Online Display Advertising for Account-Based Marketing: What’s in It for B2B Sales Teams

Online Display Advertising for Account-Based Marketing: What’s in It for B2B Sales Teams

Online display advertising? Account-based marketing? These probably aren’t hot topics on the agenda at meetings for B2B sales reps. But they ought to be.

Considering how hard it is get into new enterprise accounts, online display advertising and account-based marketing offer powerful advantages. They’re especially valuable for B2B companies sell high-consideration products or services to big accounts.

If you sell innovative products or services, or if your company isn’t well-known in an industry segment you’re trying to enter, you’ll want to pay attention.  

B2B selling has gotten harder

Sales teams that sell high-consideration B2B products and services know their job is getting more challenging.

Growth expectations are relentless, and competition is intense. It’s harder than ever to get the attention of potential buyers. And it’s especially hard to reach C-suite executives in big companies.

Let’s review the big changes.

Buying decisions take longer and involve more people

Sales cycles are stretching out because it takes longer for companies to make important buying decisions. That’s because their decision process is more consensual, less driven by a few senior executives.

Buying teams are also getting bigger. And they have more information to evaluate before they buy.

As buying teams grow, it’s harder to identify everyone who influences a buying decision.

Buying teams often delay contact with salespeople

Many B2B buying teams tend to postpone their first contact with sales reps, preferring to do their early research online. And senior executives often avoid engaging with salespeople until the final stages of a decision process.

If your company isn’t a market leader or if your product category is new and unfamiliar, you may never make it onto a corporate shopping list.

Old ways of reaching new accounts no longer work so well

It’s almost as if big companies have raised the drawbridge and filled their moat with alligators.

Print advertising and direct mail can still be effective, but their use has been declining for years.

Search advertising still works, but it’s getting more expensive. It’s effective only when people are actively searching for a solution.

You can pour a lot of money down the drain if your company lacks the skill and knowledge to run effective pay-per-click ad programs.

Inbound takes a long time to work

Inbound marketing is one of the best ways to get past corporate defenses. But it takes a long time for new inbound programs to produce results.

Unless your company’s marketing content appears at the top of organic search results, your solution is unlikely to be considered. About 90% of Google searchers never look beyond the first page of search results. [Source: SEO Hacker, undated blog post. https://seo-hacker.com/lesson-28-important-page-serps/]

As companies generate a fast-rising tide of marketing content, the competition for high rankings intensifies. It’s harder than ever to rank high in organic search results.

Inbound generates too many junky “leads”

When inbound marketing works, it generates a lot of contacts that have no interest in buying.

Marketing can reduce this problem by passing only well-qualified leads to sales. But because sales and marketing often disagree about the definition of a qualified lead, the problem of poorly qualified leads persists.

One source found that 79% of marketing leads never generate revenue. [Source: Marketing Sherpa, 2012, cited by the HubSpot blog post in 2012: http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/30901/30-thought-provoking-lead-nurturing-stats-you-can-t-ignore.aspx] For B2B companies that sell high-consideration products, the percentage of marketing-qualified leads that don’t generate revenue is probably even higher.

If you wait for inbound marketing to generate enough good leads to achieve your revenue quota, you’ll go hungry. Then you’ll you lose your job.   

Cold outreach gets a cold reception

Cold calling still works, but it’s much less productive than it was 10 years ago. Decision makers are disconnecting their voice mail. Screeners and blockers protect them from interruptions.

Only 2% of cold calls result in an appointment. [Source: Leap Job, as cited in a HubSpot blog post: http://blog.hubspot.com/sales/sales-statistics] And the average salesperson works for 6.25 hours to set a single appointment. [Source: Ovation Sales Group, as cited in the same HubSpot blog post.]

Cold email works, but it risks being rejected as spam. You need good writing and strong quality control to be sure it’s helpful and relevant.

If your emails go on a corporate spam blocker, you’ll be locked out of future email communications.  

With cold calling and cold email, you don’t want to alienate the very people you’re trying to engage in conversations.   

Sales performance is sinking

The trends for B2B sales performance are not encouraging.

On average, only about 88% of B2B sales teams achieved their revenue plan in 2015, and only about 55% of reps achieved their sales quotas. [Source: Sales Performance Optimization Study -- 2016 Key Trends Analysis, CSO Insights]  

Between 20% and 60% of forecasted deals end in no decision, depending on which research study you cite.

The average close rate for forecasted deals was a little less than 48% in 2015. That’s worse than the odds of winning a coin toss. [Source: Sales Management Optimization Study -- 2016 Key Trends Analysis, CSO Insights]   

This litany of challenges is the new reality of B2B selling.

Companies that embrace the new reality are adapting. They’re finding ways to continue growing fast.

Companies that ignore it are losing ground. They’re burning bridges by irritating prospects. Or they’re missing their sales goals.

The tough new environment for B2B sales helps to explain why so many sales and marketing teams are rushing to embrace account-based marketing, or ABM.

Why account-based marketing is great for sales

Account-based marketing is a bad name for a great thing. It’s like calling a wonderful child Hortense. Think what they’d call her in middle school.

ABM is a bad name because it doesn’t resonate with salespeople.

Focused Account Engagement would have been a better name because it suggests both sales and marketing. In fact, ABM requires the involvement of both in roughly equal measure.

Thanks to this awful name, we’re now challenged to explain to salespeople why they should care about something that sounds like it’s not for them.

Here’s the concept behind ABM, from Forrester Research:   

Marketing and sales jointly obsess over how to pursue, establish, and grow relationships with specific customer accounts.

This definition should be music to the ears of any B2B sales team. You get valuable support from marketing. They’re on board to help you achieve your sales quota. It almost sounds too good to be true.

When executed effectively and in the right situations, ABM delivers big improvements in sales and marketing productivity. It almost miraculously aligns sales and marketing organizations on mutually defined targets, goals, and initiatives.

Proponents of ABM report that it also generates the highest return on investment of any B2B marketing approach.

The concept behind ABM isn’t new. In fact, it’s been around for more than a decade.

What’s new is that technology now enables even small and mid-sized companies to scale ABM cost-effectively.

What online display advertising brings to ABM

The topic of scalability brings us back to online display advertising.

In the past few years, technology has made it possible for online display advertising to deliver highly targeted messages to a single company. And you can do it cost-effectively.

You can even target unknown or unnamed individuals by business function, job title, or job level within a company.

Let me repeat that: You can advertise to individuals in a single company by their business function, job title, or job level – even if you don’t know their name or other contact information.

Targeting options are getting very specific. With some display advertising platforms you can even target individuals who follow your competitors or business partners.

Beyond that, online display advertising can be integrated with email re targeting to leverage behavioral data from a company’s marketing database.   

So what’s the practical value for salespeople?

Get past corporate defenses

Let’s look at a hypothetical example.

Let’s say you’re a sales rep responsible for three dozen named accounts. You work for a young company that sells enterprise software to big-box retailers. Your quota is five million dollars.

One of your target accounts is The Home Depot. If you could get your foot in that door, you’d have a shot at selling them maybe half a million dollars in first-year revenue. Imagine the prestige of landing this account.

But The Home Depot is a famously well-protected.

To sell your solution, you’ll need to get the attention of senior executives in Supply Chain, Merchandising, Store Operations, and Finance. Eventually, you’ll also need approval from IT and Human Resources.   

For starters, you may be satisfied talking to middle managers who can help you build your case for why senior execs should be interested.

Create highly targeted, relevant messages

With online display ads, you can create customized messages that speak directly to the interests and priorities of various business functions.

In these customized messages, you can address issues and priorities that your research has told you are important to The Home Depot.

Your ads can then appear on the desktop computers and mobile devices of targeted employees as they visit their favorite web destinations.

Your ads may invite these targeted employees to visit your website or to download your sales and marketing content.

To attract and keep their attention, your content might focus mainly on the business interests of The Home Depot rather than on your offerings.

Once you’ve won their interest by providing helpful insights, you can then introduce ideas for how your company can help address their challenges and achieve their goals.  

Reach unknown, otherwise inaccessible people

In a complex sale, you rarely know all the people who influence the decision.

And even if you know who they are, you often can’t reach them because they don’t want you to. Or maybe someone else is blocking your path.

Online display advertising is unique in its ability to get around common sales obstacles:  

  • You can reach people whose names and contact details you don’t know.
  • You can reach unknown or unidentified decision influencers.
  • You can get around blockers.

Display advertising is beautiful because it enables you to invite direct engagement without going through an intermediary who may block or filter your messages.

If a blocker calls you on the carpet for going around her, you can honestly say it’s not your fault because your marketing team handles advertising.

In some ways, it’s better than search advertising

Unlike search advertising and search marketing, you can reach people who are not currently looking for a solution. By doing so, you can get in early to create opportunities where you have no competitors.

You can also make a favorable impression on people who know nothing about your company or your solution.

Display advertising can help build name recognition before your proposal goes to senior decision makers.  

See results in weeks

With the help of technology platforms such as Kwanzoo, marketers can try a three-month trial program. An agile marketing team can activate an effective new display advertising program in a few weeks. And you can see increased account engagement within weeks, not months.

Other ABM tactics normally take longer.

Display advertising gives fast feedback, and digital ads are easy to change. These traits make it easy for marketers to test the effectiveness of ads and adjust them in real time. You can tune your messaging, personalization, graphics, and so on, to achieve optimal results.

Stay out of view of your competitors

You can achieve all these benefits in ways that are mostly invisible to competitors.

And you can do so without adding much to your cost of sales.

Considering all these singular advantages for B2B sales teams, your company should be looking into using display advertising to support account-based marketing.

Don’t let marketing ignore this

Some members of your marketing team may cite data that suggests inbound marketing is more effective than display advertising. Some marketers dismiss display ads as being “interruptive.” They say other marketing channels are more effective than display advertising.

And there’s truth in what they say. But it’s probably irrelevant.

Any third-party data they may cite probably applies to online display advertising in general. It doesn’t speak to the effectiveness of highly relevant, highly targeted B2B display advertising run within a well-planned ABM program.

Third-party statistics about the effectiveness of online display advertising shouldn’t matter to your sales team.

What matters to you is whether your company’s marketing helps deliver the results your sales team needs to achieve revenue goals.

Try something new

As long as your sales team struggles to generate enough good sales opportunities, your marketing team must be open to trying new things.

So give them a little nudge to try online display advertising.

And if your first little nudge doesn’t get their attention, push a little harder.  

This is the first in a multipart series on display advertising for ABM. Next up: How online display advertising works.

About Dave Vranicar

Dave is founder of Redwell B2B, a company that provides consulting, coaching, and content-creation services at the intersection of Sales and Marketing. Redwell’s goal is to help business-to-business companies accelerate revenue growth by helping Sales and Marketing work together as members of the same agile revenue team. Most of Redwell’s clients are tech firms that engage in complex sales involving multiple decision influencers. Content created by Redwell supports both inbound and outbound prospecting, including social selling and account-based marketing and sales development.

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