By Lora Kratchounova, Scratch Marketing + Media
Up until just a few years ago, account-based marketing (ABM) was more of an ideal than it was a scalable practice. The progeny of the “named accounts” strategy, ABM was just starting to be batted around B2B marketing circles while the technology needed to support all phases of ABM started to approach critical mass. ABM really started gaining momentum in 2015, and by 2016 the research firm Forrester announced “the ABM gold rush is on.”
That claim reflects clear industry trends: In its 2015 State of Account-Based Marketing study, SiriusDecisions found that 92 percent of companies recognized the value of ABM, but only 20 percent said they had full programs in place for more than a year; another 60 percent planned to invest in ABM. One year later, the 2016 study found a dramatically changed landscape: 78 percent of B2B marketing companies had staff fully or partially dedicated to ABM, 58 percent had a pilot or test program underway, and 41 percent had a full program in place.
As we look ahead to 2017, it’s clear that account-based marketing will be de rigeur in the B2B marketing ecosystem — but that doesn’t mean that everyone already knows how to implement an ABM initiative, or what ABM even is, for that matter. For those who are still wrapping their minds around the concept, here is a brief (and thoroughly incomplete!) FAQ list providing an overview of ABM and the three steps — account selection, engagement strategy, pilot outreach — that we recommend in designing and launching an ABM initiative of your own.
Q: What Is ABM?
A: Account-based marketing is a strategic B2B approach in which the organization aligns marketing, sales and customer success resources to land and expand the accounts that matter the most to the business (in terms of revenue potential or strategic importance).
Q: How is ABM different than traditional lead generation?
A: Typically, the goal of traditional lead gen is to cultivate a set of marketing qualified leads (MQLs) that fit a certain high-value buyer persona identified by the sales organization. Each lead is treated in isolation, without concern for the other leads that are collected along the way. Leads are then handed over to sales for further qualification and for appropriate follow-up in order to convert a prospect into a customer.
ABM, on the other hand, recognizes that buying committees within target accounts are expanding, with a growing number of stakeholders having significant input into the buying decisions business leaders are making. ABM identifies key accounts rather than individuals, and monitors the behaviors of the members of those key accounts in order to engage those people with personalized content delivering the right message (regardless of where they are in the traditional marketing funnel) at the moment they are most likely to be open to an offer.
Q: How are sales, marketing and operations aligned in an ABM approach?
A: Account-based marketing requires companies to shake up traditional organizational relationships. Marketing, sales, and operations can no longer inhabit their own silos. With ABM, they must become aligned in order to work seamlessly together, each supporting the others.
- Sales needs to help marketing identify the important characteristics of the ideal customer account.
- Marketing needs to segment accounts shrewdly and equip the sales team with the quality, personalized content to engage the key accounts.
- Operations needs to facilitate these activities by evaluating the ever-expanding ABM technology toolset and investing in the right stack to support the data collection, analysis and automation that is required to make ABM effective.
- When all three functional areas are pulling in the same direction, the sales cycle can be shortened significantly and more deals can be closed sooner.
Q: What are the three steps to launching an ABM initiative?
A: While there are a number of activities involved in setting up and launching an ABM initiative, they can be organized into a three-step process.
- Account Selection: In order to identify the accounts that your unified sales, marketing and operations teams can most easily convert, you must first define your ideal customer profile and prioritize current prospect accounts into tiers. When targeting existing accounts and prospects, start by evaluating the completeness of your customer data to determine your need to augment that data.
- Engagement Strategy: Planning your engagement strategy by determining the optimal content and channel mix for your priority accounts. Start with a domain topic analysis to determine buzzing themes and and topics, then determine specific gaps and opportunities. Develop a content calendar covering long- and short-term context, as well as a content mix and a schedule for production.
- Pilot Outreach: Piloting your ABM efforts means delivering personalized content that resonates with your target audience, from the moment they land on your home page. Your website must offer the same relevance to prospects as your social platforms, so you need to personalize the browsing experience by customizing a landing page for the key stakeholders of your highest-value accounts.
Once you have all three of these phases in place, your ABM strategy map will look like this:
Q: What are the kinds of technology tools needed to support ABM?
A: The explosion of marketing and sales technologies has enabled the implementation of ABM strategies at scale. A variety of tools are available that allow companies to pinpoint the right audiences, understand prospects and better address their needs with relevant messages — and that eventually leads to better closing rates.
Here’s an overview of some of the types of tools that are part of the ABM tech stack and will help you at each step of the process:
- Account Selection: Data and predictive analytics tools that help identify and prioritize target accounts.
- B2B Databases: Detailed quality contact information, including real-time triggers, that maps to accounts.
- Account Insights: Behavioral and intent data tools that provide insight into the behaviors of key decision-makers and their interests.
- Engagement: Tools that allow engaging key contacts in channel (web, social, media, email, advertising, etc.).
- Measurement: Analytics tools that provide reports on key ABM metrics, allow testing and optimizing tactics, and attributing financial results to specific initiatives.
For a more detailed map of the categories of tools available in the market, check out the ABM tech stack developed by the ABM Leadership Alliance:
Q: What more do we need to know?
A: ABM is no small undertaking, as it requires both a philosophical and organizational shift away from traditional sales and marketing roles. But ABM is attainable, and the data bears that out:
- A Demand Metric study found 96 percent of B2B marketers leveraging ABM report a positive impact on marketing’s success.
- In the same study, 71 percent of B2B organizations are either interested in adopting ABM, are testing it or already using it.
- According to MarketingProfs, companies using ABM generate 208 percent more revenue for their marketing efforts.
Understanding the basics of account-based marketing is important, but trying to go the next step and make the transition on your own to ABM can be daunting. Many organizations find that working with an experienced partner that’s done the homework on ABM is the faster path to ABM success.
If you’re looking for a trusted advisor to create an effective ABM program for your organization, Scratch Marketing + Media would love to talk with you. Scratch is a marketing innovation consultancy that helps develop and grow Digital Brand Authority across the stages of an account-based marketing initiative. We’ll work side-by-side with you to help shape your ABM strategy, identify top-performing prospects, and execute your marketing campaign activities so that you make the right splash in the right markets. Our objective is to enable you to achieve better alignment with sales, concentrate your efforts on target accounts, and increase your pipeline velocity with ABM and Scratch.
To find out more about Scratch Marketing + Media and our account-based marketing services — and everything else we can do for you — please contact us.
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