How to Get Up and Running With an ABM Pilot Program

One of the biggest hurdles holding organizations from starting ABM is uncertainty. Despite all of the empirical evidence, they’re uncertain about the resources it will take; they’re uncertain about their ability to execute; quite frankly, they’re uncertain that the ROI of ABM is worth it.

You have a right to ask those same questions. So, what’s the best way to erase that doubt? Prove ABM out with a pilot program.

Though your organization doesn’t need to jump through hoops to get started with an ABM program, it will realize the best results by taking the time to put the proper account foundation in place. To be sure, you need to address the basics, like account selection and tiering, developing account insights, generating account-specific content and orchestrating account-focused plays. But the most sophisticated marketers go even further to ensure their ABM pilot is primed for success. Here are the other essential elements included in you plans for a pilot program.

Pinpoint Your Destination

Of course the goal of your ABM pilot program is to improve your organization’s ability to engage and convert accounts. But you need to more granularly define what you intend to accomplish with your pilot program. The first step is deciding the scope of your program. Will you focus on a dozen of your largest accounts, a single vertical, a geographic region, or any other set of accounts?

Once you’ve figured that out, it’s time to map your plan to the most appropriate goals. If you are targeting just one or two accounts, you can measure the metrics outlined in the “Analyze Your Pilot” section below. If you are taking a broad-brush approach, your goals might center on the efficiency and effectiveness of your processes versus your account-specific results.

Gain Full Support from Sales

Your Sales counterpart will likely be fully supportive of your plans to launch an ABM program once they understand that you will be helping them close larger deals. After all, this signals your intent to align with the way Sales is already selling. But getting the Sales manager or VP to say, “Great – can’t wait!” is far different from getting that person to commit all necessary resources to ensure program success.

It takes headcount and budget to fuel an ABM program, and the Sales team needs to be clear on what’s involved and their contribution to the pilot and beyond. Outline all critical pilot elements, socialize the plan with those in Sales who can make budget and resource decisions, and gain commitment from the get-go that Sales is completely bought in.

Spell Out Who Does What

If you’ve ever worked at a company where the lead handoff process is ill defined, you know how quickly chaos can ensue. The same is true when it comes to ABM, even in companies with strong Marketing and Sales alignment. After all, ABM is different than the traditional approach to generating demand and engaging opportunities.

Once Marketing and Sales agree on target account criteria and selection, it’s time to document the rest of the ABM process. While your sales team is likely familiar with how to engage accounts and move them through the pipeline, it won’t necessarily know what that looks like when marketing is an integral part of the process. Marketing and Sales need to hammer out how to execute account-focused plays, including what and when messages, content, and outreach get personalized, and who is responsible. They also need to figure out how they’ll handle and act on account data, the process for communicating about target accounts, and how to escalate ABM program-related issues.

Give Everyone a Deadline

The pilot is your chance to evaluate how well your teams can execute on an ABM plan, and test the processes and procedures you’ve put in place to support it (such as how Sales and Marketing will share and act on account data). With that in mind, give yourself a reasonable, yet clear, amount of time to run the program. In most organizations, this is roughly six months. By putting well-defined boundaries on the timeline, you can more easily manage and assess the effectiveness of the pilot. Plus, it’s always easier to get buy-in for a pilot when everyone knows there’s a hard start and stop date.

Analyze Pilot Performance

Here’s exactly what you should review to determine how well your pilot went:

  • Cross-functional alignment and cooperation. Because ABM success hinges on how well your Marketing and Sales teams work together, it’s critical to analyze the performance of each team individually and as a whole. Rate how each person involved in the pilot performed their tasks, then evaluate cross-team interactions and communications. Was everyone clear on their roles and expectations? Did they achieve the goals laid out for them? Did the sales team embrace the ABM pilot and incorporate it into their daily routine? Did Marketing and Sales work in tandem as expected? Identify all challenges and best practices, and capture all feedback and suggestions. Don’t forget to also look for gaps, such as the need for additional roles, processes, or technologies to support the program.
  • Target account results. Ultimately, your ABM success is determined by your outcomes within target accounts. Unlike traditional marketing where you’re focused on driving large numbers of leads into the top of the funnel, with ABM your goal is to engage and develop long-term relationships with key contacts within named accounts. Just as you need to call upon methodologies such as multi-touch attribution to understand the revenue impact of traditional marketing tactics, you’ll need to come up with relevant ways to measure ABM impact. To that end, these are some of the most meaningful metrics:
    • Number of new contacts within target accounts
    • Number of interactions with key stakeholders in accounts
    • Type of engagement with key stakeholders (this is akin to scoring leads, whereby a face-to-face meeting would count more than a content download)
    • Change in perceived reputation (do accounts proactively consult your sales team, are they inviting your sales team to participate in more RFPs?)
    • Accelerated pipeline and shorter sales cycle (are accounts purchasing faster than before?)
    • Higher cross-sell and up-sell
    • Increase in average deal size and lifetime customer value

Remember, some of these metrics may not apply depending on the length of your pilot. For instance, if your average sales cycle is 18 months, you probably won’t know whether or not ABM will shorten that or the impact on lifetime customer value after running a 6-month pilot.

In addition to tracking the discrete metrics above, you’ll want to compare the impact of your ABM pilot to non-ABM efforts. In other words, did you achieve better results within accounts where you applied ABM compared to accounts being handled otherwise?

Socialize Wins and Scale for Further Success

The best way to win support for your ABM program is by demonstrating its impact. Leave yourself enough time to do the pilot analysis justice. A lot will be riding on the results, so you don’t want to rush through your evaluation. That said, while hard-hitting metrics speak volumes, an anecdote from a key stakeholder at a vaunted account can hold just as much sway. Share the most compelling evidence of success with your company’s senior leadership, along with your plan to establish a full-blown ABM program. Once you’ve gained their support and buy-in, further evangelize the results to build momentum for the rollout of your formal program.

Running a pilot program is a safe, effective way to introduce your organization to the value of ABM, while ironing out your processes and strategy. By applying the guidance outlined here, you’ll be in a strong position to succeed.

If you are looking for more suggestions on how to get your program off the ground, download our ABM Starter Kit.

Brandon Redlinger
Brandon Redlinger
Brandon Redlinger is the Head of Growth at Engagio, the Account-Based Marketing and Sales platform that enables teams to measure account engagement and orchestrate human connections at scale. He is passionate about the intersection between tech and psychology, especially as it applies to growing businesses. You can follow him on twitter @brandon_lee_09 or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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