, your organization needs to deliver personalized, unique messages to each prospect that address their specific pain points and motivations.

It’s also true, however, that sales management isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” practice either. For one, unanticipated external circumstances can have a big impact on how your actual sales compare to your projections — factors like economic conditions, consumer demographics and behavior, and industry competitors. In addition, sales processes are very different when it comes to distinguishing between enterprise and SMB sales.

Final Thoughts

Account-based marketing requires a true commitment from you and your team if it’s to be successful, but the results will almost certainly be worth the effort. What’s more, it can have positive repercussions throughout your company. If you’ve already implemented a robust sales management approach within your organization — or are thinking of doing so in the near future — then creating a solid, well-built structure around your account-based marketing shouldn’t be so tough.

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