Account Based Marketing Fundamentals

Account Based Marketing: The Fundamentals of Adopting ABM

Account-Based Marketing (or ABM for short) is a style of marketing that is super-focused. Essentially, rather than a marketer establishing an audience containing several prospects or customers, they treat a single customer or a select group of customers (or accounts) as its own standalone market.

What this means is that marketing teams can tailor their content, advertising, and the entire campaign’s focus only towards people associated with that account—rather than the wider industry. And it’s gaining popularity. According to Hubspot, over the past year there’s been around a 21% increase in companies who have a full account-based program on the go.

One prominent example of ABM in action is where GumGum, a computer-vision company, targeted McDonald’s by printing out the benefits of their service in the shape of a Big Mac, layer by layer, boxed and delivered to 100 named executives. This showed an incredible level of attention to detail and a burst of creativity, ultimately leading to a big sign off with the fast food giant.

In the world of sales, it’s hardly ever the case that a single person makes the decision to go ahead with a purchase. In fact, the larger the deal, the more likely it is that a whole bunch of people from various teams will be pulled in, and make the call based on all of their perceptions and needs. In fact, research undertaken by Gartner found that on larger technology transactions, as many as 14 people will form part of the final decision.

What ABM seeks to address is that many current campaigns focus too much on lead generation, and use the same messaging, targeting and incentives with whoever might see their material. In reality, marketers and sales teams need to work together to make sure their goals are met, and that campaigns are tailored to each and every person that they’ll reach.


Account-Based Marketing: Three Main Types

It’s fair to say that as every business has its own unique means and needs, it’s not realistic to expect the majority of them to dive headfirst into a new entire strategy. From its beginnings as a way to make the most of one-to-one marketing, ABM has undergone some changes to allow for scalability, allowing businesses to customise the approach to fit in more comfortably with their current configurations.

As outlined by Itsma, this has led to branching out into three core distinctions of account-based marketing: Programmatic ABM, ABM Lite, and Strategic ABM.

Programmatic ABM

Consider this the very lowest end of the spectrum in terms of investment, but this doesn’t mean it’s the least effective. With huge advancements in data analytics, machine learning and audience targeting, it’s possible to market to a large number of clients, while maintaining pinpoint accuracy with your targeting criteria. Programmatic ABM is the right option if you’re looking to market to multiple different accounts, though this does mean a little bit less flexibility for your content.

ABM Lite

This offers a middle ground—the ability to create personalised content for your target audience, but without limiting your efforts to just one account. Through one-to-few marketing, you can group a selection of accounts based on shared traits like business attributes, goals, and the challenges they face. With this information, you can position your business as the ideal solution for their needs. This approach is popular among marketers as it doesn’t require an overhaul of your entire strategy—it can include tailoring your existing content to suit the few accounts you’re targeting

Strategic ABM

This is the original approach to account-based marketing. The role of the marketing team is to pick a single account, and come up with a marketing and content strategy entirely tailored to their needs and interests. The goal here is to strengthen the relationship between the customer and the account by demonstrating a keen understanding of their business, and the challenges they face. Crucially, Strategic ABM isn’t a one-sided affair. Instead of marketing at the prospect in question, there is often interaction between teams on both sides to come up with plans and strategies that benefit both parties.

Account-Based Marketing: The Process

According to Marketo, there are six key steps to the process of implementing ABM. This all centres around making your strategy as streamlined as possible, and making sure all of your efforts are being directed to the right places.

Step one - choosing your target account(s)

This is right at the top of the order.

Take a look through your current client list, and explore those that you’d like to grow or any new ones to acquire. At this stage, you’ll also be able to decide which of the three approaches best suit your needs. For example, if you only need one big account a year to keep ticking, then it might be worth your time to select one big-ticket account and put some weight behind your campaign. Alternatively, if you have several in mind, a one-to-many approach could be best.

Your choices should reflect a range of different reasons, not just revenue potential. Consider clients that have a higher probability of repeated custom, or their influence in the industry to help improve your reputation. Above all, ensure your choices fit into your ideal customer profile.

Step two - scope out the account’s key people

As account-based marketing goes beyond simply marketing to a business as a whole, you need to figure out which people on the business’ side you actually wish to see your campaign material. Hubspot point out that as many as 82% of visitors to B2B sites aren’t even prospects, so it’s clearly no use broadcasting to everyone. Here, you can fine-tune your audience, research how their business is structured, and seek out the key decision-makers across the various departments. On top of this, consider employees that may not have decision-making power, but might be able to influence those that do.

Step three - content and messaging

As with any decent content, your aim is to provide something that is relevant and valuable to your audience. The difference here is that you can be much more personal, and hone in on the pain points and solutions you can offer that apply exclusively to the account in question. Think about the type of challenges your client’s employees and managers face, and show how you can help tackle them. Gear your messaging to them as well, but—above all—you need to be clear and easy to understand.

Step four - choosing your channels

This next step is about finding the best way to get yourself in front of your target account and its members. You should research the ways in which they communicate. This includes standard methods like email, but also the kind of places that they frequent. Think about the websites they’re likely to use on a day-to-day basis, or the social media channels they inhabit. By doing this, you can demonstrate a keen understanding of their sector, and increase your chances of making a lasting impression.

Step five - roll the campaign

Now that you’ve accumulated all the information you need to run a hyper-personalised campaign, it’s time to put it into action. Marketing and sales teams will work very closely at this stage to make sure each step of the campaign runs at the right time, and to ensure your objectives are aligned. This is also your chance to take a final overview of the campaign you have planned, and check that your targeting is pinpoint precise before everything goes live.

Step six - measure the campaign’s performance and learn from it

With the campaign over, you will have amassed a trove of valuable data that can inform your strategy for the next one. Analyse any trends that arise at the account level and also across campaigns for other accounts. This way, you can optimise any tactics in the pipeline to better suit individual accounts on a small scale, as well as implementing findings that might be applicable to optimise your campaigns in general.

What campaigns work best with Account Based Marketing?

Marketers deploying Account Based Marketing have a range of campaign types that they can deploy into their ABM strategies, it’s not just a case of sending a few emails or targeting people on social.

Because ABM focuses specifically on accounts the best accounts consider these on a fundamental level, really walking in the shoes of the individuals they are targeting to deploy effective campaigns.

Take AirCall, a cloud phone system for support teams, they have a super-niche segment they use for targeting specific accounts. 500 accounts based in New York, have a support team of over 30, and are growing between 20 & 50% each year.

Based on understanding their target accounts they deploy email marketing, physical marketing through telephone pole adverts and billboards that follow the commute routes of target contacts, direct mail, and telephone calls from their SDRs, to great effect.

Your imagination is really the limiting factor when it comes to Account Based Marketing…

But, that isn’t what you want to hear when reading about how to deploy ABM into your business. Studies show that restrictions on creativity results in innovation, so let me help you here.

As taken from the ITSMA benchmark report on ABM deployment we’re able to identify which campaign types are more effective at each ABM level. So, here are the top 5 marketing campaign types for Strategic, Lite, and Programmatic ABM.

Executive to executive meetings
One to one meetings with key contacts
Thought leadership content creation
Direct mail campaigns
Custom collateral

Email marketing
Direct mail campaigns
Roadshow / events
Custom collateral
Web personalisation

Email Marketing
Targeted Ads
Roadshow / Events
Direct mail campaigns
Account based content

Who does ABM work best for?

Account Based Marketing isn’t for everyone mind, it takes a substantial amount of work to deploy and pull together all the assets required to run effectively.

And in economic terms that means the value of the service and products offered by your organisation, the average lifetime revenue per account, needs to be high enough to cover the customer acquisition cost associated with this strategy.

But, don’t despair…

The cost of Account Based Marketing deployment is falling with the improvements and increase in ABM focused software, enabling the same resource to do more, and for more accounts to be targeted at any point in time.

If the economics of ABM work for your organisation then great. We’ve seen fantastic results when executing these strategies for our clients.

So, based on our experience, we can say that companies that perform well with ABM are those with complex products, that deliver particular solutions to a niche market, that have to navigate procurement departments in order to receive an order, and have the potential for repeat business.

An example of an industry that meets the criteria is engineering and manufacturing.

The Benefits of Account-Based Marketing

By placing such a strong focus on the needs of the customer, account-based marketing can offer many significant improvements to your company’s successes. First off, it is one of the most efficient strategies around. This entire discipline centres around keeping your campaigns as tight and as relevant as possible, trimming away any efforts that are unnecessary or irrelevant. This means your marketing and sales teams will know exactly what they are aiming to do, and exactly how to execute a successful campaign.

And in a digital age where customers are constantly on the hunt for personalisation, by implementing ABM you’re organically improving your own customer experiences. By aligning your sales and marketing teams, and delivering tailored, relevant content aimed at real people, you’ll show that you’re a company that genuinely cares about its clients. This is a crucial step in building trust, and encouraging your customers to return.

On top of this, many businesses report larger returns on investment by using ABM. Going by information from the SiriusDecisions Command Center, 91% of respondents to the study stated that deal sizes were larger for ABM accounts than for standard standalone tactics.

And by streamlining your marketing and sales efforts, you can expect better close rates, too. The Sirius Decisions 2017 State of Account Based Marketing Study found that 2/3 of the companies questioned noticed more than 20% improvements to their success in closing deals.

The Weaknesses of Account-Based Marketing

We’ve talked about the benefits that can come out of tailoring your content to an individual account, but the most obvious setback is that this takes time and a higher investment on your part. Factors like the time needed to research, planning a niche campaign and the costs for creating the content itself all come into play—so this needs to align with your budget and the ROI you’re expecting. However, this can be offset by choosing the right type of ABM for your needs, and tweaking your campaigns based on the number of accounts you target.

On top of this, there’s a natural element of risk in reducing your pool of potential customers. If your business is used to casting a wide net and aiming to generate as many leads as possible, ABM can feel like a pretty drastic shift away from your comfort zone. The trade off is that instead of spending a large amount of money and targeting a broad number of clients with a low conversion rate, you can allocate more resources to a select few clients, and benefit from a stronger likelihood of closing the deal.

A final point to make on the cost side of things is this: say, for example, you decide that one-to-one marketing is too narrow, as you need more clients than just one. To really make the most out of ABM through a one-to-many approach, you’ll need to consider making an investment in the kind of technology that can ensure your targeting is razor sharp, or else you could end up running the same kind of general campaign that you’re trying to avoid.

Account-Based Marketing: The Verdict

It looks like account-based marketing has moved beyond being just the next buzzword in the marketing sphere, and has found its place as a reliable, proven approach to bringing new clients on board and bolstering customer relationships. A further survey by SiriusDecisions found that over 90% of marketers now recognise the value in ABM, so it appears it’s here for the long haul.

But the main takeaway is that in exchange for a lot of time, dedication and investment, account-based marketing can lead to significant improvements to your close rate, return on investment, and relationships with your clients. So if you and your company are willing to let go of the notion that ‘leads’ are the most important outcome of a campaign, this could be the right route for you. And the more you follow this technique, the more you’ll learn—meaning you can make continuous improvements to your strategies, and stay ahead as an agile and personal business.

About the Author

Alex - Leadfreak

MD of Leadfreak, Alex Thackray likes to spend time speaking with clients, solving problems, and getting results. With a background in complex sales, B2B industries, and lecturing at Aston University, he enjoys the commercially focused creativity that Leadfreak brings.

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