The Essentials of Account-Based Marketing
Account-Based Marketing (ABM) is a strategic approach to marketing that is concentrated on a set of clearly define target accounts. These target accounts are pre-agreed upon internally across marketing, sales and senior leadership teams as the most crucial prospects for the business overall. Successfully executing ABM involves building personalized outreach strategies for each of these accounts.
Today, adopting an ABM approach is a key business strategy for B2B marketers. 92 percent of B2B marketers now consider ABM “extremely” or “very” important to their marketing efforts. What used to be purely account-based selling in the past has evolved to include marketing strategies that yield higher ROI at a fraction of its previous cost.
Technology has played the biggest role in this evolution. The latest marketing tools and platforms have paved the way for ABM users to scale their efforts through software and apps that provide predictive analysis, effective lead management capabilities, and the ability to produce highly targeted content. Simply put, marketing automation and digital demand management channels have allowed marketers to do more with less.
The vast majority of businesses have reported increases in lead quality and ROI. Using ABM solutions enables users to adopt an automated, programmatic advertising process to identify key personnel or accounts, which in turn help them tailor communications depending on what part of the buying stage prospects are in at any given moment.
Here’s a quick video from Zaryn @ Market & Hustle to give you the ABM rundown:
- Account-Based Marketing is about personalizing your marketing efforts directly toward your most profitable prospects.
- ABM helps weed out the less-profitable clients to maximize your profit ceiling.
- Creating systems that focus your time and resources on the accounts that are most likely to close will save you from wasting said time and resources.
Here are a few things to consider when implementing an ABM approach:
1. Understand the Role of IT in ABM
Having a dedicated IT team at hand ensures that you’re working within a reliable, secure platform. Not everything is as easy as “did you turn it off and back on again?” They are there to help the integration of ABM tools with your existing network, making the transition smooth and seamless.
They can also address any hiccups that inevitably occur whenever new software is introduced. Originally, spending precious resources and waiting for IT teams to identify, select, and deploy ABM technologies is something businesses were finding difficult to accept.
Thankfully, technological advances in ABM-related software have made it easier and more cost-efficient for businesses to jump on the ABM bandwagon. This has enabled organizations of various sizes to implement ABM tactics to deliver personalized marketing to hundreds of accounts.
2. Use Funnel Stage Targeting
Source: Blueprint Creative Group
The traditional waterfall marketing funnel casts a wide net to catch as many prospects as possible. ABM attempts to modify this model by narrowing the lead base first instead of last.
The process begins with a thorough understanding of your ideal customer profile, which is made possible by paying close attention to CRM reports and other B2B data about your ideal prospect. Having a set of criteria to work with helps you identify where your biggest opportunities may lie.
This approach enhances your targeting and personalization capabilities so you can increase lead quality and in turn, sales conversion rates.
3. Establish an Ideal Target Account
Before starting ABM for your business, know that it involves heavy research on both the sales and marketing sides. Building an ideal target account is crucial, and this is where your next steps most come because ABM relies heavily on the accuracy of these target accounts.
Don’t limit yourself to the surface details. The more information you know (such as the ideal revenue, size, location, and key business challenges), the better you can formulate an effective ABM strategy that fits the core needs of your customer.
When you plan the development of your ideal target account, be sure to gather input from both your sales and marketing teams so you have a more holistic view of your ideal customer from a range of different perspectives.
4. Say Goodbye to Personas
For years, marketers have been building persona groups based around what they think their target audience looks like based on the characteristics and behaviors that would likely make someone interested in the product or service offering. However, the point of ABM is to really get to know the target companies, and then, even the exact individuals within these accounts that hold the purchasing power.
Marketers must stay away from creating wide groups of personas, driven by guesswork. Instead, stick to the data. Most companies find it is best to target between 50 to 500 target accounts, for a truly focused and effective approach. This is a small enough pool that marketers can really get to know the individuals at these prospect companies that are relevant – their job titles, interests, and most recent touchpoint with the company. Tracking these individual prospects as they move along the purchasing journey is key. Marketers should stop thinking about an amorphous group of personas and think about targeting specific individuals instead.
5. Microtarget as Much as Possible
While it is more time intensive, micro-targeting pays off big for marketers because it makes it possible to tailor the message for each group. Don’t be afraid to split your larger ABM account list into very small groups. Then, work to identify pain points for the different micro audiences within your ABM pool. It’s important to remember that the top product benefit for one micro-group might not be the same as the benefit called out for the next group. Segmenting out the audience allows marketers to deliver the message that would make the most impact for that particular segment.
Example: If you’re targeting healthcare professionals, it might make sense to split the pharmacists off into a separate group, as the language and industry lingo you use to reach them may be different. Marketers must focus on making sure the prospective customer feels like the message is tailored to them, and their time is valued. This personalized attention is the “secret sauce” that makes ABM work.
6. Leverage Existing Customers
Not only is it cheaper to tap your current customer base, but it also promotes loyalty because of your continued efforts to provide additional personalized products or services that fit your client’s needs. Cross-selling and renewal campaigns can now be more targeted with data-driven marketing tools.
These automated tools allow you to develop individualized cross-selling or upselling techniques such as complimentary product trials that supplement existing products or call to action services that resonate with your customers.
Keep in mind the Pareto Principle, which states that you should be focusing on the 20% of customers that deliver the most revenue so you can increase the ROI of your marketing activities (See How to Get a Positive Return on Your Marketing Investment for more).
7. Focus on Your Biggest Opportunities
A recent study reported a 171% increase in average annual contract value after implementing Account-based Marketing. Meaning, your deal size with the biggest targets just got bigger.
Expand your current base by building your list of organizations, companies, business roles, and key personnel that fits within a set of criteria you’ve identified.
After you’ve identified your target profile, it’s time for you to increase engagement with awareness campaigns via online and offline channels (like content marketing!).
Once you’ve gained momentum in your relationship building efforts, it’s only a matter of time before loyal customers become brand advocates. These advocates are the best sources of high-quality referrals and positive recommendations.
8. Align Marketing and Sales
The primary cause of conflict between sales and marketing stems from the different goals they typically pursue. In a traditional company setting, sales teams are measured against their ability to convert the most number of leads, while marketing sees lead generation primarily as a numbers game.
This means that sales values highly qualified leads with a greater desire to buy, while marketing is more concerned with getting as many leads as possible, regardless of their likelihood to convert.
With ABM, the metrics used to assess whether or not a marketing campaign is a success has to be shifted towards a more sales-centric approach. Overall, marketing has to be measured based on the amount of engagement from each lead instead of focusing on the number of leads in the funnel.
Make sure that the objectives of each team are directed towards a common goal. If it requires alignment meetings every week to avoid confusion, then make it happen. Plan out your Service-Level Agreement (SLA) between the teams, so collaboration becomes official business.
Based on a survey by SiriusDecisions, 24% faster revenue growth and 27% faster profit growth over a three-year period can be achieved by B2B organizations if they have a unified sales and marketing strategies.
In short, we’re all playing on the same team!
9. Personalize Communication
The fundamental basis of ABM is personalized communications. You need customer data for ABM to work because this data will help you personalize communications in the future. This increases your ability to relate to customers’ needs and create the best buying experience.
It’s not enough to personalize the original outreach messaging for the target ABM accounts. Marketers need to think through the entire purchasing journey, and the experience the prospective customer is having at all points.
Example: If a target individual sees a social media ad with language that aligns with their job role and pain points, only to click on it and be taken to a general landing page with no clear sense of direction from there, the prospect will lose interest.
Typically, it makes sense to build out specific landing pages on the company website that align with the micro-targeting groups the team is using for ABM outreach. A prospect should be treated with personalized messaging throughout the entire journey. The effectiveness of ABM is diminished if the potential customer reaches the website and no longer feels like the content is relevant to them.
In a multi-platform world, your website, mobile apps, emails, events, and every other brand communications channel should be tailored to accelerate the buying journey. This means modifying your messaging, CTAs, social proof and other aspects to deliver the right buying experience to the right customers at the right time.
10. Don’t Think Too Big
Keep in mind that there are some things account-based marketing can’t do. For example, it isn’t nearly as scalable as mass marketing because of the research and personalization requirements. If you think too big too soon and roll out ABM to hundreds of accounts at the same time, you’ll end up overwhelming your sales/marketing teams, and losing control over the process.
ABM works best when it’s rolled out slowly and implemented over time. Make your plan and start out with just a few accounts. Once you get used to the process and start seeing positive results, you can begin to extend ABM implementation to the rest of your accounts.
11. Embrace Bionic Marketing
At the #FlipMyFunnel B2B Sales and Marketing Conference in Boston, LinkedIn gave a presentation on the rise of AI in marketing and how this technology is being used for ad creation. LinkedIn stressed the importance of putting ad creative into a template that can be easily read and understood by AI to create thousands of similar ads for A/B testing and better overall performance.
While the capability to leverage AI implementation in this way may still be years in the future for many B2B marketers, there is a takeaway here that can be put to good use right now. Marketers should strive to have dozens of ads running simultaneously within ABM campaigns. These ads should have different creative and copy, enabling A/B tests to identify what messaging and outreach strategy works the best for each micro-targeting unit. It’s not enough to have 1-2 ads running in a LinkedIn campaign, or via digital media buys. Marketers need to remember that the more ads running within a campaign, the better the cost-per-lead and overall performance.
12. Think Beyond the C-Suite
Many marketers today spend their marketing budget targeting only higher-level executives – specifically the C-Suite – leaving out most decision makers that are below the level of VP or Director. While targeting higher-level executives is important, leaving out the other employees at your ABM target accounts is short-sighted.
First off, it’s clear that lower-level employees do impact the buying cycle, and ABM campaigns that include a broader range of job titles and expertise levels perform better. It’s also worth noting that given how long B2B purchase cycles are, a lower-level employee could very well be a manager by the time the deal goes through.
Courting more inexperienced employees is a way to build brand awareness. It showcases goodwill among a cohort that will very soon be in charge of the purchasing decisions and is certainly influencing them to a degree even now.
13. Maintain Consistency and Effort
If you’re just beginning with ABM, expect to make a few mistakes here and there. But, you will become more proficient as time goes on. Since the strategy aims for precision, data is an integral factor in the process. Collecting and analyzing data must be an ongoing activity.
Also, you need to show consistency in nurturing your target accounts. Even though they’re only talking to a single contact, the team behind your ABM should ensure consistency across multiple touch points to build a long-term relationship with the target account.
In some organizations, ABM can be better than inbound marketing because the former allows for a more targeted approach, only engaging companies that are ideal users of the product or service you’re offering. With inbound, your ability to control your audience is limited—anyone can download your e-book or subscribe to your newsletter, reducing the qualification requirements to become a lead.
ABM allows you to optimize a larger percentage of your prospects because they were chosen based on a list of criteria you’ve made from relevant sources, which includes their digital footprint or predictive tools.
At the end of the day, ABM is a strategy not a technology. It is the work behind the scenes – including identifying relevant target accounts and building highly personalized messaging – that will make or break a company’s ROI. It’s not based on guesswork or a theoretical customer roadmap, but actual data. This, coupled with the ability to scale at a low cost, are the key reasons B2B businesses should consider applying an ABM approach in your future marketing strategy.
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