One of the most talked about trends in marketing today is Account Based Marketing, or ABM. ABM represents a targeted outbound approach that can be segmented by large national accounts, industry, or even product category. It also serves as a nice complement to inbound marketing efforts which can cast a larger net, but may take months (or more) to pay off.
However, there are aspects of ABM that can make it tricky to execute within indirect sales systems. ABM requires a lot of focus and coordination between departments, which can be difficult within a channel ecosystem. Today, that’s what we want to look at: Ways to make ABM easier to achieve within channel sales.
First, a quick definition for those who haven’t encountered ABM before.
What Is Account-Based Marketing?
ABM boils down to this: Identifying the largest and most potentially valuable clients who could be purchasing far more products/services than they currently are, and treating them as a market unto themselves. All the standard “rules” of marketing apply, more or less, you’re just marketing to individuals within that particular organization or industry as though they were any other market niche.
As an example... A vendor of office supplies has a contract providing printer paper to IBM. Realizing IBM could be buying far more and different kinds of office supplies, they target various mid-level managers and VPs with offers for other products tailored to the specific needs of those departments/managers. But this is easier said than done when the manufacturer needs to reach these key accounts through channel partners.
Tips On Putting ABM To Work In A Channel Sales System
1 – Sales and Marketing MUST Be Well-Aligned
We’ve discussed previously how it’s a good idea in general to engage in “smarketing” where your marketing and sales teams are kept in close contact, with an emphasis placed on coordinating their efforts. For ABM, such efforts are an absolute must. Sales will have the knowledge of individuals within the target organization, and marketing will then have to come up with new materials crafted specifically for those individuals.
Within a channel ecosystem, this means having a single shared customer data source with open lines of communication between sales/marketing at the partner’s level AND at the vendor level. Having a free flow of information is the only way to make ABM work in indirect sales scenarios.
2 – Sharing Responsibilities When Finding Targets For ABM
When it comes to discovering key clients/businesses which will be the best focuses for ABM efforts, the vendor will be the best-positioned. They have access to the ‘big picture’ within the ecosystem, and know which buyers are the most important to the ecosystem as a whole. In particular, they’ll be able to spot client businesses who may be working with more than one sales partner at once, through various offices in different locations.
However, the ground-level sales staff are the ones who will have sufficient knowledge of the details of those businesses and their contacts on the inside to make ABM work. The vendor will need to largely trust in their partners’ ability to access the individuals being targeted and work collaboratively on efforts to engage them.
If multiple sales partners are involved, then the Channel Manager will be the one coordinating efforts and ensuring everyone is receiving all the intel they need.
3 – Crafting Marketing Materials
This will depend in large part on the individual sales partners’ ability to create their own marketing materials and content. If they have effective marketing departments in-house, it may be possible to allow them to engage in the buyer-specific ABM marketing campaigns on their own with relatively little need for vendor involvement.
If they are largely reliant on the vendor for marketing materials, the vendor would need to work closely with their sales staff to understand the target individuals/departments and create co-brandable materials to match.
4 – Maintaining Consistency
The other major challenge involves the “front” being presented to the ABM target. Even though you are a distributed channel sale ecosystem, buyers need to have the same experience as if they were dealing with a monolithic top-down vendor like Apple. Consistency in interactions, materials, and overall buyer experience is vital here, particularly in cases where various branches of the same buyer are working with different sales partners.
Beyond the need for good data-collection (as we mentioned) to keep track of buyers and their interactions within your ecosystem, a level of extra training may be needed here. It would be a good idea for Channel Managers to put together an overall guidebook for dealing with ABM contacts, and make that standard procedure for all sales partners engaging in ABM activities.
Getting all your sales partners on the same page in terms of ‘white glove treatment’ of VIPs and proper messaging techniques will go a long way towards creating that feeling of consistency.