ABM IS oftentimes considered a marketing or sales strategy. But to successfully adopt an ABM program that produces results, many successful companies are pitching an account-focused approach as an organizational philosophy that must be adopted by every department within the organization.
At CenturyLink, the $3.8B global hosting, cloud and hybrid IT Services company, encouraging adoption of ABM was an “evangelical” endeavor, according to Geoffrey Kahler, Director of B2B Digital and ABM at CenturyLink. The endeavor is paying off; the company’s combined pipeline and closed/won success from its ABM accounts is in the tens of millions in new monthly recurring revenue.
There were a multitude of reasons for CenturyLink to make the move to ABM, according to Kahler. Foremost was to improve customer engagement for global accounts, focusing on the right accounts, with the right message, he said, and truly aligning its marketing programs with its sellers’ efforts.
The evangelism of ABM across the company began in December 2015; Kahler and his team worked to gain executive buy-in from marketing, sales and operations by pointing out ABM’s benefits, and at the same time identified the ABM tools they needed and began to develop campaigns.
We told our sales team we were diving into ABM even though we didn’t have budget approval,” Kahler said. “And because we have a six-to-nine- month sales cycle, we needed to move fast on implementation, which means we need to be up and running in Q1 of our sales year.”
To drive buy-in, conversations with sales focused on helping close deals, while conversations with operations revolved around connecting the right technology within the tech stack to execute an ABM program.
“From sales, all we needed was a connection with [Salesforce. com] to drive Demandbase data into the CRM,” Kahler said. “Once everyone realized that it wasn’t a huge gap to jump over, people saw the potential. It was a great collaborative effort.”
BUILDING THE TECH STACK
CenturyLink built its ABM tech stack around Demandbase, which Kahler said provides sales enablement capabilities that help “deliver named account insights to sales directly within Salesforce.” Kahler added the solution supports its account-based advertising, retargeting and website enablement initiatives.
The connection between Salesforce and Demandbase allowed sales reps to receive “Hot List” email notifications filled with target accounts ranked by their level of engagement with the company’s web pages. Sales reps also began receiving “Spike Alert” email notifications, which highlighted specific accounts that have been highly engaged with CenturyLink’s website over a short time period.
“From sales, all we needed was a connection with [Salesforce.com] to drive Demandbase data into the CRM.” Geoffrey Kahler, CenturyLink
“As soon as these lists started getting sent over, reps took notice,” said Kahler. After the tech implementations, Kahler noted that “individual rep adoption was really strong.”
Kahler also said that sales and field marketing managers started to receive custom reports on the information reps are receiving from these lists, enabling them to hold reps accountable for follow-ups.
“It’s become part of that conversation on a weekly basis within the sales organization,” he said. “It’s a one-two punch.”
In addition to Demandbase, CenturyLink uses Avention, which was recently acquired by Dun & Bradstreet, for data augmentation, as well as Outreach, an account-based sales workflow solution that helps sales reps “tailor and continue relevant dialogue.”
The company also has a homegrown tool called “TMI,” which helps them find “initial insight on an account that may not have been in Salesforce,” Kahler explained.
BOOSTING ENGAGEMENT WITH ACCOUNT PERSONALIZATION
With 5,000 accounts on the company’s initial target account list, Kahler said that the primary goal of his team is to increase engagement with enterprise-level accounts on the company’s website. With its ABM toolset, CenturyLink can gather information on unknown, anonymous users to provide a personalized experience at the outset, Kahler said.
Within the marketing team are the Segment team, who identify ABM prospects and establish the go- to-market strategy; the MarCom team, who develops campaigns and programs through a variety of channels; and the WebOps team, which is in charge of aligning the website with the messaging of both teams.
“It sounds basic, but many companies do not do it well. With interactions on the web page, we need to communicate with our marcom team to make sure it’s a continuation of the engagement it previously received. The continuum is based on a thread, starting from the lead source.”
The teams zeroed in on enterprise level companies, segmented by industry — including financial services and federal government — and then got to work on messaging and campaigns.
“We have developed six home page experiences based on industry,” Kahler said. “This way we can prioritize the content on the site that is most relevant to that vertical.” The website also has a customization tool that enables further customization in the user experience.
CenturyLink saw a roughly 46% lift in engagement on the website, and more than 80% of those accounts were “net-new”.
“Kahler has seen notable success with ABM to date”, he said. In its most recent program, especially its GES (Government, Education and Safety) effort, CenturyLink saw a roughly 46% lift in engagement on the website, and more than 80% of those accounts were “net-new.”
The next step in its ABM journey is to double down on enabling technologies, use AI for account modeling and segmentation, identify the most appropriate contacts within a given set of accounts and develop its ABM measurement and attribution abilities, according to Kahler.
“There’s so much focus on personalization for customer acquisition,” said Kahler. “Next-level personalization is using that for current customers. Keeping those conversations personalized to retain clients [can] potentially lead to cross-sell and upsell opportunities.”