Everything You Think You Know About Leads Is Wrong

Just picture it: It’s 2005. YouTube was just born. George W. just started his second term. Tom Cruise jumped on couches. “Desperate Housewives” was one of the most popular shows. Destiny’s Child broke up.

And in marketing, the lead was king.

Back then, cloud-based technologies were just becoming mainstream, and tracking leads was the easiest way to track marketing’s success. But according to Forrester, less than 1 percent of leads turn into sales.

By 2015, this trend begins to wane, as we see the rise of ABM. Terminus arrived on the scene a year before this to help orgs target specific accounts instead of blasting the lead-gen fire hose at every one.

The lead was king in 2005, but are we comfortable still using the “easiest way” we came up with more than a decade and a half ago?

It’s Time to Abandon Our Obsession With Leads

Now, in 2021—with a little (jk, HUGE) shove from a global pandemic—more organizations are shifting toward an ABM program and we’re seeing marketing and sales departments work closer together. Your sales team will tell you they’re not looking for more leads. They’re looking for more actual opportunities.

Need some stats to back up that shift? In 2019, Terminus’ State of ABM survey found that 23 percent of organizations had no ABM program of any kind. In 2020, that number dropped significantly, to just 5.8 percent.

We’re seeing that mature, fully beefed-out ABM programs have become the dominant source of revenue for organizations—not lead gen. In fact, only 10 percent of the organizations we surveyed with mature programs even view leads as one of their top 3 performance indicators.

We’re here to tell you that you can hit all of your goals without generating a single lead.

So if Not Leads, Then What?

We’re not writing a blog post with the intent of convincing you to trash your entire marketing plan. We’ve actually got some real, tangible ways for you to transform your leads-based methodology.

Instead of measuring leads, measure awareness, opportunity creation, pipeline progression, and customer expansion. The four pillars of ABM programs do just this, and as you’re reviewing your plans and transforming your metrics for success, you can ask yourself a number of questions:

  • Awareness: How many people are you actually reaching in your target account list? How many are engaged by clicked ads, visiting your site, or interacting with content in some way? And when they are interacting, which pages are they connecting with?
  • Opportunity creation: How many of your target accounts are surging or showing buying signals like a high number of visits? How many opportunities were you able to create, and how much pipeline has been generated?
  • Pipeline progression: How long are your target accounts in each opportunity stage, and what’s the average sales cycle length? More importantly, what’s your win-rate?
  • Customer expansion: How many of your customers are up for renewal in the next three to six months? What’s your churn rate? How many expansion opportunities have you created, and how many new contacts are added for each customer account?

Pipeline Is Tops

Creating highly personalized campaigns with unique content and creative will help reach your carefully curated and segmented account lists.

Remember when we mentioned that thing about marketing and sales working closer together than ever before? That’s a key factor in working together toward your No. 1 metric: Pipeline.

As you proactively help your sales team understand your account strategy, they’ll be able to watch for surging accounts to create opportunities.

But the People at the Top In My Company Are Still in a Serious Relationship With Leads

That’s cool. You can convince your CMO, CFO, and CEO without crushing their romance with leads. Changing deep-rooted tactics like lead-chasing is never an easy task.

Here are a few things you can say to help with the coaxing:

  • “You want predictability, not the thing anyone can do. Pipeline is predictability. Anyone can generate leads.”
  • “We can be more efficient acquiring opportunities with the account-based methodology than with leads.”
  • “We’re not stopping the lead train. They’ll keep chugging into the station. We just won’t have to rely on them if we shift toward ABM.”
  • “Could you imagine if [insert competitor’s name here] had a better ABM program than we did? We’d be late to the game.”
  • “You always stress that our customer experience is important. ABM will give them the best possible experience.”

Beyond that, though, you’ll need dedication to making this transformation happen. Considering assigning one or two people to devote outsize time to your ABM program for the first two quarters. Having someone solely responsible for its success is a smart way to prevent your organization from backsliding into their old, lead-oriented habits.

Another way to get executive buy-in is to put your target accounts, next to their status, right in front of them. Pre-lockdown we would have suggested you print a big poster with your top 50, 100, 500, or however-many accounts and how many opportunities have been generated against them. Now, maybe a Google Sheet that you circulate on a weekly basis? It’s a great way to keep everyone focused on their most important accounts.

Once they begin to see your metrics, they’ll more than warm up to the idea—and see that, in 2021, ABM and pipeline is king.