Common Pitfalls of ABM Pilots & How to Avoid Them (Part I)

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Jared Dodson, Senior B2B Marketing Strategist at Lenati. Jared has significant experience in helping organizations plan, pilot, and scale their Account-Based Marketing (ABM) programs. His passion is helping companies leverage technology to create personalized and relevant customer engagements at scale. Jared has led strategic marketing initiatives with Fortune 500 companies in Tech, Telecommunications, Financial Services, Healthcare, and Energy industries.

When done right, account-based marketing results in a significantly higher ROI than other marketing strategies, and B2B organizations are taking note. Despite the promise of ABM, however, organizations are struggling to find success on their first attempt. In fact, only 40% of companies that have attempted ABM have continued beyond their initial pilot.

So, what’s going on here?

We reached out to Lenati, a consulting firm specializing in ABM, to get their real-world perspective. In this two-part series, the Lenati team shares the six most common ABM pilot pitfalls they’ve come across and provide insight on how organizations can avoid them.

Pitfall #1: Not Creating the Right Partnership with Sales

Everyone knows that participation from sales is essential to ABM success. But many marketing organizations don’t set the relationship up correctly from the start, often leading to frustrations and subpar results that could have been avoided. Common missteps are:

1. Not getting buy-in from a high enough level within the sales org

We’ve seen this story play out too many times – the excited marketing director convinces the forward-thinking sales director to pilot ABM. But, when it comes time to allocate resources, they don’t have the power or control they need. As a result, even the most well-designed plans can’t move forward.

2. Not getting a commitment from sales to properly support or resource the pilot

On the flipside, we’ve also seen marketing leaders do a great job of selling sales leadership on the concept, but then fail because they didn’t properly outline the full pilot requirements to them up front. Then, when it comes time to pony up resources or headcount, sales balks and the initiative stalls out.

3. Trying to get consensus and alignment with the full sales leadership team

We’ve sometimes seen marketing struggle to get things off the ground simply because they’re too focused on getting every sales leader to buy into the idea. In large organizations, full team buy-in is unlikely to happen. Just think of the last time your entire marketing team agreed on something. It’s not about how many people you persuade, but about whom you persuade.

The best approach here is to find one or two sales champions who have decision-making power, understand the commitment, and are willing to co-invest in the initiative.

Pitfall #2: No Rules of Engagement

Getting sales to participate and commit resources is one thing, but getting agreement on how to work together is something entirely different. This is where many pilots break down. Here’s an illustrative example:

Marketing says, “We are going drive leads for your accounts, and we need the sellers to properly follow up by doing X, Y, and Z.”

Sales responds, “We know how to properly follow up. Throw the leads over when you get them.”

Marketing then executes the play and throws the leads over the fence.

Sales put the leads in their queue and treats them the same way they treat every other lead.

This is a huge problem! Without clear guidelines and agreement on how sales should treat these leads differently, there is little reason to believe that there will be any lift in the results. Most ABM plays have specific requirements for personalization and timing in order to be effective. These expectations should be discussed and agreed upon between sales and marketing upfront or else there is little difference between the ABM pilot and traditional marketing and sales engagement.

Pitfall #3: Trying to Boil the Ocean 

When we get to the part of the pilot design in which we are identifying target accounts and goals, we frequently see Sales throw over a list of accounts with which they need help. While their intentions are good, there are often significant differences in the accounts (e.g., life stages) that require different ABM treatments. We’ve seen some marketing organizations try to run multiple plays in different accounts in the same pilot, and this typically doesn’t end well. The increased complexity and operational requirements are not worth the potential value of proving ABM across different scenarios.

Another big misstep is trying to include too many accounts in the first pilot. There is no tried and true benchmark for how many accounts to include in a pilot, in part due to the variance in possible ABM treatments — for example, employing all digital plays versus more human touchpoints.  To determine how many accounts to include in their first pilot, organizations should take stock of the effort required to execute well and compare that to their available resources.

Want to learn more about how to do an ABM pilot right? Download Lenati’s 5 Steps to ABM Pilot Success.