Lead-based marketing strategies have ruled the digital age, but in the past couple of years an alternative B2B marketing strategy called account-based marketing (ABM) has picked up steam, challenging marketers to think more strategically about the companies they sell to — the contexts in which their leads work.
If lead-based marketing is like throwing semi-adhesive objects at a wall to see what sticks, account-based marketing is precisely selecting objects, applying a careful dob of glue, and arranging them as desired. The strategy that leaves the most objects on the wall entirely depends on the organization, its target market, and its approach.
For marketing or sales teams that view account-based marketing with a combination of intrigue and skepticism, Demand Gen Report’s ABM Early Benchmark Survey Report may help you understand whether it might be a good fit for your organization. It shows the choices companies make to achieve success with ABM, including how they build a list of accounts to go after, and which content, technology, and measurements they use in ABM campaigns.
But before we analyze the report, let’s discuss the concept of ABM in a little more detail.
What Is Account-Based Marketing?
ABM deployments require the sales, marketing, and customer relationship teams within an organization to converge in order to target specific prospective customers. The strategy involves focusing on a defined set of accounts that the sales and marketing teams have identified as valuable “best-fit” prospects. Rather than blasting marketing messages to generate leads, you first pinpoint best-fit accounts and take a tailored approach to courting them and communicating with them.
When a potentially high-revenue account fits your ideal customer profile (ICP), typically you assign their account to a representative who personally positions targeted marketing messages in front of the decision-makers within that company. Digitally targeting these contacts is often only as complicated as piggybacking on an existing marketing automation strategy, or coordinating with customer relationship management strategies, which cuts back labor-intensive and time-consuming tasks.
This personalized and precise approach eliminates pushy cold calls or unsolicited emails, and eases accounts into interaction with you at their chosen pace. Because it saves employee time by cutting down on communications directed at parties who ultimately prove uninterested, ABM can be a cost-effective way to directly reach the accounts that want or need your services.
When it comes to satisfaction with the impact of ABM efforts, 54 percent of respondents in the survey said ABM efforts are meeting organizational expectations, and 20 percent said they are either exceeding or greatly exceeding expectations. But what’s the secret sauce? What does it actually take to implement an ABM strategy that meets or exceeds expectations?
What Are the Steps to Creating an Account-Based Marketing Strategy?
Study participants shared their biggest challenges to implementing ABM strategies, and the number one hurdle was “sales and marketing alignment” (45 percent). Whether you’re targeting five accounts or 500, it’s absolutely crucial that sales and marketing are on the same page and are working with the same sets data to create an ideal customer profile. Other challenges, such as resourcing for ABM and connecting ABM initiatives to a tangible return, require sales and marketing to work together as well, so start laying a foundation for collaboration from the get-go.
1. Build List of Likely Buyers
If and when your sales and marketing teams align and agree on an ICP, it’s time to build a list of likely buyers. Survey respondents said that building out account lists was their top priority. For the majority of respondents, this step means working with a data partner to mine data and identify named accounts.
When it comes to the type of data on which they plan to reply, thirty-nine percent said they planned to use predictive data, while 30 percent said they planned to use technographic data. Psychographic was third, followed by firmographic data.
2. Determine the Decision Makers
Once you have agreed on key accounts, the next step is to determine the decision makers at each named account. The survey poses the question, “After your account list was created, how did you augment your contact list to optimize your reach and campaigns?”
A majority of respondents said they are currently working with a data provider to identify target roles and titles, while thirty-nine percent said they are or have been working with a data provider to flesh out information on existing contacts. The third most popular response was working with a solution provider to add intelligence and insights on key contact.
3. Create Personalized Messaging
The next step is to personalize messaging to target those influencers within the account. The survey showed more B2B organizations creating personalized/custom content for each account (35 percent) versus content that was not specific to the account, but tailored more broadly by industry (28 percent) or role (21 percent).
The most popular type of content used to target accounts was targeted executive event invitations, followed by interactive content tailored to industry role. Direct invitations to sales meetings, promotional item giveaways, video content, and influencer/advocate-related content were other types of content used in participants’ ABM programs.
As you implement your ABM strategy, it’s crucial to measure your success with different accounts, decision makers, and types of personalized content. Define KPIs and test a few different approaches to determine the most effective strategy for your organization.
What Technologies Do I Need for Account-Based Marketing?
ABM doesn’t necessarily require new technology–in many cases, it’s more about how you use the tools you already have, from your marketing automation platform (such as Infusionsoft or HubSpot) to business intelligence tools. Unsurprisingly, analytics, campaign execution, and data products ranked at the top in response to the question of which tools marketers are currently using to support their ABM programs.
There are also a few products designed especially for ABM that have more recently entered the market, like Engagio (ABM orchestration) and Terminus (account-based ad serving), and many existing vendors have shifted their branding to tout ABM use cases, or even launched ABM add-ons (Marketo ABM, for example). Since many ABM strategies are at an immature stage of implementation, it seems many marketers have not yet had a chance to try out more specialized tools, despite, in some cases, a high desire to do so. This is likely related to the risk of investing in new technology while they’re still struggling to prove the ROI of ABM efforts–the third largest challenge for ABM practitioners, according to the survey.
The Bottom Line
ABM isn’t just about refining your marketing strategy and avoiding chasing dead ends – it’s about aligning your marketing and sales teams so that the former supports the latter and ultimately leads to increased revenue. Define your KPIs accordingly. Some organizations are measuring the financial outcomes of ABM directly, such as win rate (46 percent) and/or contribution to pipeline revenue (42 percent). Other organizations are focused on measuring leading indicators at specific points in the marketing/sales process – like net-new accounts engaged (49 percent), number of qualified accounts (42 percent), and pipeline velocity (41 percent) – that can be used to forecast revenue, and may map to their lead-based KPIs.
However you decide to measure your efforts, make sure sales and marketing agree on the metrics of success. This will make iterating your approach easier, and set you up to be able to articulate how your ABM initiative contributes to your company’s bottom line.