Sometime in the not-too-distant future…
You hear an electronic voice inside of your virtual reality headset: “Someone from one of your target accounts is live on your website, do you want to engage?”
“Affirmative,” you reply. (FYI: In the future, everyone says “affirmative” instead of “yes.”)
In less than a second, a dashboard appears on your virtual display, and suddenly you know everything about this target account that you need to know — company size, industry, tech stack, and you can even see all of the previous conversations you’ve had with people from that account.
Meanwhile, a virtual assistant has popped up on your website. It greets the prospect by name, and lets them know that you’re available and ready to answer questions at a moment’s notice.
Sure, this might just be the daydream of an over-caffeinated marketer, but it’s really not that far off from the type of experience all account-based marketers should be striving to deliver on their websites.
It’s a personalized, one-to-one approach.
Over the past few years, ABM has soared in popularity. Today, more than 70% of B2B companies have employees who are fully or partially focused on ABM activities.
But as Terminus Co-Founder & CMO Sangram Vajre explained in a recent interview, the problem ABM currently solves for hasn’t gone away entirely.
The whole point of the last 15 years, the problem we were solving for was, “How do I optimize for the right person, at the right time, with the right product I want to sell?” So finally, with ABM we just went in a different direction than just generating more of the same… So I think it’s a natural evolution, but the problem is still the same: How do I give my sales team the best opportunity to win?
In order to continue giving Sales the best opportunity to win, our ABM playbooks are inevitably going to need to evolve.
(And there’s one area in particular where sales and marketing teams alike have found lots of room for improvement.)
Keep reading to learn more.
In a hurry? Check out the SlideShare version below:
Table of Contents
1) The Problem With ABM Today
For years, marketing teams have been investing tons of time, energy, and money into ABM programs — and for good reason.
Of the marketing teams that measure return-on-investment (ROI), nearly 85% say ABM delivers higher returns than any other approach they use.
And this makes perfect sense. Because with ABM, it’s a big investment upfront, but since everything you’re doing is so personalized, and tailored to the specific needs of the accounts that you’ve already identified as being good fits for your product, you have a much higher likelihood of closing them.
With ABM, it’s like you’re rolling out the red carpet for your best leads…
…or at least that’s how it’s should be.
Unfortunately, when an ABM lead drops by most websites these days, they end up getting thrown into the same-old “form and follow-up” maze as every other website visitor.
It’s a bad experience for any potential customer to have to go through, but to force your ABM leads — your best leads — go through it, too? Yeesh.
In some cases, these are CEOs and other top executives dropping by with specific questions about your product.
Instead of engaging with them in real-time, we’ve effectively been telling them to get lost by serving them lead capture forms.
It’d be like jumping through hoops to get the best shoppers into your brick-and-mortar store…but once those shoppers arrive, you refuse to talk to them. And you won’t sell them anything. Instead, you point them toward a clipboard where they can write down their contact information.
Not a good experience.
And yet that’s exactly the type of experience people in our target accounts are having on our websites.
So why are so many companies still using this outdated approach?
Here’s the underlying issue:
When it comes to website visitors, it’s hard to deliver the white-glove treatment that ABM requires at scale.
As InsightSquared CMO Joe Chernov explained:
There’s a natural tension between ABM and scale. After all, ABM is intended to achieve a “persona of one,” that is, every interaction should be — or at least convincingly resemble — a one-to-one exchange.
For years, it’s been impossible to provide that type of one-to-one exchange across the hundreds or thousands of potential customers dropping by your site each day. And even when you’re focused on just a few target accounts, catching the people from those target accounts at the right times can prove challenging, if not impossible.
2) ABM and AI: How Chatbots Are Streamlining the Buying Process
Artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to revolutionize the way we do ABM.
That’s because unlike any technology that’s come before it, AI is perfectly suited for doing the real-time data analysis and repetitive number-crunching that makes scaling a one-to-one approach possible.
These days, virtual assistants (a.k.a. chatbots) can take care of all the tedious tasks — like routing prospects to the right sales reps, pulling up relevant firmographic and technographic data, and asking basic qualifying questions (e.g. “What are you thinking about using our product for? X, Y, or Z?).
And that frees up the humans on your team to focus more of their time on the tasks that require a human touch, like answering complex product questions, and building lasting relationships.
According to the McKinsey Global Institute, 40% of sales work activities can now be automated with AI.
Gartner predicts that by 2020, 30% of all companies will use AI to supplement at least one of their primary sales processes.
And according to Salesforce, high-performing sales teams are 3.4x more likely to be using AI compared to underperforming teams.
Whichever way you look at it, AI is coming, and to a large extent it’s already here.
For all you account-based marketers out there, the technology presents an opportunity to provide the type of website experience your target accounts deserve.
For example, if someone from one of your target accounts drops by your site, you can now have a chatbot greet them with a personalized message.
And if that prospect has questions and wants to talk to a human, the chatbot can route them to their account owner.
Alternatively, if that prospect wants to schedule some time to see a demo, a chatbot can help them do that — the power is entirely in the hands of the buyer.
Oh, right, and because your target accounts typically consist of multiple stakeholders (6.8, on average), all of whom might drop by your website and ask questions, chatbots can keep track all of those interactions and ensure they’re all being attributed to the same account.
Thanks to AI, marketing teams can now replace their lead capture forms with real-time, one-to-one conversations. It’s not only a better buying experience — it’s a better buying experience that teams can deliver at scale.
3) Conversational ABM Is the Future: Here’s How to Adapt
In the previous section we talked about the technology that will power the next phase of ABM.
Now we’re going to talk about the methodology you can follow to help your team adapt.
It’s called conversational marketing — having real-time, one-to-one conversations in order to capture, qualify, and connect with your best leads.
When you apply the principles of conversational marketing to ABM, you end up with an account-based strategy that’s actually suited to the on-demand, always-on world that we’ve all seen emerging.
By taking a conversational approach to ABM, you can finally roll out the red carpet for your best leads.
Here’s how you do it:
Step 1: Create personalized welcome messages.
When people from your target accounts come to your website, at a very minimum you should be saying “Hello” to them.
And if it’s someone you’ve already started to develop a relationship with, why not welcome them back and let them know you’re available to help?
And why not have that message come from the account owner a.k.a. the sales rep who’s been that person’s direct point of contact for the past few days or weeks?
When you think about it, all you’re doing here is getting back to basics — you’re treating potential buyers the same way you would be treating them if they were standing right in front of you in a brick-and-mortar store.
That being said, AI has now given us the superhuman ability to learn about website visitors before we’ve even started talking to them. With IP-matching, for example, we can see what companies our anonymous website visitors work out.
Using this technology, you can hone in on visitors from companies that meet your target criteria and then have personalized welcome messages appear to them automatically.
Of course, instead of mentioning companies by name (which might seem creepy to some first-time visitors), you can also call out the names of competitors, or other companies in their industry that are using your product.
The goal is to create a welcome message that’s customized to the needs of the person visiting your site, and that feels more human than a static lead capture form.
Step 2: Treat outbound email like a real-time channel.
Of course, with ABM you’re not sitting around waiting for leads to come to you — you’re actively pursuing accounts that you’ve identified as being a great fit for your product.
And while email might not be the world’s most popular communication channel anymore, there’s no denying that it’s still around (case in point: did you check your email today?) and can still be useful.
In some cases, email might be the perfect method for giving a prospect that extra nudge toward checking out your product. But in order to make outbound email work in today’s on-demand world, you need to connect it to the rest of the sales conversations you’re having.
You need email to work in real-time.
So here’s what to do: In every outbound email you send, include a link that triggers a real-time conversation.
That way, if a prospect reads your email and has questions, they’re just one click away from talking to you. This gives them the power to start a sales conversation on their terms, when it’s convenient for them.
Of course, sales reps can’t stay awake around the clock in order to respond to every prospect who’s ready to talk…so that’s where chatbots come into play. If an account owner isn’t available, a chatbot can step in and cover for them.
One final tip for making outbound email more conversational:
In your email signature, always include a link to an online profile where prospects can learn more about you, schedule meetings with you, and start one-to-one conversations.
It’s like a digital business card that allows people to connect with you in real-time.
Step 3: Get real-time alerts so you can reach out at the right times.
Granted, not everyone who opens your emails is going to click-through and start a conversation. The same goes for people visiting your site: Some are inevitably going to ignore those welcome messages.
But when someone from one of your target accounts is on your site, or reading one of your emails, you don’t want them to slip away. In fact, you may want to reach out proactively as soon as you see those types of activities happening.
With the help of a browser extension, you can now get notifications as soon as someone from one of your target accounts visits your site, or opens an email, or starts a conversation. That way, you’re always ready to jump in and engage.
Even if you end up reaching out with a simple, “Hi there, need any help?”, notifications give you the ability to provide a real-time presence that’s been missing from the traditional website experience.
4) Final Thought: Avoiding Past Mistakes
Over the past decade, we’ve made it too complex for customers to buy.
Instead of adapting to the rise of real-time messaging and the on-demand economy, most of us have simply doubled down on what we already know.
And that’s meant more forms, more “nurturing” emails, and more cold calls.
Even Drift’s founders, David and Elias, who helped build the first generation of marketing automation software, admit that they messed up.
To quote Elias:
We just went and automated what we saw was happening in the marketing space. We were solving for the fact that marketers didn’t have developers. So we wanted to be their developer.
But we were solving for the wrong person.
We were so focused on being a personal developer for marketers, that we forgot about the end user.
That’s why today, we’re focused on making the buying process as simple as possible.
No more unnecessary email back-and-forths. No more endless games of phone tag. The future of ABM will be powered by real-time conversations.
Want to learn more?