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Best Practices for B2B Sales - Account Management

Authored by Ric Ratkowski on July 28, 2020

This blog may be a little controversial.  Many blogs and white papers talk about account management as a sales function.  Sales reps target accounts to sell to.  They then flush out sales opportunities within the account and work on closing those opportunities.  At TopOPPS we take a broader approach to account management.  We believe account management starts with marketing.  It includes both marketing and sales.

The account management function is a continuous process from first touch by/in Marketing, which may be just an anonymous web visit, through the most recent last touch, which could be in sales as “closed-won”..  Often artificial barriers are put up between marketing and sales for the sake of measurement.  Those barriers cloud the overall account management process. They promote different behavior from different teams, finger pointing between teams and produces inconsistent handling of accounts.  

Marketers typically focus on leads.  They market to leads, nurture leads, and “throw leads over the fence to sales” to qualify and sell.  Marketers  lose sight of the value of looking at leads grouped by companies to identify a “critical mass” of interest by a company, from different members of the buying team and from different venues.  They lose sight of enhancing lead activity by grouping it by company and adding fuzzy information like "Intent" or "Scoops" data from companies like  Zoominfo or anonymous web visits or even tracking known web visitors to further qualify an account and prioritize it within the sales funnel.

In addition, although marketing markets to leads, leads do not buy, buying teams buy.  B2B buyers start as a team well before they respond to a marketing offering or hit your website.  These teams are buying groups within a company .  They should be associated with opportunities in the selling company.  It is not about leads.  Leads need to be combined by accounts to measure a critical mass of activities for the creation of opportunities..  Opportunities are where B2B organizations measure revenue. 

The Scope of Account Management

The diagram below is from  Forester|SiriusDecisions.  It models the sales funnel and account management.  It starts with marketing and moves seamlessly through to a sale.  It doesn’t know or care that different departments are involved.  It is one continuous process.

Forester|SiriusDecision Revenue Engine

Everything involved in the sales process is part of the demand waterfall. Once critical mass is reached with the activities of an account it enters the buyer aligned sales process.

Viewing it as one continuous process over the entire marketing/sales process helps group multiple leads and account activity and get a clearer picture of the actual opportunity at a prospective company.  It helps focus presales and sales activity on those accounts that have shown the most critical mass of activities signifying a need may be developing for your solution.

Unfortunately, from both our experience and our customer’s experience no one provides a complete picture.  Marketers may adopt an Account Based Marketing approach, but inevitably there is:

  • Invisible walls between marketing and sales and marketing continues to “throw leads over the fence”.
  • A lack of technology to merge information from multiple data sources (Zoominfo, G2Crowd, Anonymous Web visit information, Known web visit information) to provide a comprehensive view of an account.  

Activity

Sales Account Management

Background

Many blogs and white papers talk about account management as a sales function or account based marketing as a marketing function but they don’t combine both functions into a continuous process.  Some of the reason for this is measurement.  The need to measure marketing team performance vs sales team performance, but the distinction is artificial.  It is a continuous process..  

Treating account management as a continuous function spanning both departments serves to:

  • Break down the wall between marketing and sales
  • Break the marketing focus on leads in support of the recognition that leads make up buying teams and buying teams make up opportunities and we sell to opportunities.

At TopOPPS we treat best practices in account management as a subset of opportunity management because ultimately it is the opportunity that is “closed-won” or “closed-lost”.  In a B2B sales.  Accounts are nurtured to tease out opportunities.

Problem/Business Need

The current focus of many marketing teams is to attract, connect and engage leads.  Then nurture the leads until they can be “thrown over the fence” to sales.  This creates two problems:

  • By focusing on leads, marketing miss the team and account signals that indicate stronger opportunities at a company.   Leads need to be cultivated to identify buying groups.  
  • Second, the mindset of “throwing leads over the fence to sales” supports a disjoint sales process between sales and marketing which results in finger pointing and conflict between marketing and sales.

The focus of B2B marketers on leads can create the following challenges:

  • Leads are wasted - If a company is pursuing solutions, the second registration or lead is probably more valuable than the first because the “critical mass of need” is mounting at their company.  However, these leads are typically ignored because they already tried selling the company earlier upon the first lead.
  • Missing the most valuable signal - when multiple individuals from a company come to your website you are counting them as distinct and separate leads rather than a signal of company level intent.

When companies permit the sales process to be viewed as distinct processes of lead generation vs opportunity creation they create a disconnect between the two teams and finger pointing and conflict between the teams.  In the past I’ve see discussions go similar to:

  • Sales:  Marketing isn’t giving us good leads.
  • Marketing:  We are giving sales good leads, they just can’t close them.

Requirements:

The sales process needs to be viewed and internalized as a continuous process, independent of which departments service different areas of the sales funnel.

Systems need to support the continuous process by shifting marketing’s focus on leads to buying groups and opportunities.  Additional pre-engagement information needs to be gathered and combined with sales account information.

The need is to:

Ensure that sales and marketing are on the same page and have common goals with respect to sales targets and the sales forecast.

Merge pre-engagement information with sales team account information to provide more insight into a companies intent by including:

  • Intent and scoops data about account intentions/projects/pain from companies like Zoominfo.
  • Additional lead and account data sufficient to help merge leads into accounts and tease out sales opportunities.
  • Both anonymous and known web visitor information.
  • Merging website registration information 
  • Ability to place all these activities on a timeline by account and opportunity.

Baseline

Good

Better

Best

The marketing and sales process are viewed as two separate processes.  Marketing throws “Marketing Qualified Leads”[MQL] over the fence to sales. Marketing and sales report to separate VP’s who report to the CEO.  Systems are separate as well with minimal ability to measure groups of leads as an account.

Marketing and sales processes are beginning to be viewed as continuous processes..  Marketing and sales both report to the Chief Revenue Officer.  Combined goals are established between marketing and sales.From a systems perspective, they may be collecting some pre-sales opportunity interactions but it is in data silos and incomplete.

The sales process is viewed as a continuous process from the top of the marketing funnel through “close-won” and “close-lost”.  Marketing and sales report to the Chief Revenue officer with combined goals.  Leads are scored and they have a more complete view of marketing interactions but they have not linked leads to accounts and opportunities.

The sales process is viewed as a continuous process. Marketing and sales report to the Chief Revenue officer with combined goals.  Their systems combine marketing and sales interactions into a continuous flow from many different sources.  Accounts are scored based on combined lead interactions and they have a complete view of all significant interactions.

At the Baseline most companies have separate marketing and sales departments both reporting to the CEO, with separate processes and separate measurement.  This leads to finger pointing and arguments over sales assertions that marketing does not producing enough good qualified leads and marketing’s assertions that sales squanders the good qualified leads with a bad sales process.  At this level, little recognition is focused on grouping marketing activity by account and opportunity.  

At the Good level the organization structure has changed, both sales and marketing report to a chief revenue officer.  Marketing and sales have combined common goals.  Marketing and Sales are “in it together” and they share common goals about achieving the sales forecast.  Unfortunately the systems have not advanced like the organization structure.  The marketing and sales processes are viewed as two separate processes, on separate systems.  Leads are not grouped by account and opportunity.  Marketing uses limited marketing interactions to gauge the lead health when throwing the lead “over the fence” to sales.

 

At the Better level companies have combined marketing and sales under the CRO.  Marketing has a more complete view of marketing interactions.  They have a more complete set of lead interactions beyond emails, clicks and opens, but they don’t have accounts and opportunity signals.  They are scoring leads, but in many cases the scoring does not provide a comprehensive approach to decreasing lead score over time 

We call out a comprehensive approach to lead scoring because in most products this is an additive score, it never decreases.  Some leads might have a high score, but that score hasn’t changed in six months.  Other leads may have a lower score but it all happened yesterday.  These leads with activity yesterday are of more value than those leads that have been silent for six months but have a high score.  In addition to missing the time dimension in scoring, many marketing automation solutions only score leads up, not down.  

At the Best level, marketing and sales report to the Chief Revenue officer with combined goals.  Their systems combine marketing and sales interactions into a continuous flow from many different sources.  Lead interactions are grouped by opportunities and accounts.  They have a complete view of all significant interactions and company attributes and characteristics.  This includes things such as:

  • Known visitor web visits
  • Anonymous visitor, known company web visits
  • Email interactions and web registrations/webinar participation.
  • Social media posts and reactions
  • Company “Intent” and “Scoops” information from companies like Zoominfo
  • Company personnel by titles and persona for targeting the buying team

TopOPPS with its Data Studio product and Account Management enhancements provides the combined account based view.  Data Studios rich data integration tools supports the collection of pre-sales qualified information like companies coming to the website, Zoominfo Intent and Scoops information, buyer team grouping, email interactions from other email sources and known visitor web visits if provided by the marketing automation solution.

 

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