In the B2B sales world, you'll struggle going more than a day without hearing about ABM initiatives. The buzzword itself has been so overused, it's taken on a life of its own. But what does ABM really mean? And what does it mean to support ABM from a sales operations perspective?
To figure it all out, we hosted the Sales Ops' Role In ABM meetup. With expert panelists from Copper, Lever, and BuildingConnected, we took an inside look at how ABM strategy materializes across a sales organization.
Segmenting customers is not a new concept. We've been doing this for decades, looking to understand our prospects and grouping them by similar characteristics in order to sell to them in the best way possible.
ABM describes a very similar process, inherently focusing on account segmentation rather than contact segmentation. But if segmenting customers and creating target lists isn't new, what's changed?
The difference lies in ABM's ability to proactively build interest in your top-tier accounts. To do so, you need to surface influential behaviors that signal high-value prospects and match them with corresponding outreach initiatives. That's easier said than done. Luckily, sales operations is tackling the project and managing it at scale.
The Sales Operations Responsibility In ABM
If ABM is all about identifying top-tier accounts and reaching out to them to build interest, then the sales operations responsibility is two-fold.
First, truly understanding your customer base requires a quality data foundation. Otherwise, how can you properly segment for ABM initiatives and prioritize high-value accounts? Sales operations is ensuring a single source of truth that validates data quality that can be used cross-functionally between teams.
"Foundationally, it's all about having data. Having data that you can trust, having data that you can convey to both your sales and marketing teams so that they can trust, and having data that helps build relationships the right away." - Jim Schwappach, Senior Director of Sales at Copper
Secondly, sales operations is responsible for interpreting the data to find best-fit accounts. This takes shape through automated systems that provide significant insights to empower your sales team, allowing them to spend more time on prioritized accounts.
"Essentially, we're building out the technology to identify accounts, prioritize accounts, and allocate resources on best-fit accounts. We're building the technology so that people can appropriately filter." - Carl Ehrnrooth, Director of Operations at Lever
How do these two responsibilities play out in day-to-day activities? Primarily, sales operations experts support ABM in the form of lead scoring and lead routing.
Account-Based Lead Scoring
With a differentiated ABM strategy seeking to build interest in your top accounts, there needs to be a concise method for surfacing high-value prospects. Account scoring does just that. It's a measure of behavior that ultimately provides insight into the perceived value a prospect represents to your business. The resulting score determines which prospects to prioritize and how to distribute resources.
Rather than leaving this process to manual research and rep discretion, sales operations is automating the process to provide a dependable score that can scale with your business. By collecting a spectrum of data for every lead, sales operations is building out the scoring model responsible for supporting ABM and identifying a priority ranking of leads.
To provide relevant insights, the score needs to be rooted in ICP criteria and consist of influential behavior attributed to high-value accounts. Getting this right isn't always easy, so measuring success and iterating on your scoring strategy is crucial to the effectiveness of your ABM strategy - a process that varies between organizations.
At Lever, every lead is turned into an opportunity in order to help with tracking and measuring success.
"Each opportunity is matched to an account and we have a score tied to that account. This way we can easily see how many opportunities have gone to various stages and what each of their account score was. This allows us to test the strength of our scoring by comparing against the deals we lost and determining if the fit was wrong or if we didn't execute well enough on a lead." - Carl Ehrnrooth, Director of Operations at Lever
At Copper, the process is a bit different. Not every lead is automatically converted to an opportunity - instead, the tracking happens beforehand.
"There's a qualification process first. We monitor the stages as a lead jumps through different qualification legs to see how the scoring actually aligns with how the lead performs and ultimately our close rates. This allows us to see why we didn't convert the opportunity - either because we didn't have a good view of the opportunity or because of some activity gap in our marketing or sales execution." - Jim Schwappach, Senior Director of Sales at Copper
Either approach is valid and undeniably explains the importance of lead scoring for ABM. Regardless of how you track and measure, the value of a lead score comes from identifying your top prospects and understanding what external attributes influence a high score and what internal interactions help close deals.
"It's very, very much about lead scoring and if we can get that nailed, we can nail prioritization, and we can go on to focus our efforts on the more important companies." - Ross Collinson, Director of Business Operations at BuildingConnected
Account-Based Lead Routing
Parallel to lead scoring is proper lead routing. Oftentimes this automation lies with sales operations to support ABM initiatives by ensuring the distribution of leads is complementing an account-based approach. Rather than multiple leads from the same company being routed to different reps, sales operations is responsible for the logic that matches multiple leads from the same account to just a single rep.
"We automatically route a lead to an existing rep if that rep is already managing the associated account. If a lead comes in that is not yet in BuildingConnected, we create a new account and contact and round robin it to a brand new rep. This allows us to set our sales leadership up for being able to have visibility into their biggest accounts by making sure every lead, regardless of source, comes directly to the associated account owner." - Ross Collinson, Director of Business Operations at BuildingConnected
Are Your ABM Initiatives Successful?
ABM is a shared initiative. Between marketing and sales, it's important to create a cooperative environment that shares responsibility. With lead scoring and lead routing in play, it's no longer a measure of inbound lead quantity, but rather lead quality.
Looking at customer acquisition costs versus inbound marketing, Jim Schwappach has taken a firm stance of viewing the two as complementary. "It's more about how to better serve your customers and how to build out relationships properly to maximize opportunity," he explains.
A defined understanding of ABM allows marketing and sales to share an understanding of exactly which accounts to target. Marketing should allocate spend on high-value accounts, providing quality leads to sales, and sales should allocate proper outreach initiatives to convert prospects to customers. A shared goal brings about a shared measure of success: how many prioritized accounts actually make it through advanced deal stages.
Interested in learning more?
Check out how Lessonly aligned sales and marketing on best-fit accounts.
Read more on how to build a targeted account strategy using account.