Companies starting an ABE program often find they are easy to start but hard to expand and sustain as priorities change and problems arise. Usually, companies try focusing the attention on a few strategic accounts or maybe a new market segment. At this initial, tightly focused effort, it usually doesn’t take more than a small group trying to penetrate a customer by using special handling, assigned responsibility, and some additional data. The usual basic CRM and marketing efforts drive the engagements and some progress is made at the accounts or market segments being addressed.

The difficulty and opportunity arise when you try to expand beyond this very minimal effort and use ABE to drive a new go-to-market strategy where market communications are geared to a one-to-one philosophy instead of the classical one-to-many.  Building a targeted marketing communications program has the added benefits that the organization becomes much more highly data-centric focusing on specific issues or opportunities that they discover at the target accounts. This strategy can bridge to a much more effective general marketing communications effort as the team takes what they have developed for the target account and distributes it to a more general audience offering much better, knowledge-based information instead of market generalities and low-value communications information. 

An ABE strategy drives a whole new way of looking at the marketing and sales programs in a company. Tools are available from many suppliers including NEHANET to help facilitate the implementation of an effective ABE program.  Companies who have succeeded at converting to an Account-Based Engagement strategy typically do the following:

1: Do the basics first. Start with a pilot program that defines a set of target accounts that all the program participants can agree on. Open a discussion with sales, marketing, management, engineering, and service members to build a list of tier 1 and tier 2 accounts that everyone agrees should be engagement targets. Build a database of all the current known information about these accounts, starting with the level 1 high-value targets. Identify programs, history, contacts, relationship maps, and product engagement opportunities that the team members agree on. Define the metrics you use to measure the successful engagement and build a tool to provide status updates and progress toward meeting these objectives. CRM systems can provide the basic tools, and NEHANET offers enhancements to build a comprehensive customer situation dataset. Start small, focus on a few in the Tier 1 target list, and start to create the engagement strategy and communication program to support your objective. Create account owners/managers for the target accounts and utilize all management levels to build better relationships. Companies who start this way often see improved sales, faster pipeline throughput, and more valuable relationships being developed to drive future success.

2: Start to Scale ABE – Build on the improved cooperation between marketing/sales / and management to expand the ABE program to a broader set of accounts. Continue building the toolset and increasing CRM to create a much better picture of what is going on in the accounts. Market successes so the rest of the organization can see the benefits of being a part of the ABE program and the value of building a comprehensive account database to drive the team’s activities. Expand the marketing communications efforts to focus on a broader market, particularly to the Tier 2 account category accounts. Use the success in Phase 1 to bring on more team members and train them on effective account engagement. Use the lessons learned to work on the customer journey as they find out about what you do and start to look at becoming one of your customers.

3: Build Organizational Integration: In this step, the ABE strategy matures to become the corporate go-to-market strategy. Marketing, sales, service, and even engineering programs are driven by customer engagement activities that set investment, communications, and business priorities. The tools to support advanced ABE programs aggressively measure customer engagement success beyond just the basic sales metrics. Executive relationships are nurtured with active outreach programs by all levels of the organization. The account data shows what has happened and what is planned to build relationships and business engagements. The customer journey as they interact with you through direct contacts, customer service, sales, web searches, or technical arrangements are all carefully monitored and expanded to cover all the customer engagement paths, including through the channel partners you work with. Customer data drive all business decisions, and the results are measured and corrective actions taken proactively to ensure maximum account engagement success. Companies reaching this stage of ABE implementation see significant changes in how the organization works with full marketing and sales integration and data-driven planning and decision processes.

It sounds great, but it is a journey that needs to be carefully executed to create the results you hope to achieve. You need to avoid the typical problems that companies face as they try to build an Account-Based Engagement organization.

  • 1. Recognize that ABE is a strategy that will change the way your organization goes to market; it is not a new tool or PowerPoint deck.

  • 2. Go slow and build on your success. Start with a few pilot projects to make the methodology and gain organizational commitment. Get your CRM and other datasets converted to supporting an ABE program.

  • 3. Account-Based Engagement is complex and requires the entire organization’s engagement so take time to plan, redirect when needed, and show support from management and the leaders in the company. It will take organizational perseverance to make it a success.

  • 4. ABE is not a marketing lead program; it is an executive leadership program that requires marketing, sales, service, and engineering teams to succeed. Build KPIs to support the ABE objectives and reward success.

The rewards will be worth the effort but don’t underestimate the amount of effort it will take to drive the organizational changes needed to build an effective, successful Account-Based Engagement program. You have to develop the technology and data infrastructure to support the program, understand how each part of the organization contributes to the business goals you want to achieve, such as revenue growth, customer retention, lifetime value optimization, effective executive relationships that drive future success, and account insight that you have only dreamed about to date. You need to have useful tools such as that provided by NEHANET, sophisticated program management, creative and constructive change management, and exceptional leadership to make it deliver the results you need to compete in today’s market.

In the next blog posts of the Account-Based Engagement process, we will address:

  • Roles and responsibilities in an effective ABE program.
  • Key lessons learned by organizations that have implemented an effective ABE program.

To access the previous steps to building an Account-Based Engagement program, see our earlier blogs on Moving beyond Account-Based Marketing (ABM) with advanced CRM solutions.

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