Congratulations! You are in the select group of people willing to click on a headline that mentions Contact-Based Workflows, the least clickbaity topic I can possibly imagine. Welcome! We should probably be friends.
As you’re probably aware, there are an increasing number of tremendous high-level resources about Account-Based Marketing (ABM), on topics ranging from: How to make the case for ABM, the top tactics to drive your process, and how to decide whether it’s right for you.
But if you’re a Salesforce.com user and are looking to shift towards ABM in your business, you have your work cut out for you before your sales and marketing teams can get to the fun stuff.
On the whole, implementing an account-centric approach isn’t easy. If your marketing team has been hard at work generating Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) and your sales team has become accustomed to following up on those Leads with a consistent cadence, then a shift to ABM requires making wholesale changes to how your sales and marketing teams target, work, and track success. On top of that, it necessitates a cultural shift across your organization, from top to bottom.
For the operations folks at the heart of these organizations, the first step in the transition from a Lead-centric approach to an Account-centric one is re-architecting your Salesforce instance to enable this new workflow and new way of thinking. This might require new tools, Salesforce customization, heated debates about field mapping, theoretical discussions about databases, and long weekends at the office.
Put another way: this is the unsexy side of ABM and it isn’t for the faint of heart. But it is a fundamental tenet of an Account-Based Marketing strategy, and we recently completed it ourselves here at InsightSquared. (And then we went on vacation.)
So without further ado, here’s why InsightSquared shifted to ABM, how we got it done through a Contact-Based Workflow in Salesforce, and what we learned along the way.
The Journey to Account-Based Sales
Why InsightSquared Has Gone Account-Based
Our decision to switch to Account-Based Marketing from Lead-Based Marketing can be boiled down to one factor: like most B2B companies, we sell to organizations. Yes, we’re selling to individuals within those organizations, and each relationship is incredibly important to us, but the buying decisions at those organizations involve multiple key stakeholders. They’re not made by individuals alone. Incentivizing your marketing team to focus on Leads while your sales team focuses on Accounts breeds misalignment.
Switching to ABM has also enabled us to focus on the right Accounts and increase our sales efficiency. Additionally, our recent partnership with Infer means the timing for such a shift has never been better.
Focus On The Best Accounts
As we’ve grow as a company, we’ve gained a deeper understanding of the types of companies that are the best fit for our services, which in turn has allowed us to focus more on specific types of accounts.
With a Lead-centric Inbound Marketing approach, you’re casting your net wide in the hopes of finding a few organizations that fit the right mold. This can still be an effective approach for many B2B organizations, but it can also be a very slow process and without an effective Lead Score system, it can waste a lot of sales rep time as well. ABM allows you to quickly and efficiently target exactly the customers that get the most value out of your product.
By aggregating significant data and qualitative feedback from our sales team, we’ve gotten to the point where we have a good idea of who our ideal customers are. On top of that, Infer has added predictive analytics into the mix to help us gain an even deeper understanding of our ideal customer profile. To continue to accelerate our growth, it’s important for us to structure our go-to-market strategy around these customers.
The Benefits of Predictive Analytics
ABM is far from a brand new concept. Companies that sell to the enterprise have been practicing this strategy for years. For everyone else, the economics inherent in selling more deals with a lower average sales price have historically made ABM more challenging to justify.
Fortunately, over the past few years we’ve seen some great new technologies enter the market and make this approach possible for the rest of us. For example, our partnership with predictive lead scoring system Infer has allowed us to bring their insights into our Account-Based framework and has enabled us to run this play at scale.
When we decided to move to an Account-centric universe, their predictive model analyzed our customer base, determined the signals that most accurately predicted buying propensity, and scored every Account in our system according to those signals.
A great example of this is that Infer determined that a disproportionate number of our customers were Marketo users. This information led us to automatically score all Marketo users in our database higher and allowed the sales and marketing teams to rank our database from top to bottom and more easily determine who to target.
The Problem With leads
While the strategic benefits of an Account-centric approach were becoming clear to the management team, the operations team was also thinking about the potential benefits to the organization from a day-to-day efficiency and analytics standpoint.
From the ops perspective, we had grown tired of recurring issues resulting from the fact that, well, Leads suck.
In the Salesforce database architecture, Leads do not relate to Accounts or to other Leads. Each Lead exists on its own island in Lead Land—a single “business card” from a single individual sitting in your database. They could all be part of the same company, but with this data model there is no way to link them and understand you’re working with an organization rather than individuals.
The way Salesforce sees the world, Leads have not yet expressed enough interest to merit conversion to a Contact. In other words, Leads are not yet qualified to a degree in which they are ready to enter a B2B sales process.
More on Account-Based Sales
As your sales process increases in complexity, working with Leads can cause numerous problems. Let’s look at the following common scenario:
A CEO downloads an eBook about building an accurate forecast and prompts the Sales Analyst to fill out a Free Trial form. Separately, one of our sales reps spoke to the Sales VP 6 months earlier. All three individuals are now Leads in Salesforce.
- Sales Efficiency: When the rep receives a notification about the Sales Analyst, she needs to also open up the Lead records for the CEO, the Sales VP, and all other Leads and Contacts from that company to see if we had been in touch with them in the past or if they had recently been engaged. Additionally, in the absence of a strictly enforced and well-maintained territory system, it may be common for you to have five Contacts and five Leads from the same company, owned by eight different sales reps. We had arcane rules about who was the rightful owner of an Account in that scenario, and there was a lot of confusion and wasted time.
- Sales Incentives: It’s no secret that in a complex B2B sales process, it’s critical for reps to “work the account” when they are handed a warm Lead or Account. Reps should not simply target the individual hand-raiser, but also the rest of the stakeholders throughout the organization, since you can never know for sure who is feeling the most pain or who will be your champion throughout the buying process. In the above scenario, ideally the rep would follow up with all three individuals (at the very least). With Leads, we had no easy way of incentivizing reps to follow this strategy because we could not easily track or measure their efforts.
- Marketing Attribution: If a rep were to speak with the Sales Analyst and create an Opportunity, she would need to be careful to convert every other relevant Lead to a Contact as well. If the CEO accidentally gets left behind in Lead Land, we lose visibility into the value of the forecasting eBook that initiated the sales cycle. Without proper marketing attribution data, you risk allocating your limited resources in the wrong places.
At this stage, it became obvious to our team that something needed to change. We began to weigh our options.
That’s the Why. Onwards to the How. Leads had been at the center of our BDR workflow for years. Moving away from that workflow would be a substantial project, so before we began, we had to ask ourselves a few questions:
- What’s the best way for your reps to organize their work? Like many Salesforce users, InsightSquared’s reps used the standard “Lead Status” field on the Lead to keep track of their efforts against all of their prospects before they were ready to be converted to Contacts. Is a single field on the Lead table the most effective way for them to do this?
- How will you design a feedback loop between sales and marketing? When marketing “passes work” to the sales team in the form of warm Leads or Accounts, it is imperative for sales to communicate the results of that work back to the marketing team so that retroactive analysis can be done to optimize marketing output. For example, by tracking loss reasons on every sales cycle that does not result in a deal, you might discover that prospects are frequently requesting a feature that your product team hasn’t yet built, or that your prices are too high, or that too many marketing-sourced leads are not in your target market. We had been using Lead Status to track this information as well.
Using Lead (or Contact) fields for this purpose is problematic. Similar to Contacts, the Lead table was designed to capture information about an individual, not information about sales cycles. What happens when a Lead engages multiple times and keeps pushing you off? Your rep will keep moving the Lead Status field back and forth, and marketing will only be able to see the current status of the Lead, not the results and loss reasons from prior engagements.
It’s best to leave this key information to the objects in Salesforce that were designed with these functions in mind.
Tasks and Opportunities
Tasks and Opportunities are Salesforce’s standard objects for managing sales cycles. You can have many Tasks or Opportunities for each Account, allowing you to track the outcomes of the sales cycles each time a prospect enters and exits your process with standard fields such as Task Status or Opportunity Stage. Whenever your marketing team “passes work” to your sales team, it should be in the form of either a Task or an Opportunity.
There are numerous arguments for and against the use of each of these objects for this purpose:
- Tasks – These are far less robust than Opportunities, but simplicity can be advantageous, since it keeps things straightforward for your reps. Depending on the volume of work that your marketing team is generating for sales, you may opt to have your reps begin the sales cycle with Tasks and set the bar higher for creating Opportunities, rather than flood your database with Opp records for every hand-raiser. You can use Marketing Automation systems like Marketo or Salesforce processes to automatically generate Tasks on Leads or Contacts when prospects take specific actions.
- Opportunities – Most Salesforce users are already using Opportunities to track their sales efforts, so the question then becomes: at what point during the sales cycle should Opps be created? Should every hand-raiser prompt the creation of an Opp or should prospects need to be qualified to a certain degree (e.g. attended a demo) before an Opp is created? Using Opps for the full sales cycle offers numerous advantages, including Salesforce’s standard Contact Role and Campaign Influence functionality, which are not available on Tasks. Opps can also be automatically created when Leads are converted, easing some of the technical complexity of building this workflow. Lastly, you can still distinguish between different stages of your sales process by utilizing different Record Types or Stages for early stage hand-raisers that have yet to be qualified.
At InsightSquared, we had used the same Opportunity workflow and collected consistent Opportunity data for years prior to our transition to a Contact-Based Workflow. For the purposes of keeping that key data consistent and keeping that effective workflow intact, we opted to use Tasks as our mechanism for the marketing-sales handoff. Today, our reps are assigned Tasks at the beginning of a sales engagement, and then close those Tasks and create Opportunities when prospects reach a certain level of qualification. We then utilize our own advanced analytics capabilities to better understand our pipeline metrics.
Both options are effective and your choice may depend on your specific business. For younger companies just starting out, Opportunities may be the preferable choice.
Converting Leads To Contacts
Now that we’d improved our Salesforce workflow for the marketing-sales handoff, we still had to address all those pesky issues around sales efficiency and marketing attribution in Lead Land.
There are a few avenues available for addressing this problem, none of which fall within Salesforce’s standard functionality. The first is to maintain a Lead-centric workflow while simulating an Account-centric one, by using a fuzzy matching algorithm to associate Leads with Accounts without actually converting them.
Within Salesforce’s vast ecosystem, there are a number of options for automatically associating Leads with Accounts. Two such products we considered were:
- Engagio – Writes Account information directly onto matching Lead records and can aggregate information from Leads and Contacts into its Account-centric analytics package
- LeanData View – Enables reps to see consolidated views of Activities and Campaigns across both Leads and Contacts that have been associated with the same Account
Another option is the nuclear one: just convert everything to Contacts. This is what we did.
Contacts are Salesforce’s “out-of-the-box” way of addressing all of the inefficiencies we’d been facing by trying to force an Account-centric workflow onto the Lead table. Using third-party software to simulate a solution without addressing the underlying data structure may not have fully solved all of the problems we had set out to solve, or may cause additional workflow and reporting issues down the road. This was more technically arduous, but we thought it made more sense in the long-term.
For the one-time process of converting our entire Lead database into Contacts, we used another one of LeanData’s products, Converter, which converted most of our existing Leads in the right Accounts. For Leads without matching Accounts, we used Dataloader.io to create new Accounts en masse, allowing LeanData to subsequently match and convert the remaining Leads. Don’t forget to make sure all of your important Lead information is mapped correctly to either the Contact, Account, or Opportunity records, and that you have clear policies in place for establishing Account ownership once your Lead database has been vanquished.
One final issue: most marketing automation systems create Leads, not Contacts. Since we had decided that our reps were only going to manage Contacts, and since we obsess over time to follow-up, real-time conversion was critical to get everyone working at maximum efficiency quickly. LeanData Converter is the only tool that both matches and converts Leads in real-time, so we continue to use it on an ongoing basis.
(Note: For more detail on the cases for and against converting Leads, check out this excellent guide from LeanData.)
Improving Data Quality
Ok, you’ve come a long way and your journey to a Contact-Based Workflow is nearly complete. But you’re not out of the woods just yet. There’s another key aspect that can make or break your move from Leads to a Contact-Based Workflow: Data Quality. Like I mentioned earlier, this isn’t the sexiest side of ABM, but it’s critical to get it right.
We’re big on data quality here at InsightSquared. If you don’t have the best quality data in your CRM, then all the decisions you’re making based on that data are suspect.
But bad data happens. If you’re collecting prospect information through forms on your website, people will submit fake information. They just want to get through the process and to the product, so they’ll put in “Test” as their company name, and “Testy McTestFace” as their name.
One of the few advantages of Lead Land is that it can be an effective place to hide “junk” in your database. When Leads get converted to Contacts and become associated with Accounts, suddenly there is nowhere for them to hide. This is one of the reasons that businesses can be reticent about converting all of their Leads. They worry that bad quality data from Leads will mess up their neat, shiny Accounts.
Here’s the thing, though: that junk information is going to end up in your database one way or another, either as Leads or Contacts.
Using Contacts and Accounts can actually be advantageous for keeping your bad data organized: When you use Accounts and have an effective Lead-to-Account matching algorithm in place, you can create Accounts with common junk terms, like “Test” or “abc” or perhaps other explicit terms that don’t belong in a professional blog post. Then all incoming leads with those terms are automatically matched to those Accounts. Make sure to mark those Accounts as junk/disqualified in advance, so that those incoming Leads don’t bother anyone, which they might have if they had been created and assigned as Leads.
You may also want to keep that bad data organized to help you gain an understanding of how much bad data is coming through your website forms. For example, if you find that prospects are abusing that required Phone Number form field or entering generic email addresses at an unusually high rate, you may want to take action to address that.
There are plenty of ways to address bad data quality, but hiding that data shouldn’t be one of them.
3 Ways To Improve The Quality of Your Data
To make the transition to a CBW smooth, you need to start putting together a framework for improving your data quality before your company makes the switch.
- Clear data policies: Make sure you have clear data policies in place around Accounts and Contacts and a way to enforce these policies. For example, InsightSquared’s data policy states that no two Accounts can have the same website and be in the same state, unless they are related as parent and child Accounts (e.g. IBM and IBM India). If we find examples that meet that criteria, we use a de-duplication tool called Cloudingo to flag and merge them on an ongoing basis.
- Training: It’s critical to train your reps on how to spot data quality errors and what to do if they come across them. For example, make sure they know what to do if a Contact gets matched to the wrong Account and should actually belong to someone else. At InsightSquared, reps re-associate the Contact with the correct Account, and then reassign the Task to the correct rep.
- Dedicated personnel: Team members responsible for data quality oversight should be an integral part of your team. Putting someone in-house in charge of administrating data quality tools and monitoring databases to keep them clean makes sure your team can execute strategy on the best data available.
We sell to companies. To get better at doing that, we want to understand those companies and their structures better. We think the best way for us to achieve this is through an Account-Based Marketing strategy and a Contact-Based Workflow in Salesforce.
With Leads, when we wanted reps to “work the account,” adding more people from that company to our database and nurturing the whole buying team, we couldn’t. We had no visibility into whether or not they were doing it, so we couldn’t incentivize reps to follow that strategy.
With a Contact-Based Workflow, we have that visibility and the ability to nurture entire buying teams no matter how large the organization. Now, throughout the entire process, rather than working with discrete individuals, we are working with the entire team at our target companies, getting to know them better and getting to know their needs and wants. At the same time, we are also making our sales process more efficient and getting the right customers for InsightSquared.
This all comes from the transition to ABM and a Contact-Based Workflow. ABM isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to sales and marketing. Though it is the Big Thing at the moment, it might not be best for you. If you are relying primarily on inbound leads, aren’t yet sure of your fundamental buyer personas, or have a simple sales process, the strategies outlined in this blog post might not be ideal for you.
But if you do know who you want to target, and are ready to grow more through up-selling and high-value customers, then the effort is worthwhile. It’s a long journey, but if you follow this blueprint, you’ll be well on your way.
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