ABM and predictive analytics: Two nails in the B2B salesperson’s coffin?

Scott Benedetti

As I prepare to write this article, a hundred things are running through my mind. First it’s June and the quarter close. Simultaneously I’m scanning my email “clutter” file to make sure MS Outlook still knows better than I do what is clutter and what isn’t. Intermittently, snippets of recent prospect and client conversations interject.

From the imminent standpoint, quarter close, the term focus resonates. I notice a trend from the folks promoting account-based marketing (ABM) and predictive analytics. Evidently they have discovered the fountain of (sales and marketing’s interpretation) instant gratification and wealth. As a result of the prospect/client conversations, I’m hearing, “If I build it, they will come.”

Not dead yet
Eureka! Are ABM and predictive analytics, as my title suggests, the next nails in the B2B salesperson’s coffin?

If the advent of the Internet made us (sales) irrelevant for the first 60 percent of the buying journey, as some suggest, and the death of cold calling crippled our go-to pitch, the advent of ABM and predictive technologies must portend the imminent closing of the B2B salesperson’s casket! Yes, I say that, of course, tongue squarely in cheek.

Pundits have been touting for years the eroding need for B2B salespeople —  just last year Forrester’s report, “Death of a (B2B) Salesman,” provided evidence supporting this concept.

Fortunately, the prognostication has not come true and I, of course, disagree that the requiem should start at all. Not only do these tools not displace the B2B salesperson, they require sales acumen for successful deployment and arm sales with more information than they’ve ever had before.

I am, however, a bit concerned. I fear the technology promises create the perception that digital communication solutions are the panacea to improving the performance of sales and marketing teams. Companies buy these technologies with the expectation of near term success only to find out their teams lack the requisite knowledge and experience to make the technology work as promoted.

At the time sales force automation, now mostly considered CRM, promised to simplify the life of the salesperson. In some cases, smart salespeople learned how to leverage the tool to become more organized and productive. But many became resentful of the incessant management oversight and did everything in their power to minimize adoption. Larger organizations became mired in complex, unfruitful implementations that simply promulgated the use of spread­sheets for prospect, pipeline tracking
and forecasting.

When sales and marketing unite
I believe that marketing automation (MA) is the technology that can ultimately fulfill those old CRM promises. The thing is, have you really leveraged MA? I ask that whether you are in sales or marketing because achieving optimiza­tion doesn’t happen unless both teams are putting in the strategic and tactical effort to reap those rewards.

ABM as a self-standing technology is relatively new, but as a model for focus and a standard when taken from a sales perspective, is a longstanding enterprise sales tradition. Ask any salesperson worth their salt what “get wide” means, or simply reference tried-and-true selling methodologies like Strategic Selling (Miller Heiman), Spin Selling (Rackman), Selling to Big Companies (Konrath) —  the list goes on. ABM is a platform that can enable the convergence of the best of selling and the best of marketing.

Predictive technologies, when combined with ABM, offer the opportunity to create a laser-like focus supporting both teams’ efforts and ultimately their shared business objectives.

There are a plethora of articles, blogs and eBooks explaining what ABM and predictive technologies are and do. My question for you is this, “Are you ready for ABM?” Consider that an exceptional approach to ABM can be created by taking the best of the best from the top sales methodologies of the past 20 years. Doesn’t that insinuate that your sales team understands and follows a methodology for account-based selling?

ABM and predictive analytics both require significant understanding of your ideal customer profiles, buyer journeys and personas because you’ll have to create them again at the account level; Has your team mastered the basics of personal­ization for individuals? If you thought it’s simply a matter of adding a person’s name to an email and adding the account name to the email and then emailing everyone at the account, you are far from being ready.

Build on solid foundation
Did I mention data? Yes, the “D” word. Data — and by that I mean accurate. Clean data is to ABM and predictive technologies what content is to nurturing, visitors to conversions, milk to cereal.

ABM and predictive analytics are marketing’s shiny new toys and they can be game changers, but the level of risk is equal to the level of reward. You may want to reexamine your foundation as you consider adding what is in all likelihood a second story.

In a truly collaborative, interdependent environment where sales and marketing enable one another’s success, ABM and predictive intelligence are either exceptional opportunities or high risks. As is often the case, technology leads the transformation of sales and marketing with promises of Valhalla. Just remember you may have to die to get there.

Certainly, well-deployed and regularly optimized sales and marketing technologies will accelerate your time
to value in as many ways as you and your team can imagine. It makes sense then to build and execute in as many combinations of the wide array of sales and marketing technologies that you can buy. That said, given the sheer magnitude of choices, wouldn’t it be prudent to clarify your focus and shore up the fundamentals first?

Arrows in the quiver
Technology is not the panacea for marketing, but an opportunity to digitize go to market efforts that are based on sound selling strategies and automate a customer experience that people want to feel is still human and finally, truly bond with their sales counterparts.

The B2B salesperson is not dead (unless they choose to be), far from it. Granted these folks need to step up their game, internalize a new level of technical savvy, learn new tactics and finally bond with their marketing counterparts.

ABM and predictive technologies are not nails in the B2B salesperson’s casket, but rather new arrows in their quiver. Good luck and good hunting!

Scott Benedetti is vice president of sales for The Pedowitz Group (TPG) where he is accountable for helping TPG and its client organizations achieve measurable revenue results. Scott can be reached at scott@pedowitzgroup.com.