Most CEOs of B2B companies have heard about account-based marketing (ABM). The allure is strong: reduce waste by targeting a precise list of target accounts, exponentially growing revenue with great ROI on marketing spend. Yet ABM programs often fail, usually due to a lack of clarity about what ABM is and how to execute it successfully.
The confusion is largely caused by different vendors touting their solutions as the best approach to ABM. Like the fable where each blind man describes an elephant differently based on the individual part of the animal they touch, ABM is framed differently by Martech (marketing technology) vendors and marketing agencies based on what they sell. The outcome: difficulty creating an effective ABM campaign. According to ITSMA, 83% of marketers struggle to find the perfect way to deploy ABM.
Ask your team to leverage the six elements of a successful ABM program outlined below to reduce risk, accelerate results, and drive success.
1. Goals and strategy
The first step in building an ABM initiative is defining the strategy – driven by the initiative’s goals and the organization’s capabilities. This includes defining the desired outcomes of the ABM program and how they align with the overall business goals. It also involves determining the target accounts and defining the strategies and tactics to engage with them. Clients typically have one or more goals: grow revenues from new prospects; grow revenues from existing accounts; increase efficiency per selling resource to secure more revenue per headcount; increase marketing effectiveness.
2. Ideal customer profile and target account selection
It is not a surprise that selecting the accounts to target is at the center of ABM. Target accounts are typically selected based on their fit with the company’s ideal customer profile (ICP) and their level of purchase intent. Think of the ICP as the bullseye – the prospects with needs that best fit the company’s solution and have the least friction in the buying process. Typical ICP criteria include a compelling reason to buy; the company’s size; vertical markets; location; technographics; unique business characteristics aligned with the solution.
3. Campaign channels, touches, and orchestration
A core concept and distinguishing feature of ABM is the orchestration of activities and outreach across sales, marketing, and customer success teams. The tight integration of sales and marketing activities is one of the key ways ABM differs from traditional strategic account selling.
In an ABM program, a carefully designed series of touches (often personalized) is defined and aimed at engaging multiple buying committee members. For instance, a campaign may begin with digital advertising aimed at a target account to provide air cover, build awareness, and then proceed with an orchestrated set of activities across sales and marketing teams to drive engagement.
4. Content, campaigns, and personalization
Like traditional inbound marketing programs, content is king with ABM, yet it tends to be more personalized. Along with relevance, content is a critical way that ABM campaigns cut through the clutter and noise, challenging all modern B2B marketers. Creating and delivering a “high-value offer” is integral to most ABM campaigns. Personalization has become commonplace in B2C (think e-commerce recommendation engines, targeted advertising on Facebook, and personalized outreach), and the bar has been raised for B2B marketers.
The level of personalization increases as you move up the ABM food chain from 1:many to 1:few to 1:1 strategies. In 1:1 programs, companies may build customized website landing pages with highly tailored messaging and graphics for each target account.
5. Technology infrastructure
The Martech technology landscape can be very confusing, with Martech vendors offering overlapping solutions with sometimes difficult-to-decipher claims. As mentioned above, the “ABM elephant” can appear differently depending on whether one touches the trunk, leg, or body. Thankfully, the industry is maturing, and the elements of an ABM tech stack are beginning to coalesce. According to Forrester, there are five categories of ABM solutions: ABM platforms; data providers; customer data platforms; personalization solutions; sales engagement platforms.
The three most widely recognized ABM platforms as of this writing are 6Sense, Terminus, and Demandbase. While these solutions have broad ABM capabilities, they are not standalone and usually work with other core tools such as marketing automation and CRM. The three most commonly deployed additional ABM Martech solutions include: intent monitoring tools (42%), measurement and reporting tools (38%), and campaign execution and orchestration tools (36%).
6. Reporting and analysis
Three key ABM measurement categories have been identified: reputation, relationships, and revenue.
How do ABM metrics differ from traditional marketing metrics? A fundamental way is a focus on account-level versus contact-level activity and metrics. A fundamental tenet of ABM is to target multiple contacts within the buying teams of target companies that fit the ideal customer profile. The goal is to drive engagement across multiple contacts within a target account. Account-level activity and progress throughout the customer journey must continue to be tracked.
And what metrics matter? Examples of crucial ABM metrics include the number of target accounts; the number of contacts per target account; the accounts reached; the account level engagement; the meetings scheduled; Marketing Qualified Accounts (MQAs).
Align marketing, sales, and customer success for maximum growth
ABM promises improved ROI, increased revenues from new and existing accounts, reduced deal cycles, increased conversion of target accounts, and increased efficiency and effectiveness of sales and marketing dollars. The variety of approaches, technology, jargon, plays, and recommended practices in the market today can be overwhelming.
Just remember: ABM is not primarily about technology. It’s about orchestrating a highly aligned process across marketing, sales, and customer success teams that intensely focuses on the buying teams at your best prospects. Technology should support the company’s strategy, not dictate it. ABM is a powerful go-to-market approach that can deliver winning results when effectively executed.
Carol Eversen and Jeff Loeb are CMOs with Chief Outsiders, the nation’s largest and fastest-growing firm offering fractional Chief Marketing Officer services with Fortune 500 experience.
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