One of the new strategies used by tech firms is account-based sales & marketing. The thinking is that if your ideal customer is a handful or even 100 it is best to focus on getting into just those accounts. Just as in life and often technology, everything old is new again. In this post, I will reflect on my history of account base marketing
Enterprise Sales Focus
My first sales job was for Lexmark Canada in 1995. I was part of a co-op team focused on being reseller reps. Lexmark came into existence after IBM sold its printer division to Clayton Dubilier and Rice in 1991. One of the ways that the Lexmark Canada sales team found success was having a direct sales force that engaged the largest and best corporate and government entities in Canada. This was unique in the industry and unique even within Lexmark International. Lexmark Canada focused on the top banks, pharmacies, retailers, government organizations across Canada. By targeting them directly Lexmark owned the relationship with the account, even though for most of the accounts they still fulfilled through the channel. I moved from my channel role to an end user position in the winter of 1997. My patch included many large government organizations including DND, Revenue Canada, and the Eastern Ontario post-secondary institutions. It was a great time at Lexmark as sales were growing significantly and market share was approaching, and in some cases surpassing industry leader HP.
Vertical Market Focus
One of the strategies that Lexmark employed was to focus on problem areas within the printing industry that were also high volume areas. This meant that Lexmark could print labels better for pharmacies, could understand IPDS (an archaic IBM printer language), and handle token ring networks found in most of the financial institutions. This led to Lexmark owning specific applications within verticals. Lexmark could then make the case that my handling the most challenging applications it could also handle the general office printing as well. This vertical marketing focus meant that Lexmark knew the terminology, applications, and third-party players in many of the most desirable applications.
In 1998, I moved from end user sales in Ottawa to Product Manager. At that point in time, the entire marketing team in Canada was about 4 people. A lot of my focus was on the vertical applications.
Wider and Deeper
Towards the end of 1999, I moved from a product management role to a Sales Manager in Toronto for Lexmark. One of the overarching strategies Lexmark used termed getting wider and deeper into accounts. Since Lexmark was focusing on large organizations there were often multiple decision-makers and influencers with each account. This could include a line of business leader, IT, finance, and even organizations with decentralized decision making. Going wider and deeper within accounts help find new opportunities, but also helped protect the accounts. Different value propositions and solutions were targeted at these different decision makers. Lexmark would have regular strategy sessions with each of the sales reps and teams to talk through how to protect and expand accounts, while other meetings were about penetrating new accounts. They even deployed a roving sales coach, Chris Drahos, to help the North American sales teams through the process.
Marketing to Support Sales
One of the other things that Lexmark did, that gets echoed into the account-based marketing today is having the marketing focus supporting the sales effort. This meant that there was not much money being spent in general advertising, but efforts were more directly linked to sales. This meant industry specific trade shows, one-on-one product announcements to large accounts, creating vertical specific deliverables, and setting up vertical themed events for large customers. It was not a great place to be for a creative sales person, but as a Sales Rep there were many resources to support your efforts.
Great Set on Mentors
As I progressed in my later years at Lexmark, I managed larger territories, helped launch software, managed the special bid process, helped launch services, and even managed vertical specialists. It was a great experience for me as a sales person learning my craft. I learned how to handle situations and be a leader, occasionally I learned what no to do as well, but those lessons were few and far between. I was lucky to get exposure to many great sales reps and leaders that helped me grow as a person and leader.
I left Lexmark in 2005 and shortly after I started VA Partners. One of the reasons to write this reflective post was due to the news that Lexmark is being sold and will no longer be a public company. I would list all my great mentors from my 10 years at Lexmark, but they would be too numerous to mention
Lessons for Today
What lessons can the startups and tech firms learn today from Lexmark? For those that have a few ideal customers, account-based marketing and sales, or enterprise sales as I knew it is a great solution. Focus on the multiple decision makers and influencers in an account as a penetration and account management strategy. Owning verticals is also an excellent way to grow your business. With your marketing focus on thew few targets, not the whole market. The great news for account-based sales & Marketing Reps of today is that you have some many tools to help you with your execution. Marketing automation, email, prospecting tools, social selling, content marketing, and many more tactics can help you land your ideal account today.
If you are looking for help with your account-based sales & marketing efforts please contact me and we can talk about how VA Partners can help.