As customer demands and dynamics shift, smart B2B companies are exploring account based engagement (ABE): an integrated approach to marketing, sales, and service that “shifts the [marketing] paradigm from just generating and closing leads to orchestrating opportunities in the complex ecosystem of larger accounts.”
This should sound familiar to key account managers, who have been finding opportunities with larger accounts for years. In fact, we’ve written before about how the early stages of ABE are essentially KAM, with an added layer of integration with the marketing team.
Companies attempting their first ABE implementation run into four major risks:
- Treating ABE as a tactic, rather than a strategy.
- Scaling too quickly.
- Underestimating the organizational complexity of ABE.
- Getting insufficient buy-in from the sales and services teams.
So how do you avoid these risks? The answer for companies with a strong KAM function is: Lean on your KAM function. Take advantage of the profound customer knowledge base within your KAM team and on your KAM platform. When you do, you’ll not only sidestep ABE implementation risks, but you’ll also find you’re 90% of the way to a successful pilot program.
Think strategy, not tools.
A common hazard in ABE deployment is treating ABE as a set of tools to amplify your status-quo marketing strategy, when in fact, ABE is an entirely different marketing strategy. One where marketing, sales, service, and every other customer-facing function in the organization sit down together to answer the questions: Who are our customers? What are their pain points and goals? How can we best serve them? And how do these insights translate to marketing strategy, creative content, and multichannel delivery? Your KAM team will be critical here, as they are the primary source of customer knowledge in most organizations.
ABE begins with a deep understanding of customer needs and becomes an integrated approach to marketing that reverberates through every level and facet of the organization. When ABE is done well, day-to-day teams leverage wide open channels straight to the heart of customer organizations to deliver messaging and brand experiences consistent with what the marketing team posts on non personal channels. This cohesion creates a clear message and a strong brand — the building blocks of great marketing.
But again, ABE won’t work unless you treat it like a strategy exercise, vs a series of tools, which means doing what you’d do for any new strategy: Get the right people in the room. Conduct a landscape analysis. Think carefully. And then act boldly.
Don’t scale too quickly.
As an innovative strategy, ABE must be scaled thoughtfully. That means piloting the approach with a handful of key accounts, rather than diving right into an enterprise-level rollout.
Why? Because at the heart of ABE is a personalized approach to customer needs. And while it’s possible, over time, to build out the right people, processes, and technology to scale a personalized approach, it’s nearly impossible to move in the other direction, i.e personalizing a broad-strokes approach on the back end.
Your KAM team will be able to quickly identify strategic accounts, helping you prioritize early opportunities to integrate your marketing and delivery functions. And once you do, they’ll provide a wealth of knowledge to help guide your early efforts.
Don’t underestimate the organizational task at hand.
Anyone who’s ever tried to break down an organizational silo knows: It’s not easy. People are entrenched in the way they’ve always operated, and it’s hard to introduce new skills and concepts.
But in order for ABE to work, every department in the organization has to rally around a customer-centric strategy. Messaging and brand experience has to be consistent in every instance; what you promise on your website has to be true in the lived experience of working with your people.
More than that, every piece of content you deliver — whether it’s straight to clients or on your social media platform or a piece of thought leadership — has to reflect the overall strategy of your organization. You must always be asking how publications and deliverables reflect your value proposition, differentiators, and brand. This means coordinating efforts among cross-functional teams, and at every level of the organization.
Coordination at this magnitude requires people, process, and technology. The right tech platform can unite cross-functional, multilevel teams around a shared process and action plan. KAM platforms are a seamless fit for ABE, as they are already designed to keep customer insights and strategic goals highly visible, while in turn giving leaders the insights they need to keep their teams focused on the customer.
Get buy-in from sales and service teams.
Finally, a mistake companies make with ABE is that they ultimately let it be a marketing-led endeavor, with insufficient participation and buy-in from customer-facing teams. The right emphasis is the opposite: Let customer-facing teams tell you who the customer is and what they need. Then, let the marketing and creative strategies follow.
In avoiding this risk, we come full circle: ABE is a shift in marketing focus. Rather than shouting into the void and hoping new leads hear the message, ABE unearths opportunities with the customers you already have, and by proxy, the networks they maintain. It’s highly personalized and highly coordinated. It takes participation and buy-in from marketing, sales, service, and delivery teams. And it starts with key account management.
ABE is a relatively new term. But KAM is not. Key account management is the core of ABE. It’s the function that understands customers and tailors action plans to meet their needs. When marketing teams lean on their KAM teams to get the ball rolling on ABE, they’ll find they’re already 90% of the way there. And even better, KAM technology platforms are a perfect jumping off point for a company-wide, customer-centric approach to growth.
To learn more about how Kapta can help you implement an ABE approach, schedule your demo today.