Rob Leavitt is a Boston-based marketing strategist, advisor, and educator with a primary emphasis on helping IT and professional services firms stand out from the crowd. He has 20-years of experience within account-based marketing, market and brand strategy thought leadership, engagement marketing, digital marketing, and business development.
He is the Senior Vice President at ITSMA, a global research and advisory community that brings together senior technology and professional services marketing leaders to advance the knowledge and practice of strategic B2B marketing.
D.D.: ABM has grown a lot in the last couple of years and moved beyond experimentation. Why are companies allocating more resources to ABM?
R.L: There are several reasons. Customers are tuning out all but the most relevant marketing messages, so we need to provide more personalized approaches. This means more ABM and less of the old broadcast approach. The buying process has become more digital but also more complex in terms of larger buying committees and longer, less linear processes. So, marketers need to work even more closely with sales throughout the buyer’s journey, and we can’t do that for endless numbers of accounts. But the most important reason is that it works! Companies that have begun to invest in ABM have seen great results, so we want more of it.
Great results can mean different things:
So “it works” is the best answer. Success breeds success: When something is working, we want to invest more.
D.D.: Account-based Marketing Metrics continue to be a top concern for many ABM-ers. How do you recommend that people think about measuring and communicating the impact and value of ABM?
R.L.: Choosing the right account-based marketing metrics is a huge challenge because we want to focus on business impact, not just marketing outputs and activities. But measuring marketing’s impact is not easy, especially when we’re working more and more collaboratively with sales vs. both groups just going their own ways. We always start with the 3 R’s because these ultimately are what business and sales leaders care about most:
R.L: When we talk about reputation as an account-based marketing metric, we’re trying to be very targeted. It’s not about generally building awareness in the market; it’s about building the specific type of reputation that we need to succeed with the leaders of our priority accounts.
For example, we work with a lot of technology companies that have a certain type of vendor reputation, and that reputation is mostly in the IT department of their customers. They want to break into the business side, and be known more as a technology advisor and partner rather than just a vendor. This isn’t just a marketing concern, CEOs, heads of product, and sales all want to shift their reputation to pave the way for new kinds of growth.
Rather than just taking a broad-brush branding approach (which hopefully the brand team is already doing), ABM is a great way to zero in on influential customers in the marketplace, design reputation-building programs just for them, and then have them help spread the good word.
And we can measure this. How do key stakeholders in our most important accounts perceive us? Are we moving the needle with them in the ways we want? Are they providing references and becoming advocates for us to support an enhanced reputation?
We can do targeted surveys, interviews, reference initiatives, and more to measure reputation within our ABM efforts. Quantitative and qualitative measures are both useful and possible. And, again, salespeople and business leaders will appreciate this. They will always say they’re struggling because we don’t have the right reputation that paves the way and eases the buying decision.
D.D.: It’s an interesting metric actually. Probably a bit unexpected because when people consider account-based marketing metrics, the common thought would be thinking about numbers. And reputation is not often seen as quantifiable.
R.L: Exactly, we can quantify it, and it’s critical. Reputation is essential both for near-term sales and longer-term growth potential, and we ignore it as our peril.
R.L.: Sales and executive leadership understand how important strong relationships are, especially with our biggest and most strategic accounts. When we’re selling high-value solutions, it’s typically a long sales cycle and relationships can make all the difference.
Can we get to the right people and have serious conversations? Do we have champions inside the organization that are giving us intelligence and helping us sell? If we have 100 accounts that are really important to the business, do we know the five or ten or 25 most important people in each of those accounts, and are we working to deepen those relationships?
Salespeople know all this and live it every day, but marketing hasn’t focused on this historically which means that salespeople are mostly on their own.
With ABM, marketing can work hand-in-hand with sales to strengthen the relationships that matter most… and we can measure that. Are they accepting invitations to our events? Are they downloading and sharing our thought leadership content? Are they participating in advisory boards or innovation workshops that help lead to new solutions?
Good sales methodologies have formal rating systems for relationships and good salespeople know which customers are champions or neutral or blockers. With ABM, we can join hands in developing programs and activities that target the right people and move the needle on these critical relationships.
R.L.: Revenue of course is something that all ABM-ers, and all marketers, are ultimately focused on but we can also become more sophisticated in measuring our impact on revenue. For one thing, not all revenue is equal from a business strategy perspective. Some is more profitable. Some comes from new solutions that were planning on for major growth in the future. Some revenue is more likely to contribute to great customer lifetime value than others. Some comes from particular customers that serve as our best references and advocates.
Sales people often get special incentives for revenue that is strategically important. Why not marketers, too? Why not measure the contribution of ABM to specific, strategic revenue objectives and then provide complimentary incentives and bonuses to those on the sales side? That would certainly focus our ABM attention!
Measuring ABM contribution is not simple, of course. Especially with long, complex sales cycles, it’s hard to define how exactly marketing helped and attribute some percentage of credit alongside sales. Different companies solve this in different ways, but what really matters is building alignment with sales so the ABM programs are focused on the same revenue outcomes and perceived as making a significant contribution to overall success.
I’m personally less concerned with precise percentages or tying credit to every little ABM tactic. If we can agree on the overall approach, the accounts that matter, and the three Rs strategically, then it’s much easier to have shared responsibility and shared credit for the results.