Why Account-level Insight Can’t Get You Where You Need to Be: Dependencies for Improving GTM Performance
With something like 10,000 RevTech solutions out there, it’s become super hard to understand who really does what, and most importantly, whether or not what is being said really stands to help you deliver substantive value to your company at the end of the day. At TechTarget, we realize that while there’s very little real mystery in what we do, there’s absolutely magic in how it impacts our clients’ results. Toward helping you and ourselves navigate through the functionality fog that, at times, threatens to obscure what’s really necessary to make steady progress, we’ve put together a series of pieces that examine recent claims and present our case for a more transparent and pragmatic way to understand the issues involved.
Be leery of claims about “impacting the entire GTM” when the data is flawed in the first place
One of the interesting things I’m seeing happening in vendor messaging out there right now is language designed to try to distract you away from core weaknesses. By skipping past clear discussions of what actually comprises the insights being made available, vendors are tricking you into thinking that their source could actually be good for use cases it doesn’t really adequately support. Instead of taking a vendors’ word for how you should use what they supply, as a Sales guy, I implore you to talk to your internal teams about what they really need to do their jobs more efficiently or effectively. Whether the topic is segmentation, prioritization, or personalization, you owe it to your company to understand whether what’s being supplied can truly better support your efforts better than what you have or something else entirely.
Huge problems arise from “anonymous buyers” … How did we get here?
For years (decades really), many successful data providers focused primarily on keeping contact data as clean as it could possibly be. As a Sales leader, I’m the first to acknowledge that my folks can cut a lot of corners in entering and maintaining the contact details in their accounts. I’m well aware that when my folks say “the data in CRM sucks”, part of the issue is that we ourselves contribute to the problem. Add to this what seem like accelerating changes to titles, job hopping and more, and I’m endlessly thankful for the folks in SOPs for the hygiene work they do to support us. But what truly shouts out to me here is that we’re talking about contact data! So how did some suppliers suddenly start trying to change the focus to account data?
Firmographics and Technographics might be the culprits in this whole mess
Obviously, in the planning stages of go-to-market preparation, account data can be super important. A GTM organization needs to be able to describe and then organize accounts within the TAM based on stable profiling information. Firmographics – information about a target company’s business, structure and so on – are necessary to create the targeting segments that then get prioritized and assigned to various programs and teams based on business strategies and goals. In the enterprise tech space where we focus, there’s additional benefit available by layering in Technographic intelligence that’s able to highlight a great deal of the infrastructure that an account has installed. To support our clients in this way, we partner with HG Insights, the industry’s leading provider of technographic account overlays. On an ongoing basis, we use both types of information sets to prioritize and assign out the segments and accounts in our TAM to our GTM teams – from segment marketing, to our campaign marketers, all the way through to sales territory owners. These assignments tell our people which types of accounts we’re going after and, with a little more work, which specific accounts among these we care the most about. From there, each team or individual has to take the ball and run a lot further to add their functional value and make the GTM really hum. Let’s unpack that part more, working backwards from what’s most important to me (Sales of course!).
Once we’re set up, sales gets relatively little advantage from account-based data only
We use our targeting strategies and plans to create territories and distribute out revenue targets, quotas and accounts. Via a variety of continuous processes, we populate and maintain contact data for our sellers within those accounts. Setting aside the historical records we maintain about each account and the people in it, with all the firmographic and technographic stuff in place, we put ourselves in a reasonable position to pursue classic cold prospecting. I imagine it’s the same for a lot of you out there. And then, I imagine that some of your Marketing colleagues have been coming around talking about the potential benefits they might bring to your teams with new sources of anonymous account insight.
I want my sellers selling – not chasing anonymous tips
Like yours, my sellers have been assigned each of their accounts for very specific reasons. Sure, there’s additional enrichment at the account level that could enhance their understanding further, but what I really want them to do in every possible waking moment, is to sell. Now in point of fact, they can’t actually sell to the accounts in their territories. They can only sell to the people in those accounts. Do you see the problem here? Additional data about accounts without connecting it to specific people does very little for my sellers. No matter how hot the account may look to marketers, to my people, the contacts are all still cold. Of course, even for cold prospecting, my sellers prioritize their outreach on a regular basis using all kinds of inputs before pursuing outreach based on the contacts they have available. Even for cold prospecting, they proceed wisely. So I don’t want them re-prioritizing based on random new account information, and especially when it may distract them from the prioritization that’s already in place. To me, anonymous means anonymous. So, just as an FBI tip line can cause investigators to chase fake leads all over the place, without even better contacts, I don’t want my teams going outside the guardrails we’ve put in place.
What’s no good for sellers might still be pretty good for marketers. But what about for personalization?!?
I get it, marketers and sellers take action in different ways. In sales, we’re people-driven and can operationalize real one-to-one personalization. Marketing’s mostly set up for one-to-many activity. Upstream from me, I expect that anonymous account data could help make untargeted marketing more efficient. And as CRO, I applaud every move to reduce overly broad and ineffective promotional spending (although from what I’ve seen about IP look-up, accuracy is only about 35%!). Yes, I can see how anonymous account data could better focus advertising targeting; what I don’t understand as well is how to translate this into more effective personalization. When my folks personalize, they’re making the effort to be more relevant to an actual person. But most accounts have dozens or even hundreds of different people in them, with different roles and functions, and each with a different set of interests and needs at any given moment. That creates a real challenge to anyone trying to personalize in aggregate. I can see how it could seem attractive to use surge data to try to send more relevant messages to an account, but it feels sort of like the difference between network TV and something more long-tail, like YouTube or Instagram: While a whole lot of people can share a general interest about a trending topic, like the NBA or Ransomware, a lot fewer are really going deep on how the Celtics can fix their drop-back coverage or what they need to do for threat detection and response (a very current TechTarget editorial coverage focus).
The point in B2B is, it’s the specific people that are going deep on a subject right now who tell me their company really wants to do something about an issue. So I want to be messaging specifically to them, and for my salespeople, I want to know exactly who they are and if there’s a buyer’s journey underway that I can convert to an opportunity. Without being able to separate the important people out of the crowd, marketing can’t message in a powerfully relevant way. And without being able to show me there’s a buying team taking shape, they can’t give me what I need to focus my folks. If a provider can really only play back to you what you can already see in your own leads with a thin veneer of “verification” based on anonymous account signals added on top, they aren’t telling you much that you didn’t already know, and they may be creating a distraction that takes your people away from where they’re supposed to be focusing.
Can anonymous account data make for better demand gen nurtures?
With account data alone, I suppose the demand gen team can build campaigns that could work somewhat better, but I’m still going to want more specific detail about the leads they send me. Sure, I can use SDRs to find that stuff out, but that’s just going to be a brute force exercise with low conversion because my callers aren’t going to know whether their target is personally interested in the topic or not; and they definitely won’t know what the person is personally interested in! If they did, they could be right on point in both their email outreach and their calls. They could avoid wasting the prospect’s time and their own! (More on this a couple more paragraphs down).
What about for strategy and planning, or maybe portfolio marketing?
For a long time, strategists and planners have had a variety of tools available that can provide foresight into markets, competitors, even the roles and functions of target audiences. They can make use of research materials, surveys, client interviews and so forth. And portfolio marketing (as well as solution, product, vertical and customer marketing specialists) does a great job building on that to provide campaigners and us in sales with detail on our assigned targets. So can anonymous account level insights increase the value here further? Maybe. Maybe it could provide a nice-to-know record charting general surges in interest at the account. But can it be used as an actionable assessment of needs? Probably not because while while it is a different view into the account, it’s likely to be less detailed than the material the intelligence teams already have. Anonymous account data can’t help you refine things like persona models and target profiles, because it doesn’t get down to the granular level of real people doing the actual functional jobs or the tasks that arise within any buyer’s journey.
Can anonymous account data reinforce other insights like technographics?
Suppose you start with a technographic snippet that a particular solution contract is up for renewal … Could an account surge overlay tell you who’s considering rip and replace? My thinking here is that if the client’s happy with their current install, you won’t see any surge at all because it won’t rise to that level of activity. So if you need to sell to them, you’re out of luck. Contrast this with what we’re doing here at TechTarget because we’re monitoring down at the individual level. We can tell you if even one key player is looking at competitive material. And we don’t stop there. For this specific use case, precisely because our sales clients require it, we look for true verification. If there’s meaningful activity, account surge or not, we can see it and we can research those people on the client’s behalf. These Confirmed Projects outputs that we provide – the kind of stuff that sales really wants most – can never be sourced efficiently with account-level information.
Every GTM team already has too much work. Be careful about adding to it!
With the rise of the web as the go-to information source for business decision making, our natural inquisitiveness (as industry watchers on the one hand and competitive professionals on the other) has created an explosion of material and traffic. That’s why at any given moment, most companies are going to be showing some “interest” in a wide variety of issues, categories and solutions. But my gut tells me that much of this, maybe most of it, has nothing to do with an impending purchase. These accounts may be “intent” on staying up to date with the news or in continuously learning, but most don’t have “intent to purchase” anytime soon.
After a lot of in-the-field experience, study, and thinking about this, I’ve come to the conclusion that rather than injecting important intelligence at every point in your GTM, with much of the anonymous intent data out there, you could be in risk of injecting un-helpful generalizations (and perhaps even misleading material) that will have the opposite effect. You could really be wasting a lot of peoples’ time.
That’s why, in the face of suggestions that a new data feed could be useful in all sorts of ways (not to speak of platform features that make it easy to fuel the wrong executions) instead of taking the claims at face value, I implore you to dig down to understand what’s really contained in the data itself.
How we can help
At TechTarget, we’ve written a whole lot about this that can help you navigate such a confusing space. It’s frankly the reason we build our data the way we do. And over 22 years of succeeding in this industry, we’ve gained a pretty great understanding of where clients’ GTMs typically need the most help.
That’s why TechTarget’s Priority Engine™ shows you multiple active people in real buyer’s journeys. It’s how we can do initial multi-threading for you, so you can confidently activate Sales earlier. And our Prospect-Level™ intent can definitely better enable everyone on your GTM team, because it actually does enhance the toolsets that the various players rely on. Plus, when you need more help, we have the industry-expert analysts on staff who can turn this meaningful insight into better content for your most pressing competitive use cases. And we’ve got engagement platforms and customer success teams to make sure you can execute quickly, precisely, and at scale. While some of what we do is software based, we’re much more than a piece of software could ever be. We’re purpose-built to deliver real value in the multiple ways clients need it.
This blog is one small part of my ongoing effort to both provide useful information and clearly explain why we’re so confident that Priority Engine will deliver fewer false positives, fewer false negatives, and many more opportunities into your pipeline, faster and more reliably at scale. As always, my team and I are here to help and to discuss this material at your convenience. I can be reached here. I hope very much to talk to you soon – Steve.