2019 TOPO Summit Rundown: Where Account-Based Marketers Are and Where They’re Going

The TOPO Summit, put on annually by the eponymous sales and marketing advisory firm, gathers the most forward-thinking sales and marketing practitioners to talk best practices and brass tacks on state-of-the-art revenue generation strategies.

This year, account-based marketing came out of the batting cage and up to the plate as the go-to practice for high-growth, highly aligned marketing and sales teams. The Terminus team are obviously believers and have been for a while, but this year’s wave of marketing conferences featuring ABM as a featured track reinforces that ABM is here to stay, and marketers are ready to go from pilots to mature practices.

As a product manager working closely with B2B marketers across industries and functional foci, what I’ve heard from marketers was reinforced on the TOPO stage – account-based marketing is a strategy that puts marketers back in the driver’s seat of creating complete, cohesive customer experiences that drive value and brand loyalty, and lets them tie that cohesive program effort back to concrete revenue results.

An ABM conference like this now has experienced practitioners, presenting demonstrated success while also flourishing in their careers and companies. ABM speakers no longer focused on getting started or limited pilots – rather, it’s clearly time to talk long-term, full implementation, and mature measurement and optimization.

In fact, 34% of marketers have been practicing ABM for 2 or more years, according to a TOPO survey.

Eric Whittlake, Senior Analyst for ABM at TOPO, describes that the clients he’s working with are starting to see account based funnels close deals 10x higher success rate than lead-based efforts (and measure it with new account-based measurement tech like ours).

But no one wants to be on the journey alone – so here are a few key takeaways on where the ABM practitioners are now, and where they’re going (and I’m happy to talk more about all of it.)

What does account-based marketing look like today?

As ABM drifts over into the mainstream, we’re seeing more consistent strategies across different marketing organizations. B2B marketers adopting an account-centric mentality are also learning how to blend account-based approaches and techniques with other initiatives, like traditional inbound.
Here are the headlines for where ABM (and the marketers who practice it) sits today:

Marketing leaders have honed those ‘alignment’ muscles.

The most successful account-based programs at the conference universally mentioned a critical first step: clear and established sales and marketing alignment. Account-based organizations far outstrip their inbound or lead-focused counterparts by successfully getting marketing and sales leadership in a room, talking productively about strategy, rules of engagement, success metrics, and – above all – which accounts to go after.

If you can’t walk across the aisle and get your sales team working the same accounts you are – you’re gonna have a bad time with ABM (but odds are, you’re already having a bad time with your current strategy).

Real data-driven segmentation and targeting wins the day.

Account based marketing best practices begin with accounts (duh). So selecting the right accounts by creating a strong segmentation practice is key – and mature orgs are getting pretty sophisticated in their list-building and targeting.

Bare necessities of segmentation include building dedicated target account lists around things like use cases, technologies, industries, or behavioral triggers such as intent. Without an extremely clear and focused plan, ABM can either be very expensive to scale or otherwise completely fail to yield the expected results. A key theme in account segmentation is that leading teams aren’t just focused on new business (which was actually called out as the most difficult segment), but are also keyed into current customer segments for upselling, cross-selling, and adoption/retention plays.

Segmentation is key to helping you manage the entire customer lifecycle and capitalizing on every revenue-generating opportunity within it.

Personalization means more than merge-tags, but also requires thoughtful resource allocation.

Ever more dynamic and precise segmentation is only meaningful with corresponding personalization – which is where marketers who yearn for the brand-centric days of yore should really tune in. Because this is where account-based marketing really lets you make big bets on cohesive, high-impact customer experiences. Marketers are adding many forms of personalization to their toolkits – all in the service of delivering more cohesive, more relevant content that drives target account engagement.

But marketing resources are limited in every organization, so scaling smartly means being able to re-leverage content and experiences across account segments and focus meaningful content customization on the highest-ROI activities possible.

Expert ABM-ers achieve this by grouping target accounts based on similar characteristics, allowing them to deliver exceptional relevance at every touchpoint, but do so at scale.

The new standard in marketing measurement has arrived, and it’s account and revenue-centric.

Traditional inbound and digital demand generation tactics focus on leads and MQLs. We get it – they’re concrete conversion events, with specific steps that can be tracked at the contact level (it’s also so, so satisfying to get that first form fill on a new campaign or channel.)

But that doesn’t show the full picture, which means many mini optimizations tend not to add up to a higher-converting funnel, which leads to frustration, missed targets, misalignment, and a whole host of other issues systemic to the lead-based revenue team.

Account-based measurement means focusing on the whole account, across the buying center, and across the entire journey (not just last-touches before specific forced ‘conversion events’).

The new B2B marketing paradigm focuses on new opportunity creation, increased average sales price, increased win rates, and an overall increase in deal activity and revenue.

In order to drive these metrics, it was said time and time again that marketing has to go out of their way to enable the sales team with data, otherwise it just won’t work. In some marketers eyes, SDRs are the lifeblood of ABM success.

And measuring your revenue impact isn’t just a pipe dream. TOPO has defined a funnel and key metrics, and systems like Terminus actually turn their recommendation into an easy dashboard any marketer can use.

The challenges that still exist

For ABM programs beyond the pilot phase, there are still a few core focus areas that can cause snags or – when done well – accelerate success.

Getting sales buy-in is make-or-break for ABM, and needs to happen before you start implementing tech.

The importance of sales and marketing alignment to success with ABM cannot be overstated. Yes, it’s something early ABM practitioners have achieved, but it’s also the most difficult part of the entire process for marketers, especially in the early days. It’s hard to bridge the historic divide – especially with a lead-focused sales team.

One way to overcome this is by focusing on showing early success and a few quick wins by partnering with sales on account selection, as well as investing the time in showing the entire sales organization how ABM will help them close deals, get pipeline unstuck, and make progress in that crucial final mile.

Don’t fall into the trap of seeking technology to solve an organizational issue – it won’t work (and I should know, we’ve worked with all sorts of sales and marketing dysfunction, and those who can’t overcome it will struggle regardless of their inbound, outbound, or ABM strategy).

You need to get a strategy in place first, and that means strategic alignment and buy-in from every level of the marketing and sales organization. Technology won’t fix the human element (but grabbing coffee with your sales counterpart is a step in the right direction).

If content is king, talent is the power behind the throne.

ABM is changing the structure of marketing organizations as well as their tech and practices – everything from whether the SDR function sits under marketing or sales to how marketing teams are structured and headcount is allocated.
Because ABM is still in its early stages, it can be difficult to find the right people to execute on these campaigns, so building a team in-house has been a successful strategy employed by the best ABM practitioners.

You manage what you measure, so you need to get your measurement right.

Account-based marketing isn’t just a marketing function, so you can’t just look at traditional marketing metrics. Marketers want and need to stitch together the entire buying journey that an account goes through, and getting executive buy-in on the business KPIs is crucial. Convincing executive and leadership teams that leads and MQLs are no longer necessary for their account-centric strategy continues to be a hurdle for marketers.

Additionally, most of the ROI for ABM tends to be further down the funnel for revenue and pipeline which makes getting quick wins to show the executive team difficult.

So what’s next?

The immediate future is all about scale.

Do More…

The main ways to get the most out of your ABM initiatives are by fully engaging the buying teams at your target accounts across multiple channels.

The leading ABM organizations engage with 33% more contacts at accounts and use 81% more tactics within those accounts. Marketers are going to continue to want to diversify the channels that they use to drive engagement with their target accounts. Utilizing many different channels allows marketers to engage with more of their accounts everywhere they are.

…With More Accounts

The second part of a scaling ABM strategy is to target more accounts. However, this can quickly go south. The key to scaling to more accounts is that it’s necessary to also scale the personalized experiences you’re giving these accounts. The best way to approach this is by continuing to be extremely strategic with the segmentation of your accounts and focusing on leveraging and repurposing content and experiences.

How Does Terminus Help?

From our perspective at Terminus, it’s exciting to see a clear and consistent methodology emerging. This allows marketers to spend less time focusing on execution and planning and more time on creativity and strategy. Marketers have been thrown into this world of leads, MQLs, and squeezing percentage points out of funnels. When really, they just want to provide exceptional experiences to their customers and future customers and tie those experiences to revenue results. With this emerging, consistent ABM strategy, marketers are able to get back to their roots and do this.

Our vision is one where B2B marketers are free to treat future and current customers like they’d want to be treated – with relevant, helpful information, delivered at the right time through the right channels. We’ve purpose-built a platform to address the key new focus of account-based methods – advanced targeting and segmentation, deep sales collaboration and enablement, and scalable multi-channel experiences that are traceable to revenue results.

The new Terminus scorecard that was launched at TOPO Summit enables marketers for the first time to measure their entire program at the level your CMO and CEO care about.

If you’re interested in discussing more ABM strategy or trends, I’d love to chat. Find me on LinkedIn.