With March Madness coming up next week, you’ve undoubtedly seen at least one email about participating in an NCAA tournament bracket. I get very excited about this time of year, as I love watching all the upsets, buzzer-beaters, tear jerkers and epic overtime battles. When it comes to college basketball, I’m a fan of watching and routing for the underdogs. However, as the leader of our Sales Development team, I’ve noticed that in basketball, those underdogs occasionally surprise us, but in B2B marketing, our ability to predict which companies are likely to become customers is considerably more reliable.
In fact, the process of building and selling to your target account list is a lot like the selection process of the NCAA tournament. In Sales, as in Marketing, we want to stay focused on the best opportunities as we move through the funnel. That means aligning operations around a list of accounts that are ranked by the strongest ideal customer profile. Basically, Account-Based Marketing (ABM) helps us to define our B2B brackets.
Once you have that list, you’re ready to start Round One of the tournament, which is a very exciting time. In B2B, this is when your counterparts on the marketing team execute an awesome marketing campaign and discover which accounts have significant interest in learning more about your company. Once you have your list of opportunities, you need to rank those accounts in order to decide which ones you’ll call into first.
You will make your selections and pick most of the top seeds. As history has told us, the top seeds (1-4) have an 80+% chance of advancing to the next round and seeds 5-7 have a 60-70% chance of advancing in the NCAA Tournament, which is very similar to early stage opportunities. The better the ICP, the more likely they are to advance. Sure, there will be some of the lower seeds (9-16) who advance to Round Two, probably because they requested a demo on your site or are from a company who was referred to you by a current customer.
My advice on seeds 8 and 9? In the NCAA tournament, it’s a total crapshoot, so maybe pick the team whose mascot you like better. For sales teams, go on gut feeling from the conversation.
As you move into Round Two, you’ll notice that some of your teams looked very strong and are looking to cruise through the next couple stages, some just skated by under the wire, and some underdogs came out of nowhere and are now looking to keep pushing forward. How closely does this mirror your experience with early stage opportunities? You’ll have the big names that you know are a fit and make it through almost untouched, some deals that have the right profile, but had some major red flags and finally, the small guys who assure you they have the budget and want to move forward. Any of these have the chance of making it through to the next round, but the top seeds are still going to win 60-80% of the time.
The companies who progress to these next rounds have seen a demo and had numerous discovery calls with your sales team and are now looking at proposals. These rounds are primarily filled with 1-4 seeds, have a couple 5-8 seeds in there, and maybe one 9-12 seed. (The 13-16 seeds will have been closed out and are now looking forward to next year.) True to form, the #1 seeds are predominantly moving on to the next round, with that one low seed (inbound contact request/customer referral) hanging in there.
Then we have the Final Four. By this time in the sales process, we have weeded out the companies who aren’t ready to buy and are starting the contract negotiation process. This is where it is important to have only the best possible opportunities who all have a legitimate shot at closing. If we take the NCAA Tournament as a real life example, we’ll see that in eight of the last 10 years, at least one #1 seed has made it to the Final Four and has won the championship seven out of the last 10 years. Get all your top seeds into this stage, as they have an 80% chance of closing.
If all goes according to plan, you’ll accurately predict who wins the Championship (by becoming your customer) and celebrate the victory. You’ll then start the process again by converting your target accounts to opportunities and working them through the B2B bracket to see who your winner is. Luckily, in the B2B marketing world we can have more than one winner per tournament and don’t have to wait a year to start up a new bracket.