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Create a Better Flight Plan for Your ABM Pilot

November 09, 2016 | By Bob Peterson

  • ABM pilot programs are a best practice approach to launching account-based marketing programs
  • Many ABM pilot programs do not effectively establish pilot goals at the onset
  • Establishing more formal structure for the ABM pilot helps ensure key processes are tested and adapted for full implementation

Most of us learn from a young age the value of putting one toe in the water before jumping in headlong. Knowing if the water is too hot or too cold helps us prepare our bodies (and minds) for full immersion. A similar logic can be applied to launching an account-based marketing (ABM) program. At SiriusDecisions, we encourage our clients to utilize a pilot strategy for ABM before entering into further expansion into other regions, lines of business or even full program deployment mode.

The purpose of the pilot is to test the required processes and procedures in a controlled fashion. This also should have a defined and limited scope, and should be time-bound – ideally three to six months. Where we see some companies hit a wall is when they don’t always have a clear marker for the end of the pilot, which can make it difficult to assess how to incorporate lessons learned into the scaled model and create a business case for the extra resources they need as the program evolves. Here are a few areas to review at the end of the pilot:

  • Pay attention to how the team is functioning. ABM implementation, whether in pilot or full rollout mode, requires a significant amount of cross-functional alignment to secure successful execution. In the pilot phase, pay particular attention to how the various marketing functions (e.g. marketing leadership, field marketing, marketing communications) are supporting each other on the ABM pilot accounts. Is there clarity on role definition, or are these functions stepping on one another? Regarding sales, document the level of involvement in the ABM pilot by sales owners and sales leaders. Are sales teams making ABM a leading topic of sales meetings or participating in regular ABM meetings and utilizing enablement materials created to support the ABM pilot?
  • Focus on what’s happening within the pilot accounts. More advanced ABM teams have learned they need to adapt their measurement criteria for ABM, and a pilot program provides the perfect opportunity to fine-tune reporting requirements. In the pilot, look for early wins that help the broader organization see the value of ABM. This can include contact identification (in existing, known buying centers as well as contacts in yet unpenetrated buying centers), participation in ABM activities from these contacts, opportunity development and acceleration, and early signs of relationship development within ABM pilot accounts. How are ABM pilot accounts performing relative to other similar accounts not in the ABM pilot?
  • Identify lessons learned and advocate internally. Creating updated measurement requirements for ABM is an important step, but too often ABM pilot leaders fail to dedicate time within the team to analyze what is really happening with the pilot accounts and understanding the implications for the full ABM program rollout. What additional enhancements are needed? Are additional technologies required to support more scalable efforts? Are additional personnel necessary? Also, because it may take some time for ABM to deliver wide-ranging impact, the ABM pilot marketing leader must take accountability for championing the ABM initiative by sharing these results internally with company leaders to ensure the vision for the long-term program is maintained.

As more companies look for more efficient strategies to support growth in their best accounts (both new and existing), ABM has risen to the top of the list as an important go-to-market approach. Utilizing a pilot strategy allows sales and marketing teams to test requirements for ABM in a walk-before-you-run approach. However, if clear criteria about what is meant by pilot success is not established, it’s difficult to state that the pilot was successful – let alone knowing what needs to be changed to proceed effectively to the full rollout.

Bob Peterson

Bob Peterson is a sales and marketing thought leader with more than 20 years of experience working in mid- to large-sized global organizations, with emphasis on the financial services and software sectors. Bob has particularly focused on developing account-based marketing strategies to help sales and marketing organizations forge tighter alignment.
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