As the VP of Marketing at three different B2B SaaS startups, I’ve learned a few things about Account Based Marketing (ABM) for SaaS businesses.
SaaS companies are always tasked to do more with less and grow at any cost. As a result, there’s not a lot of room for error or testing things out and as you already know, many marketing programs get cut if you can’t justify their ROI quickly enough. Unfortunately, ABM is one of these programs that often gets cut too soon.
ABM is not a “marketing only” motion. It’s part of your full go-to-market (GTM) strategy. And as such, a LOT of people need to be bought into your strategy if you expect it to work.
In order to ensure your ABM program doesn’t get cut, take a few lessons out of my playbook and do these things.
First, look at your ACV and see if it warrants an ABM program. ABM programs work best when your ACV is greater than $50K because when you calculate your ROI, you’ll need to account for all of those fancy tools you just bought to track and execute on your ABM program. If your ACV is less than $50K then ABM is not for you and perhaps you should just go for a named account strategy and provide air cover for sales via targeted ads.
Get buy-in from your CEO, CMO, CFO, sales and customer success teams (not just the team leads), otherwise you’re already off to a bad start and most likely going to fail. Getting buy-in doesn’t mean 100% of folks will love your plan or idea, but as long as you have executive support that understands, accepts and is aligned with your greater goal, you’ll have a greater chance at success.
Set realistic expectations as to when internal stakeholders can expect results. I cannot stress enough that the keyword here is “realistic” because it usually takes 6-9 months to see results in pipeline or annual recurring revenue (ARR) depending on your deal velocity and sales cycles. If anyone thinks you’re going to deliver closed won deals at the end of one quarter, they will be gravely disappointed.
Before you pick your accounts you are going to target, you need to figure out how you will segment the audience. Don’t take shortcuts on segmentation. Segmenting your audience is the single most important thing you need to get right. Segment beyond vertical, job function, and seniority. Start with those accounts who know you and who have engaged with your brand before, versus cold outreach to people who have never heard of your brand. Then, of course, identify the buying committee to make sure you have contacts for all of them. There are 7-20 people on a B2B SaaS buying committee these days, this takes some time to do, so engage your SDR/BDR team to help or an outside agency.
This is why the best way to see success with your ABM program is to start with existing customers and expand into those accounts because they already know who you are and what your product/service can do for them. You already have a built-in case study. These should be considered your Tier 1 for existing accounts.
Whereas, if you treat them the same as accounts you want to break into, your messaging won’t resonate. You don’t have to explain who you are or what your product does to people who already know your brand and know what you do. As a result you’ll employ different tactics for this group of folks.
For net new accounts you’re trying to break into, you must layer on buyer intent. Without layering on intent, you are wasting your time and money on ABM. When buyers show intent, they not only know who you are, but they are also interested in learning more about your solution to their problem. You’ll have these folks in two buckets also: engaged and unengaged. For those who have engaged with you previously and show intent, you can hit them with different messaging around the value of your solution and how it addresses their pain points. For the non-engaged but showing intent, you need to prioritize brand awareness plus education on your solution so you can be a part of the conversation. Think about it, they’ve already done their research and for some reason your brand isn’t in the mix, otherwise they would have reached out to you already or engaged with your content in some way.
Loop in your content team to help map out the customer journey. If you don't have historical data to look at, take your best guess at what the journey should look like and analyze your content to identify any gaps. Then identify the tactics to use that content. You don’t have to have every piece of content ready from the start. You can fill gaps in your content as you go but give yourself a head start so you’re not scrambling week to week. Look at your marketing calendar and see how you can build an integrated experience campaign so that everything ties back to the journey you want the buying team to take. Do you have any events coming up?
Identify how you and the stakeholders will measure success. Will you switch over to a marketing qualified account (MQA) and sales qualified account (SQA) model and abandon the notion of marketing qualified leads (MQLs) entirely and instead look at engagement of these accounts to show a path to progress of pipeline or ARR? Or does the CFO still need to see an MQL number?
Ideally, you’ll want to define what you will measure during the buy-in process. You should come prepared with a defined list of criteria and talk it through with the CEO, CFO, CMO, and sales/marketing operations to ensure you have all of the fields in your CRM and marketing automation tools you need to properly report out on the agreed upon metrics. Otherwise you’ll spend every quarter trying to re-justify this program, or worse, it will get cut.
Lastly, don’t forget to use your ABM program to move folks already in your funnel further down the funnel. This will further strengthen your relationship with sales and their faith in your overall program. And whatever you do, don’t put all of your eggs in the ABM basket. Great GTM strategies involve a mix of ABM and traditional marketing.
~ Tracy, VP of Marketing @ Intellimize