Connecting with your audience is fundamental to any effective communication.
Who? What audience are you targeting? High performing B2B sales executives have long targeted accounts and individuals deliberately. Now Account-Based Marketing (ABM) initiatives align sales and marketing jointly to target the accounts likely to have real significance for your business.
ABM in a Nutshell. HubSpot characterizes ABM as “fishing with spears.” In their words, ABM “…is a targeted approach to B2B enterprise marketing — one that involves honing in on key accounts, creating hyper-targeted content and campaigns, and delivering a personalized experience to the companies that matter most.”
After identifying key accounts, ABM creates customized bespoke campaigns that are crafted for individual accounts or specific types of accounts. With the benefit of digital technology, targeted, personalized marketing campaigns can deliver content that is “helpful, specific, and relevant” to these accounts and to their identified stakeholders. For many CMOs, an ABM strategy is their most important current initiative and their largest current investment. It is increasingly mission critical for marketing that their ABM initiative successfully delivers results.
How does Sales Execute on ABM? With all the content created for an ABM program, what portion of that content makes a difference in customer conversations? For an ABM program to succeed, ABM campaigns need to translate into closed deals. Sales and marketing alignment is crucial. Sales teams need a way to extend the account-specific engagement begun by digital ABM into live, personal, account-specific collaboration between buyers and sellers. For ABM to succeed, marketers must recognize that sales teams need content to execute on Account-Based Selling (ABS). Having a stakeholder’s LinkedIn profile displayed on a screen during a call is not an ABS program. ABS is about basing buyer conversations on targeted content relevant to the account and sometimes specific to the stakeholder.
ABS content is subject to greater stress than content for ABM. When B2B buyers take the time to engage with sales reps live, they want answers to their pressing questions. Higher standards are required for ABS content than for ABM content. Like ABM content, ABS content needs to be “helpful, specific and relevant.” But because it will be tested in dynamic customer interactions, ABS content also needs to be robust to buyer challenges.
Value Propositions – The Content for ABS. The most helpful, specific, relevant and robust content that sales teams can have for live customer conversations is a strong Value Proposition. Value Propositions provide a means to engage in an evolving conversation with customer stakeholders about what your solution can do for them. Good Value Propositions provide clear answers to simple customer questions:
- Can you deliver meaningful, reliable business results to customers like us?
- What are the 2 or 3 impactful differences between your solution and the alternatives?
- What compelling business case can we present internally to buy your solution?
As sales conversations progress, a Value Proposition is adaptable to customer specifics, customer needs and customer stakeholder interests. In the hands of good sales teams, strong Value Propositions evolve from Flexible Case Studies early in the sales cycle to Customer Value Analyses during a customer evaluation to a Shared Business Case to Buy that helps sales teams speed time to closing.
Consider how Value Propositions address each of the four criteria for ABS content:
- Helpful. An Aberdeen PJA survey asked buyer executives to select the two factors that play the greatest role in their decision to purchase a product or solution. The top 3 buyer answers, in order, were:
- Total Cost of Ownership.
- How the vendor’s solution supports our company’s goals.
- ROI and efficiency gains.
Good Value Propositions address all three of these factors, providing financial calculations of TCO and value, qualitative content on how your solution helps deliver against your buyer’s goals and quantitative measures of impact and ROI. Value Propositions provide the fundamental elements of a buyer’s business case to buy.
- Specific. Buyer teams don’t need to meet with sales teams to hear a live presentation of your product brochure. They have the internet. They already have general information about your product and your competitors’ products. Buyer teams meet to discuss specifics with sales teams primarily to understand and test specific sales team capabilities with specific challenges:
- Do you understand my business?
- I see what you did for Company XYZ, but what results can I expect?
- Which of your solutions is best suited to my objectives and my situation?
- My labor costs are well below theirs so what will this mean for me?
- I need a specific business case highlighting the results we should expect for procurement and executive approvals.
Tailoring a specific Customer Value Analysis is a natural endpoint of sales interaction with a buyer through a buyer evaluation process. Value Propositions shine a direct light on the likely character of a long-term collaboration between buyer and seller by highlighting specific value delivered from a buyer’s purchase.
- Relevant. Having specific information available goes only so far in building the credibility necessary to get a customer to buy. Those specifics need to address the problems and concerns relevant to the account and to the stakeholder. Different content supports conversations about different buyer objectives and different buyer concerns. A few buyer examples highlight how distinct concerns, possibly at different stages of the buying process, may or may not be relevant to an account or to a stakeholder:
- I need to make the business case vs doing nothing. What is the ROI?
- How do you compare vs. brand X?
- We won’t be able to save on labor costs given our union contract so that can’t be part of our business justification.
- Those costs don’t hit my department budget.
A good Value Proposition helps sales teams to adjust to different buyer objectives and different buyer situations. Keeping content relevant to buyer audiences lengthens their attention span, avoiding tangents and unnecessary distractions. Understanding a Value Proposition’s relevance can identify more fundamental issues with a prospect, including whether the target account is qualified and merits further investment of sales time. The relevance of value drivers to a prospect can help sales to recognize an individual stakeholder’s potential role in a buying process.
- Robust. The most difficult challenge of all is robustness to buyer questions and buyer objections. Sales teams rarely have the luxury of fumbling answers to important buyer questions:
- You said you could reduce energy cost by 25%. Prove it.
- Why should I buy the platinum solution you proposed? Won’t we achieve our objectives for less with your silver solution instead?
- I don’t see us getting these business benefits from your solution if trade barriers cut into demand the way we expect.
- What is my ROI if the labor cost reduction of your product is only 5%?
Well-designed Value Propositions provide answers to questions like these. Accessing support for your product’s claims builds trust and credibility. Live, interactive changes in assumptions support the case for positive results that are robust to changes in business conditions. Challenging, collaborative discussions of value maintain the focus of the sales conversation on the value your solution delivers, instead of on its price.
Value Propositions as Platforms for Account-Based Sales Collaboration. With all the effort going into ABM, what related ABS content are you developing to deliver sales results? Your sales teams should compete with your competitors and partner with your customers. Helpful, specific, relevant and robust Value Propositions are the cornerstone of an effective ABS program. The best B2B enterprises deploy Value Propositions to improve B2B sales performance, addressing sales challenges in a way consistent with an organization’s sales training, throughout the B2B sales cycle. It isn’t hard to start value selling or to generate value selling momentum. Value Propositions provide core sales content that helps sales teams engage in specific, relevant conversations about what your solution does for a specific customer. Value Propositions are a shared basis for collaboration that help sales teams win.
For additional perspectives on sales use of Value Propositions see Using Propositions as an Effective Sales Tool
For more information on designing Value Propositions see Designing Value Propositions for Sales Conversations
This is the first of a 5-part blog series focused on Value Proposition customer audiences. In our next blog we will focus on Value Propositions that help identify and segment accounts to support more relevant customer conversations and better targeted solutions. In Part 3, we will look more closely at stakeholder targeting and value conversations within an account. Part 4 of the series will highlight the benefits of ABS for sales effectiveness while Part 5 will focus on the benefits of ABS for pricing strategy and execution.