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As Thanksgiving nears, I’m always thinking of eating, and maybe about watching a little football. And part of my warm-up to the day includes listening to the New England Patriot’s Bill Belichick’s curmudgeonly ruminations on gridiron business and business in general (listen here). For example, at 9:41 of this Oct. 26 pre-game interview, he said “look, nothing’s a good idea if you can’t execute it” — so I’m using that one with my team this season as we look forward to moves we’ll make in our strategies, tactics and martech stack in the year to come. But while I certainly agree with him on the point about execution, my larger takeaway from these sessions is profoundly different. No matter how you feel about football, everyone can learn something from those guys about preparation at every level of your game, whatever it may be. So as we all ramp our planning for 2019, we’re studying the ABM results across hundreds of clients to come up with the key observations that should inform our game plans going forward.

Conceiving a multi-tiered strategy

How you evaluate a situation depends a lot on your perspective. What seems critical to a heads-down practitioner can easily seem like a non-starter to a boss. What looks great to marketing sometimes receives an ambivalent “meh” from sales colleagues. When you’re trying to implement a significant move like ABM, when you’ve thought through a potential performance hockey-stick, the last thing you want is to be met with indifference or worse as you’re kicking it off.

That’s why, when we look at the results our clients are getting by moving beyond lead-based marketing, we’re highlighting the positive patterns we see in their ingredients for success. One critical differentiator is their consideration given to thinking up, down and across their organizations and understanding the differences in perspective, outlook and prioritization around their company:

  • For marketing practitioners. Time and time again, the most important consideration when trying to inspire practitioners, whether marketers or sales people, proves to be ease of use. If it’s going to require too much training for your team to experience the value, you’re looking at a non-starter. To “bake” this layer, look for simplicity in the solutions you evaluate. And look for very good—prescriptive—customer-success services. When you’re trying to evolve ABM, there can be faster paths to substantive success than you may have realized.
  • For marketing department heads. On the marketing side, your department heads manage processes targeting methodologically specific outcomes—and they’re measured using KPIs very specific to their particular toolsets. Unfortunately, because of realities like this, strategy implementation often starts to fragment at the department level. Approaches and solutions that can help unify your advertising, web and demand generation will help keep your teams focused. Reporting that shows how each is impacting your priority accounts, acknowledgement of the interaction effects of their efforts, linkage between the market’s evolution and your own traffic—these are all helpful data points for keeping your teams aligned.
  • For marketing leaders and their peers. If you expect your CMO to help drive better outcomes, start by acknowledging at the outset that if change were obvious or easy, you would have implemented it before bringing them on board! This will help level-set expectations across upper management, thereby giving the marketing team some useful breathing room. It then becomes incumbent on marketing to stop trying to use the same old approaches while hoping for very different results. They’re going to have to look deeper to ferret out the root cause issues you face. Together, your management team will need to assess what it will take to action real change.

Don’t forget to fill in between the layers

How many of us have thought we’d found an easy solution to something that turns out to be much harder than we anticipated? We buy some software purported to fix our exact problem but the ROI never materializes. We hire a new expert and six months later, little has changed in our results. All too often, we have only ourselves to blame. This is because the barrier to success lies between parts of our organizations. It’s in the connection points between or across departments. The companies that are already winning with ABM are often executing on a strategy that has clear reinforcement from the top down. Interestingly, we see mid-sized and even smaller firms having a somewhat easier time unifying marketing and sales actions around account-based strategies. Perhaps it’s because top management gets directly involved. Perhaps it’s because their scale has caused as much fragmentation in their processes.

Where there’s data, use it

Whatever your size, make sure you inspire your top marketers and sellers to bridge stubborn gaps. If your reporting can’t currently tell you enough about where your process is breaking down, do whatever it takes to add new elements to your critical reports. For example, to improve marketing’s contribution to what matters most to them, many companies need to enhance funnel stage reporting. Likewise, to ensure that their pipeline successes and failures inform upstream changes, opportunity reports need to both illuminate possible breakages and inform the types of questions marketing can execute against. Here are a couple of obvious ones:

  • Smarter lead management. Seemingly minor issues like ignoring additional leads from an account (or—dispositioning them negatively) will both undermine your CMO and crater your ability to understand buyer’s journeys in process at that company. Make sure your SDR team is empowered to understand and pursue demand within accounts as a whole rather than on a single-lead or cold-call, contact-driven basis.
  • Smarter opportunity management. Failing to recognize multiple players and their interests in how you record and track your opportunities discards much of the information your marketing investments are gathering for you — it blinds you to critical guideposts you should be using to inform your sales motions as deals develop.

Where there isn’t great data, go get it

The best-performing ABM teams we’re seeing address their data needs from two angles simultaneously and continuously.

  • Clean up before, during and after. Like everyone’s, your data just won’t take care of itself. Human-based entry mistakes alone are costing you thousands in time and real money as you execute tactics against contacts who simply can’t be reached. And because people are changing jobs, changing companies, and so on, the problem gets worse over time. ABM leaders certainly work on this problem at the point of data entry. Then, in addition, they add processes behind the scenes to fill in gaps and repair damage being done by the many causes of wasteful data detritus.
  • Add plenty of actionable, extra-funnel demand. No matter how better 2019 planning improves your “baking,” today’s leaders in generating ROI from ABM are proving that most of the people eating “cake” out there aren’t coming to their offerings directly at the beginning of a buyer’s journey. To solve their business needs, prospects are still turning to Google first and they’re researching informational sites before ever considering even well-known brands. That’s why, more and more, ABM teams are looking outside their own 1st-party data for sources of insight and demand activity that they can’t otherwise see. Just remember, when you look to a 3rd party as a possible new source of demand, don’t forget that all the considerations you’d have before adopting any solution remain in effect. The data should be easy to understand, easy to implement and highly actionable—your marketers and sellers need to know exactly who to target inside the highest priority accounts and exactly what messages to target them with.