Through-partner account-based marketing initiatives are gaining steam, especially when prospective customers are identified with the help of predictive analytics solutions. Pointing partners in the direction of more-likely buyers is dramatically boosting the conversion of marketing qualified leads (MQL) to sales qualified leads (SQL). At MRP, a marketing services provider, the application of predictive analytics with ABM best practices has boosted conversion of MQLs to SQLs to an average 78%.
If account-based marketing is challenging with a direct sales force, ensuring success with channel partners can be even more daunting. In a recently published whitepaper, Taming Channel Chaos: Reclaiming Channel Partners’ Rightful Spot in ABM, MRP emphasized that an unrestricted stream of intelligence represented by a single shared data source with open lines of communication between sales and marketing, both at a partner and vendor levels is critical to making ABM work in the channel environment.
“Channel marketers need access to a complete view within the ecosystem and know which accounts are the most significant sales opportunity at a point in time, know which ones are working with multiple sales partners, and be able to see this across partner offices and different geographies,” the report stressed. “Channel marketers also need to see partner close rates, follow up patterns, and revenue pipeline. Alternatively, partners need to see lead flow and be able to report status.”
But first, channel marketers should understand where opportunity exists to build the right ABM program and select appropriate partners. At some companies, channel marketers have a tendency to launch ABM programs at un-qualified targets and enlist the support of the wrong partners, said Devon Wellbrock, MRP’s Senior Vice President, Customer Growth & Channel Strategy.
Successful account-based marketing campaigns start with predictive analytics research that identifies more likely opportunities for business, stressed Wellbrock. It’s not unusual for vendors to build ABM programs around a specific set of partners. But often “those partners’ target markets aren’t where the opportunity is for the vendor,” said Wellbrock. Rather than letting the market opportunity dictate which products and partners should be the focus of their ABM efforts, vendors often waste time and money trying to get pre-selected partners to expand their geography focus or get certified in new technologies.
MRP counsels clients to rely on predictive analytics to identify where ABM programs can be more effective. “Potential customers are already going on their journey, whether they’ve talked to a partner or not,” Wellbrock noted. “We’re looking at customers that intent data suggest that they would be good targets, for whatever that solution is, in these parts of the countries and whatever.”
Compelling partners to participate in ABM programs is easier when brands use intent data to target customers, said Wellbrock. “I think it gets them much more excited than the spray and pray mentality that have been used in the past.”
Selecting appropriate partners for ABM campaigns requires some effort. “We usually create a profile of every partner that’s participating, so we understand their sales competency, their geography, the verticals they excel in, and how bought in their sales team is,” Wellbrock explained. MRP collects partner logo, value proposition and other information to customize contact as prospects show signals indicate they’re farther along on their buyer journey.
“But you need sales on board to make these programs work,” she said.
Patience with the process is critical, Wellbrock stressed. Because “ABM is a long-term game,” having access to proof-of-performance data is critical to supporting quarterly investment. “When Q2 comes along instead of nominating a whole new list of partners or changing your message, you focus on accounts and you look back to see how well you’ve done, or how well you haven’t done on activating those accounts, and working them through the funnel. You’ve got to come up with quarterly milestones and make sure that set of accounts is going through a journey,” said Wellbrock.
Changing the list up every single quarter is not ABM, she said. “I think that’s the biggest mental shift we’ve been trying to coach our customers and their partners on.”
Successful ABM programs do required informed-selection of the targeted prospects. Intent signal solutions, including MRP’s Prelytix solution, enable marketers to identify which prospects are already on their buyer’s journey. “The campaigns we support aren’t just marketing air cover. We’re looking at customers that are showing some intent data that suggest that they would be good targets for that solution.”
Keeping easily-distracted partners engaged in ABM initiatives can be difficult, Wellbrock admits. MRP programs supported by the company’s proprietary marketing automation platform are always running on the partners behalf. “What we must have is their buy in that when an account gets to a point where we need sales to engage, they’re going to take the next step, and report back what’s happening. If they do that and prove that they’re hungry and they’re engaged, then they’ll continue to get nominated every quarter.”
Non-responsive partners may need to pulled from the program, said Wellbrock. Rather than allow their inactivity to hurt the overall performance of the program, “we suggest swapping them out.”
MRP strives to minimize the effort required from partners. “Our focus has been on full service, and taking as much off the partner’s plate as we can, and just showing them results. There’s some partners where you can do the ‘with-model.’ But in most cases, partners have 10 manufacturers to answer, 10 different tools to update, 10 different ways that proof of performance needs to be recognized, and all they’re trying to do is get the low-hanging fruit.”
MRP support continues through a targeted account’s buyer’s journey. “Once we get to a point of a qualified lead or an SQL, we still use all the ABM tactics in our tool belt to surround that account.” MRP assures partners that “We’re going to continue to feed customers relevant content. We’re going to follow up with you, and figure out where you are with this account. We’re going to keep an eye on this until you lose it, or you win,” by sharing information on the MRP platform.
It might take some time for some partners to engage, Wellbrock conceded, “but if we really show them why this account needs to hear from them, they’ll put their extra muscle into doing that.” The partners that do participate in an MRP managed ABM program, are growing their business with related accounts 122% year over year.