A growing number of B2B marketers are embracing account-based marketing (ABM) as part of their overall marketing efforts. ABM perfectly complements the traditional, short-term marketing goal of generating leads with efforts aimed at driving long-term revenue growth.
What is account based marketing?
In its simplest form, ABM is a strategy that directs marketing resources to engaging a specific set of target accounts. ABM doesn’t just call for alignment between sales and marketing teams – it forces teams to align because personalization at the account level requires sales and marketing to be in sync on account-specific messaging. The motivation? Higher revenues in a shorter time frame.
Instead of casting a wide net with their lead-generation efforts, marketers using ABM work closely with sales to identify key prospects and then tailor customized programs and messages to the buying team within target accounts.
Why would you want to practice ABM?
Even as buying circles are growing, marketing teams are feeling more pressure to directly impact revenue growth. It’s a core reason that the ABM approach is seeing significant uptake. ABM focuses you on relationships in your highest opportunity, highest-value accounts.
For instance, assume you sell an expensive SaaS product or consulting service. Rather than take a blanket approach – going after small businesses, SMBs, and enterprises – you might start by focusing on those accounts that have the highest need and the required budget.
By combining efforts and resources, marketing and sales can more efficiently engage and convert accounts. In fact, they gain the luxury of slowing down to develop a thoughtful approach that boosts the odds of driving engagement.
That well-considered approach matters at a time when buyers are increasingly insistent on outreach tailored to their business and even their personal interests within the business. ABM requires that marketing and sales engage each person on the buying team in a personalized way. A personalized approach is essential when aiming marketing and sales efforts at a few select, high-value accounts.
Personalize well and buyers are more open to your outreach and less likely to ignore your content and communications.
Who does ABM benefit and how?
Some say ABM is most effective for B2B companies that sell to a few large key accounts or accounts of a certain size in a specific industry. Others argue that ABM can work for B2B organizations of any size, as long as the focus is on high-value accounts.
At a more granular level, ABM is a win-win-win for sales, marketing, and customers.
ABM perfectly complements the account-based approach sales teams have embraced for years. With the dedicated involvement of marketing, sales teams can better personalize their outreach. Nurturing targeted members of the buying committee with appropriate marketing messages tends to speed up the sales process, allowing sales to achieve better close rates while closing bigger deals faster.
Marketing benefits because sales sees the marketing team as a trusted ally on a strategic mission. Rather than deliver leads that languish, marketing works in tandem with sales on a defined list that both teams agree make the most promising targets. In fact, 84 percent of businesses using ABM say it delivers higher ROI than other marketing campaigns.
A valuable by-product is that ABM enriches the marketing team with a much deeper understanding of the company’s overall target audience. Marketing can apply their insight into what content and messages resonate to amp up the results of their other efforts.
Customers also benefit from ABM in the form of a better experience. Buyers prefer personalized interactions, and ABM delivers just that. Serving targeted content and messages that resonate takes up-front work, and customers will recognize and appreciate this – and the fact that you don’t waste their time with ones that are off the mark.
How to align sales and marketing around an ABM strategy
Getting sales and marketing working as a cohesive account team is the ultimate secret to success. Without that alignment, your target accounts will suffer through a fragmented experience as marketing and sales trip over each other, rather than pave the way for each other to effectively engage with key decision makers.
Success starts with clear communication between your sales reps and marketers, and continues as both groups execute their part of the strategy throughout the buyer journey. Agreeing from the get-go on the ultimate goal of the ABM program helps marketing and sales get in sync and figure out the most fitting target accounts and the best strategy for reaching and engaging them.
While the top objective is to land new accounts or expand business with existing ones, marketing and sales should define smaller goals that align to the bigger goals. These stepwise goals can include:
- Pinpointing a higher number of decision makers within each account
- Securing a greater number of senior-level appointments/meetings
- Accelerating the sales cycle
- Encouraging higher customer loyalty or reducing churn
- Closing a higher percentage of large deals
- Boosting revenues within existing accounts
Creating an account based marketing strategy
When marketing and sales share a similar mindset – how to target and land accounts – they can collaborate around a common goal. The first step is co-developing an ABM strategy so sales and marketing can work together as parts of a joint “account team.”
At a high level, this means marketing focuses its budget on the accounts that sales deems most important. Sales and marketing agree on common goals, messaging and content, how to execute, and metrics to evaluate success. Let’s walk through the core steps of developing an ABM strategy.
Step 1: Identify high-value accounts
Analyze your existing customer base to identify the ones that fit your definition of an ideal customer. While this definition can vary based on nuances such as industry and other overarching descriptors, it often boils down to the most profitable, long-term, happy customers who are a pleasure to work with. In other words, they’re a strong fit for your company, enjoy success with your solutions, and deliver the biggest lifetime value.
Keep an eye out for the existing accounts that have shown openness to expanding their footprint with your company, along with new accounts that satisfy your strategic criteria. For new accounts, you might answer the question “Does this account have an urgent need we can address and that would compel it to spend $X amount?”
Step 2: Map individuals to accounts
In any B2B deal involving a significant purchase, your marketing and sales teams will need to help drive consensus among the key stakeholders. Your first step is identifying those who can wield influence on the final buying decision. These are the committee members you need to engage and persuade to take action.
For example, let’s say a company selling marketing software is identifying key decision-making roles within select accounts. The list of individuals might include the CMO, digital marketing managers, CIO, and CFO.
Just remember: Individual contacts are important, but in the context of the entire account. In other words, you need to connect the concerns and needs of each person on the buying committee back to the strategic objective of their company. Your main goal when engaging each stakeholder is to help drive consensus for a purchase decision.
Step 3: Define and create targeted campaigns
Once you’ve chosen your target accounts and individuals, you need to develop personalized campaigns designed to resonate with them. Keep in mind that building and nurturing relationships is central to a successful ABM program. You’re most likely to succeed by providing valuable consultation and education, all mapped to the account’s buying cycle.
It starts by aligning your messages and content with the interests, needs, and challenges of each account and key stakeholder. Ideally, you should develop a unique value proposition and relevant content for each stakeholder that influences a buying decision.
Bake ample thought leadership content into your content plan:
- Understand what stakeholders believe. Start with research into the existing state of the conversation, so you can meet your reader where they are.
- Develop and articulate a well-informed point of view. Make a strong case for your position, and make it clear that you have the authority to take a definitive stand.
- Frame your story in terms of value delivered. Back up your viewpoint with real-world examples that demonstrate your ideas in action.
If your messages and content are on point, buying committee members might share it with their colleagues. Truly personalize the message for each individual within an account. Doing so, you instill confidence in your company as a trusted advisor and partner that has done its homework and is providing useful information and guidance.
Step 4: Pinpoint optimal channels
To reach your target accounts and the key stakeholders, figure out which channels they use most to research trends and solutions. This may vary by role or even industry, so don’t assume you can apply a one-size-fits-all approach here.
Step 5: Develop a strategic playbook
To clarify roles and responsibilities, put together a playbook that outlines who does what and when. Specify the tactics that both marketing and sales will use to engage contacts within accounts and drive interest and action. Give this meaning by designing a campaign cadence that maps each communication/outreach with the appropriate channel and message or content.
Step 6: Execute your campaigns
Marketing and sales engage with accounts on an individual level using a personalized strategy that makes sense for each contact. Campaigns can include an array of tactics, including email, special events, direct mail, ads, and more. Since relationships drive ABM strategy, use that to guide your outreach.
For example, maybe a specific team member reaches out because they went to the same college or share the most professional connections with the contact. That team member can then make introductions to the team member who owns the account.
Step 7: Measure and optimize
Measuring ABM results is different than measuring the impact of standard lead-generation tactics. Marketing and sales are jointly accountable for driving pipeline and revenue when it comes to ABM. You care about moving accounts – not individuals – through the purchase process.
In addition to tracking account engagement, tally opportunities created, along with closed-won deals and their value. Give your teams enough time to generate results – in line with the typical purchase cycle – and then adjust your strategy and tactics as necessary.