Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Jolina Landicho
Account-Based Marketing (ABM) is gaining rapid adoption in the realm of B2B marketing. According to SiriusDecisions’ 2016 study on ABM, over 70 percent of B2B companies employ staff either fully or partially dedicated to handling ABM-specific programs.
B2B CMOs are increasingly looking to drive revenue, and not just leads from their marketing investment. While inbound marketing has proven to be effective in generating large volumes of leads, today’s marketers are judged by their contribution to pipeline- that means generating leads that their sales team can close.
That, coupled with the accelerating competition for diminishing attention spans, have steered the shift from inbound marketing to Account Based Marketing.
This emphasis on making customer acquisition more efficient (and having a more targeted audience) have driven interest towards ABM.
According to Demandbase’s 2017 digital marketing report, marketers identified the acquisition of quality leads as both the top goal and challenge of their digital marketing efforts.
And with ABM’s synergistic nature of aligning sales and marketing goals, marketing efforts ultimately become more efficient. Because ABM puts the focus upfront on the customers a company wants to do business with, the contacts engaged will be of higher quality and each closed won deal will result in higher average sales prices, more upsells, and less client churn.
This reality, coupled with the development of new technologies and data management systems that have allowed for ABM programs to be scalable, has made it the undisputed star of B2B marketing in 2017.
So is inbound marketing dead in the water?
Not quite. For most B2B organizations, Inbound Marketing and ABM are not mutually exclusive.
As pointed out by DemandBase, most companies have enough potential customers where it makes sense to deploy a blend of both approaches. For example, if you’re in the software industry and you sell data analytics software to business professionals, you could virtually sell to any company. You may have a set of target accounts, but many of these accounts are not in-market yet. If you want to ensure a predictable pipeline, you’ll want to deploy inbound marketing at the same time.
While inbound marketing may not deliver the same quality of leads as ABM, it keeps the flow of prospective clients and opportunities going – allowing you to come across potential customers that are ready to buy while you continue to warm up your target accounts.
Keeping your inbound marketing going will keep your brand/service/product top-of-mind amongst a larger target audience. This helps establish credibility, which not only builds brand awareness, but also positively affects customer loyalty, and trust.
Building the foundation for Balance
The first step to implementing an ABM program is to build your list of target accounts. There are two stages in the list building process:
Step 1 – Define Account Fit
First, you’ll want to come up with the criteria set to determine what type of companies and the individuals within them that you want to do business with. Aside from basic customer segmentation, you can start by determining these characteristics:
- Industry – what industries can my business serve most successfully?
- Annual revenue -Is my business able to serve companies of all revenue stages or only some?
- Company size – Is my product going to meet the needs of businesses of all sizes, or those in particular bands?
- Technology usage – do my current customers tend to use certain technology?
To identify the right decision-makers, you’ll want to figure out these details:
- Job title
- Decision-making hierarchy
- Skills and proficiencies
- Activity/engagement history (i.e what types of events do they attend?)
- Experience with your category
To get the answers you need, you’ll want to get feedback from you sale team. Let your salespeople tell you which types of companies they’ve been able to win over, and which ones they’ve lost, and why. They will also give you insights into the types of prospects they talk to and which of your value propositions are most attractive to prospects.
In addition, you’ll want to look at your existing customer records in your CRM system to determine the common attributes within your closed-won group and closed-lost group. From this analysis, you want to come up with a list of the attributes that when present within an organization, is most predictive of a closed-won deal.
Then, you’ll want to tap into intent data from external sources (broader web and social media) to help you understand which companies and individuals that are doing research and consuming content within your space and what your targets care about. This will help you prioritize the accounts and leads you should focus on.
In the most basic sense, there are two types of intent data—company level, and contact level intent data. The former can be acquired through companies like Bombora and 6Sense, which provide data on which accounts are showing a surging interest in a given topic (i.e. demand generation, business intelligence software,), based on articles read, searches and comments left on B2B publications and websites (i.e. Forbes.com).
Meanwhile, companies like Socedo use social media behaviors or engagements, such as following certain brands and influencers, tweeting about certain topics and using hashtags as the basis of the intent data they provide.
Because Twitter data is public and available at the individual user level, Socedo is able to leverage algorithms to match Twitter activities to the individual leads in a marketing automation database. New social media activities are appended to individual lead records as soon as a lead takes an action you care about (i.e. Tweet about a competitor, follow an industry influencer).
With this data syncing into your marketing automation system in real-time, you can figure out what topics your audience cares about and deliver the right message at the right time.
Step 2 – Acquire new contacts and manage your data
Once you decide to implement an ABM program, you’ll realize that contact data issues are amplified with an account-based approach. When you have high-profile accounts to go after, the last thing you need is inaccurate or missing contacts holding you back. To ensure you get the best results, take these steps to prepare your contact data:
- Audit your contacts: with accounts identified, you’ll want to pull together and assess all the contacts you have associated with these companies. Make sure that you have the right types of contacts or roles for these target accounts, and that critical fields like job title, phone numbers and email addresses are not missing. Many data providers will provide you with a Data Health Check to get a handle on the state of your contact data.
- Cleanse your contact records: Now that you have insights from your health check, you can clean-up your contact data. First, consider suppressing contacts that are not aligned to your audience definition, as you don’t need to invest resources on contacts that play no role in the buying process. Then, fill in missing fields and enrich them with attributes that provide a more complete view of the contact.
- Acquire new contacts: Now that you know the extent to which your current contacts align to your target audience definition and which contacts you are missing, you can go out and acquire the contacts you were missing that represent the buying committee within each account.
To increase ABM success, you’ll want to have an ongoing contact data management process. This means you maintain a standard of accuracy with your existing contacts while simultaneously getting new contacts as they become available.
Tiering Target Accounts
Because ABM by definition is not a one size fits all approach, you’ll want to have a methodology for how you prioritize your company’s resources and time to pursue your target accounts. The ABM orchestration software company Engagio published a comprehensive guide to ABM. In it, it suggests a three-tiered strategy:
Datanyze – a technographics data provider, suggests a target selection process using three funnels (similar to Tiers):
Funnel 1 – Target Accounts
These accounts fit your company’s pre-defined Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), and has the “company characteristics that best predict a successful sales process”. These accounts are chosen by your account executives.
Funnel 2 – Qualified but Non-Target Accounts
These accounts are in the ICP but were not selected as Target Accounts.
Funnel 3 – contains all other accounts
The top tier, which consists of the top accounts, requires highly-personalized plans and also entails the highest level of marketing investment. As you go down to lower tiers, you tailor your messaging less and use more scalable tactics to reach your audience.
Once you’ve identified which activities or tactics you want to deploy for each account tier (using an exercise similar to what is illustrated here), you can then create marketing campaigns designed for each segment.
If, for example, you find that a significant percentage of your target accounts are currently using a product from one of your competitors, you can come up with an email video campaign showing how much easier your product is to use.
At its core, implementing an ABM approach is about choosing to narrow your scope so that you can deliver more value to the right customers. By doing this, you save money from pursuing the wrong leads and generate more revenue in the long run.
B2B businesses are moving to an account-based approach because they recognize that they have to adapt in order to survive. In this highly competitive and noisy world, the only way to win over buyers is to truly engage. In this new world, traditional marketing tactics – generating more content, sending more emails and pushing more ads – just don’t work anymore.
Implementing an ABM program does require an overhaul to many elements of your marketing process, but the work that has to be done to lay the foundation can be incredibly rewarding. You can look at this as an opportunity for your whole organization to get to know your target market and make sure that your marketing and sales efforts are in fact working to engage your target audience.
If you haven’t yet, you might find that embarking on this shift in perspective from a singular marketing approach to one that strikes a balance, will help you clarify company goals, message, and value – a shift that will only make your business that much more valuable.
Jolina Landicho is a freelance writer and marketing strategist working with various brands online, like Avenew Media. She is devoted in helping businesses bridge relationship gaps by providing in-depth, actionable advice on online marketing, business development, and growth hacking.