Marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and Sales qualified leads (SQLs) no longer serve the proper purpose. They are the least effective in today’s B2B sales landscape. I’ve been disparaging MQLs for a long time now, seeing them as representative of little else other than proof we force people to exchange details for the content they may or may not have found valuable and intelligent.
Sure, we need to show attribution and that the marketing mix is driving the desired actions from our audience - but let me ask you this: If today’s buyer is 80% educated before they engage with solutions providers, does 80% of your demand generation or inbound budget focus on education and 20% on conversion? I mean, the 80/20 rule is a consideration here, and if it is, how do we reverse that?
And if most companies with product market fit know who their best customers are, why are you still playing the demand generation game? Customer acquisition should be deliberate and not reactive.
The SQL should always have been the north star for anything other than brand-building campaigns. If firms were properly aligning marketing and sales, then lead gen KPIs in marketing should have been the lowest of the overall KPIs that form an SQL, which would combine lead gen and sales-ready KPIs in a very defined way.
Then there would be no handoff between marketing and sales, just a maturing of accounts ready to be spoken to. The two teams would have run each account to the finish line - another reason to look at blended account-based marketing.
What is blended ABM?
Blended ABM, blended account-based marketing or ABM blended - all three can be used interchangeably - is the strategy of utilising all three known ABM strategies: one-to-many, one-to-few and one-to-one, simultaneously. It is particularly suited to B2B technology and services with a broad market and enterprise offer. It assumes that your customers can scale the use of your product/service across the lifetime value of the relationship.
How to get targeting right in B2B SaaS and Fintech
Let's get a few things straight to align on this story. The Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and the Ideal Buyer Profile (IBP) are and should be the same. They are representations of your customer base and target audience. Both enable the same outcome, and people nuance purely through wordplay
Our job is to use metrics and acronyms that directly represent the state of today's buyer, which are accounts represented by a buying committee. We need to identify metrics applicable to marketing and sales and instinctively align both teams to the same outcome as part of revenue-focused KPIs and objectives.
To do this, I have identified two states to which your target accounts should be mapped: account-qualified leads (AQL) and account-activated leads (AAL).
- ICP + AQLs = Right marketing focus
- ICP + AALs = Right sales focus
We now sell to buying committees, which Gartner says encompasses between six and 10 people (for a complex B2B buying decision), so your focus has to be on Account-Qualified Leads - and your scoring has to be at the account level.
What is an AQL?
Account-Qualified Leads are the ideal metric for deciding who your ICP/IBP is. The AQL means you have already identified the following:
- Target accounts based on your ICP
- Members of the buying committee
- Their contact details in your CRM
- Lead scored the pre-activated account to a maximum of 46 points
Lead scoring for AQLs:
- Identified Champion* + 5 pts
- Identified Deal Influencer* + 5 pts
- Identified End User + 1 pts
- Identified Economic Buyer* + 5 pts
- Identified Technical Buyer + 5 pts
- Identified Blocker(s) + 5 pts
- Identified Gatekeeper + 5 pts
- Identified Executive Sponsor* + 5 pts
- Identified + 5 pts
- Identified Legal & Compliance +5 pts
What is an AAL?
Account-Activated Leads are the ideal metric for deciding which of your accounts are the most likely deals to close. The AAL means you've done the following:
- Activated several or all members of the buying committee
- The lifecycle stages correctly reflect where the account is in the sales cycle
- Buying signals and conversations are recorded in your CRM
- Demos have been taken
- You are confirmed as a potential solutions provider
- Your AAL score is at least 60
Lead scoring for AALs:
- Activated Champion* + 10 pts
- Activated Deal Influencer* + 10 pts
- Activated End User + 5 pts
- Activated Economic Buyer* + 10 pts
- Activated Technical Buyer + 10 pts
- Activated Blocker(s) + 10 pts
- Activated Gatekeeper + 5 pts
- Activated Executive Sponsor* + 10 pts
- Activated Approver + 10 pts
- Activated Legal & Compliance +10 pts
But why are these important, and why does an AQL already have a lead score? This is a great question, and the short answer is that if your target accounts already meet the AQL score, you are targeting those you know give the best return.
And the best return isn't a one-sided affair. It should be driven by further metrics, examining how the vendor and buyer are in a successful relationship. More on this later.
Refining your ideal customer profile
Earlier in this article, I mentioned that companies with product-market fit know who their best customers are and should use this to form the basis of the ICP and that, as discussed above, contains firmographic and technographic data. But what else should you consider to get even more razor-focused on your customer acquisition process?
- Accounts with the most extended average lifespan with your company
- Accounts with the most natural expansion revenue opportunities
- Accounts who benefit most from your product or service are typically reflected in product/service adoption (cross-sell/upsell)
- Those who would grow from your standard offering into an enterprise offering within a fixed period (natural account expansion through growth)
By aligning these to your decision-making process, you can identify the trends and characteristics of genuinely successful customers - strengthening your ability to acquire new customers. Now, you can deliberately target a market, industry or vertical using widely recognised account-based marketing tactics to grow your business.
Building your Account-Acquisition Strategy
HubSpot says that 80% of companies now have buying committees, yet 68% of buyers look to self-serve before bringing in a vendor's sales team to the buying process. Additionally, today’s B2B buyer typically consumes 10-13 quality content articles before engaging with a vendor. Self-serve impacts demand generation results; there’s too much research, and you can serve today’s buyers directly with the right content marketing strategy. For SaaS companies, this is an ideal outcome.
So what is today’s buyer really looking for?
- An understanding of your perspective on how they can solve their problem
- To enable them to convey your value internally to other stakeholders
- To quickly evaluate your services vs. the perceived alternatives
- Social proof of your quality and ability to solve
- Consistent value in solving for them across your content mix
Companies that offer these supporting elements to both self-serve and direct sales target accounts stand the highest chances of winning new accounts, expanding account revenue, and consistently retaining closed won business. Another byproduct is that you positively increase brand awareness, which decreases customer acquisition costs (CAC) in the long run.
Consider adding an intent-led strategy to a blended ABM strategy. You can close the loop on activating target accounts and directly selling to openly active accounts, self-identifying through buying signals online.
Enrol any interested intent-led companies into your blended ABM approach, and you mitigate wasting marketing efforts and budgets on educating people who do not intend to buy from you.
Please check out another article, What is blended ABM and when is it better than Demand Generation?