Why VIP Experiences are Essential for ABM

Posted on April 12, 2016

If you are a B2B marketer, you have been on a roller coaster for the past decade in search of the “secret sauce formula” for attracting high-quality leads to feed the sales pipeline. Like changing fashion trends, MarTech startups like to tell us that our current approach is broken so they can introduce their new tool as the solution to better leads. So now we turn our short attention span to ABM.

The End of Outbound Marketing Was Over-Hyped

In the late 2000’s, the inbound marketing movement (led by Hubspot’s Mike Volpe) declared “outbound marketing is dead” and inbound marketing was the methodology of choice for smart marketers to build a quality lead pipeline. Following Mike’s declaration was an onslaught of content marketing books, workshops, and speakers declaring that “marketers are now storytellers” and that marketing departments should be structured like publishers to support lead nurturing, SEO, etc.

While there is no doubt that inbound marketing and content have a role to play in B2B marketing, marketers that abandoned their outbound marketing efforts soon realized that putting “all their eggs in the inbound basket” was a mistake.

Jon Miller (former Marketo founder and current Engagio CEO) surprised many on a recent (February 2016) ABM webinar when he described his own lead generation revelation while CEO of Marketo. Jon shared that while inbound marketing worked well for lower-value, shorter sales cycle leads it did not work for high-value, longer sales cycle enterprise accounts. Thus, Marketo turned to an outbound strategy — namely, ABM to build relationships and close enterprise accounts. Jon went on to say that VIP experiences are an essential part of a successful ABM strategy to engage executive decision makers.

Jon – I couldn’t agree more.

How VIP Experiences Fit Into an ABM Strategy

Marketers that I talk to seem to think that ABM is largely an exercise in IP-targeted personalization (website, digital display ads). While these are important tactics within an ABM strategy, they are only a small part of a much bigger picture. ABM blends both inbound and outbound marketing techniques and some of the most powerful include “old school” techniques such as personalized correspondence (direct mail) and intimate executive gatherings to engage high-level decision makers. Jon does an outstanding job of detailing this in his Clear & Complete Guide to ABM. In particular, pay attention to the role of events (pages 64-66) and high-quality “touches” (page 80) for engaging high-value executive decision makers.

Since the goal of ABM is to support account-based selling efforts a key component must be connecting sales people to executive decision makers. While digital tactics are effective early in the buying cycle, creating deeper engagement with executive level decision makers requires more than clever digital ads and intriguing white papers — it requires relationship building.

Trust is a prerequisite for closing a sale and trust is a process — not an event.

When competing for the attention of executive decision makers, an invitation to dinner, a golf outing or sporting event simply isn’t compelling enough to justify their time as these are readily obtainable/accessible. To capture their attention, you need to offer a “bucket list” experience available to an exclusive few.

This 2-minute sizzle reel highlights some examples of VIP experiences created for brands by Aston Martin Racing North America.

Whereas high attendance events are appropriate for engaging early stage prospects, narrowly attended VIP/bucket list experiences are recommended for later-stage Opportunities. Whether or not you like the BANT approach to lead scoring, the fact remains that unless the executive decision makers and budget owners are engaged — your sales team is unlikely to close the sale. Securing the attention span of these executive decision makers is incredibly difficult and that’s why your event strategy MUST evolve beyond over-used golf outings, dinners, and sporting events. Ask yourself this: how many executives making $300K (or more) struggle to golf, dine, and attend sporting events?

Use Case Example: Small Group Executive Gatherings

One of the use cases where I see a lot of brands struggle is to attract executive decision makers to small group dialog such as a C-level breakfast, executive round tables, etc. An approach we’ve tested at Aston Martin Racing North America to support Tech companies is to offer a bucket list VIP experience as an incentive for attendance. For instance, a format we’ve used is as follows: executive round table/briefing (9am to 11am), catered lunch (11:30am – 1pm), VIP race car driving experience (1pm to 4pm), and private wine reception (4pm to 6pm).

Another example includes private wine dinners with executives where high touch interaction with racing celebrities, race car displays, and luxury experiences can add intrigue. In several instances, C-level executives have hosted private dinners at their home and we’ve setup an Aston Martin Racing display out front – complete with race cars displayed in their driveway.

Stealing the Show: Trade Shows and Conferences

Another area where marketers face a steep challenge is attracting and engaging executive decision makers to trade shows, conferences and large-audience events. With big spenders like Marc Benioff hiring rock bands for Dreamforce conferences, how do the rest of us compete?

I spent time in 2015 meeting with Marketing VPs from both CA and IBM to structure a series of VIP experiences that could be used for CA World and IBM Interconnect, respectively. Both technology giants spend handsomely on their annual Las Vegas events where they hope to attract tens of thousands of customers, prospects, and channel partners in the hopes of engaging them in sales conversations. But here’s the problem – what’s unique about another big Las Vegas tech conference? Not much.

So how do brands like CA and IBM actually get busy executives to attend the conferences and take meetings with brand sales teams instead of sending their lower-level staff? The answer lies in offering the executives a unique VIP experience that they cannot buy/obtain to create a tipping point of curiosity. This is essential as part of an ABM strategy.

I designed a bucket list VIP experience for CA and IBM to consider that included renting the Las Vegas Motor Speedway for their respective conference dates. The strategy included three components: (i) wrapping Aston Martin race cars with messaging that reinforced their conference theme (e.g. speed, business agility), (ii) race cars drivers interacting on the show floor, and (iii) pro drivers in six Aston Martin Vantage GT4 race cars waiting at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway for high-speed VIP driving experiences. As a result, both Tech giants were offered an opportunity to integrate a premium brand (Aston Martin), reinforce their brand messaging (speed, agility), create buzz on the conference floor (and with media/influencers), and deliver private experiences for executive decision makers at target ABM accounts.

How it Works: Rewarding Prospect Behavior with VIP Access

Target ABM customer/prospect executives who met with CA or IBM sales teams would receive a VIP backstage pass (shaped in a silhouette of the #007 Aston Martin race car) for a private shuttle ride from the conference center to the speedway where a wrapped/branded Aston Martin race car awaits. The VIP guest could experience a high speed lap on the road course and access an optional driving lap with HD video capture as a keepsake. Accounts that signed up for actual product trials could then have the Aston Martin race cars displayed on their corporate campus and host a “Top Gear” style autocross in their parking lot for employees or key customers — all captured via photos, video and social media.

This is just one of many concepts that can be used to create ABM sales momentum in the latter stages of a buying cycle to engage executive decision makers.

If your ABM strategy does not include VIP/bucket list experiences to engage executive Leads and Opportunities, perhaps it should.

Feel free to contact me for more ideas or to share yours.

Good hunting.


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