3.1. Strategy: How to establish who’s in the buying group
BGM starts in the same way ABM does: research, research, research. Now, of course, that covers a lot of ground, so let’s split it in two. Understanding your buying group and the people within it takes communication and data.
Communication is key
You need to communicate directly with sales – and ideally customer success too. These are the people on the ground speaking with prospects and clients, and they’ll know the specifics that can get you started.
‘Account planning’ isn’t a new concept to sales. This is where they sit down, roll up their sleeves and figure out who the decision-makers are within a given account, who to reach out to and how to build a relationship with them. Your initial research will involve getting under the skin of the buying group like this, and then you can expand that out to uncover who’s influencing those people, with a view to understanding their names and pain points too.
But this insight will only take you so far – primary research is also critical. Both sales and marketing will likely think they know the buying group, but talking to prospects and customers – and even your customers’ customers – is invaluable.
Conducting your research by industry is a good idea. Identify your target verticals and then home in on a handful of your existing accounts. Pretty quickly, you’re going to build a good idea of the most relevant personas within that buying group.
Gathering the data: What do you need and how do you get it?
Key to your research is data. But with privacy regulations tightening up around the world, collecting data on individuals is getting trickier. And, really, that’s no bad thing. It means marketers need to get more personal.
You need to understand the reporting structure, who influences the real buying decision, what makes them tick, and how you can make them feel so good about your offering that they’ll champion it within their company. Unsurprisingly, this takes more than email addresses and titles.
First-party data – insight on who’s landing on your website, rummaging around, filling out forms and watching demos – is still hugely important, but it’s only giving you information on that one person and that one aspect of them. BGM asks for more.
That’s where predictive analytics comes in, and why it’s revolutionizing the way marketers understand their customers. Many tools (Improvado, Sisense, RapidMiner, etc.) now exist to help you map out the personas within an organization by role and function, and then measure engagement not just at an account level, but also at the intent data level of personas within it.
Combining this intent data (search, website visits, etc.) with typical MQL scoring (opt-ins, form submissions etc.) is the holy grail. Your lead scoring may tell you the four people within the mix who are interested based on their content consumption and actions on site. Meanwhile, intent data can now even be scored from traditionally walled gardens (like third-party review sites), as well as account engagement through keyword research off-site. Together, these two sources of truth give you an account scoring matrix based on lead engagement and buying stage. That’s when you can get hyper- targeted with your activities.
There’s work to do upfront, but it’ll pay dividends. If you did a proper buying group development strategy and defined them well, every person you talk to is already qualified.
3.2. Experience: The content, channels and CX
Now you know who you’re going after. Next, you have to engage with them and orchestrate the customer experience (CX) through their journey. Tailoring content to individuals in the buying group may seem like the most logical way to go super targeted in your approach, but first consider two aspects: resource and relevance.
Let’s start with resources. If you’re going after a mega high-value deal and can personalize your content to a specific individual without it being a.) illegal, b.) creepy, or c.) both – great, do it. Landing pages, handbooks, or entire websites can be crafted for individual prospects to great effect, but it’s going to take serious time and resources.
Remember, ABM isn’t a silver bullet. And it can get very expensive very quickly. Even if you are lucky enough to be able to personalize content for each buyer, you might not actually know all that much about them early on in your ABM process.
This is particularly important to watch out for if you’re building an ABM program for the first time, or getting buy-in for a program from a new organization and you’re trying to curry favor with them, without splashing the cash. Yes, you should be tailoring content to them once you’ve got the intel, but timing is everything.
The second consideration: it’s less about personalization and more about relevance. What’s the point in messaging to someone individually if you’re writing about a topic they don’t care about? Think of relevance through three angles.
Firstly, by persona. You want to tailor your comms to meet the needs of a persona, because a finance manager will be interested in very different things to a chief people officer – both in terms of function and seniority.
Secondly, by industry. Don’t mix your industries if
their pain points don’t overlap precisely. Supply chain management directors generally won’t have all the same challenges as tech bosses.
Thirdly, the sales stage. At the top of the funnel, your messaging should introduce the basic proposition. Think thought leadership content and brand awareness messaging. Moving towards the middle and lower end, you can expect more knowledge about your product and company – perhaps they’ve even spoken to sales. Now, you might want to establish credibility through relevant social proof, case studies and testimonials.
How to establish what channels your audience is operating in
With the veritable explosion of digital and social channels, it’s challenging for marketers to keep track of and always know exactly where prospects are interacting. In addition to this, each channel will have a different purpose at each buying stage.
It’s a buzzword, but an important one: omnichannel. Too often, marketers still focus on one or a handful of channels from which they’ve seen results – typically a low cost per lead, and often paid social or content syndication. But this is an incredibly limited view and not one that holds water in a BGM model.
Everyone has different preferences to how, when and where they consume content. One person ignores ads and prefers thought leadership content, while another likes video and is an avid newsletter subscriber. You need full coverage to make sure you’re present in the channels your prospects are. Then, once you have the insight, you can use more targeted techniques across paid social and other channels.
Relevance, channel and buying stage
It’s unlikely your c-level executive will take time for a one-hour webinar, or a full day’s training. Your content has to resonate with the individual’s interest at the specific stage of engagement, and also fit their consumption preferences. Put these factors together and you arrive at a three-dimensional view: the x axis is your account, y is your decision-maker persona, and the z is their level of engagement.
Running communities is another great way to build intent. This gives you an active voice in places other top of funnel channels just wouldn’t allow. Being in communication with buyers in this way helps to build a value-based relationship, as well as granting an opportunity for them to hear from their peers to help them crystalize their own need, or solve their own challenges.
3.3. Sales and marketing: How to make it work
One of the core benefits of ABM is how it unites sales and marketing as one.
Non-ABM strategies would too often stop at the point when leads became warm enough for marketing to throw over the fence to sales. While in most cases we’ve moved on from that, the BGM mindset goes a step further. In fact, it brings into sharp focus one particular pitfall that often emerges in many account-based approaches.
An account might have 100,000 employees within it. If sales are starting their outreach based solely on the warmth of a lead on that account, the likelihood of them reaching the same person or people who have responded to the marketing efforts is slim to none, so they’re essentially starting from scratch.
This can’t happen with BGM because sales and marketing don’t have a choice but to get aligned. It starts with the two teams sitting down and agreeing on the account list, their markets and territories, and also the personas within.
Mapping metrics to the buyer journey
Over the last 10–15 years, as marketing automation has grown, three-letter acronyms have erupted – MQLS, SQLs, ASLs and so on. These metrics attempted to bring sales and marketing together around a combined framework. It was by no means perfect, but it was progress. However, over time, many of these definitions have blurred, diverged, and generally lost their meaning.
ABM, and particularly BGM, provides a clean slate to agree on a new set of metrics that are clearer and more meaningful to both parties. You should agree on stage- by-stage metrics that mark when an account progresses through the program. At what stage will they receive your direct mail? What will you class as intent? And when you see that intent, what will they receive from the SDR? Once you’ve got those shared metrics, the teams will work in lockstep.
One of the key challenges for SDRs is coming up with fresh ideas to resonate with buyers. That’s where marketing can provide invaluable support, while also ensuring their content is getting used effectively and the buyer experience is consistent. This takes marketing and sales development working as one, with a regular feedback loop and free-flow of information. For instance, when marketing creates a campaign, they can run a workshop with sales development to explain the ideas behind it and enable them to align their messaging and fully leverage campaign thinking within their development process.
Should marketing and sales share metrics?
In the context of BGM – if you want to be fully aligned – you need to share the same goal. There’s no marketing versus sales funnel – it’s the same people, same processes, so it should be the same metrics too. Marketing then becomes responsible for the sales funnel, and the ultimate metric both teams share is sales pipeline.
But of course, sales pipeline can’t be the only KPI for marketing – there are important lagging indicators that drive sales pipeline, and leads still matter with inbound strategies. For BGM, the key metric is engagement (scores) with buying groups, in addition to sales pipeline.
3.4. The results BGM can deliver
The north star is, of course, revenue. Marketers assuage their spray and pray approach and invest incredible amounts of thought, time, and money into buying group and account-based strategies ultimately to see greater ROI. But it’s worth unpacking that solely pecuniary measure to understand the full impact BGM can have on the customer experience.
The buyer experience
From the start, by being laser focused on the buying group, you’re increasing the likelihood of not only getting the prospect to engage with you initially, convert into a demo and turn into an opportunity, but also, you’re going to increase the contract values and accelerate the speed of all the above happening. BGM could help you build truly deep and personal relationships with customers, where you can deliver the right message to the right place at the right time, offering an experience they’ll appreciate.
Joined up buyer journey
As a result of that, the whole buyer journey comes a lot smoother. You’re able to design each touchpoint in a way that’s totally joined up. This idea – which is ultimately one of efficiency and high conversion rates – may sound technical and inhuman, but it’s impossible to achieve without a very personalized and thoughtfully designed campaign.
Net retention and renewals
Another key area is renewals. We’ve all heard the stats about x amount of a company’s revenue coming from existing customers. Well, BGM has the potential to increase the value of those customers. When you’re coming up for a renewal with a client, putting up new buying group-focused comms will increase security and safety.
Ultimately, it’s engagement
All this points back to one place: engagement. The BGM mentality ensures marketing and sales define what an engaged account means so that you’re only working towards the most relevant prospects that are expressing genuine interest across the buying group. Engagement is a leading indicator that cascades and turns into conversation, or an opportunity that turns into revenue. If you don’t have that engagement, you’re not going to get to that outcome.