One of the current marketing buzzwords is ‘ABM,’ or Account Based Marketing. It is heralded as the panacea for all B2B sales challenges, generally with the caveat that you buy their software.
What utter Bollocks.
Allocating resources against important, and potentially important customers is about the oldest strategy in sales. I am pretty sure that Cato the grain merchant took Decimus, the biggest baker in Rome to that hot little restaurant in the forum for lunch and a few vinos in 200BC.
Certainly, the whole storyline of that great series ‘Madmen’ is focussed on the acquisition, holding onto and squeezing money out of an ‘Account’. In the early nineties, as a newly minted consultant, I successfully marketed a sales training program I called ‘SKAM’ or Strategic Key Account Management’.
The acronym always got at least a wry grin, and depending on circumstances, I would sometimes substitute ‘Planning’ for ‘Management’
So, to ABM.
The only thing that is new about it is that there is now a slew of software vendors promising to automate and make easy the age-old tasks of sales. There is no doubt that the software can deliver significant productivity benefits, but those benefits are absolutely dependent on doing the basics well, having a solid foundation of sales and marketing disciplines, and that has not changed. After all, if you automate a crap process, all you do is get buried in more crap quicker.
So, to the template.
Define ‘Strategically important’
Pretty obviously the first step is to define just what strategically important means in your context. To many it is those top customers, the 20% that generate the 80% of sales revenue and even more importantly, margin. It is worth remembering however, that each of those top customers were at some point, just a prospect, or a small and therefore easy to ignore customer, that grew. Really smart businesses define clearly a profile of their next group of strategically important customers, and allocate the resources to ensure that they grow to the potential they appear to have.
Have a clear strategy.
This goes hand in hand with the previous point. Without a clear strategy, the result of making often challenging choices about which markets, which types of customers, geographic locations, industry segments, technology base and many others, you will not be in a position to create a definition of what ‘strategically important’ means in your context. The default is almost always the biggest, but as noted, current size is a lagging indicator.
Articulate your value proposition.
Again, this is utterly dependent on the first two steps being done well, as what may be valuable to one customer, will not be to another, and you do not want to waste precious resources trying to talk to and sell to people who do not care, or have no need for what you can offer.
Create a prioritised prospect hit list.
This is a list of potential customers who fit the general profiles from the first three points. There are many ways to do this, and no one right way, but almost universally it will involve the collection and analysis of publicly available data, from which some conclusions can be drawn.
Progressively execute on, and renew the hit list.
This is where the rubber hits the sales road, and where most marketing and sales automation cuts in, and often creates significant complication before the benefits can be seen. it is also often the first point of call for many, a huge mistake made by those seduced by the siren song of automation.
Selling is a process based on psychology and understanding the prospective customer in as much detail as possible. We all like to buy, but generally hate to be sold to. Therefore selling is about gaining the attention, and progressively, trust, that you have a solution to the problem the prospect faces, that delivers value, however value is defined in the circumstances that apply to the sale and ongoing relationship.
Rinse and repeat.
As noted, sales is a process, and the more you treat it like a process, a set of steps to be followed that enable feedback loops, learning and improvement at every stage the better.
When you find you need some wisdom gained from extensive experience to be applied, a bespoke program to be developed, or just have some of the gobbledygook and jargon explained, call me.