Executing on Outbound ABM from A to Z

Executing on Outbound ABM-01
Sales & Marketing

ABM requires a tremendous amount of effort. Jeff Sands from ITSMA states that a person running ABM programs at the very strategic, Tier 1 account level should only be supporting three to four accounts at any given time.

Tier 2 accounts allow for a higher count: 10-20 accounts at any given time. In my experience, what I’ve seen work best is SDRs or EBRs prospecting into named strategic or enterprise accounts should focus on 50-75 accounts a quarter.

Anything more than this will typically detract from success, as you need to be personalized, focused, disciplined, and highly active in order to break into accounts like these.

Why does ABS require so much effort? Well, let’s unpack the workload:

First, ABM&S has to start with you talking to the right people at the right companies — the ones who will deliver high revenue, cost as little as possible to acquire and maintain, and are not likely to churn.

This piece is critically important to the success of this strategy because ABM requires so much effort. If you are expending all this energy talking to the wrong buyers — ouch.

There are a few methods you can employ here. First, you can use some simple, but oftentimes very effective, proxies. An example would be only going after companies in the Fortune 1,000. If you are selling a complex and expensive BI tool, or HCM or ERP solution, then this probably works rather well, as high revenue indicates complexity in, and distribution of business systems and need for such solutions.

While that method is fine, especially for a time and resource-strapped startup, the results won’t necessarily be very accurate. This is true because the human mind is not very good at building probability models [just ask Nassim Nicholas Taleb].

So if a company has 500 customers, its sales and marketing team members might think that, for example, each one of those customers has at least $500M in annual revenue, the reality may show that this was not necessarily true. These kinds of errors start to quickly compound when you add more variables into the mix, so the accuracy of this approach is suspect.  

Leo Sales Meme

Put your data to work for you

A better, more data-driven approach to defining your target customer would be to employ machine learning. You map out your total addressable market by using a training set, say all of your active “closed-won customers” in Salesforce, to determine what independent variables correlate with “success.”

There are hundreds of different models you can use here with varying levels of sophistication and accuracy. The simplest to roll out, especially if you don’t have access to engineers or data scientists who can build out things like Support Vector Machines or decision trees, is a logistic regression that looks at 5-10 “features.”

This can give you a surprisingly good graph of what companies you should be selling into based on the qualities of the companies you’ve already brought onboard.

After you’ve graphed your TAM, figuring out who your buyers are within the organizations you sell to is the next step. To do this, I’d recommend doing a cluster analysis: Take all of the titles of your buyers from Salesforce, and identify which titles show up with the highest frequency. Take the top ~10 titles from your list. Those are the people you should be finding and reaching out to in your prospect accounts.

Fantastic, you’ve now mapped your entire prospect landscape accounts to humans. Well done. Now you’ll want to research how to best engage with your prospects.

Hint: It’s not by sending emails that say “Our product does X, Y and Z.” Please don’t do that. No one cares.

The tough row to hoe and the tools to make it easier

And this is what makes good ABM and ABS so demanding is that, in addition to the obvious call and email campaigns, development reps should be researching the hell out of their prospects on all channels.

LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Angelist, Slideshare, blog posts, press releases, the list goes on. Once the rep identifies the right contacts within the right accounts, the imperative is to identify what content he/she can find and reference in a break-in conversation. It’s the John Barrows WYWYN [“why you, why you now”] approach that works very well.

The challenge with doing the steps I’ve outlined above manually is that, while they get the job done, they do take quite a bit of time to set up. And unless you have a team of data scientists or engineers who have the bandwidth to help you with the regression analysis, how will you run step one?

Luckily, tools that map addressable markets based on demographic data do exist. Datanyze, Infer, 6Sense are a few that play in this space. One of tools that I am most excited by, Spiderbook, even goes so far as to surface up all of the content your buyers are publishing, so that you can use it for WYWYN content; further eliminating another manual research step for SDRs and AEs doing prospecting.

If you’re going to run into obstacles getting the above steps done in-house, take a look at the tools that are available, and see what works best for you.

With the research done, the rep moves to execution. To many sales reps, this is synonymous with a call + email barrage. This is not the case with Account Based Selling. Calling and emailing are necessary, but not sufficient. Creativity is the key to success.

Creativity Sales
and don’t forget cocoa butter

There’s no shortage of ways you can engage with your prospects that are a lot more fun than calls + emails. And they are more fun for both of you. I promise.

Here are nine of my favorite methods for capturing prospects’ interest:

  1. Find out which conferences they are attending. Go there. Talk to them. You know, like a human being
  2. Invite them to conferences/roadshows
  3. Invite them to VIP dinners in their area
  4. Email them short video “pitches” of how your product works/what it does
  5. Send them good content. It doesn’t have to be your company’s content. Just say something like “Hey I read this online and thought it was really interesting, figured you might enjoy it.” Show that you care.
  6. Direct mail
  7. Dimensional mailers/ SWAG bags
  8. Targeted ads on LinkedIn or Twitter
  9. Go to their office, unannounced, with cupcakes and coffee. If they’re not there, leave the treats with an office manager or EA and leave a nice “Sorry I missed you” note. I bet they’ll respond to your next email

The list goes on…

The important thing is to switch the inbound generated “thousands of leads are gonna be coming at me” mindset off. Seriously. Turn it off.

Instead, think in terms of “I’m only going after these 50 accounts with everything I’ve got this quarter, and I’m going to convert every single one into a qualified opportunity.”

Assuming you’ve done a good job using data to define the right addressable market, the ROI on this approach should be orders of magnitude higher than traditional demand generation or old-school outbounding.

Aligning Sales & Marketing w/ Cold Hard Data

The beautiful thing about this approach is how it uses data and technology to align two functions–sales and marketing–that were historically run separately at most organizations.

In the process of doing this, you get tremendous capital efficiency gains, higher win-rates, faster closes, and larger deal sizes. And because you’ve put the work into researching who to sell to before wasting any effort, you’re confident that you’re selling into the right accounts, which will increase customer happiness LTV.

One of my favorite Stevejobsisms is the way he thought about computers as enablers of human potential. The analogy he famously used is that a human being is one of the least efficient animals on the planet in terms of energy needed to move a distance relative to its own mass. The condor, he’d often cite, was the most efficient [actually not true, swimming animals are far more efficient, but that’s beside the point].

What is really captivating, however, is that if you put a human being on a bicycle, energy efficiency immediately shoots up 5X. All of the sudden, a human being on a bicycle is the most efficient animal on the planet. He’d then tout that the computer is a bicycle for the mind: a tool that enables us to do so much more than ever before.

Scientific American SalesChart from Scientific American

Tools galore

This is what’s amazing about Account-Based Selling: we’re still trying to do the same thing we were trying to do before by going outbound. But the proliferation of data is allowing us to become radically more efficient than ever before.

Tools like Spiderbook help us understand who our buyers actually are and how to engage with them based on what they’re talking about. Tools like Sendbloom and Outreach are allowing us to manage more of those tailored conversations at once, and receive insights into how well messaging is performing. And tools like Demandbase and Optimizely help us serve up the right ads and digital experiences to our prospects based on who they are and their levels of engagement.

But these tools aren’t enough on their own. They allow use to be great, but being great is on us. Once the tools tell you who to target, empathy, relevance, and consistency are the key ingredients to turning prospects into buyers.

Ash Alhashim

Ash is an accomplished business professional and VP of Sales at Heap with over eight years of experience selling enterprise software, leading and managing teams, eating sandwiches, and speaking in the third person. These days, he's also helping Spiderbook with their Sales & Marketing efforts.