Insights into account-based marketing with Louise Robertson.

Account-based marketing is evolving at all times

Insights into account-based marketing with Louise Robertson.

We recently hosted a marketing forum with Louise Robertson, a marketer who’s worked across the Notion portfolio. Here are some of the pearls of wisdom Louise shared during that session.

The mindset of account-based marketing

Imagine a world where you could start the sales process by selling to people that are your best fit, and that get what you're doing - that's where account-based marketing comes in. We don't want to waste time selling to unqualified leads who aren't a right fit for our business, but this often involves a shift in mindset across the business. If you shift this mindset and start to think of finding your tribe of customers - the tribe of people who need your product - you can get some real traction.

There needs to be a whole business shift.

I come from a pharmaceutical background where I blasted out generic, repetitive email communications to every dentist in the UK. Every time a dentist clicked on the email or responded to the mail piece, they got served up to the sales team as a qualified marketing lead. That's the way marketing was. Now, account-based marketing is the way it is. It’s been a radical change. In my career as a marketeer, inbound marketing was all about the numbers. You would use lots of buy one get one free promotions or 30 days free trial, inbound marketing became saturated, and this method didn't work.

I'm a great fan of account-based marketing. It's far more niche, where you focus on the mindset of identifying the highly relevant prospects, identifying what the pain points are, and marketing to them. Account based marketing starts at the top it doesn't just sit in marketing or sales, and it doesn't sit in either; it is an organisational shift. There's not one department that can shift the whole business to become an account-based marketing organisation. It has to be throughout the entire company.

McKinsey produced a study which highlighted that, to be a speedy organisation, it’s about:

  • People taking action
  • Fewer people feeding the beast of bureaucracy
  • Briefing each other
  • Reporting
  • Sitting in unproductive meetings- get out of those meetings!

So when you start account-based marketing, stop having meetings outside of the meeting. Instead, have honest conversations in the discussions, rethink the way you work and reimagine the structure. Let people have their say and make things work - it's all about reshaping the business from the top.

Account-based marketing is an art form.

There's always an always-on customer-centric approach, which requires constant optimisation and attention, which scales well beyond sales generation and lead. It goes right through the lifecycle of the customer. Any capability that is customer-facing, or is responsible for building relationships in the business, is part of the account-based plan.

According to a report by Boston Consulting Group, there are three types of account-based marketing:

1) Traditional

When the marketing focus is on thousands of accounts, using technology to tailor programmatic marketing campaigns to the remaining addressable market by refining targeting, analytics, and personalisation within online tactics. However, although data is clever and we have all the tools, it's tough to do account-based marketing for 1000s of accounts.

2) Scaled

Targeting hundreds of accounts creating and executing lightly customised programs for segmented accounts with similar issues and needs.

3) Strategic

In strategic enterprise account-based marketing, which is 10 to 20 accounts, you’ll be creating high touch, highly intellectual campaigns that fit a board and shake a business up. You know who your 10 to 20 prospects are, and you just focus radically on them.

There is no one-size-fits-all in account-based marketing.

Google account-based marketing and there are over 400 million results on Google. I went through 20 pages, and everyone seems to be an expert on sales and account-based marketing alignment. However, your account-based plan will be unique to your business because your focus group of customers will be unique to you. When I enter anywhere and try to roll out account-based marketing, it can be like entering a warzone. You may have salespeople who've been used to marketing departments that do ‘colouring in’ and then you may have salespeople who like to ‘spray and pray’ by sending lots of things to prospects, and there’s a culture of it being all about how many emails you can send. Many salespeople rely on boilerplate sales pitches - they have their slide deck and almost learn it off by heart. I definitely come up with these competing forces when I enter a new customer or a new business that is planning to roll out account-based marketing. Still, there is no single blueprint on effectively rolling it out.

However, the key ingredient is to have the business behind you and have your target account plan, account lists and to communicate this across the business.

These are the four critical elements of the blueprint:

  • Research
  • Timing
  • Coordination
  • Optimization

But your blueprint will not be the same as everyone else's, and you’ll need to take a bespoke approach.

The five areas of account-based marketing

We worked with Gartner last year on account-based marketing. Gartner said there are 69 marketing variables. They highlighted five areas:

  • Understanding the customer

Firstly, it's your understanding of the customer and not what you're giving the customer. Then, all the business touch points need to (marketing, sales, customer success, etc.) understand the customer, what drives the needs of that customer, why your existing customers are buying from you and continue to do so.

  • Planning

When you have an understanding of the customer, you incorporate that understanding into your planning. Then, plan how you're going to work cross-functionally.

  • Cross-functional collaboration

In the past, I've worked with project managers, or I've project managed cross-functional collaboration. It needs to start at the c-level. The CEO has to understand that when they're reporting for the board, account-based marketing numbers aren't big, your ponds are smaller, and your reactions are harder. When you've nailed cross-functional collaboration, you go onto content management.

  • Content management

Content management is one of my sweet spots, and I love dishing out content - it’s a bit like releasing a Netflix series! You do your teaser, you do your six episodes, and then you get all your reviews. You get referrals because of how awesome your content is - it’s the content providers dream.

  • Marketing automation

But, it doesn’t work without a central CRM system that's being used. For this to work, everyone has to have access to the CRM system where they can see what marketing is doing, so they have a clear 360 degree view of prospects and customers.

Ideal customer profile

To nail your ICP you can leverage quantitative and qualitative research, there's no need to do conversations and you can use a scoping profile. In the scoping document, the sales process will have covered why they buy, so you can get the drivers and the pain points from your sales scoping documents without actually talking to the customer. Then you can actually watch your customers, if they're panellists or if they're on webinars, join them and be in the audience. Focus on what they're doing and what they're saying. This is how you build out your customer profile.

Whilst you're building your ideal customer profiles, build yourself some ideal customer advocates and some ambassadors, some people you can ring just over a coffee or put 10 minutes in to say, ‘we're thinking of doing this and do you think this read will resonate with our market’- have them as a confidant not just as a customer!

Content mapping

Once you've created your personas, this is where you start to document the journey. Using existing customers, with sales, map how they got to where they got to and what influenced them to sign. If you've got nice customers, like I'm lucky enough to have, talk to them. Did they read a blog where they were influenced by this? What was the thing that tipped them over to sign? Was it a video? Did they like the live demo? Could we have done anything better? Understand what piece of content best meets the needs of the customer in the journey and then create a catalogue of the content you have and make it available for sales. As a marketer, you have to make the content easily accessible to the people that need it. Mapping the existing content to the customer is really important and when you create your target audience look for the gaps in your content.

When you've created this core content, have one piece and think of this as your blockbuster piece. Then, work out how you're going to serve it up. My coffee conversations have led to content being shared on customers' internet. When I've got an idea or a piece of content or white paper, I generally talk to one of my advocates. So, I might make three or four conversations with them, and say, ‘would you read this on our website? Or expect to see it on Twitter? Or maybe a podcast?’ Then work with that core persona and build out the content into little blocks. It's fast contact, fast content and easily consumable content. Another thing that is working really well in insurtech is that some of our content has credits for the people that come to it.

Arm your sales team to deal with unstructured moments of opportunity.

My biggest two unstructured moments of opportunity are:

  1. Sitting on a train on the way to France in a carriage going to a logistics conference in Paris. I find out I'm sitting next to the MD of British Gas and they are obviously on my radar because I was selling them tracking software at the time. I chatted to him, and whilst I wasn't there to sell, straight after the conference I was able to introduce him to salespeople.
  2. I was at a rugby match and I met the Australian CEO of Red Bull. At the time, I was working in LexisNexis, and managed to persuade him, over some beers, that he needed newsfeeds to every single member of his marketing team.

So, how do you enable your sales team to be ready like this, when they’re not using scripts? I’ve previously used a company called Hoopla. They teach improvisation techniques for business, and ultimately teach people to be listeners and collaborators through improvisation. A lot of it is based around your key personas; you talk through what marketing collateral you've got, and then they prepare for it. They go through improvisation around your individual buyer. I have also used an expert, who specialises in using laughter. These are two services I've used with sales teams at Google and various others, so that you arm your sales team and your customer success team with confidence to craft a story for the customer.

Company intelligence - do your research!

To enable conversation, do your desk research: look at LinkedIn, look at company reports, look at their latest news and set up a TripAdvisor profile. Firstly, work out who the influencers are and map them out. Then, through their LinkedIn, look at what they're engaging with, and then look at their company ethos. Find all these things and build out this company intelligence and make it so that your salespeople know what systems that company already has. If you're selling software, there's quite a few tools that you can actually run a company through and it comes out with what their main platforms are. That can give you a view of how software enabled they are, how fast to market they are and how they're likely to engage with you. Look at what's affecting them in the news, and really read it.

Another great thing to do is to be in the audience when you’re at an event. Previously, when you've run events, you'd have the salespeople sit outside, and the customers in the keynote sessions listening to the industry. However, I've not allowed the salespeople to be outside of the room. I want them in there tweeting, sharing and leaving with at least two conversation pieces when they come out to talk to customers. This is the way it should be because when you're in the room, you're part of the audience. When you're outside swapping freebies, drinking coffee and talking to the competitors, you're not creating value.

This is where you can bring intelligence about the company in. You can find the head counts, you can find the department sizes and then it takes it out of the qualification step. It also means your marketing forms can be shorter. These pieces are also made up of desktop research, a little bit of intelligence research, going webinars and it's keeping it all in one one database,

Engaging and running successful virtual events and campaigns

We've all moved into the world of virtual events. McKinsey is saying we're not going back to work full time and the three-two rule is coming in! Many are rewriting their employment contracts and the nine to five day has changed. I think the first thing that we've done really well as an industry in lockdown, is realised that virtual events are not similar to face-to-face events where we had things to do in between the sessions: dining, coffees and entertainment. Remote attendees, however, want to get in fast and get the facts quickly. They want fast-paced sessions, which are also available to watch on demand. I’ve learnt from working with the Notion portfolio that it’s advantageous to make these events smaller and more specific. Targeting company to company was a big debate that I had with some of the other founders. You get your target group smaller by peer-to-peer introductions and making contact with them on a one-to one-basis and get the pitch, tone and energy. There's a lot of pre-work before you can attack and actually start talking to them.

We've actually been doing customer reference cases for small peer groups. We send out deliveroo vouchers and before we start we discuss for 10 minutes what we've ordered, which is quite amusing! But it breaks down all the barriers and then we'll have three or four topics to discuss. What I found after these discussions is that they overshoot the time. Recently, we had a call which was meant to be only 14 minutes and we were still talking far beyond that. At the end of it, we've actually got one scope meeting from that. The objective of that meeting was to add value and for us to learn about a specific problem and insurance - it worked very well.

As a marketing director, if we're at the scoping stage of signing a piece of business, you can track down the person that's my mirror marketeer at that company. If they've got PR, you can get them on a call just to talk about what you’re doing and what you’d like to do when they sign the contract. You can also give discounts for including a clause saying that they'll do joint press releases. Furthermore, it seems like a really simple thing that you're doing, but you should actually ask your customer if they know someone in the industry that will be interested in your software or your service. It's such a simple conversation, but people just don't do it - never be afraid to ask!

Account-based marketing is a company wide activity that comes from the top.

For me, account-based marketing isn’t just for marketing to own. It can't work with silos and it can't work with people that don't engage in your central systems. You need a CRM system and you need 360 degree visibility of the customer because business-to-business customer expectations are higher than the consumers. No channel works if it's treated as a set and forget. Account-based marketing is evolving at all times. Ultimately, anyone that is customer facing in a business is responsible for account based marketing.

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