ABM – The Future of B2B Marketing?

George Peachey
George Peachey

Account Based Marketing (ABM) is an ever-popular term in the world of B2B marketing. But getting it right can be tricky, and what exactly is it? Below we take a look and discuss how you can use it to generate high value leads.
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The advances in the marketing landscape over the last few years, with new platforms and technologies emerging on almost weekly basis, have been staggering. From automation to social, programmatic to inbound - and the ever-rising star of ‘content marketing’ - there is no denying that marketing is now more measurable and impactful than it has ever been.

For small-ticket sales.

Sales that have a single (or, at most, 2 people) decision maker that can work their way happily through your carefully crafted sales funnel and into your CTA.

But what about the bigger-ticket, complex B2B sales?

Those ones where there could easily be 10-15 people involved in the buying process, all from different departments and all with very different requirements from your solution. There isn’t a single sales funnel for these deals, nor is there a one-size-fits-all suite of marketing assets to use.

Enter Account Based Marketing (ABM).

These types of deals require a different approach. An approach that combines all the best tactics into a cohesive strategy that is focused on just one deal at a time.

ABM is a fast-emerging discipline that blends teams, processes and deeper customer insights into a cohesive strategy that focuses only on the large, complex sales. The really, really profitable sales.

ABM is based around the principle that you’re no longer marketing/ selling to a lead, you’re marketing/ selling to an entire account. Because in larger B2B sales, the buyer is never a single person. It’s a team full of separate people, departments and disciplines – and the bigger the deal, the bigger the number of people who get involved.

Recent IDG research found the average enterprise purchase involved 17 people – up from 10 in 2010!

Does ABM Work?

It’s still early-ish days, but all (and I mean ALL) data coming back suggests it does. With bells on.

Here are the key stats from various industry surveys:

ABM stats

So, with ABM, deals are bigger, more profitable and get closed faster.

That’s what prompted ITSMA (the organization that coined the term Account Based Marketing back in 2003) to go public with their famous claim:

“ABM delivers the highest ROI of any B2B marketing strategy or tactic. Period.”

And from what I’ve seen and experienced, I can’t really argue with that.

Why ABM Goes Wrong

But, before you cancel all your current marketing activity and run off toward the promised land of ABM greatness, you need to understand that this stuff is not easy to get right.

In fact, lots of businesses are getting wrong.

Before I outline our process, let’s take a look at the most common mistakes being made:

  • Lack of alignment between sales and marketing: This is the biggest mistake most companies make. An aligned sales and marketing effort is the cornerstone of ABM. Without it, your efforts will fail. It’s like ordering a BLT sandwich without the bacon – it just doesn’t work.

The good news is that if you can alleviate these mistakes and have sales and marketing work together, research shows it is a powerful force for growth: according to a survey conducted by Wheelhouse, companies with closely combined sales and marketing ABM efforts enjoy 208% average growth on those accounts.

This new-found unity between teams is much easier said than done, but that’s a topic that could fill a whole new blog post.

Together, the teams need to create a plan of engagement. A seamless blend of thought leadership content, branding and human contact with the sales and pre-sales teams. It is that multi-faceted approach that brings the riches.

  • Disjointed strategies: The accounts chosen for ABM should be removed from your other communications so they are not still bombarded with the day-to-day marketing that the business sends out.

This could undermine all the work you’ve put in to creating a personalized program for your biggest accounts.

Flag them as ‘do not send’ in your marketing lists to avoid it happening. They’ll still see all your valuable information – they’ll just get it in a way that is filtered, thought about and personalized for them.

  • Your marketing isn’t personalized enough: I never said ABM was easy, did I? Personalization, at this level, isn’t about putting the prospects name into the top of the email and their company name somewhere on the landing page.

It’s about having a defined, strategic plan on how you will get more business out of the account – and tailoring every single touch point to that plan. Your new mindset must be that you are creating bespoke campaigns to a market of one. Each individual account is a market in their own right.

So, your ABM team need to look at the big business issues facing that company and work out how you solve them. Then you map out all the relevant, individual people in that account against those problems and tailor every piece of marketing/ sales activity to addressing those issues for those people.

The Simple 6-Step Process to Getting Your ABM Right

ABM is still an evolving process and it is going to be different for every company wanting to implement the tactic into their growth strategy, depending on your industry, size, deal type, complexity and many other factors.

However, the most successful ABM campaigns any of us have implemented have roughly followed the same process each time.

It has become our go-to strategy outline for ABM:

six steps to getting ABM right
  1. Account selection – Aligning your sales and marketing teams around a set of core accounts that will drive the most revenue.
  2. Discover and map contacts – Build your dataset to map out all the key contacts within each account and their role in the buying process.
  3. Persona-based insights – Research each account to discover their pain points (as a business and as individuals) so that you can be as relevant as possible to your Personas.
  4. Create account-level communications – Create and/ or re-purpose all your marketing/ sales assets for each account based on your research.
  5. Execution – Implement your coordinated ABM strategy, being certain to track and monitor everything so you can quickly adapt your plans if required.
  6. Optimize – Always be testing, optimizing and testing and optimizing again to improve campaign performance. With each passing interaction with every account you should be learning more about how to further improve results.

Measuring Your ABM Success Rates

Marketing has made noteworthy progress in using metrics to earn accountability and respect. But the rise of Account Based Marketing demands innovative ways of thinking about marketing metrics.

While leads and opportunities are important and even necessary metrics, they are not sufficient to measure Account Based Marketing.

Traditional demand-gen metrics simply aren’t enough for ABM.

You need metrics that are suited to this specialized discipline – or you’ll be pursuing and rewarding the wrong things.

The 5 categories of ABM metrics we use here are:

  1. Data - Do you have enough quality data to map all relevant contacts in the account?
  2. Awareness – Are all relevant people in your target accounts aware of your offering?
  3. Engagement – Are the right people at your target account spending time with you (and is that engagement rate going up?)
  4. Influence – Is your content reaching the right people? Are they responding in the right way?
  5. Impact – This is your familiar demand-gen metrics (leads, sales etc.)

David Ogilvy once said something that could be used as a good rule of thumb for ABM measurement: “Don’t count the people that you reach; reach the people that count.”

Getting Started with Your ABM Campaigns

So, how do you get started with ABM?

Even if you can see the whole host of benefits that ABM holds, c-level buy-in is normally only won with concrete evidence that it will work for your business, not on case studies written about businesses in far-flung corners of the World.

Start Small…

Many of the companies that have fully implemented ABM successfully started with a small pilot, which allowed them to learn, test and perfect their approach before a large-scale rollout.

It’s an approach that makes sense and that we fully encourage our clients to take. It lowers the risk of getting early efforts wrong and irons out the problems before you scale operations.

There are three ways you could start to run a pilot without too much upheaval to your businesses daily operations:

  1. One sales rep and one marketer targeting a small number of accounts (3-5 might be a good range, depending on their size)
  2. A few sales reps and a marketer focusing on just one industry sector
  3. A Full ABM program, but limited to a single region/ territory

It makes sense if your pilot runs all in the same industry with clients of approximately the same type/ size as your prospects will all be quite similar, making it easier to create materials and gather insights.

Critical Success Factors

How do you make sure that you get it right?

Here’s our quick checklist of the factors that we find crucial to getting your ABM right:

  • A really close alignment between sales and marketing to be ABM
  • And both teams need to fully agree the goals and responsibilities of each
  • Robust and strict account selection process
  • Take the time to really, really understand the people behind the job titles in your accounts
  • Always go the extra mile with the quality of the content/ materials you send out
  • Patience – it isn’t going to change anything overnight – give it at least 6 months before you judge performance

Shameless Sales Pitch Bit…

ABM is hard.

But with rewards this impressive, ABM must be worth the effort. Luckily, that’s where we come in…

If your company depends on major, complex, long-cycle deals – landing and expanding them systematically, efficiently and measurably – this could well be the most tactic you use this year (and next, and the next, and…)

Maybe you should call your friendly, knowledgeable ACCOUNT manager. They’ll happily work with all parts of your team and the wider business to help you get ABM right and generating big ROI.

(See what we did there?)

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