Account Based Marketing for Enterprise SaaS

Selling SaaS solutions often involves a complex, technical sales process, especially when selling to enterprise clients. This is because of the equally complex nature of the solutions that are required for enterprise companies who are managing technical challenges such as complex supply chains, data management across multiple business units, and cross departmental use cases.

This is particularly true of SaaS solutions that manage people and processes across multiple departments, branches, countries, and continents, and often involve a high degree of organization to achieve optimal results after implementation. Having worked with many mid-market and enterprise clients with complex sales processes, we’ve seen how account-based marketing for enterprise SaaS can provide an alternative to traditional in-bound marketing and sales development processes that often fail to create meaningful initial sales conversations. So if you’re reading this article because you’ve hit a wall with the ability of your inbound marketing program and SDR program to supply you with quality sales meetings, and are seeking to understand how ABM approaches might offer an alternative, you’re in the right place. 

An ABM approach can be a particularly good strategy given that the enterprise SaaS sales cycle can take anywhere from 3, 6, 9 or even 12-24 months,  and involve extensive consultation, proof of concepts, and custom implementation. Yet, whether you’re looking to setup an ABM strategy or looking to more effectively execute an existing one, there are many challenges you will face. 

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Why ABM is a Better Approach to Marketing and Sales for SaaS Companies with a Complex Technical Sale

With traditional inbound marketing and sales development approaches, you make a number of assumptions about the prospects and their pain points that may not always be true for complex technical sales and may prevent your marketing and sales messaging from resonating. This typically includes the assumption inherent to most inbound marketing strategies that the prospective clients are aware of both the problem you solve within their own internal processes, as well as the availability of a solution to that problem on the market. Also, many SaaS products on the market do not require global adoption across multiple departments or an entire organization, and thus can be “trialed” by small groups, whereas enterprise SaaS solutions are often cross departmental, require integration within the company’s tech stack, and require buy-in from a dizzying number of departments, committees, and decision makers

With these challenges in mind, it is not surprising that inbound marketing and traditional sales outreach programs typically fail to gain traction. This is where ABM provides a potential solution. Rather than casting the net widely in a traditional funnel driven approach (i.e. keyword driven SEO, SEM, social media campaigns, etc.) that seeks to drive lead generation on the company website, ABM starts by targeting a list of “best fit” companies and their buying committees and focuses on a much more personalized and relationship driven approach with an emphasis on individual attention to prospective champions within the prospect company, and thereafter strategically pulling more and more of the buying committee into the conversation by leveraging the relationship with the champion. Essentially, it is not particularly “new” as an approach, as it resembles a much more classic sales strategy that often called a “named account” approach. However, what is new about ABM is how it seeks to maximize an account driven approach through the use of new technology and innovation in marketing and sales processes.

One of the principal reasons ABM is successful for complex solutions and go-to-market strategies is that it aims to solve the “door opener problem” that inbound marketing for SaaS often assumes is solvable through lead generation activities like free trial signups, gated content downloads, webinar attendance, and so forth. This problem is often voiced by our clients during our initial chats in this way: 

“We close 9/10 deals if we can get into the room with the prospect. But we’re not getting in the room!” 

– Every RFDM Client Ever

Excuse us if this is a controversial statement, but sales gets substantially easier once you get someone in the room. Getting people in the room is one of the toughest parts of sales, especially for complex products – however, it is also where ABM shines: it gives us a solution to the door opener problem through a coordinated, research driven approach that seeks to uncover the optimal path to getting that first critical meeting. It does this by creating feedback and harmonization between sales and marketing teams that allows for the identification of the right people, the right message, and the right time to send it to them. To use an analogy, if inbound marketing is akin to fishing with nets, ABM is akin to spear fishing. 

ABM’s focused approach gives you the tools to create depth around a set of prospect companies or “Target Accounts” that assumes a long sales cycle. This requires breaking with the in-bound tendency to silo marketing and sales teams. ABM requires a more concerted and collaborative effort, which requires re-organizing the relationship between your marketing and sales teams. You can’t just expect marketing and sales to know what to do with complex products and sales processes.

In the next section we discuss the central role of the “ABM Squad” in organizing your ABM approach.

Organizing a Squad-Based ABM Approach

Creating ABM Squads

Creating ABM squads to execute your go-to-market strategy will help better implement a successful marketing and sales approach. With ABM, you’re targeting accounts – picking out potential clients and sending signals to those specific companies. Establishing squads tasked with approaching target accounts will personalize this process by allowing selected squads on your team to focus on selected companies. Depending on how wide you’re casting your net, you may want to start by dividing your squads along mid-market and enterprise lines, with further divisions within each category to account for sector, so that each squad is dealing with, for example, 20 accounts. 

With mid-market, the net needs to be cast wider but you still need to sort the wheat from the chaff. You’ll want to select a broad group of companies that fit your target profile based on two categories: fit score, meaning firmographic variables such as location, size, or sector; and behavior score, meaning right actions that signal the company’s interest through their interaction with your marketing or sales channels. By narrowing down your potential clients, you can offer more personalized messaging that will more directly appeal to their needs.

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With enterprise level organizations, you need to select specific target accounts. This will start with revenue. But you’ll also want to look at potential growth of business/clients within a given organization. For example, if one major company has 20 facilities that could use your supply chain management SaaS platform, start by targeting one. But managing to get that one facility could mean years of future business within the corporation if the company becomes interested in using your platform for other facilities.

Creating squads allows you to take a more focused and personalized approach when sending signals to companies.  

Weekly Organizing and Feedback Sessions

A central element of properly executing ABM squads is setting up weekly organizing and feedback sessions. Basically, you want to give the sales team the chance to give the marketing team feedback on how well their efforts are working. It’s important to emphasize that the marketing team should direct the form and content of marketing itself. But they need to know what is and isn’t working, which requires input from sales. 

Feedback meetings allow sales to flag intelligence signals from target accounts to suggest where messages and outreach are or are not landing, including whether you’re using inappropriate messaging or sending the right message to the wrong targets. Finding this out can help you adjust your strategy and execution, including by leveraging the information you have from your existing clients. What was it about the messaging and approach that drew in the clients you already have? Do specific use cases resonate better than others or than more general marketing messages? Again, the purpose of ABM squads is content personalization and there’s nothing more personal than learning from those who your past efforts have been successful with. 

In addition to creating squads and setting up weekly organizing and feedback meetings, you also need to properly execute processes within your squad-based approach. In the next section, we highlight important elements of this execution.

Executing a Squad-Based ABM Approach

Tracking Signals

Properly executing an ABM strategy requires contacting members of the target account’s buying team when they’re most likely to respond favourably. But our clients often don’t know how to track signals from potential clients, which means they don’t know who to reach out to or when. Content personalization only works effectively if the sales team can capitalize on marketing successes, which requires detailed tracking. 

Tracking should be focused on two areas: (1) First party intent signals, including: website visits; website pages viewed; opens, clicks, and documents viewed in relation to marketing emails; call transcriptions and call outcomes. (2) Third party intent signals, including: ZoomInfo (or similar) 3rd party intent data; LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator’s intent signals, and the profiles of buy committee level employees; and the prospect company’s website, job postings, and other social media channels. Because personalization is the name of the game with ABM, you need to know the who, what, and when to optimize outreach and open the door to that critical first meeting.

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Monitoring and Outreach Methods

If you have tracking setup correctly – that’s great. But you also need to effectively capitalize on the intent signals you’re tracking. Unfortunately, because there isn’t a perfect method, companies are inconsistent with their timing, cadence, and method of response. When we first speak with a new client, the most frequent questions regarding initial outreach are: how many touchpoints, at what frequency, over what period of times, to who, and what day(s)/times(s)?

While the range of possibilities is too extensive to list here, and needs to be tailored to your use case, we would suggest that your team experiment with a minimum cadence of 5-6 touchpoints per week, per contact, over a minimum of 3 weeks in order to surface potential first party signals of in-market behavior. Typically speaking, this might look something like:

Week 1:

Day 1: Initial email + LinkedIn soft connect + call (leave voicemail if no pickup)

Day 2: 24 Hour followup email + call((leave voicemail if no pickup)

Day 4: 72 Hour followup email + call (leave voicemail if no pickup)

Week 2:

[repeat Week 1 schedule, looking for opportunities to experiment with day/time, messaging]

With monitoring and initial outreach setup, you need to back this up by establishing a prioritization system to efficiently and consistently execute outreach and intent signal response via squads. Here’s a prioritization list that requires a reply or outreach email as soon as possible – meaning, within an hour during business hours:

  1. Reach out immediately if a prospect replies to a marketing or sales outreach;
  2. Reach out immediately if a Target Account that has already received messages visits your website;
  3. Reach out immediately if there is a LinkedIn soft connect; 
  4. Reach out immediately if a target clicks or opens more than one message;
  5. Reach out within 24 hours if a buy committee member scores highly on engagement; 
  6. Reach out within 24 hours If a new intent signal comes from a named account where geography of signal is known;
  7. Reach out within 24 hours if a new account with an ideal customer profile shows high intent through a website visit.

Properly executing outreach prioritization also requires you to setup a task management system for sales teams that alerts them in priority order. You can setup a response and prioritization work flow process using HubSpot’s automated alert and task features.

Proper Use of HubSpot and LinkedIn Feature Sets to Organize and Engage

While ABM is effective, it is also complicated and requires a high level of organization. HubSpot offers out-of-box ABM features such as its “Target Accounts” module, where ABM processes can be enforced through task automation and weekly organizing meetings. But you need to implement effective and efficient use of the resources at your disposal. There are a number of ways we help clients maximize HubSpot’s suitability for ABM approaches, which also involves applying approaches we use in our own marketing efforts with clients. These include:

  1. Using HubSpot’s “Target Accounts” feature set. This is an index page that centers your ABM efforts. It lists the companies you have targeted, as well as their buy committees, and allows you to more effectively track the impact of your outreach efforts at an Account level, rather than a Contact level.
  2. Integrating HubSpot with LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator. This allows you to cross-reference LinkedIn’s insights with your HubSpot contacts to better know their business and to cater outreach to them, as well as send your soft connect requests directly from the HubSpot record. But you’ll need LinkedIn Sales Navigator’s team edition and a HubSpot Sales Pro License.
  3. Integrating HubSpot with a prospect and intent database such as ZoomInfo, and creating automated workflows that surface high intent signals immediately. This will allow your ABM squads to reach out in a timely fashion that will improve your conversion rate by virtue of the fact that outreach will land while the pain point and potentially your company are still on the prospect’s mind.  

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