It’s a complex time to be in business. Marketing has been elevated within the C-Suite as the driver of digital transformation and a key leader in the customer journey. At the same time it is facing renewed pressure to generate top line revenue like never before, with many marketers coming under the same pressure our chief revenue officers (CROs) feel.
In this unusual business climate, it is difficult to compare past performance to current performance, especially around investment and change management. What worked in 2019 didn’t work in 2020, and what worked in 2020 is unlikely to work for 2021 strategic planning. A recent LinkedIn poll found 50% of respondents said they were dabbling with account based sales and marketing strategies to drive growth. In its 2020 assessment, Forrester felt account based strategies drove 13% higher win rate with 1.5 times better ROI on investments.
With very few marketing events in 2020 (and now 2021) as well as near zero corporate travel for an extended period, CFOs are getting more comfortable with a zero-based budgeting mindset in this planning environment. Martech investment and business process change management are the antithesis of what CFOs have recently grown accustomed to seeing. So how can marketers sell these ideas internally?
A Framework to Sell Your CFO on Account Based Strategy
Step 1: Do Your Homework
Let’s assume you’ve decided an account based strategy is a viable business growth strategy to complement your lead generation strategy. Now it's time to prepare for internal senior conversations on how you plan to measure the business impact of your account based strategy, what business process changes need to occur, what martech investments are needed to support the business process, and what people skills are required to support the martech.
Once that stage has been established, it’s time to ‘sell’ the concept internally to the CRO and CFO. Order of operation matters here.
Related Article: Account Based Marketing: Digging Into Facts, Uprooting Myths
Step 2: Sell the CRO on Your Vision
The first external conversation is with the CRO to try and get her buy in. Marketers may "own" the budget for marketing and be the decision maker on investments and changes, but oftentimes their CRO is a major influencer in their potential martech investments or in account based business process change management.
I asked Ray Carroll, an experienced high tech CRO, on his experience working with CMOs who are looking for his buy-in on new tech investments or proposed cross-functional initiatives. He uses the following framework to evaluate proposals:
- What’s the specific metric we see this initiative improving? (e.g., win rate, increase average selling price, decrease sales cycle length, etc.)
- Are key line leaders within both departments aligned that investing time and resources here are likely to reap the desired benefits?
Debe Rapson, the head of America Sales for Qumu, suggested two questions that the head of marketing should be prepared to answer: “How will the investment or change management get my team in front of the right decision makers at our target accounts?" and "How quickly will it make an impact on the business?”
In our experience, many marketers have a blind spot when speaking to the CRO, and that's how the sales team actually uses their CRM system. Marketers don’t fully understand how account based technologies can be extremely disruptive to the existing sales process or require significant amounts of new sales training. So before selling the CRO on the vision, the marketer will want to think through how improvements to sales productivity can occur: a savings of clicks, a savings of time, automated actions requiring less routine thinking and more insights to their buying process.
If the CMO cannot get the CRO to buy into the account based process change and investments, at this point, the initiative should be paused and reevaluated.
Related Article: How to Convince Your CFO to Invest in Customer Experience
Step 3: Convince Your CFO
The CFO is an ‘Approver’ of any company investment that impacts cash flow or impacts people productivity. McKinsey's "Why ‘Digital’ Is no Different When it Comes to Valuation" and our own experience suggest CFOs will be interested in three key areas:
- What makes your scenario better than the ‘do nothing’ alternative?
- How does your idea scale revenue yet reduce costs through increased efficiency?
- What shadow organizational support costs, if any, are there to support your idea?
Consider using vendor maturity curves that show progress of your company versus outside companies in account based approaches. Simplify by color coding and drop the jargon we marketers have grown accustomed to for the CFO to understand the ‘why’ context behind the investment.
Related Article: Account-Based Strategies Go Nowhere Without Cross-Functional Collaboration
Step 4: When Necessary, Bring in Outside Help
If appropriate, involve your ABM platform vendor in the conversation with your CRO and/or CFO — with you in the room — to help reduce the risk that the marketer is pioneering all the change at once on her own. Should something go wrong, the vendor takes more of the risk versus the head of marketing selling all of the change. By involving the vendor in this conversation, they are seen, heard and bought into the process.
If you take this step, make sure you coach the vendor on potential political landmines. The vendor needs to prepare new insights on how this initiative creates value and business impact, while potentially uniting the CMO and CFO who may have opposing agendas.
Change isn’t easy in this environment, but it takes a very agile mindset to keep moving forward. With these tips, you should be better prepared to have the internal conversations to sell your martech investments and account based strategy internally.
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