Many of us at this point have realized that inbound marketing should not be our only approach to demand creation. While inbound marketing still works, we shouldn’t rely solely on inbound marketing in order to reach our target audiences and hit our revenue goals.
Why inbound marketing isn’t enough
1. Your sales team needs more leads to work in order to fill their pipeline. It takes too long for inbound leads to move through your nurture programs and raise their hand.
2. Inbound marketing, by definition, implies that you do not control who gets into your database and engages with your campaigns. Inbound leads who are most engaged with your content offers may not be your ideal customers.
If you’re selling technology products to larger companies, you’ll likely be dealing with buying committees of four or more people (LinkedIn Research) and you’ll need to make sure that your marketing efforts address the concerns and satisfy the requirements of the buying committee rather than a single lead.
3. The biggest barrier to doing effective outbound marketing – identifying your target accounts – is now gone. With the exponential rise in the amount of user-generated information available on the web, the rise of predictive analytics and new user tracking and data mining techniques, marketers can now easily identify their target accounts and build prospect lists.
Predictive-based data vendors like 6Sense, Infer, EverString and others help you generate lists of target accounts and prospects based on hundreds of data points, including demographic data on individual buyers (i.e. job title, role level, etc.), firmographic information on companies (i.e. technologies used within the company, hiring trends, company size), and intent data collected from people’s web browsing behaviors.
Now that B2B buyer data is widely available, companies can increase their Marketing ROI by proactively going after the right accounts – those with a high propensity to purchase and stay as long term customers.
What all of this means is that you can’t afford to wait around for leads to come to you anymore. Account-based marketing and sales can work for organizations of all sizes and can co-exist with broad-based, inbound marketing activities.
You can choose targeted accounts and contacts and treat them differently as part of an ABM strategy while also running broad-based marketing campaigns to acquire and grow customers in non-target accounts.
In fact, doing both will make you more successful.
Here at Socedo, a few months ago, we decided to increase our focus on target accounts while continuing inbound marketing. Below, we’ll discuss how we made this transition and share some best practices and tips based on our experience.
Why we made this shift to a targeted account approach
In the past couple of years, we had sold our social lead generation software to wide range of customers ranging from three-person startups all the way to global companies with tens of thousands of employees. Our sales team was generally expected to close a deal within 30 days and the average deal value was relatively modest.
At the beginning of 2017, our executive leadership team decided that going forward, we would only sell to best-fit organizations with higher revenue potential and lifetime value. To reach this new audience, we had to make some changes across Marketing and Sales.
We did not abandon inbound marketing altogether. We’re still doing content marketing and running email engagement and nurture programs on our inbound leads. Our sales team is still working with leads who sign up for our product trial or request a demo on our website. We are just increasing Marketing, Sales Development Reps, Sales and Customer Success teams’ focus on good-fit prospects and customers.
By investing more resources on the right people and companies throughout the buyer journey, we would ultimately generate more revenue from new sales with bigger deal sizes and from upgrades from long-term customers.
Here are the changes we made
Now that we are speaking to B2B marketers at mid-size and enterprise companies instead of early-stage startups and small businesses, we had to shift our brand positioning, the content we promoted, the channels we used and re-think when it’s the right time to take an automated versus personalized approach.
1. Brand and product positioning and content
When you make a shift in your target audience, the first thing you want to do is re-evaluate the way you are talking about your company and product.
While small businesses may choose your product for one reason (they tend to be early adopters and have higher tolerance for risk), large enterprises have a whole other set of reasons and need a lot more “boxes checked” before they can purchase your product.
In our case, many of our startup customers chose us because they needed new leads quickly in order to grow and they were willing to try novel approaches. Meanwhile, our enterprise customers tend to be a lot more concerned about lead quality and have already started exploring new data sources and predictive analytics to find prospects with a higher propensity to buy.
To be relevant to larger enterprises, we’ve had to think again about the value of our product and create new content and messaging.
To make sure that our content is relevant to our new target audience, we decided to track each lead’s activities on Twitter using our own Lead Acceleration technology. Tracking social media activities at the individual contact level in our marketing automation platform has given us a broader view of our prospects in target accounts and empowers us to:
- Figure out what topics and issues are top of mind for our target audience
- Put leads into the right nurture tracks and segment leads based on their Twitter activities
- Reach out to leads proactively with a real-time email as soon as they show an interest in a relevant keyword.
At this point, we are tracking social media activities including follows, mentions and retweets around hot topics, events/conferences, key technologies and competitors in our space.
2. New Communications Tactics and Shift Channel Mix
Email marketing is a core tactic for us. Instead of relying just on cadenced nurture emails to move leads through the funnel, we use social media activities to segment leads from target accounts into interest-based nurture tracks.
We send these leads targeted emails with content – mostly blog posts and short videos – that aligns to the interest they have already expressed based on their social media activities. For example, we can identify the leads who are interested in account-based marketing analytics based on certain keywords used in their Tweets and the types of brands and influencers they are engaging with. These leads are using keywords such as ABM, bigdata, ABMSummit, and following predictive analytics vendors like 6Sense, Infer, EverString and DemandBase on Twitter.
Our social media posting strategy changed as well. After spending some time analyzing our social media performance, we found that some social media channels bring us more bad-fit prospects rather than good fit prospects. Instead of trying to maximize our exposure by posting a lot across multiple accounts, we’ve cut down the number of posts we do each week. Now, the content we post is focused around product updates and content (i.e. blog posts) that re-enforce the positioning we want people to remember.
In the past, we’ve set up more than a dozen Socedo campaigns to reach prospects with our free trial offer. Now, we’ve cut down on the number of campaigns that promote our free trial offer and are now running a few more targeted campaigns that promote thought leadership content (i.e. e-books).
3. KPIs to reflect our focus on lead quality rather than lead quantity
Now that we are going after larger companies, our monthly MQL target has to reflect the fact that we would rather talk to fewer prospects, as long as these prospects are ones that can succeed with our products and come from companies that have the ability to grow with us.
When we decided to put restrictions on whom we want to market to, all of a sudden, the number of marketable prospects in our database shrank significantly.
In addition, we saw lower response rates to our marketing campaigns from good-fit prospects and as a result, the number of MQLs we could send to our SDR and Sales teams decreased significantly.
Although we made a significant cut to how many MQLs we were sending to our SDR team, this was actually a good thing. Now, our SDRs have the time to learn more about each lead and their company, personalize each email, phone call and social media interaction and provide more value to each person they contact.
4. Tighter collaboration with the SDR team
Our SDR team is on the frontline talking to prospects every day. Now that we’ve made changes to our product positioning and campaigns, we really need feedback from our SDR team to make sure that the changes we made help them engage with the right people.
For example, since we’ve decided to only pass MQLs from larger companies to our SDR team, they’ve seen a drop to leads’ response rate to outreach emails. Buyers from larger companies take longer to respond and fewer of them respond at all. To tackle this, we came up with some new tactics SDRs can try to increase response rates to their email, like including a question in every email and sending relevant statistics to pique people’s interest.
Marketing also makes sure that whenever a new piece of content is published, SDRs have the talk track for it and know how they can use the content to follow up with leads in their pipeline.
Since we rely on a behavioral lead scoring model to route leads to our SDRs, we now make sure our SDRs tell us whether certain actions/behaviors should be included in our lead scoring model, based on their perspective on whether they can have good conversations with people who took these actions.
Each time we make a change, we look for early indicators of success. For example, once SDRs started to personalize their outreach emails and include a question in every email, we should see response rates increase.
5. Increasing Focus on Customer Success
While customer marketing is beyond the scope of this article, I’ll just say that partnering with our Customer Success department is now more important than ever before.
Because we are selling software, lack of product knowledge or misinformation on our products is often one of the biggest blockers for getting renewals from existing customers.
At Socedo, our Marketing team is committed to working with our Customer Success team to understand customer challenges and priorities in terms of solutions that need to be developed. Since we have a small marketing team and we need to balance between the needs of Sales and Customer Success, we’ve decided to commit to developing content to address one customer challenge every month.
Shifting to an account-based approach to marketing and sales is about delivering more relevant communications and more value to the right accounts at the right time. To do this, we have to get more contextual buyer insights into our organizations and use more data sources – including intent data from the social web – to inform our content and campaigns.
Has your company made a transition to an ABM approach? Do you have thoughts to share on how to make the transition effectively? Leave them below.