This is How I ABM: Tips on ABM Pilot Programs for Demand Gen and CMOs

We wanted to explore how marketers ABM. So we teamed up with some of our partners for their insights into how a marketing team can implement ABM across every role. We share what they had to say in this special series, How I ABM.

Check out more of the How I ABM partner series:

In This Is How I ABM: Tips from Marketing Operations and Sales Development Pros, leaders from our partner organizations Spear Marketing Group and Inverta share what ABM means to them.

You Need to Crawl Before You Walk. About ABM Pilots.

If your family is like mine, then you know that during this time while we are all social distancing it’s a little hard to come up with new things to talk about. You can’t keep asking, “How was your day?” or “What did you do for lunch?” Because you were there–for all of it. To fill the void in conversation, my family has taken up playing Table Topics during dinner. It’s a deck of cards with conversation-sparking questions so that we have something to discuss rather than just listening to each other eat.

When my mom went to answer a question, she started by saying, “This is a cliché, but . . . .” I stopped to think, clichés are cliché for a reason. They got that way because the situation applied often enough to continue to say the phrase. Phrases such as “the grass is always greener” or “all that glitters isn’t gold” or “you have to learn to crawl before you walk.” These all can be applied to all things in life, including ABM.

In ABM, you do need to crawl before you walk. While that’s obviously the cliché way of saying it, it basically means that you have to start with a pilot before your program is up and running. And like crawling, implementing a pilot program isn’t always easy. It takes time and practice before you can grow your program into a fully functioning ABM strategy.

In this post (our own kind of table topic), marketers from a few of our partners–Quarry, Elevated Third, and Spear Marketing Group–share how ABM pilot programs have helped their clients.

Demand Generation

Jeff Calderone, CEO, Elevated Third

When we start working with companies, we often find that they have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on martech but have never developed their ABM strategy. As Chris Golec says in his book Account-Based Marketing, “ABM uses technology, but it is ultimately a strategy. That’s why you cannot just buy yourself  ‘an ABM’ and plug it in at your company.”

This resonates with me. Like Demandbase, most of our revenue comes from building the tech that creates digital experiences for users. However, without a strategic approach from the outset, the tech is ineffective, money is ultimately wasted, and clients are unhappy.

We recommend that our clients start with a simple ABM pilot program. We can then help them start to identify the constraints and focus on the solutions that will have the most impact and drive effectiveness. Sometimes these constraints are technical, sometimes strategic and even cultural. The pilot program will bring these to light and we can quickly and inexpensively solve the most pressing issues before we go wide with ABM and invest more time and money. Piloting ABM also shows us where the digital experience is holding us back and we can create both short- and long-term priorities for martech investment.

Ultimately, a pilot program allows marketers to start seeing results quickly and build on them over time with a measured, strategic approach.

VP Marketing / CMO

Meredith Fuller, Managing Director, Quarry

Establishing a best-in-class Account-Based Marketing practice should be on every B2B CMO’s must-do list. Whether ABM constitutes a minority or majority of Marketing’s energy, resources, and budget, doing it well means doing it right. And doing it right is predicated on the understanding that ABM isn’t simply targeted demand gen: It’s a fundamental shift in marketing processes, data management, martech stack design and deployment, sales integration, and success metrics.

CMOs must be the evangelists for, and overseers of, this shift. But how do CMOs know what needs to change to support this pillar of demand strategy? The best approach may be taking a step back before moving forward.

Dan Martinez, Director Global Marketing, Demand Generation & Communications at O.C. Tanner, did just that. He recognized the shifts for the company’s Marketing and Sales teams as they adopted ABM would be significant. So he wanted to ensure that any changes would support a best-in-class account-based practice.

Consequently, he first undertook an ABM readiness assessment that evaluated marketing and sales alignment, technology readiness, and data measurement and reporting readiness. This evaluation identified the critical issues O.C. Tanner needed to address prior to launching an ABM pilot. And it also provided a roadmap for the continued evolution of its account-based practice. As a result, O.C. Tanner’s first ABM program was built on a foundation of ABM-centric data, systems, workflow, and internal collaboration that will support them well into the future. Doing it right to do it well.

Demand Generation

Howard Sewell, President, Spear Marketing Group

As a demand generation marketer, it’s natural to want to take a crawl-walk-run-approach to ABM, especially when budgets are tight. However, it’s best to avoid the temptation to run a one-off, target account campaign and call it ABM.

Without the planning, strategy, personalization, and cross-functional alignment that true ABM requires, you’ll be setting false expectations, and it will be more difficult to evolve into a more disciplined approach. A better investment right now is to develop a genuine ABM plan, and use that plan to gain consensus amongst key stakeholders–Marketing, Sales, Customer Support–on critical issues like ICP, account selection, personas, KPIs, channels, and tactics.

Our Opportunity-Based Marketing (OBM) Framework provides demand gen marketers a model to help set their organization on the path to a successful ABM initiative. Once you have a plan, consider an ABM pilot (the “crawl” phase) as a way to validate assumptions and also better evaluate whether your current tech stack is up to the task. Having buy-in on an overall plan is key; however, by establishing a common understanding of goals, roles, and metrics, you’ll avoid later differences of opinion as to whether ABM success is being achieved.

Want more? Here’s some related blog content:

Happy marketing!

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