Here’s the dirty little secret about Account-Based Marketing (ABM):
It’s not about marketing.
ABM grew out of Target Account Selling, a well-worn B2B strategy for selling complex solutions to big companies. Now, thanks to advances in marketing technology, marketers have become sophisticated enough to work with Sales to target and engage specific accounts effectively.
It’s no surprise then that lots of marketers (cheered on by an increasing number of MarTech vendors) are jumping on the ABM trend. But it’s early days. Per eMarketer, the majority of marketers have only been practicing ABM for a year or less.
As 2017 approaches, I’ve identified some key priorities for taking your ABM program to the next level:
#1 Make Sales leadership your champion
SiriusDecisions reported recently that Marketing and Sales alignment around ABM is improving, with 60 percent of companies saying they're “somewhat” or “tightly” aligned with Sales, up from 34 percent in 2015. Surely that's great progress, but you can do better. Why?
Because I guarantee that every Sales executive on your team already has a target account list. Salespeople aren’t going to leave their livelihood to chance – they’ll have a plan for how to hit their quota. Get your hands on these target accounts as you develop your ABM plan.
When Sales sees your approach for helping them achieve their account-based revenue goals, they’ll be hooked. Get them to take ownership of your plan to the point that they’ll advocate for the budget and resources to make it happen.
#2 Get serious about account-based data
The downfall of any marketing program is bad data. According to SiriusDecisions, 60% of marketers consider the overall health of their data to be unreliable. Incorrect, incomplete or missing account and contact data is verboten in successful ABM.
You’ll have to commit to implement multiple data acquisition approaches simultaneously.
- Account contact data – Get Sales to commit to maintaining contact data in your CRM system. Add to it through marketing programs.
- Firmographic data – Account-level information like industry, company size, number of employees and corporate hierarchy is available from third-party sources like The List or Hoover’s.
- Behavioral data - Accumulate behavioral data from interactions with your company including sales calls, events, website visits, email responses and content downloads.
- Unstructured data - Other account-level information will come from various sources, like press releases, annual reports, news stories and social media.
It seems like a lot to take on but to make ABM work, you’ve got to tackle data quality once and for all.
#3 Develop content for accounts and individuals
No way to hide it, ABM is a nightmare for content development. Creating content for your target account’s industry, their company specifically and addressing the needs of the individual role you’re selling to is a challenge.
eMarketer highlighted this fact by noting that less than half of all marketers are customizing and personalizing content for their target accounts.
Create a content matrix. Map content to the target company in the context of the individual you’re engaging. If you’re selling a marketing platform to a company that just announced a big acquisition, you’ll need to address the CMO (ease of supporting multiple business units); the CFO (financial benefit of consolidating platforms); and the CIO (ease of business integration).
Differentiate yourself. Develop content based on insight uniquely derived from your company, like operational information from your platform, competitive benchmark information or market trends that impact their business. The more customized and personalized the content, the more effective you’ll be at selling.
#4 Add value with every interaction
It goes without saying that you’ll engage your target accounts with every marketing tool at your disposal. As eMarketer points out, email will continue to play the dominant role, which is great because it’s something that effectively bridges Marketing and Sales.
Focus on adding value and proving your understanding of your target account’s needs with every interaction. Manage content and cadence in the context of improving the buying experience and addressing the needs for each stage of the customer lifecycle.
Most enterprise solutions require high-touch marketing coordinated over 6 months or more with a focus on multiple C-suite executives and their down-line managers. Use each interaction to educate the account about industry challenges and the implications for their company, your solution and why people love it, and how to effectively purchase and implement it.
#5 Measure engagement and sales pipeline impact
At the end of the day, ABM is designed to target specific accounts to drive new business opportunity, sales pipeline and revenue. Unfortunately, traditional lead-generation metrics like MQL and SQL simply don’t apply. Since you already know the accounts you’re pursuing, Marketing isn’t actually generating leads. Instead, you’re capturing contacts and generating awareness, engagement and opportunities.
Home in on metrics to determine if you’re succeeding in four key areas:
- Building your database – acquiring the right contacts for the targeted roles and accumulating account-based data
- Creating awareness – how well your target accounts know who you are
- Driving engagement – how often and how deeply your target accounts interact with your company
- Generating sales opportunities – when is the account converting, and why
ABM is a long-game strategy. Look to measure marketing influence over time for each account and in aggregate. Be patient. Marketing influence metrics like awareness, engagement and conversion will take 6 months or more to effectively demonstrate results.
Ultimately, ABM is meant to improve sales effectiveness. Plan on measuring how targeted marketing influence improves sales pipeline dynamics like increased deal velocity, higher win rates, higher average contract value, better retention and higher NetPromoter Scores.
So there's no time to waste. Lock arms with your Sales team and let 2017 be the year you make ABM a reality.