Getting to ABM: Notes From the Field
Account-based marketing is a hot concept in B2B these days. But how does it really work on the ground? David Rowe, SVP marketing and business development at Enli Health Intelligence, spoke at the BrandHIT marketing conference in Las Vegas last month, and shared candidly some of his firm’s experiences in migrating from traditional B2B demand generation to an ABM strategy. It’s been a long, but productive, journey. David identified four factors key to Enli’s ABM success: process, culture, attitude, and metrics. Fascinating stuff.
As background: Enli is a Portland, Ore., company with a population health management platform for health systems. Increasingly, insurance payors are moving away from fee-for-service payments, toward a “value based” reimbursement model, where doctors are paid on successful patient outcomes. In population health initiatives, the healthcare provider’s goal is to manage an ambulatory patient’s chronic conditions while avoiding hospitalization. Enli’s solution is essentially an electronic patient record that allows doctors to manage and report outcomes that will be reimbursable under the new payment models that will swing into effect fully in 2018. The tool is sold by subscription, either as SaaS or installed. Enli is the market leader, and always looking for ways to maintain their lead.
I posed four questions to David about the journey to ABM.
How Long Have You Been Migrating to ABM at Enli?
We’re about 18 months into the transition. It took us about a year to identify the resources and prepare the background, like doing our persona research and developing our analytics. We announced the new strategy to the board of directors in November of last year. Implementation began in January of this year. It’s changed entirely the way we work in marketing.
In ABM, the lines between sales and marketing blur. We are finding that ABM combines systems and culture in interesting ways. Here’s an example. This week an email came in to an account exec who identified an opportunity within a current account. She said the client wanted pursue a grant and wanted to buy an extra module of our software to support the initiative. She was asking for particular content to support the grant application. So, here we are at the bottom of funnel, and an opportunity has emerged.
In the old world of marketing as demand generator, we would have said, “That’s not our job. We run campaigns.” But in the new world of ABM, we jump on opportunity across the funnel. We had reconfigured the marketing department layout as a quad, with no cubicles. Everyone started talking about how to help. Together, we decided to get the customer on the phone and better understand the need. We took the ball.
The account manager handed the customer over to the marketing team. Three of us spent about 15 minutes on phone with her quickly figured out that we had exactly what customer needed on hand, all ready to go. (Although we were willing to create fresh content if needed.) The customer was blown away. “This is incredible,” she said later. “This fast response is amazing. If we don’t win the grant, we’re going to find a way to buy the module anyway.”
It’s about attitude, enabled by a culture we created, where everyone knows the goal. The play was: Stop what we’re doing and speak to the customer ourselves. A partnership is formed, and trust is built.
What Did You Need to Put in Place Before You Got to This Stage?
Two things: We needed to understand our customers, and we needed to align their buying journey with our selling journey.
We worked with Adele Revella of the Buyer Persona Institute, who has a highly refined formula for developing customer insight. We decided to conduct the research ourselves, so the team could have direct exposure to customers, and to infuse the buyer perspective into our DNA. As we understand their questions, their reservations and their challenges, our messages can be better crafted. This is how we mapped the buyer journey.
On the alignment side, I am fortunate to work with a sales leader with whom I share a high degree of trust. Together, we merged the marketing and sales funnels. Part of the problem was economic. When we were handing off MQLs (marketing qualified leads) to sales, the receiving sales rep would consistently value it lower than we had in marketing. Now, we have sales involvement earlier, and set estimates that are more accurate.
Also, marketing is now involved lower in the funnel. Both teams participate across a continuous flow through marketing, selling and the customer community — the three stages of our joint funnel.
What’s This “Playbook” Approach You Mentioned at BrandHIT?
Just as a basketball coach develops a system of organizing the team, things move so fast in marketing that that we need to have a set of plays in place. Decisions can’t be made in advance for everything. We are in the game in real time. So we start with a set of plays, run them, learn from them, refine, and discover new ones. When you see a similar situation, you know what play to call.
Here’s a classic play in ABM: At a trade show, the pre-work and game plan for the whole show is set. We know which prospects are attending, and we try to set up meetings with them in advance, using phone and digital communications. But on the show floor, we need systems to recognize and welcome key prospects they walk up to welcome station. Our team can keep a short list of account names in our heads. If it’s someone from that account, the whole team is ready. The account exec is alerted, and the key prospect is taken to a special waiting area, and welcomed with coffee. The goal is a highly differentiated customer experience.
Everyone knows this play, and what has to happen. We have plays in place across the funnel: top, middle and bottom.
How Have Your Marketing Metrics Changed With ABM?
First, in impacts. We now have plays across all three sections of funnel, with marketing impact metrics across them all. We are creating campaigns that are meaningful in the middle of the funnel. We’re even supporting our services organization way downstream. You might think of that as sales operations. We think of it as a vital component of integrated marketing. I credit Matt Heinz with helping us think this through.
Second is analytics. Reports from Google or Marketo are no longer enough. We’re finding that mid-funnel metrics are not supported through our CRM. So we have designed our own proprietary systems for data capture and reporting. We need to view the impact of communications across account activity, across deal flow. That’s a big shift. But we’re well on our way.
A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.
Ruth P. Stevens consults on customer acquisition and retention, and teaches marketing at companies and business schools around the world. She is past chair of the DMA Business-to-Business Council, and past president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York. Ruth was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing by Crain's BtoB magazine, and one of 20 Women to Watch by the Sales Lead Management Association. She is the author of Maximizing Lead Generation: The Complete Guide for B2B Marketers, and Trade Show and Event Marketing. Ruth serves as a director of Edmund Optics, Inc. She has held senior marketing positions at Time Warner, Ziff-Davis, and IBM and holds an MBA from Columbia University.