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Marketing Leadership Updated on: Nov 16, 2023

What account based marketing for B2B SaaS and football have in common

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For B2B SaaS marketers, there’s a valuable lesson that can be learned from the game of football. Account-based marketing (ABM) campaigns have a much greater chance for success by adopting a solid ground game than by throwing a Hail Mary pass.

Account-based marketing for B2B SaaS companies

Account-based marketing targets high-value companies to convert them into customers. Key to this effort is defining your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)—those prospects with all the qualities that make them the best fit for the solution you provide. Criteria may include geography, revenues, size, tech platforms, and most importantly a felt need for the product or service you offer. More details on the multiple steps to do this in this great article. The reality is that this usually takes more than one calendar quarter, usually at least two and often three quarters. Most CEOs, Sales- and Marketing leaders make the mistake to expect results in the first months, and abandon the ABM approach too early.

A successful running attack in football relies on a relentless “ground and pound” approach that may not show results early in the game but, by the time the 4th quarter rolls around, wears the defense down and produces big gains with winning results. In the 2013-2014 season, this approach led my favorite team, the Seattle Seahawks to win Super Bowl XLVIII (also helped by a great defense).

Similarly, an effective ABM campaign relies on a consistent “outbound and pound” campaign, such as a multi-touch email effort. The first few emails may not result in many clicks. But by pounding away with intriguing and compelling messages there will come a time when more and more prospects respond, leading to conversations, sales presentations, and market qualified leads. A continued ABM effort will you solidify the personas you need to address to match the complex B2B Customer Journey (here is more on the way Kalungi defines B2B Personas to support effective ABM for software companies).

Content is just like calling plays

A running game in football requires diverse play-calling with draw plays, sweeps, end arounds, and bursts up the middle. Think of the content of your outbound email campaign as a series of carefully orchestrated play calls, each one setting up the next.

Early “plays” may be introductions and relating to recipients’ pain points. Later emails may show concrete benefits, provide client testimonials, or offer a product demo. Any one of these plays may be the one that breaks down a recipient’s defense and produces a big gain.

Here's an article on "5 steps to create great ABM messaging".

Everyone on the team contributes to success

On the gridiron, every member of the offense has a job to do. Guards pull, tackles trap, fullbacks provide lead blocks, receivers run decoy routes. In ABM, sales and marketing must also work in concert.

Social media ads must recognize the prospects’ pain points; emails need to show recipients how your solution provides a tangible gain; calls to action need to move the prospect one step closer to a sale by asking for a meeting, consultation or conversation, or by offering an ebook, linking to a landing page or offering a product demo.

Why a play call may fail

In football, a particular play may fail because of a missed assignment. Typically, ABM campaigns may not produce the desired results for four reasons:

  • Companies don’t really understand their ICP. They haven’t done the work to tightly define their ideal targets.
  • Companies don’t know where their ICPs are. Perhaps mailing lists are not properly scrubbed, or the target companies are well defined but not the appropriate personas within them.
  • Companies aren’t ready to fully commit to their ICPs. Companies may be tempted to go after low-hanging fruit—prospects that come over the transom, via the website or through inbound efforts. While they may be ready to buy, these leads may not be the best fit for your solution or provide the highest lifetime value. Or worse still, marketing efforts are taken like Hail Mary passes, thrown out into the marketplace with little strategic thought in the hope that they will somehow catch on.
  • Companies aren’t able to articulate their benefits and value propositions. Outbound efforts may have worked as desired, but in-person conversations failed to demonstrate how, what, and why the prospects would gain from the company solution. In these cases, companies can learn from their failures and fine-tune their messaging and value props to better convey how prospects can benefit.

More on this topic in the article "3 Reasons Why B2B Outbound Campaigns Fail".

Don't give up after the first quarter of the game

In summary, it's easy to give up on ABM if the lists don't produce the right results, the messaging does not resonate or the initial sales conversations are with the wrong people. These are not reasons to give up, these are reasons to double down. You can learn from all these experiences and fine tune your ICP, improve your value proposition and the messaging that supports it, and fine-tune the script for your initial calls. That's what you should do in the second quarter, to start scoring touchdowns (and MQLs) in the third quarter.

Stopping ABM and going back to trial and error of many other marketing tactics like Paid Search, Content marketing, Event Marketing and Sponsorships, is like throwing hail-mary passes and hope you can win the game. If you cannot make ABM work, it is a strong indicator that your ICP, Value Prop, Messaging and ability to follow up on leads are not in great shape, and trying out other marketing tactics is not going to change that. Sometimes you luck out, like the game Seattle played against Green Bay that led to the famous "Fail Mary"...

It takes a good coach to call the right plays

If you’re new to the game of marketing your B2B SaaS solution, you may want to learn from a great coach. At Kalungi, we’ve helped dozens of companies like yours define their value props and messaging, develop ICPs and personas, create outbound ABM and go-to-market campaigns, refine inbound communications, and more. Our playbook is proven. Our team is resourceful. And we can help you win in the marketplace.

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