What’s Different About Account Based Marketing/Selling? by Partners in Excellence [Account-Based Marketing]

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Account Based Marketing/Selling is all the rage today.  if you haven’t jumped on that bandwagon, you clearly aren’t one of the cool kids.

But having played in this space for more than a few years, a lot of what I see is deja-vu all over again, echoing concepts from the 80’s, 90’s, even before (look at some of the original books on account based selling and when they were published.

There are some differences in ABM/ABS–ironically, very few people talk about them, except some of those grizzled veterans who have lived this through their careers.

It seems marketers in ABM have discovered something really unique.  It’s called personalization and relevance.  Apparently with ABM, we target our marketing programs to the right people within an account, talking about issues we know to be relevant to the account.

Hmmm, isn’t that what good marketing is supposed to do anyway?  Aren’t we trying to target everyone we inflict our marketing efforts on?  Aren’t we trying to be relevant to each of them?  Technology, has given us huge capabilities to do this, but it seems (if my inbox is any indicator), that we don’t leverage the capabilities we are paying for, instead choosing to inundate the world with the same messages that may have relevance to a fraction of the audience.

Granted, ABM enables us to narrow the focus more, but we can target our messages by industry group, by persona within industry group, by organizational demographics within those industry groups, by functions within those organizations.  We can increase our relevance by any number of dimensions for 100% of our marketing, improving the results we get from 100% of the marketing.
Yes, with ABM, we can be even more targeted, “We know that XYZ is a strategic initiative in your organization, and top management has established this goal……”  (Ironically, I never see ABM programs that say something to this effect, even though they could.  Perhaps, I’m not looking in the right places.)

Account Based Selling is similar, we dedicate people to accounts, so we can increase our knowledge and relevance to the accounts.  But again, there is no excuse for any sales person, not to have studied the account, not to have researched the individuals before the first contact or meeting.  Technology and tools have given us this capability for virtually any organization, but too often we aren’t leveraging this.

Somehow we tend to think of an account as something different than anything else we do.  In reality, an account is just a different form of territory.  Some territories may be organized by geography (for instance a city or set of postal/zip codes), an industry segment (for example insurance, commercial banking, etc), a named list of companies, or a single company.

The job of the sales person is to maximize their share of territory-however that territory might be defined.  They have to analyze the territory, build new relationships, expand their reach, leverage referrals and other relationships in the territory.

When I first started selling, I had one named account, with principal operations at 1 New York Plaza and Chase Plaza in downtown Manhattan.  A friend had the states of North and South Dakota.  Our jobs were exactly the same, we were supposed to turn over every stone in our territories, finding every opportunity we could.  Our quotas were different, based on territory potential–mine was about 15 times hers, but our fundamental jobs were exactly the same.

We both sought to expand our relationships with current customers–up/cross selling.  We both prospected to get new business within our “territories.”  She went city to city, I went floor by floor/department by department.  It’s the exact same job, she just put more miles on her car than I did.

Lest you think I’m bashing ABM/ABS, I’m not, I’m fully supportive of ABM/ABS principles–except those are just the principles of outstanding marketing and selling, regardless of whether they are account focused, industry focused, geo focused.  The wonderful thing is technology and tools have eliminated any excuse we might have to being knowledgeable, focused, and relevant with any and all customers.

There are some differences in an Account Based focus, ironically, I see very little discussion about these.  Most of the account based stuff is purely focused on “how do we sell more to this account?”
The account based focus enables us to profoundly change the relationship with the account.  To move from vendor, potentially to strategic partner.  It can profoundly change the value we create with these partners, moving truly into co-creation, often in ways that extend beyond the relationship with the account itself.

Too often, we create and inflict account status on accounts, simply because they are important to us, when we are just another vendor to them.  But if we can find ways of becoming strategically more important, we start looking at much stronger collaborative structures between organizations.  We seek and gain much stronger executive sponsorship both from our company and with the account.  We form much more collaborative projects, with governance structures to help each of us to achieve our goals.  We have joint planning, aligned priorities, we both are making investments in things that allow us to achieve our collective and individual objectives.

These accounts can become fertile grounds for developing new approaches and new products, we can launch into other markets.  These accounts can give us access to their supply chains, extending our reach and our ability to grow.

However, this extended view of the account seems to be missing from most of the discussion.  Most of what I see is simply limited to “how do we sell more,” rather than how do we profoundly change the value we co-create, creating much bigger opportunities for each party in the account.

Where’s that leave us?  A big Yes to all the things we are talking about on ABM/ABS–but these should be the foundational principles for everything we do in sales and marketing!

The real opportunity for Account Based initiatives is not merely selling them more stuff, but it is profoundly changing the value creation model to drive step function changes in the relationship, and the value we each get from this relationship  (yes it means huge increases in revenue we get from these accounts, not just the next sale from these accounts.)