I remember sitting in a sales and marketing meeting when I was fresh out of college as a marketing coordinator. The meetings were on Monday mornings and normally more than a little droll. Lasting right around an hour, sales began by recapping pipeline for that quarter and the remaining month. Then, if we were lucky, someone acknowledged that marketing was in the room.
Being young and ambitious, and at the time new to the company, I decided to make an impact on this meeting. I spoke up. My suggestion was a simple one. We were struggling to get attendance at an annual ‘open house’ event held every year at our offices as a customer appreciation activity. I suggested that our company president, a well-known and respected figure in the community, extend a personal invite. I will never forget what happened next.
From the back of the room a voice that was rarely heard came booming. It was the voice of our top rep, a hand-kerchiefed, Rolex adorned, flawlessly executed specimen who actually rarely appeared at these meetings. Most of the time he couldn’t be bothered to attend, as like many sales cultures, top performers were extended an extreme amount of slack when it came to day-to-day minutia, like this huddle.
As I got over the initial shock of his presence I came to realize he was talking to me, and in a tone that did not convey a friendly exchange. He was not only attacking my idea, he was kicking it repeatedly in the teeth and quite frankly mocking my “stupid” and unwelcome suggestion. The general gist of his condemnation was that there was no way that our company president’s time was well spent on such a low-level task and that I should be ashamed of myself for making such a menial, rookie move.
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
― Albert Einstein
The understanding that only the most deep-pocketed and longstanding customers had direct access to the executive team was a pervasive one that I saw upheld at company after company. On that day I understood that the sales process was one of qualification, and only when a prospect had truly run the gauntlet, were they permitted to offer at the alter unto the coveted C –Suite.
I was always somewhat perplexed by the degree with which we sheltered our executive teams from their own customers. When I became an executive years later I never wanted to exhibit these same behaviors. I wanted to maintain direct access to my buyers, and up until very recently, in the same manner as that meeting, I’ve been condemned for it – sometimes even by customers themselves.
I’m a very hands-on exec, I may show up at a first meeting or work the door at an event. Often this is perceived as a sign of being “small.” I had a customer recently mistake me for a project manager. I’ve had prospects inquire as to the size of our organization as I reviewed their scope of work personally. We have all become ingrained with the notion that executives are quite simply off limits for most day to day conversations. If a CEO is on a call, someone must have messed up big time or there must be some personal relationship involved that is causing them to feel compelled to stoop down to such a plebeian level.
It’s quite frankly, utter B.S..
With the rise of Account-Based Marketing we’ve finally seen walls come down as we collectively realize the power of relationships. We call this “threading,” or the notion of creating multiple lines of communication and alignment, even early on, in the marketing and sales process. It’s incredibly powerful and quite frankly a no-brainer.
How did we get here?
The answer is simple.
We are fighting a lot of historical conversations that look similar to the one I experienced as I was coming up in my career. Marketing has often focused on creating volume, not value, and therefore it was necessary to shield our best, and quite frankly expensive, resources from this flood of primarily un-qualified conversations.
An Account-Based approach changes all of this by only marketing to pre-qualified accounts and the buying committees within them. When we take this approach it becomes not only best-practice, but critical that we create alignment within them across all points of contact. This is the process of ‘Orchestration’.
Orchestration ensures that we have engagement at all levels within our target accounts – with hyper-personalized messaging delivered by an individual whom buyer sees as a peer.
Can you create conversations between a sales rep and a CEO? Sure, you can. I recently had a bit of a debate on Twitter with Kyle Porter. Essentially, I argued that messaging orchestrated through a best-practices ABM process should be peer-to-peer. Kyle argues that even an SDR can create a conversation with a C-Level executive. This is somewhat akin to men wearing cutoff jean shorts. Can it be done? Yes. Does it take a miracle to pull off? Also, yes. If you’ve curated a list of high-value, high propensity prospects, I would argue that it’s time to put your best foot forward in every interaction – it’s just not worth potentially burning the relationship when you are working with such a small targeted sub-set.
Rather than attempting to ‘scale’ or ‘systematize’ this process with less-expensive resources or technology, marketing and sales is best served by exercising muscles that we’ve long since neglected. Now that we’ve finally broken through the fog of churn and burn conversations we need to put our hyper-personalized approach to work creating high value, relevant messaging executed through a key voice.
Executives need to get back in the game
No longer can executives be content to let their sales teams lead the charge, they need to feel comfortable in the vanguard where the real action is. Your prospects will take note of the investment you’re making and your executives will get better insight into the buying process that actually takes place.
In the year since we implemented a true Account-Based process I’ve had an incredible lift in insight into how our buyers buy and how our services are perceived. I would have never had this visibility through a traditional demand gen model. I can’t help but daydream about that impeccably dressed, yet insufferably misguided sales rep from my first job as I imagine him eating his words… and also potentially his pocket square.