by Rob Skinner, Scratch Marketing + Media
Often, the perceived influence of a given individual can grow from little more than a well-timed observation, and the case is on no greater display than within the dynamics of Account-Based Marketing (ABM). To illustrate, let me reflect my experience of viewing the latest Star Wars installment, Rogue One. My instant reaction to the film was that it was the best yet, rife with emotion and a genuine plot, and I accepted this impression at face value for about 24 hours until I came across a friend’s reaction: “Amazing, but three major inconsistencies bothered me. Probably my third favorite of the series.” And I became curious. Where did the episode waver in its attempt to “synch up” with all that came before, and why did the movie slide down in his ranking system?
In short, my friend’s comment challenged me to go beyond my own set of conclusions, drove me to want to learn more about what fed his perception, and had me question what I was missing.
As creators of content for Account-Based Marketing, it is our job to elicit a similar, trusted call to question. In fact, as we at Scratch continue to answer questions about this surging approach to marketing, one of the most common points of confusion for companies that want to hone their ABM approach is about content. How do we use content to forge and extend relationships across a given account, they ask, and how does it differ from content whose sole purpose is to generate leads? Is there a level of customization that will make or break the program?
ABM gets personal, with a twist
It is true. ABM does require a new level of personalization beyond what you typically see in top-of-funnel content marketing. The concept implies a company should know its prospects better, and the tone of the content must better reflect a shared passion between marketing teams and those to whom they are marketing. The assumptions are different going in, the conversation can go into dramatically more detail, and the opportunity to learn from one another can — and must — go deeper.
To set the stage for ABM engagement up and down a prospective organization, keep these 5 content rules in mind.
Rule 1. Personalization is King, but in ABM, situation analysis is Chief Advisor
First and foremost, the ABM journey is about interacting with an entire buying committee. It is important to hit upon the pain points experienced by each individual, but you must also be aware where the committee as a whole stands within the sales funnel. Are they at the end of their ropes with their current situation, or are they generally happy? Is one person more inclined to be a champion for your products or services? Does he or she have influence and, if so, why? Content in ABM has to account for connectedness among the many people it touches.
That being said, ABM is ultimately about reaching the right senior executives, and one cannot maintain a conversation at that level with generic messages – or with slick content that nonetheless comes across as “generic.”
Instead, your program will include a mix of reports, observations, and advice that calls upon everything you know about the company to prove you understand their most pressing challenges. See a relevant news article? Pop it into the mail with a post-it note pointing out why you bothered to send it along. Want to expand an account? Send over a case study showing how another division or group within the prospect’s company is using your solution. And, “cold referrals” do work. Open by stating your connection to an associate of the prospect: As an example, “Jim Thornton mentioned you in a conversation I was having with him yesterday about his DevOps challenges.”
Rule 2. Know who you’re talking to
In a well-designed ABM program, “know your audience” takes on a much more literal meaning. You are communicating more often with prospects, about much more nuanced topics. Interactions need to cater to a variety of professional interests and address problems that can not only make jobs easier but also make people more successful in their careers.
To that end, you cannot rely on job titles alone to inform the tone of your content and communication. Rather, you must know the precise role that each ABM prospect plays within their teams and divisions, the deliverables they are held accountable for, to whom they report, and how they contribute to their company’s success. Also, take the time to learn the extent to which each prospect participates in professional development programs, and where.
Rule 3. It is all about the experience
The Account-Based Marketing experience as a whole is what matters, much more that any single item of content. It may seem counterintuitive to the professional marketer, but offers and calls-to-action must be de-emphasized, as a rule. Courtesy of Marketo, we’ve included a flowchart in Figure 1 that lays out how to shift focus to the account and not the offer.
Figure 1: ABM Planning (Marketo)
The idea is to move away from being a company that is just trying to sell something, to one that is an active participant in your prospect’s success. If you can sell that kind of experience, ABM success is more likely to follow.
Rule 4. Choose the right channel
Like generic lead gen marketing, ABM does not impose a limit on content distribution channels, but it does affect the calculus for prioritization. If your prospect is active on social channels, consider the implications of reaching them there. Are they attuned to LinkedIn messages, or Twitter DMs, or @mentions, or Gchat? Perhaps communication through these channels gets perceived as less disruptive, and more value-add. Consider the delivery formats that are at your disposal:
- eBooks, white papers
- Landing pages
- Content curation platforms
- Postcards and signage
For each of these, “branded” housing in ABM is a must-have, not a nice-to-have. Be prepared to design several sets of customized templates that carry the look and feel of your targets’ brands. Moreover, there are tools that can 1) help you deliver highly personalized email message flows that adapt as the audience interacts; 2) insert a person and company name into videos; 3) personalize hard-copy marketing assets at scale or 4) customize documents like eBooks from a database of profile data.
How does one choose the right channel mix? This is an educated, trial-and-error process, which can only come from learning how each prospect in an account prefers to receive and consume communication. Act accordingly.
Rule 5. Keep engaging
Account-Based Marketing is, above all, a means to envelop the buyer journey. From the initial focus on qualifying that an account’s buyer committee is truly interested in your wares (as opposed to having a *gut feeling* about it), to keeping them engaged post-sale for eventual upsell and cross-selling initiatives, the hallmark of ABM is that it requires you to keep engaging. Content is leveraged across the entire revenue engine: 1) marketing 2) sales and 3) customer success.
One strategy is to choose logical trigger points from within your company that will inspire the account, such as new product updates or your CEO being recognized in the industry. Post-sale, the role of ABM communication is to continually reinforce the association between your company and its domain expertise, and set the standard in your accounts’ minds that you are a driver for what’s possible. In this regard, ABM starts to resemble employee engagement. Your job is to inform and inspire!
Do you have any thoughts on the subject? Or you need help launching your own ABM program? Feel free to contact Scratch Marketing + Media here.
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