If you’re just digging your feet into ABM and looking for pointers on how to build a successful account-based strategy, then How to ABM Like a Boss is the definitive blog series for you. No need to read through a stack of posts from a dozen bloggers. This is it. It’s like reading an eBook but in an easier and more digestible way. The blog series covers how to create a budget, build an ABM team, get your data ready, select your target accounts, personalize your content, and measure and realign. Check out the rest of the articles in the series and own your ABM!
Leaders of the most iconic brands share an appreciation for the people that helped build them:
“The competition to hire the best will increase in the years ahead. Companies that give extra flexibility to their employees will have the edge in this area.” – Bill Gates, Microsoft
“The secret of my success is that we have gone to exceptional lengths to hire the best people in the world.” – Steve Jobs, Apple
“If you always hire people who are smaller than you are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. If, on the other hand, you always hire people who are bigger than you are, we shall become a company of giants.” – David Ogilvy, Ogilvy & Mather
“I will only hire someone to work directly for me if I would work for that person.” – Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook
The list goes on.
By now, you know the importance of ABM. But finding the right person to lead your ABM team can be the difference between success and failure.
The research proves it. In our 2020 ABM Market Research Study, we identified common characteristics of high-performing companies, and one of them was they “have a dedicated ABM leader with ABM in their title.”
In this post, I’ll share our blueprint for hiring an all-star and building your ABM team.
The first step is documenting your ideal candidate and what is needed for the role. In addition to the key characteristics noted in the section below, define precisely what this person will be charged with. Common responsibilities include:
While finding someone with fitting industry experience is a given, the following outlines relevant background for this position:
The most successful ABM directors are collaborative, data-driven leaders who understand and can convey the high-level strategy while also diving into the nitty-gritty. They’re interested in the “business of business” and work tirelessly to continually up-level their ability to navigate the complex web of relationships in organizations. This skill set relates to how well they orchestrate your ABM program, including how they convert account information into insights that can be applied to target buyer personas.
In general, ABM leaders are:
Whether you’ve identified potential candidates within your organization or from outside, you can gauge their ABM leadership abilities from their responses to the following questions.
Note that you’re not necessarily looking for a specific answer, rather you’re looking to determine a candidate’s thought process. According to Laszlo Bock, Google’s VP of People Operations, “The second-best predictors of performance are tests of general cognitive ability (26 percent).”
Ask these questions, but also ask for details. Dig into each answer. Find out the specifics.
This may sound like a basic question, but you’d be surprised how many people fail to ask it. What you’re looking for is alignment with your vision of ABM. The answer will give you a good baseline for what to expect from an ABM program run by the candidate.
Let them ask you questions about your business or tell them to make their best guess based on the research they conducted before meeting with you. This is a critical question because ABM is a time- and resource-intensive undertaking. Anyone who doesn’t fully understand the business implications could lead your organization down a costly path that yields insignificant returns.
Here’s your chance to find out whether this person could hit the ground running, thinking strategically while overseeing the smallest details. In an ideal world, the candidate will have gotten an ABM program off the ground at another company, and even spearheaded an ABM pilot program. If they had to bootstrap the initiative by working with existing marketing resources, find out how they went about it and pulled together an effective team.
Being technologically savvy is important to fully leverage ABM. Once the candidate offers a response, ask follow-up questions to drill deeper, like:
Make sure this person can really get into the weeds with the technology and not just talk at a high level. They need to be able to get their hands dirty.
Your ABM Director needs to be comfortable aggregating data from multiple systems and digging into it. In this response, look for proof that the candidate understands the complexities of a sometimes lengthy account purchase process and how to pinpoint meaningful milestones.
As an ABM leader, this person will be interacting with other departments frequently. Make sure they understand, appreciate, and respect the other departments, especially Sales.
While the makeup of the core ABM team varies by organization, it often includes people from Sales, Marketing, Professional Services/Support, and Solutions/Service Consulting. Understanding who does what and how everyone interacts is essential to leading a team to success. Asking the candidate to present the pros and cons of a previous ABM team experience should provide insight into their ability to think strategically and problem solve.
Spend the most time on this question. Don’t let the candidate gloss over any details. Ask them to explain what they did and why they did it. Look for multi-channel engagement, examples of experimentation, and meaningful measures of success. You want to see a deep understanding of an account-centric process, but you’re also looking for grit, teamwork, curiosity, and critical thinking.
Hiring a dedicated ABM leader should be the game-changer that ignites your strategy. As you’re considering candidates, look for strong leaders with the right array of skills, experience, and characteristics. Whatever you do, never underestimate the soft skills that will fuel this person’s ability to rally the troops to drive more account-based revenues.
It’s not enough to hire an ABM leader and expect them to do everything. You must build the right team around them. Going back to the 2020 ABM Market Research Study, another common characteristic of high-performing companies is they involve more of their Marketing team in the unifying efforts, channels, and tactics.
Many organizations can get overwhelmed by thoughts of building an entirely new ABM team around their new leader. But the reality is you can get started with ABM right away and increase your team’s involvement over time.
In fact, integrating an ABM strategy into your current way of working doesn’t require a wholesale change. Once you have designated your ABM leader, you can call upon your current Marketing team to support your strategy. It’s a matter of identifying the required roles, properly structuring your team, and aligning Marketing with Sales.
Don’t think about ABM as a complete transformation of how you generate revenues. Instead, think of it as a new discipline within your existing operations. What you need is a team that applies its existing skills to focus on programs targeted at named accounts.
The in-house skills you harness will depend on the size and makeup of your Marketing organization. Many Marketing teams include the following roles in some capacity.
You know who handles what in your Marketing organization; the next step is determining how your team can support your ABM efforts. To start, answer these questions:
Specifically, who reviews historical, firmographic, technographic, and engagement data? Who evaluates the ICP and how it changes over time? Often, this will be Product Marketing, so have them own this part of ABM.
Namely, who is responsible for driving opt-ins and developing plays, from early to late-stage? Who is charged with defining actions for key personas, crafting messaging, and creating content? Usually, this is in Demand Gen’s purview, so they will most likely handle these ABM activities.
In other words, who rolls out target account selection to Sales and interfaces with the team regularly on Marketing programs? Who works with Sales on account plans and updates them on where there are opportunities? In many organizations, Revenue Marketing and/or Marketing Operations handles this.
As you can see, there are likely already people in your Marketing team that are equipped to handle many aspects of ABM. By getting key members from your existing team involved in critical ABM activities, you can get a robust ABM program off the ground nicely.
Once you’ve mapped your current team to the key activities above, you can figure out where to get people involved in the ABM program. At a high level, the following shows where they could contribute.
Here’s a more explicit overview of the ways your team members can play a role:
Product Marketing can help define the ideal customer profile (ICP) and the segments to pursue, which will in turn inform your predictive scoring model.
Marketing Operations can help build out an account foundation, making sure leads and the right information are mapped to accounts so Marketing and Sales see the same information.
Demand Gen and Sales can collaborate to get a sense of where target accounts are in their path to purchase. For example, are you focused on the right people for these accounts? Are they aware of your products or services, or are you trying to sell them additional products? Understanding this helps define your objective, which in turn informs the types of programs to run. They can also work on orchestrated programs and examine results.
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The heart of any ABM initiative is an aligned Marketing and Sales team that’s dedicated to large accounts. And the more sophisticated your ABM program gets, the more you involve your team.
Apply the crawl, walk, run approach. Start with a pilot, dedicating a certain percentage of your team to the program for a pre-defined amount of time. The goal is to prove that this program will pay off. After racking up some early, meaningful wins, commit a percentage of your team on an ongoing basis so your organization can scale to pursue key segments. Once the ABM program has proven successful in that regard, assign team members to a dedicated ABM team or ABM demand center.
By taking a methodical, well-paced approach to ABM, your team can provide the support and enablement that helps ensure success.
Check out our Sales and Marketing Unification toolkit, for the resources you need to get your organization working together and executing on B2B performance.