The company was offering agile software to the supply chain market, which relied heavily on legacy technology and systems. Many of their clients didn't have a software solution but, because of wide-ranging technical capabilities, were stuck using hacked together, homegrown systems or Excel spreadsheets, paper and pen. Some companies used multiple solutions that weren't compatible.
We needed to understand the clients' needs and offer them a product that met their requirements, but opening people up to a customized solution would mean changing fixed mindsets across the industry.
Sales in the supply chain industry are heavily based on building trust and a strong partnership with vendors. This means the vendor has to provide value across a longer sales cycle (six months to a year) through content and education. People need to meet you in person to really trust you. My client had tried an inbound marketing approach before, but it hadn't been very effective in this relationship-based environment. They were lacking one-on-one focus.
The goal was to come up with an account-based marketing approach and understand the specific needs and constraints of a particular customer, then create a program with different touchpoints to address their concerns, educate them, and move them along the sales cycle.
I'm a marketing generalist. As such, I'm able to use different tools and channels as needed for a particular project. I also don't get blindsided thinking only in the context of one particular channel. This project needed multiple tactics and channels to come together to move the customer along the sales cycle.
First, I put together an account list with the sales team, who helped identify which accounts were high priority.
We created a list of 3PLs (third-party logistics companies) from Salesforce, our CRM database. I segmented the list based on a set of criteria including size of account, how far along they were in the sales cycle, and the level of previous engagement with the account. Some of this information was accessible through the CRM; the rest I gathered from the marketing and sales teams.
The first step in re-engaging with dormant accounts was to create an email touching base on behalf of the rep that they dealt with in the past.
Our company was going to attend one of the biggest supply chain conferences in North America that year; the CEO would be participating in some panels and a speaking session. So I also created a multi-touch campaign to target new prospects in our database that were attending.
At this kind of conference, attendees get invited to countless VIP events: dinners, golf games, and so on. We wanted to create our own, something unique that would entice guests when they had four or five other choices. The conference was in Atlanta, so we wanted to embrace a southern theme to give our event a special touch. I came up with a barbecue and bourbon tasting event — two things the city is famous for.
I formulated the strategy and coordinated the tasting. We booked a bourbon sommelier who brought a range of bourbons, explained their differences, and walked us through bourbon history and how it's made. Meanwhile, the events manager organized the space, and she and I worked together on the catering for the event.
The next step was to create a landing page with more information about the event which we could link to in the email invite.
Attendees were senior leaders short on time, so we wanted all the information they needed to be easily accessible in one standalone place, not lost somewhere on the company website. The page listed who was going to be there, details of the barbecue, and which conference sessions our CEO was participating in.
I designed the landing page using Unbounce, a landing page creator. I used company brand guidelines and some images from the event website and of Atlanta.
I gave customers the option to sign up for the event by replying to the email or via the landing page. I was surprised to discover that more people signed up on the landing page, which just demonstrates the benefit of giving the customer different avenues of communication to choose from.
I didn't want to send out a generic marketing email because they're just a turnoff for customers.
About three months before the event, I came up with an email sequence, sent on behalf of the sales rep in an effort to build a one-on-one trusting relationship. I was responsible for the email content and for data analysis and tracking.
First, we sent an initial, soft-touch email advertising that we would be at the conference and how to attend. After it was sent, I tracked the responses.
With those who hadn't responded, we tried this a second time with slightly different wording. If they replied, we included them in an email with more information sent to all those who had RSVPed.
We sent reminders the day before and the day of the event. Then, the day after the conference, we sent either a "thank you for coming" or "here's what you missed".
I planned out a direct mail piece for VIP enterprise accounts — those that we especially wanted to get, and so needed a little more personalized attention. There were about 20 of these in total.
I put together a themed box to send to them directly, containing barbecue spice rub, whiskey stones, a bourbon tasting book, custom postcards with a handwritten note on behalf of the rep, and the rep’s business card. In addition, we had video brochures made. The video was a very brief introduction to the company and their software with some customer testimonials.
I also included print materials: some case studies developed by our customer marketing team and a custom brochure for targeting 3PL accounts. I put together the brochure with the designer by pulling from existing brochures and following our brand guidelines.
I supplemented these other efforts with social posts. We posted on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook and wrote a blog post about the event.
The event was a success. 40 VIP's attended, and the sales team acquired 59 leads. One opportunity was estimated at about $150,000.
Two accounts who didn't even come to the event loved the whole program so much that they invited our sales rep to visit their site. So it changed the whole dynamic. Instead of the company pushing to them, the client reached out to us.
A common adage used to describe ABM is that instead of fishing with a net, you're fishing with a spear. You know who you're targeting, but you can't take a cookie-cutter approach; it has to be customized. And in B2B — specifically in SaaS — the pressure is stacked higher because you're selling not just to one person, but to a buying committee.
The biggest takeaway from this project is that account-based marketing in particular hinges on a partnership between sales and marketing. It’s very important for sales to be involved from the beginning, guiding the account selection. If you don't have these two departments collaborating, it doesn't work.
If I could do one thing differently, I wouldn't pack and ship the VIP boxes myself. It took me a full week — I was like a mini mailing company — but I couldn't find a vendor that did small runs. Outsourcing that work would've allowed me to use my time better.