Watching Soccer: Thinking ABM
While watching a soccer game recently, I couldn’t help but think about account-based marketing. Really. How the best teams worked cohesively towards a common goal reminds me of how, at their best, marketing and sales can work together. And since so much of our marketing-speak is sports-based—plays, opportunities, conversions—as I watched the game unfold, I found some interesting parallels for ABM strategy.
Of course, it helps if you think of the flow of the game in terms of a funnel. By the end of the game, I found myself thinking that classifying great ABM in the same category as basic demand gen is a bit like suggesting that world-class soccer has a lot in common with a game of foosball.
Winning at soccer requires gathering the ball, managing it effectively, and then delivering it at the right moment for a striker to ram it in. Easier said than done.
In marketing, we’ve got to gather demand, nurture it and deliver it to sales for successful conversion.
Both are funneling processes. Defenders, who gather the ball, are beginning the process. They’re top-of-the funnel. Midfielders control the transition space, between random chance and real opportunity creation. They’re like mid-funnel marketers and tele-qualifiers because they manage the ball and look to supply the forwards with quality scoring opportunities. Forwards—the sales guys—get the goals and the glory—unless of course they don’t!
Think I’m wrong about this? Do I sense football purists starting to protest? Hold onto your lager, because the parallels just continue to build.
Timing Your Delivery
In soccer, good balls are those passed only when there’s a clear opportunity. A bad ball is no ball at all. Balls must be managed, nurtured, until the moment is right. Then they must be delivered so the strikers can pounce. In ABM, inactive accounts yield only frustration, false signals, and wasted energy. But when intent signals are right, everyone needs to see them to be able to pounce.
Opportunities can come from out of the blue. And the really top teams are often especially great at converting calamity into possibility on the fly. (Back in the day, the Netherlands stood out for this capability that became known as “total football.”) Success in situations like this depends on an incredibly deep understanding of the rhythms of the game, of how opportunities are created, and how the team’s constituent parts can come together in different ways to gain the advantage.
These days, the very best ABM practitioners have gained access to the kind of rich data it takes to really know when they can attack with confidence and as a team. Unlike classical demand gen where a lead communicates very little about what’s actually going on in an account, with the latest purchase intent insight, teams not only know which situations are real, they know the behaviors of the key players in the account, their interests, and how to capitalize on them.
When there’s a corner, a direct kick, or even an indirect one near the box, the best teams have any number of ways of gaining the advantage. They’ve studied the opposition; they know their strengths and weaknesses. They do everything they can to stack the deck in their favor. While part of ABM is all about quick response, at scale, out-sized success comes from the planning, analysis, and creation of a continuously improving set of go-to plays that marketing and sales can execute at will. It’s attention to this critical enablement that will allow you to become both more effective and more efficient over time.
Soccer is above all a team sport. The same is absolutely true in our world of ABM. From gathering, to managing, to capitalizing on real opportunities, organizations that can get sales and marketing to function as a well-aligned unit are consistently more successful over time.
To find out more about how to better shape your ABM efforts for success, download the e-book Moneyball: Using Advanced Account Insights for Effective ABM Activation.