What is ABM and how is it different from traditional marketing models?
DB: Account based marketing (ABM) is a B2B strategy that focuses on identifying and cultivating a smaller pool of strategic customers or accounts you really want to win, rather than marketing to a huge audience and seeing what comes back. ABM is essentially flipping the sales funnel; instead of the broad, wide funnel most traditional marketing models rely on, ABM uses many inverted “micro funnels,” each of which focuses on nurturing the key people at a specific account or number of accounts, say in the same industry or territory. It’s a much more targeted way to market, and focuses on bringing value to the customer through highly customized content, rather than a one-size-fits-all mass content marketing approach.
How and when should an organization begin leveraging ABM practices?
DB: It’s really not about the size or stage of the company when it comes to ABM – it’s about who they are targeting. ABM works best if your go-to-market model is targeting accounts that can grow to over $100K, meaning you’re not in a volume business per se, but more of a “cherry picking” business. Also, you need to have your market and customer profile very well defined before you begin operating ABM, or your ABM practices can go sideways.
In terms of how to begin, it’s best to start small, with around 20 accounts. Select a few accounts with a clear business intent – it helps if they’re from the same industry or vertical, though it’s not necessary – and use those companies as a pilot to essentially test your strategy. For example, are you reaching out to the right accounts and the right people, are you reaching out with right message and the right content, and are you able to measure it so you can learn and improve? In addition, you need to create a program that can fit the short term: what is the intention, what are the expected results, what reachout channel to use, etc. Lastly but very importantly, it is key, as a marketing organization, that you have a strong sponsor on the sales side; it doesn’t need to be the head of sales, but someone on the sales leadership team needs to sponsor the program, because without their partnership, ABM cannot be successful.
What is one big/common challenge that ABM addresses for organizations?
DB: A big challenge that we often see is that marketing effort, resources and budget is not aligned toward where the revenue is coming from. In other words, the typical marketing funnel is not creating the pipeline that really drives the business. The pipeline is driven by sales, with some targeting strategy that they’re using. This misalignment creates a lot of inefficiency, and a loss of revenue. Addressing this issue through ABM, not only creating alignment between sales and marketing but also aligning marketing toward revenue, will have a huge go-to-market impact on companies.
What are some important tips for integrating ABM efforts with your sales team’s strategy?
- Make sure that your ABM efforts are aligned to the sales strategy. This includes a few things:
- The account selection needs to be done collaboratively with sales. Pick the target accounts together. Too often sales has their own list and never shares this target list with marketing, creating a disconnect.
- Decide together what account strategies you’re driving – is it upsell opportunities, renewals, new business, opening the door and educating? From there you need to be able to deliver the right content and message to support those account strategies.
- Make it dead simple for sales. It’s hard to get sales to invest without seeing the reward, so if you show the value first, they’ll be more willing to get on board.
- Forget about the MQL, SQL, and those inside-out processes. Think about your customer and how you’re going to drive them through the journey or how you’re going to educate them as you reach out to them initially and as you move on.
- Don’t even call it ABM – sales will think of it as one more marketing program they shouldn’t care about. Give it a name that sales will care about, like “account acquisition program.”
Has ABM surpassed other marketing efforts as far as it’s effectiveness in achieving sales success?
DB: Absolutely. We’ve seen a 30% increase in strategic account sales wins over the traditional efforts. There are two reasons for this – one is when marketing efforts are fully funneled into a sales strategy, you get a lot of power to be able to engage your customer; and two, the relevancy and personalization ABM gives you on the customer side, which has both emotional and cognitive impact. The cognitive impact is “I get the most important content that helps me understand what I need, make the best decisions, and drive consensus in my company.” The emotional impact is, “I see there has been an effort to to save time on my side from a seller perspective, someone has been thinking about me, this salesperson is really an expert.” That helps build trust and creates an emotional connection, which at the end of the day is the foundation of a sustainable business relationship.
How have your customers integrated ABM with other marketing efforts, including inbound marketing?
DB: Companies are realizing that relying on inbound marketing, especially if you’re selling to mid and large companies, produces very poor results. Hence, outbound is on the rise again. But this outbound is much smarter than the old spend-based outbound, which is “spray, pray and wait” for people to respond. This is a much more precise outbound effort to target the right people and perform the best optimized efforts to engage with them. Inbound is part of the equation, as 60% of the decision making is done before a company meets with you, so we see customers combine inbound and outbound in a way that outbound reaches out to people they’re interested in, and inbound reveals more people, but there has to be one strategy that if people come inbound, they’re still routed to a personalized experience relative to their industry, experience and role.
It’s important to not just think about inbound/outbound, but think about the customer journey. Think about how you help the customer go through a journey to help them learn and educate themselves – being able to identify their problems very crisply, and then being able to solve them. That’s the goal.
What steps can companies take to ensure they are leveraging the right marketing technologies?
DB: There is a lot of confusion in terms of which technologies to use, because of the growth of martech. It’s really hard to make those decisions. Essentially, there are a few important things to consider:
- You need to be able to know who you should target, based on who’s most likely to buy based on their behavior. There are some ABM vendors that do this using AI/predictive analytics, to make the process simpler and more streamlined.
- Engage with the people that you’ve decided you want to target. It’s important to use technology that can help you personalize these interactions, gain data and insights on those interactions, and do it at scale – whether it’s a few thousand or a few hundred thousand prospects. A lot of the engagement technologies focus on relevancy and personalization and doing that at scale – that’s the next big thing.
- Finally, you need to be able to measure your efforts and see where to improve.
How do you think technology will change ABM over the years?
DB: Custom or personalized ABM has always been possible, but doing it at scale requires technology, and we’re going to see more and more tech to enable that. It’s essentially facilitating a conversation that feels like a 1:1 dialogue but it’s over hundreds or thousands of contacts.
Another area of impact is getting a comprehensive 360 view of your target accounts across their array of touch points, and the ability to derive insights from it. This will rely heavily on behavioral signals and will in turn be actionable, such as: if the prospect did X, you should do Y. More prediction technologies will be able to predict how to better engage your next account based on your previous account’s performance and behavior. This is more than analytics, which are backward looking – AI systems will learn the patterns and predict the strategies that will work moving forward, including how to engage your next executive, which content to send them, what time of day to ping them and so on. This is the future of ABM, and it’s an exciting one.