The Role of Marketing in Account Based Planning

5 minute read

A New Approach: Account Based Marketing

Account Based Planning is an organizational discipline and Account Based Marketing has a critical role to play in this. Successful marketing needs to stay very close to selling and the account strategy – and that is not as common as we’d like to see. Applying marketing strategy to sales plans can be very effective, but understanding sales is critical. Luckily, there is a healthy overlap between the principles of Account Based Planning and ABM.

Marketing and Account Based Planning: Why ABM Can Fail

ABM, like Account Planning, can be tremendously rewarding, but there are pitfalls that you should be aware of:

  • Lack of account insights – If you don’t know anything about an account, the people in the account, or their business needs, it is pretty hard to develop an effective account strategy.
  • Lack of alignment to sales goals – Marketing needs to know what sales departments need to accomplish in order to construct strategies and activities to deliver on those goals.
  • Overly broad deployment – When marketing tries to take on too broad a role in a specific account or too many ‘specific’ accounts at the same time, it typically does not work. ABM has to be account specific.
  • Unreasonable expectations – According to Sirius Decisions, for large accounts, marketing should not be expected to source more than 10% of the sales pipeline (in contrast with 30% of pipeline from general marketing).
  • Lack of resources – ABM requires dedicated support, and is not a part time job. SiriusDecisions suggests if you have the resources, you should have account marketing managers make up part of the account team.
  • Undifferentiated tactic execution – Attempting to say the same things to targeted large accounts as you do to the general market will not work. Using generic messages will not work. We know this is true. In fact, if you are positioning yourself as a strategic partner for an account and they perceive that they are getting the same messages as everyone else, the relationship will suffer.

What needs to change?

If you are committed to an account based go-to-market model, then you need to change a few things in your approach.

  • The data and insights that you use to develop your marketing tactics must be transformed from the general to the specific. Data must be assessed in relation to the account, industry, and context of each of the people in the account that you are trying to influence.
  • Your marketing planning must evolve from theoretical modelling, with Sales and Marketing in separate silos, into an account-focused fact-based analysis, with Sales and Marketing operating in tandem.
  • Effective account planning is about getting the right Demand Management balance, and you should weave ABM into that context.  Reduce the focus on short-term opportunities for a more strategic approach that balances the longer-term view with the urgent need to fill your pipeline. Sales needs to stop measuring Marketing purely on the number of leads, but instead hold marketing to account-level SLAs for specific objectives that are linked to defined opportunity goals.
  • Account management, in most companies, has always been owned by Sales. To maximize the impact that ABM can have, you need to consider sharing ownership of account management activity with Marketing. This should deliver complete visibility into what ‘marketing’ is being delivered to the account.

When does ABM work?

Marketing is usually involved in general corporate marketing, event marketing and field marketing. ABM can build on all of these, but it really shines when you get vertical and customize it for the account. The longer-term goal is to create assets that feel customized to the customer but are in fact configured best practices. If well designed, you should be able to re-purpose these assets in several accounts.

As you define relationship development strategies, specific messaging strategies, account-specific awareness building, account specific case studies, and applicable win strategies, you will be able to take a similar approach in multiple accounts. These activities should result in relationship acceleration and your company being seen as one that goes above and beyond what generic marketing would deliver.

You haven’t a hope of leveraging ABM unless you can build credibility and trust between sales and marketing. It’s important to ask:

  1. Is sales open to new kinds of help?
  2. Is marketing invited to join planning and execution?
  3. How can marketing be aligned to our best sources of growth?

Trust and collaboration are critical. Marketing needs to do the hard work to contribute to insights and planning for the account that add real value. Constant communication is important to maintain the alignment between Sales and Marketing.

Applying ABM

The mission of account based planning and management is to build long-term business relationships that enable you to create, develop, pursue, and win business. Marketing will need to align to specific account objectives to align your solutions to the customer’s business needs, and to help with competitive positioning and strategy. They should be the engine that provides relevant assets. For example, there may be marketing initiatives to:

  1. Move a targeted account from disinterest or lack of awareness to engagement and awareness of your company’s solutions.
  2. Create campaigns leading to opportunities to position your company as the preferred provider of choice.
  3. After-sale nurturing to strengthen account position for broad and deep penetration, achieving strategic relevance.

Yes, you need a different approach, but no, you do not need to throw out techniques that succeed elsewhere. Instead, you need to build upon them, extend the basic concepts, and augment the methodology to yield a model that is more suitable to the size of the task at hand.

The factor that drives the need for this can be captured in one word: scale. The fact is that a large company is usually a collection of small, specialized commercial activities. When approaching any such ecosystem, deliberate design is demanded. Optimal outcomes are rarely achieved without a diligent, technology based  approach.

Interested in Account Planning? Check out our Account Manager page.

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