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Unlocking CMO success: The potential of ABM at scale

In an era defined by shifting buying group dynamics and an ever-expanding digital landscape, the role of the chief marketing officer (CMO) is undergoing a profound transformation. 

Once focused largely on brand and demand, today’s CMOs now find themselves at the nexus of innovation, customer experience, and data-driven decision-making with an influence on the end-to-end lifecycle of how any given customer engages with their organization. Not only is the chief executive officer (CEO) asking the CMO to expand their remit, but they also expect them to better quantify their impact in terms of driving measurable, attributable commercial results: CMOs are now expected to evidence how they are driving higher-quality pipeline, accelerating conversion to closed revenue, increasing average deal size, and securing long-term customer renewals.

King and queen of these metrics are reducing ‘customer acquisition cost’ (CAC) – how much an organization spends on landing new customers – and maximizing ‘customer lifetime value’ (CLV) – total net profit a company can expect to generate from a customer throughout their entire relationship. The ratio of CLV to CAC measures the efficiency of the business in generating long-term value compared to acquisition costs, and today’s CMOs need to show they are delivering!

This shift in focus calls for a re-evaluation of marketing strategies and a realignment of priorities. 

Account-based marketing (ABM) programs go a long way toward meeting these demands, but in the rush to do more with less, the pressure to scale the impact of ‘true’ 1:1 ABM programs can mean the effectiveness – and consequently the results – are diluted, or even lost.  Traditional demand generation programs in isolation, on the other hand, might well provide scale, but can manifest as being ‘transactional’ and lack the follow-through attributable impact of ABM, so risk being seen as inefficient or lacking in focus.

So, as the pressure intensifies to drive commercial results, how should marketing leaders manage the balancing act between ‘quality’ and ‘quantity’…? At the last Global ABM Conference, I spoke about this very issue with a panel of industry experts and, judging by the lack of empty seats left in the room, it is clearly a conundrum facing many industry practitioners!  Why?

Perhaps the clue is in the terms ‘precision’ and ‘scale.’  Perceived wisdom seems to be that, like oil and water, the two don’t mix.  How is it possible to scale ABM relationships – which are, by their very definition, deep and personal – to the same effect with a large group of individuals and organizations without compromising on what ABM entails and delivers?

Rather than thinking of these as two incompatible mindsets, however, I’m starting to see organizations achieve rapid success by taking a ‘have your cake and eat it’ ABM at scale approach: As opposed to the fixed ‘swim lanes’ of either 1:1 ‘precision’ ABM, or applying demand generation tactics to a program, this hybrid solution offers a fluid approach, linking the level of focus and investment around any given account to the level of opportunity at play. 

How? In our experience at Agent3, a successful ABM at Scale solution has three clear stages:

1. Foundational activity: Establish what proposition you are going to land, to whom, and how you are going to track their response as a marker of propensity. The process begins by establishing your ideal customer profile (ICP) and target account list (TAL) to ensure effective targeting and prioritization.  This is followed by formulating messaging and positioning, either by job title or industry sector, to enable the creation of account-centric touchpoints and journeys which will resonate with target audiences. At this stage, it’s important to consider the various online, offline, face-to-face, and sales-led touchpoints likely to be involved throughout the program and take into account how various marketing and sales channels can be best leveraged to target relevant stakeholders in a dynamically personalized, scalable fashion.

2. Phase 1: ‘1:many-style’ and ‘1:few-style’ account targeting: The goal of this phase of the campaign is to increase awareness across the account base and to drive stakeholder engagement and opt-in with campaign collaterals. While the exact mix of targeting channels reflect the nature of the campaign itself, we typically see digital outreach activities across a combination of account-based advertising (and retargeting), paid social, email, telemarketing, and content syndication touchpoints. This phase helps you develop a deeper understanding of the accounts as they engage with the campaign – in order to prioritize and segment highest-engaged accounts for more hands-on subsequent activities. For instance, you might identify trends in how stakeholders in sub-clusters of accounts engage with specific messaging tracks or note some ‘trigger’ information that prospects volunteer to your telemarketing agents. 

3. Phase 2: Leaderboard assessment and ‘1:1-style’ account nurturing: Here, a campaign ‘leaderboard’ consolidates data from Phase 1 outreach in one convenient place, enabling marketing and sales leadership to easily review and align on accounts that merit deeper focus and pursuit. While signifiers of propensity and engagement are important, taking a call around readiness and likelihood-to-win from a sales perspective must be considered too. The second phase of the campaign aims to make good on the promise of ‘true’ ABM, arming BDRs and sales teams with account-customized insights, assets, and engagement materials for each prioritized account. A crucial component of success at this stage is a suite of semi-templated assets and enablement materials that are repurposed as modular building blocks for collaterals to mimic the sense of deeply-customized, 1:1 ABM outreach materials.

Following this two-phase approach essentially derisks the balancing act between 1:1 ABM ‘quality’ and at-scale ‘quantity’ by allowing you to pinpoint the accounts which present the best business case for dedicating increased time, resources  and coordinated effort across marketing, BDR, and sales teams.  In other words, this ABM at scale approach creates an ‘agile’ investment mindset by linking the level of focus and investment around any given account to the level of propensity they’re demonstrating.

With escalating scrutiny across an increasing number of metrics, ultimately, CMO success will rely heavily on the ability to bring efficiencies to the customer acquisition process, while increasing the lifetime value of the customers acquired. ABM at scale has the potential to drive mutual success around these measures, and by building a solid foundation of understanding, defined processes and workflows through tighter business alignment, organizations can position themselves for success in driving sustainable growth and revenue.

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