Account-based this and account-based that is all the rage these days. The latest buzzwords are “account-based marketing” (ABM) and “account-based sales” (ABS).
What explains this phenomenon?
Well, young, venture-backed, insurgents, particularly those offering “as a service” solutions, have come to realize their survival and success depend on “expansion revenue” -- winning bigger deals and accounts.
But “strategic account management” is nothing new to established incumbents. It’s been around for a very long time. While advancements in account-driven strategy and software might provide some added dimensions, the idea that some clients represent disproportionate opportunity is a given.
Yet businesses of all sizes are struggling to develop the messages, insights, and content that fuel conversations with strategic accounts. They are failing to arm their account managers and thus, losing opportunities to penetrate accounts more deeply.
Managing content well in an account-driven world helps organizations succeed because it ultimately simplifies the purchase process for B2B buyers. According to the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), enterprise buyers are “increasingly overwhelmed and often more paralyzed than empowered.” CEB’s research found that winning organizations “create consistent and relevant tools, messaging, and guidance to shape and simplify the purchase journey.”
Account-Driven Strategy – and Why It Matters
Account-driven strategies are enjoying a tremendous groundswell of support as organizations see the opportunity to more easily expand business with an existing customer as opposed to merely acquiring new ones.
Consider the success of companies like Salesforce that largely built their business off relationships with enterprises like Dell, Coca Cola and American Express. With 20% of most companies’ accounts generating 80% of revenues, some accounts can be treated as markets unto themselves – and certainly, the opportunity to stratify accounts by value (and devote appropriate resources to them) represents significant promise.
Mature sales organizations, as suggested, have long organized around the concept of accounts. As marketing works to get in lockstep with its sales counterparts, it must devise a workable strategy for equipping the sales team to succeed. It’s no wonder Forrester refers to account-based marketing as “retro yet revolutionary.”
Sales-Ready Messaging and Content are Critical
One critical element of account-driven strategy is developing the right messaging, insights and content to engage buyers and guide them through the decision process. High-stakes decision-makers expect insightful interactions and conversations that speak to their specific challenges and outcomes.
As Forrester puts it, “Great insights underpin thoughtful, relevant account plans and lead to the highly personalized interactions that form the backbone of successful ABM approaches.” Unfortunately, many organizations are failing to deliver in this regard for these reasons:
Sharing content is not the same as providing insight. Sales reps are flooding the inboxes of potential buyers as they are urged to share content to stay top of mind. However, sharing content does not translate into providing insight and making the best use of a prospect’s limited time and attention. Rather, it can be perceived as an irritant when these behaviors inevitably meet a point of diminishing returns.
Relying on impersonal/irrelevant messaging. It doesn’t work to use existing generic messaging with specific accounts. Doing so means the organization is failing to speak to the specific concerns of the buyer. That means it is not reaching the right level with right message, and instead resembles every other vendor pursuing the account. When companies do not produce messaging and content that is deeply relevant to the account’s stakeholders, they are missing a tremendous opportunity.
Customizing content can be costly. The bad news is that there is no automated system for producing relevant content that will resonate with buyers in specific accounts. Yet most companies perceive the effort to customize content for every account as too costly. Moreover, customizing every asset might lead to inconsistencies in messaging. That said, larger account opportunities often justify the investment in deeper, more relevant messaging assets.
Account-Driven Messaging: Your Three-Point Strategy
When working with clients, we execute a three-point strategy that enables a high-impact, yet cost-effective approach to account-driven messaging and content development.
- Modularize your assets. As organizations create stories and messages, they need to break them down into component parts. A complete, unifying story might cover trends/market drivers, problems/pain points, the solution and its elements/dimensions, and outcomes and success stories/case studies/references. However, each element can and should be modularized. Breaking these into story modules allows marketing and sales to refashion them into many formats and reuse them in numerous ways. This then becomes a library of modularized content that can be packaged differently, allowing marketing and sales to configure both formats and messages for each account. They can also take advantage of sales enablement platforms like Highspot, Brainshark, Seismic, Savo, ClearSlide and others to host that content and track what does and doesn’t get used.
- Verticalize your message. While a modular approach provides a solid foundation, it can still be difficult to produce content for every account. Plus, even for a huge account, it may not make sense at the outset to create lots of content. Instead, it’s wise to go vertical by creating customized content for a hand-selected set of sectors. One option is to describe your solution as it applies to these industries, and add proof points to the overarching Signature Story – our term for your thought leading, point of view -- that are relevant to the account’s vertical market. A vertical approach allows marketing and sales to create content once and use it in across multiple accounts. But it also makes it possible to invest in the insights and research that will make your briefings truly relevant to a prospective client.
- Humanize your outreach. While it’s essential to find a way to scale account-driven efforts, it’s just as important to keep content as individualized and engaging as possible. One of the most significant sources of content is the personal messages you send in email or LinkedIn -- and how well they speak to the individuals you are engaging. You have to do one-to-one communication exceptionally well to make your message matter -- and create an attraction to your briefings. But personal brands matter, too. That’s why branded experts and thought leaders are becoming an increasingly critical factor in account-driven messaging and content, signaling that you have relevant insights to share.
This approach is most effective when organizations map the right people to the right roles. For example, when speaking to a CFO, create content featuring a specialist that can speak to the financial dimensions of the solution and produce a business case. Then, consider building an account-driven campaign around that subject matter expert -- and deploying him or her to deliver an initial briefing to the prospect. That enables you to open doors on higher floors -- rising to the altitude of senior decision-makers.
Finally, you want to move toward real-time guidance. Marketing and sales enablement leaders need to coach strategic account managers and teams on how and when to use messaging and content within the context of each account situation. At the same time, sales leaders need to be better equipped in their deal reviews with reps. Ideally, they can record seller-prospect conversations and treat them as assets that can be used to enhance/accelerate skill development, while clarifying what must happen to close more deals.
So, as all of this suggests, the game is changing. The question is: Are you prepared to rebalance your sales investment portfolio to ensure strategic accounts get the level of attention and engagement they deserve? Will they be moved when you get them in a meeting?
Connect with me on LinkedIn if you're interested in a personal briefing on account-driven messaging. You'll learn how companies like yours are applying these strategies to generate expansion revenue.