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A Beginner's Guide to Building an Account-Based Marketing Strategy

November 18, 2020

What is ABM?

As marketers, we spend every day juggling dozens of projects at once, making it tough to decide which trends to pay attention to.

After all, many disappear just as quickly as they come onto the scene. (Anyone remember advertising in the Yellow Pages?) How can we be sure which new trends are worth our attention? Unlike some fallen fads, account-based marketing has not only stood the test of time, it’s actually picking up speed as companies look to hone in their marketing strategy to be more efficient and cost-effective.

But does ABM make sense for your company? Below we’ll dig into what it is, why companies are jumping on the ABM train, and a few tips and tricks to get you started.

What is account-based marketing?

Before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s start by defining account-based marketing (ABM). ABM is a strategic marketing approach where a company first identifies a handful of key accounts they think are most likely to buy, and then creates an individualized marketing and sales campaign for each account in an effort to hyper-personalize each marketing interaction throughout the buying journey.

“But wait, less contacts, and personalization? That sounds extremely time-consuming and costly!”

ABM definitely turns the old “spray and pray” method on its head, but for good reason. And as you’ll see below, the benefits—when done right—significantly outweigh the effort, and ultimately lead to conversion, and closed:won deals. But before digging into the benefits of ABM, let’s talk about why traditional contact-based marketing doesn’t work anymore.

Traditional contact-based marketing doesn’t work anymore

Usually, marketers spend time and money curating a list of individuals to target. And then once they have that list, everyone on that list receives similar or even identical marketing — the same email, the same banner ad, the same direct mail piece, etc. The problem with this method is two-fold:

Your marketing is too broad

If you are sending the same marketing to a huge group of people, of different titles, at different companies, with different challenges, and different budgets, and experiences, and tools, and expertise…(you see where I’m going with this?)

...Each person on that list may have a few things in common, and you may choose to center your messaging around that — but once you start really digging into what compels people to buy your product, you’re going to realize it’s not their geolocation, or their company size, or their title. It’s nothing you can find on a list you bought.

What compels a company to make a purchase is a complex and unique set of needs, challenges, pains, principles, budgets, pressures, and emotions. Because of the granularity and nuance of their differing needs, targeting individuals across tons of companies with the same high-level message won’t just miss the mark, it’ll practically go unseen.

Your marketing is too specific

So let’s say you take the opposite approach. You hone in on a very specific challenge or need or pain to that list of contacts. What are the chances, within a list of thousands, that actually resonates? Sure, it may strike a chord with a few, but at what cost?

In an era of on-demand personalized marketing, being targeted with something that misses the mark may not just compel a buyer to walk away from a sale, but walk away from a brand all together.

So throw out the geography-based contact list mindset, and think of account-based marketing as a one-to-one marketing strategy where you tailor your approach based on the individual needs of a potential account, from the top-of-the-funnel, all the way down to the close of the deal.

You will start by gathering account-level (rather than contact-level) insights, which— by the grace of the internet and public record — are actually much easier to surface. Once you identify accounts that actually make sense to target, you’ll spend most of your time focusing on customer pain points, budget, and specialized needs in order to give them the best offer of your product or service.

And just like a relay-race, as a buyer moves through each stage of the buying journey, each revenue team passes the baton to the next, making sure your brand is involved in every stage of the consumer decision making process, and your messaging evolves and resonates with the customer along with their buyer journey.

What are the benefits of account-based marketing?

We’ve already covered one benefit of account based marketing, the relative ease of access to information, but what are some other reasons to switch to this new strategy? In short, ABM can save you time, money, and manpower.

Here are five perks of adopting an account based marketing strategy:

  • Customers love it: The precedent has been set: buyers demand personalized experiences. Major B2C disruptors such as Birch Box, Trunk Club, and Warby Parker have created such curated experiences, that B2B now has no choice but to follow suit, or fall behind. ABM allows your company to do just that, making your buyer feel seen, heard, and understood before even getting on the phone.
  • Data and information is more readily available: It seems like every day there are new laws governing the availability of individual contact information and data, making your ability to nail down specific people increasingly challenging and risky. But account level data? Companies practically hand it to you on their website, social media, sites like Crunchbase — it’s everywhere for the taking.
  • Your ROI is easier to attribute: When you target fewer accounts with higher likelihood to convert, you'll see an increase in conversion and a decrease in cost per acquisition. Following an account from the top of funnel acquisition through to close allows marketing and sales to calculate and attribute ROI on a campaign and account-level basis.
  • You save money, time, and resources: You may be spending more time by collecting insights and pulling together your strategy, but ultimately, because you’re targeting fewer accounts, you’ll be paying for fewer lists, ads, content, and channels. You’ll be focusing the bulk of your time on fewer campaigns and conversations. And by aligning the revenue org, everyone will be working on the same thing, focusing resources.
  • It shortens the sales cycle: One of the biggest things slowing sales people down is the amount of red tape it takes to make a purchasing decision. ABM allows you to bypass the usual sales gatekeepers and focus your outreach directly on the decision makers. Once you’re speaking directly to the people holding the purse strings, you can address how your product fixes all of their problems. This means less wasted time on catching people up to speed and more time focused on proving why your product is a must-have solution.

Using ABM at every stage of the marketing funnel

It’s also important to note: ABM isn’t just a digital strategy. It involves tapping into the channels those accounts are at most frequently. Different buyers can be found doing research in all different places. Below is an example of a multi-channel ABM campaign:

  • TOFU (top of funnel): In order to reach your top of funnel accounts, you start by targeting accounts on LinkedIn who have been showing high intent scores on G2 and Bombora. This means they’re in-market and interested, but no contact has been made. This approach is largely automated, and you’ll be encouraging those targeted accounts to download an ebook relevant to their intent topics and research behaviors.

    In the event someone converts just from this first step, you’ll arm your sales team with the ebook and messaging to talk them through how that content piece can be applied to their business.
  • MOFU (middle of funnel): For accounts that have downloaded the eBook but have not converted, you choose to invite them to an intimate, thought-leadership focused virtual on-site event.

    You invite them by sending a personal email from a member of the leadership team who will be in attendance at this event. You’ll invite sales reps to join the virtual onsite as well, in the event any accounts choose to convert at this event, for seamless handoff.
  • BOFU (bottom of funnel): For accounts that attend your virtual on-site but don’t convert right away, you want to send them a personalized thank you gift using Alyce. A few days after they’ve received it, you hand off your opportunity to the corresponding sales rep for them to call and follow up on the gift, and request a meeting.

As you’ll see, while the strategy starts as digital (your least expensive and least time-consuming channel) with a low-touch sales approach, as your accounts move through the funnel and continue to show more interest, you’ll want to up the ante and change the channel and sales involvement accordingly. This helps you leverage all your channels and resources, but use them cost and time-effectively.

How to measure your account based marketing efforts

Understanding what ABM is and its many benefits is just the first step. Let’s dive into how you can create and measure your own effective, streamlined ABM strategy in seven steps.

1. Start with your company goals for the year

As with any marketing strategy, you’ll want to start with the goals that your company and your team have set for the year. Everything you do in your day-to-day should work toward accomplishing a measurable goal.

Here are a few goals you should review before creating your ABM strategy:

  • New leads generated
  • Customer retention
  • Upselling current accounts
  • Increased new business revenue
  • Increased overall revenue

There are other goals that might fold into your larger company strategy, but these are the key items your sales team will also be keeping an eye on. Remember, account based marketing is meant to bridge the gap between sales and marketing. Aligning your goals will help prevent problems down the line.

2. Target your strategic accounts

Once you’ve chosen your key goals that will drive your ABM strategy, you can focus on which accounts you’re going to target. It might seem like a good strategy to target the biggest accounts worth the most money but that might not be the right strategy.

How to determine your ideal customer profile (ICP)

Account based marketing works when you focus on your ideal customer. An ideal customer isn’t simply who will bring in the most revenue. In fact, there are several factors to consider when deciding which accounts to target when your ABM strategy.

What are the characteristics of an ideal customer?

  • High lifetime value
  • Low customer support needs
  • Low cost of acquisition

The best customers stay with your company for an extended period of time, don’t have extraneous customer support needs, and will advocate for your brand using word of mouth marketing. An easy way to pinpoint who these customers are is by creating a customer profile.

Use the information you already know about your successful accounts to create this profile. What makes your best customers so easy to work with? Why do you enjoy working with them? You can reverse engineer your customer profile from this starting point to pinpoint which accounts to target for your account based marketing strategy.

3. Loop in key stakeholders early and often

As we mentioned above, account based marketing is designed to involve both sales and marketing. Because of that you’ll need buy-in from leadership and key stakeholders early on.

Stakeholders aren’t always necessarily going to be senior leadership. Think about who interacts with these strategic accounts on a daily basis. Think about who will be creating the marketing materials designed for those accounts. This should guide your decision making process.

Who should be involved in your ABM strategy?

  • Sales leadership
  • Marketing leadership
  • Sales reps assigned to strategic accounts
  • Customer success teams
  • Designers
  • Copywriters
  • Social media specialists

Once you’ve created your list of stakeholders, you should meet with them early and often. Involve them in as much of the process as possible. This prevents miscommunication and makes sure everyone feels as though they are being heard.

4. Set your metrics before you begin

One of the biggest mistakes people make when creating an account based marketing strategy is forgetting to set metrics before putting the plan into place. Why is this an issue? The same reason that you wouldn’t start a science experiment without first forming a hypothesis.

Establishing what success looks like before you launch your new ABM strategy helps your team quickly discover what is working and what isn’t. When you have data without a hypothesis, you can mold the data to fit whatever narrative you want. And while that might help you look good in front of your boss, it doesn’t help improve the customer experience.

How do you measure metrics once you choose them?

Once you’ve decided on which metrics to target, you can turn your attention to tracking them. It is possible to measure this all manually in spreadsheets but that can be a huge time-suck. Most professionals will use a CRM software to track all of their ABM efforts.

5. Create a personalized content experience

The pre-planning is finished and now it’s really time to dig into the marketing side of things by creating a personalized content experience. And guess what?! All the hard work that comes with content planning is already done because you’ve planned ahead.

Because you’ve used this ABM strategy, you already know:

  • Which accounts you’re targeting
  • Which KPI’s you’re measuring
  • Which teammates need to be involved

The next step is positioning yourself as the solution for your potential customers’ problems. Ask yourself what makes you the right choice for this customer. Start with their potential pain points and work backwards from there.

What makes you the best fit for a customer?

  • You help them make more money
  • Your product helps them reduce business costs
  • Your product addresses multiple pain points
  • You make them more productive

The content you create should answer the questions your customers didn’t even know they had. Maybe they think they’re already getting a good deal, until you point out they’re not. Or maybe they are feeling hopeless because they don’t realize there’s a better solution out there.

Focusing on what makes you the best fit for a specific customer is what account based marketing is all about. You’ve done the research to figure out what they need. Now you can come into the relationship with all the solutions they could want. It’s a win-win!

6. Give stuff away for free (yeah, really!)

Account based marketing isn’t designed to ignore the sales funnel. It’s designed to support the customer journey through the sales funnel. The toughest stage of the sales funnel to get past is the awareness stage because of the sheer volume of content out there. Just how noisy is it out there?

5,000 

the number of ads the average consumers sees per day.

Source: Clario

Don’t let those numbers scare you; This is where your account based marketing strategy comes in handy. Because you’ve done the work of understanding your customers needs and how they like to be communicated with, you have the advantage when it comes to garnering customer attention.

Wait, what does this have to do with giving my content away for free?

One thing you can do to set yourself apart from the other people trying to market content to potential customers is to give it away for free in a way that ultimately leads to sales calls.

Creating content with no expectation of selling someone something right away will keep people coming back for more. You want your potential customers to see you as helpful before they see you as sales driven.

So, what does that look like in the long run? The options really are limitless. ABM can be applied across all of your marketing strategies and channels. It’s not just limited to digital content, like webinars and downloadable reports. Account based marketing can be used to add a personal touch to any strategy.

How much does personalization impact your bottom line?

  • 91% of consumers say they are more likely to shop with brands that provide offers and recommendations that are relevant to them.
  • 88% of U.S. marketers have seen measurable improvements due to personalization
  • 83% of consumers are willing to share their data to create a more personalized experience.

Source: Forbes

Account based marketing helps you get your foot in the door with decision makers. This level of personalization requires research about your prospect. It will take time to discover which channels resonate with them most, how they prefer being communicated with, and more.

But those extra touches are what will set you apart from other pitches. You’re playing a long game with some of your customers and that’s okay, because the conversion rate is much higher when you spend extra on the buyer's journey.

7. Automate the little things

You can probably tell that account based marketing isn’t something you do halfway, it’s all or nothing. That’s why it’s so important to automate as much of the process as possible. This allows your team to focus on the big picture stuff and gives you more time to connect with your potential customers. A lot of companies opt to use marketing automation software for this part of the process.

Marketing automation is great for both automation and A/B testing, which is crucial for anyone building an account based marketing strategy as they go. You can eliminate the guesswork and the grunt work by automating the little things that usually eat away at your time.

Marketing automation software solutions also give users the option to:

  • Generate forms and landing pages to collect prospect information
  • Contact targets across multiple channels after specific actions, triggers or periods of time
  • Perform lead management to include lead nurturing and lead scoring

Once you’ve got things automated, the fun begins. You can use these marketing automation software solutions to remarket customers who may have missed your messaging the first time around. This helps you get the most bang for your buck and snag the attention of those key accounts.

You’ve got the tools, time to put them to use!

What makes account based marketing so effective is that almost every marketing team already has the tools they need to get things off the ground. Software helps things run smoother, but even a small start-up with just a handful of employees can take the tips from this article and create their own ABM strategy.

Learn how to adapt your full revenue strategy, including ABM, Brand, and Sales to the trust economy, register for the 2021 Consult webinar series here.

What is ABM?
Take Your ABM To The Next Level

Register for our free 2021 Consult webinar series about adapting to a completely new buyer—in a completely new world.

What is ABM?
Take Your ABM To The Next Level

Register for our free 2021 Consult webinar series about adapting to a completely new buyer—in a completely new world.

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