Inside Demandbase

How to approach your ABX strategy

December 1, 2021

11 mins read

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How to approach your ABX strategy

Leanne Chescoe, Demandbase’s senior manager EMEA marketing, explores all things ABX: what sets it apart from ABM, what data to select and how to manage it, that all important sales and marketing alignment and what types of target accounts and technology you should be on the lookout for.

ABM vs. ABX: What’s all the fuss about?

ABM is in a stage of ‘evolution’: welcome ABX. But what exactly is it? “ABX is a GTM strategy that uses data and insights to orchestrate relevant, trusted marketing and sales actions throughout the B2B customer lifecycle,” Leanne states. As she outlines, ABX acts as a thread that interweaves through all your GTM approaches. It centers on alignment between marketing, sales and customer facing teams, touching on all aspects of the buyer journey from brand to post-sale expansion.

The use of data plays a key role in ABX. Whereas traditional ABM focuses on identifying and engaging valuable accounts without taking into account timing, ABX uses data and insights (such as AI) to identify when and how to engage with accounts and, most importantly, what to say to them.

Data foundation

Data lies at the heart of ABX. However, what makes ‘good’ data? Leanne outlines the key areas to look at:

  • Actionable: Your data should drive critical outcomes. Make sure you have the right data on target accounts that are showing buying signals.
  • Accurate: To avoid wasting both your time and that of sales, your data needs to be accurate. “There’s nothing worse than seeing high bounce rates from your emails which affect things like your deliverability scores or sending an email only to find that your contact has moved on,” Leanne states.
  • Complete: In a similar vein, it goes without saying that your data needs to be complete from the personal (job titles, email addresses) to account data (company revenue, industry information).
  • Timing: Last but certainly not least comes the question of timing: when should you promote your data to your internal stakeholders? When sending an alert about an account to, for example, your sales team, you need to make sure that the data you’re putting in front of that alert is “important to your user from an operations perspective.” Leanne stresses the importance of doing a timely job of refreshing that data, an element that ties all aspects of ‘good’ data together.

Cleaning up: Managing the data you already have

“Having data isn’t everything,” Leanne maintains, “it needs to be put there in a way that makes sense from an analytical and systems perspective.” You need to clean up existing data. Enter your marketing operations team.

Leanne outlines four simple examples of where to start your clean up process:

  1. Naming conventions: Taking a standardised approach across your campaigns is crucial. Leanne suggests the use of programmes such as Salesforce and Demandbase.
  2. Ideal customer profile: This step centers on making sure you have this concretely set up and agreed across your organisation in the name of remaining consistent across your list.
  3. Type of fields: Once more, consistency is the name of the game: within your CRM, do you want checkboxes to indicate target accounts? If you’re tiering your account, do you want to see this at account level? Make sure to bring in marketing and sales during this stage.
  4. Target account classifications: If you’re tiering your target accounts, make sure that the information is all up-to-date. Similarly to the above, this involves collaboration, especially with your sales team.

As Leanne reminds us, critical data is scattered across different systems which makes it hard to integrate: “without that proper data foundation, you’re unable to align as a sales and marketing team with that proper view of the account,” she continues. This therefore makes it more difficult to recognise what accounts are in the market and ready to engage, not to mention the question of measuring success.

One key exercise Leanne recommends is to look at the different categories and pieces of data that goes into each area of the buyer’s journey to help you think about the areas of investment you may need as you build out your strategy. This is split into the five core areas of an ABX process:

  1. Build: Creating that account-based foundation and all the technology and pieces of data you need to successfully build that.
  2. Find: Making sure you able to identify the right accounts that are going to drive your business
  3. Engage: Starting with developing account insights then moving into creating custom content and next attracting those accounts through advertising. Then you want to continue to drive interaction and engagement across channels and orchestrate some account-focused plays so you can start to scale engagement.
  4. Close is all about sales and marketing alignment and making sure you’re delivering account intelligence to your sales team.
  5. And finally, measure, prove and improve the impact of your ABX efforts.

Team alignment

Parallel to building out your data foundation, you need to focus on “that all important area we consistently hear: team alignment.”

Taking collaborative steps when developing your target account list

“Before you start thinking about creating or iterating on your target account list, it’s really important that you build out your ABX leadership team,” Leanne states. This team not only supports driving your ABX programme through their expertise and influence, but also makes sure that you have that crucial wider buy-in across your organisation.

Leanne advises starting with defining your target account list. She recommends focusing on customer success, especially when you take into account the fact that they will provide characteristics of the ideal customer. Following on from this, the marketing organisation will build on that list, making sure it aligns with the business objectives set by the leadership. Here’s where marketing and sales come together: these two teams will refine that list based on real world experience, “bringing that relationship element and that bigger context of that account into the picture.”

Leanne reminds us that developing your target account list is not a “one and done” process, rather something dynamic that you’ll continue to revisit throughout your programme. To successfully navigate your ABX programme, make sure that you’re regularly meeting with your teams. Whether you’re creating your list from scratch or building on a pre-existing one, the most important thing to remember is that this process is above all collaborative.

Three areas to look at when aligning sales and marketing

Long gone are the days of the traditional, static sales-marketing relationship: “we’ve passed the point of marketing saying to sales: here’s a lead and off you go and close it, our job’s done,” Leanne maintains. This is especially true when it comes to ABX with sales and marketing working in tandem to deliver account intelligence and outcomes across every stage of the buying cycle. Easier said than done. Leanne outlines three steps to align sales and marketing into one team:

1. Looking at the same data

One of the fundamental areas to focus on is making sure you’re dealing with the same data. It goes without saying that “having the same account view is really helpful,” sharing what you’re doing with sales from a programme perspective. The figures speak for themselves with 74% stating that sales awareness of marketing campaigns is important to their business.

2. Sharing insights proactively

Leanne recommends having alerts sent out at each stage of the buyer cycle. Technology can help automate this process, whether that be a weekly snapshot email to sales and SDR team detailing your account’s engagement, intent data or website activity or simply company news.

To go even further, Demandbase has set up alerts as to when your target account goes onto your website, sending out Slack notifications to the relevant salesperson. In a similar vein, you can push this information directly into CRM systems to have all that information available at account level. Whatever path you choose, the most important thing is to “share all of those insights as you go.”

3. Start working together

Demandbase holds monthly ABM standups: a meeting between your ABM marketer, SDR and salesperson to get to grips with the engagement of your target audience. This serves the two-fold benefit of forming a deeper account understanding and team alignment. Leanne outlines some questions to ask yourself during this stage:

  • What accounts have become market quantifiable?
  • Where are those accounts moving through their buyer journey?
  • Are any of these accounts getting stuck at the buyer stage?
  • What does the intent data look like?

Leanne explores these engagement signals in conjunction with heat maps to fully understand what job titles are engaging with sales and marketing teams: are you engaging enough with c-level accounts, for instance. What areas are you missing out on?

Target account list

Now that you’ve focused on team alignment, it’s time to put that into action by thinking about how you’ll build out your target account list. Leanne highlights some questions to take into consideration:

  • Is your list designed to help meet revenue goals?
  • Is it aligned with business objectives?
  • Does it reflect any strategic goals for the company?

Once you’ve outlined your main reasons, this will help you decide on why you’re building these accounts, your main reason for this account selection.

Forming your ideal customer profile

Following on from this is the question of your ideal customer profile. “Think of your ideal customer profile as your accounts that should buy from you based on firmographic characteristics,” Leanne explains.

Once you’ve clearly defined this profile, you can build out and find these target accounts. But where do you start? Demandbase uses the FIRE acronym:

  • Fit: Does your account meet your ideal customer profile?
  • Intent: Are these accounts showing interest in your products?
  • Relationship: How can you work with sales to get the context or history of the account?
  • Engagement: How much time is your target account spending with your organisation? Are they visiting your website? Attending webinars? Reading content?

These elements combine to form a pipeline prediction score which ranks qualified accounts based on predicted buying behaviour.

Endless supply of accounts: How to segment your accounts

As Leanne maintains, “the number of accounts that you could pursue is larger than the number of accounts you can pursue.” She recommends segmenting and tiering your accounts.

One approach can be based on account values. It goes without saying that a bigger spend will push accounts higher up the priority list as you give more resources to accounts where you’re going to see high return. Alternatively, you could segment based on the type of account, whether that be sorting based on industry or whether they’re a customer of your competitor.

For those accounts in your target market that aren’t in your current line of focus, Leanne recommends continuing to identify specific activities that indicate that you’re going to focus on them and trigger appropriate action. For example, accounts showing signs of being in-market and ready to engage.

Once you have that initial draft list in your hand, the time comes to share this with others in your team. For Leanne, start with your ABX leadership team: they have the most knowledge of your business, your sales team and the nuances of your sales cycle. The next step is to verify and iterate that list, making sure you remember to have those regular reviews to update your list. “Not having this in place could be a potential pitfall,” Leanne cautions.

Technology

Last but by no means least comes the question of technology. For Leanne, this final step brings all different threads into one.

When reviewing technologies it’s important that it gives you the ability to connect your first- and third-party data together in one platform to provide a singular comprehensive view of the account and the people in them.

First-party data includes known information that comes from your CRM, marketing automation, email and calendar invites and website visits. Third-party data includes unknown or anonymous activity on your website, what people are researching across the internet, firmographic and technographic information and ad impressions. The combination of both sets of data gives you access to holistic insights on accounts and people so that you can better understand where they are in their buying journey and create targeted marketing programs and sales outreach.

Segment the data to create account lists in multiple ways and measure the success of your programs that shows how they are helping to move accounts through the funnel and see what pages of your website they are engaging with most.

Finally, look into data integration capabilities:

  • Can that technology connect and integrate with multiple systems, including sales marketing automation, corporate email and your website?
  • Make sure you are able to organise data across disparate systems to create a complete view of accounts.
  • Unify multiple individual and account identities to create a single view.

“The combination of that first- and third-party data set gives you access to that holistic insight of the account,” Leanne maintains. Who wouldn’t want that?

This piece originally appeared on B2B Marketing on November 10th, 2021

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