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Account-based marketing – your questions answered

You may have heard some industry buzz around account-based marketing (ABM) over the past few years – it’s certainly had its fair share of column inches and has sparked debate, with some marketers identifying ABM as a strategy in its own right and others seeing it as simple best practice.

Our take on that? – Read to the end of the article to find out!

So what is account-based marketing? Why is it important? And how do you avoid expensive mistakes?

In 2021, 70% of marketers report using ABM, up 15% from 2020.
Hubspot, 2021

Put simply, ABM is a strategy whereby sales and marketing work together to engage targeted prospects using a personalised buying experience. Rather than a scattershot approach to bringing in as many customers as possible across the board, ABM begins with identifying key prospects – the high-value target accounts that are most likely to fit well with your business offer – and creating an individual campaign to appeal to their pain points and personas.

Each account is treated as a market in its own right and micro-targeted with a one-to-one approach that speaks directly to them, with all contact and content tailored and customised to that specific business.

What are the benefits of ABM?

Companies using ABM witnessed a 208% increase in revenue.
Marketing Profs, 2019

From a customer perspective, ABM can be extremely powerful. Most buyers prefer a bespoke approach over generic sales material. Although it sounds as though it can be time-consuming and potentially labour-intensive, it can save money and energy in the long run as you’re no longer wasting time appealing to businesses who are unlikely to use your services, and your whole marketing spend is targeted toward high-value, best-fit accounts. Your marketing strategy becomes more relevant than ever and your customer experience is stronger as it’s specifically personalised to exactly the accounts you want to attract.

So, where do you start?

We asked some industry practitioners for their perspectives.

“What we have seen is that you need to leverage all aspects of the business up to CXO level to ensure full support and roll out. It is important to lay out expectations and results right from the start.”
Stevie Bryans, Partner Business Director, EMEA, Sonatype.

The simplest way to begin is with a strategic account-planning template, helping you to develop and work through your strategy for each unique account. HubSpot has a great free one here. Build your ABM team using members of both your sales team and your marketing team, then start to identify your key target accounts. Once you know who you’re targeting, you can start to build relationships with their buyers and build a personalised approach to entice multiple stakeholders.

How do you identify and research a best-fit account?

When you’ve formed your ABM team and you’re ready to think about prospects, accurate account profiling is essential for identifying the right kind of accounts to fit with your business.

“It really does need to start with the analytics to be effective; beginning with the mapping of an organisation & its contacts, overlaying intent/ behavioural intelligence in whatever forms that exists and then working to build an integrated, personalised and multi-contact targeting marketing plan that’s 200% aligned to sales in their approach and engagement with everyone on the same page on ownership and ideal outcomes.”
Chris Willman, EMEA Marketing Programs Director, Crowdstrike.

You need to discover those high-value accounts through account profiling, using data and business intelligence to help you determine the right organisations to pursue. Some may be existing leads; others could be entirely new prospects, so along with investigating data, you can mine the experience of your sales and customer teams to learn from their experiences.

Consider factors such as market influence, buying habits, upselling opportunities and potential to add to your bottom line. Ideally, you’re looking for prospects that are likely to yield the highest long-term profits.

Then it’s time to map those accounts and identify the appropriate contacts – who are the decision-makers and how can you communicate with them? You need to research as much as you can about these businesses and who the influencers might be, so you can develop a strategy that speaks to their pain points.

As much as you’ll need to think about specific companies, you’ll be contacting real people, so you’ll need to research the details of the individuals – then you’ll start thinking about marketing straight to them. At this point, it can be helpful to use a service such as Experian, Acxiom, Hoovers, D&B, ZoomInfo, or i4business, to locate the right contacts at the companies you’re targeting. Don’t forget to use your own CRM too.

It could also be a good idea to research and connect with the main decision-makers on LinkedIn, as well as nurturing them via email. One way of enhancing your profiling data is through telephone research, which can yield excellent results and offers the benefit of one-to-one, personal conversation. If you use Google or LinkedIn to advertise, make sure you’re targeting them there through those channels too.

How important is content?

56% of marketers strongly agree that personalised content is key to successful ABM.
Forrester, 2019

Content is crucial. The secret to ABM success is in presenting interesting, engaging, relevant content to your targeted accounts through various channels. This can range from direct mail to video, webinars to eBooks or guides: there are plenty of content options to intrigue your prospects. The more relevant and targeted that content, the more likely it is to be successful.

Effective ABM should employ content that addresses specific challenges faced by your target businesses, so it’s important your messaging addresses their pain points and shows clearly how you can help solve their problems.

It can seem somewhat daunting to develop brand new messaging, but the good news is that you might not need to start entirely from scratch – if you’re smart and agile, you can adapt and tailor some of your existing assets into customised content.

If you’ve been using content for an inbound programme that targets pain points for a persona type or job role, it’s entirely possible to repurpose those assets to target an individual or organisation by tweaking it so it is more customised and personalised to their concerns and priorities. Not every piece of content you already have will be relevant to all your target organisations, but it is very likely you’ll find some crossover in pain points, personas, challenges and appeal.

Those tweaks are essential, however – content that appears to be unique and bespoke is far more compelling than anything generic. So, once you’ve carried out your research on an organisation, you can weave that into your current content to make it highly targeted.

What does ABM look in action?

“The main thing from my perspective is that you have sales and marketing working well together, with clarity around roles and responsibilities. Leads can be generated but for true ROI, you need to ensure that the nurture/conversion side of things is followed through.”
Lyanna Tsakiris, Director, Station Rd.

ABM offers a more streamlined, targeted account selling approach, so it changes your traditional sales cycle. Moving from the standard ‘prospect – connect – research – present – close – delight’ strategy, as you’re focusing efforts on specific targets you’ll be able to reduce the number of steps in the process, saving time, energy and ultimately, money. Your sales process will look more like this:

Identify targets – present to those targets – close those accounts – delight them

Closing should also be more successful because your ability to convert and retain accounts is improved since you’re offering a better customer experience and a personalised approach.

Why is ABM such a hot topic right now?

ABM has recently been increasing in popularity simply because it’s driving results for many businesses. 84% of marketers say account-based marketing strategies outperform other marketing investments. Companies are finding that focusing their spend on targeted marketing has a greater pay-off in terms of relationships and crucially, revenue. It streamlines the sales approach, making your team’s lives easier, and it offers a much-improved customer experience.

How do you measure success?

“Account-based marketing (ABM) offers organisations a significant return on investment (ROI) as they are faced with the need to acquire, retain, and grow high-value accounts.”
Adobe Marketo

One of the most significant benefits of ABM to your business, aside from improved sales, is that it’s easily measurable. With ABM, you can easily measure your return on investment (ROI) for each account, allowing you to confirm what’s working and which accounts are the best fit for your business.

Going forward, you can nurture those accounts and look for similar ones to target for the future. If your ROI data proves ABM has been effective for you, that can inform and motivate your future strategy. Your sales process is more streamlined and effective, and your business relationships have greater quality and depth. 97% of marketers achieved higher ROI with ABM than with any other marketing initiatives according to Alterra Group.

What alternative strategies are there?

Of course, many other marketing strategies are out there, it’s just that ABM is seeing some real results. It can work well alongside alternative strategies: it’s a natural progression from target account selling (TAS), for example. Mapping a specific organisation and developing a strategic, sales-led approach to meet the individual challenges of that business are the basis of TAS, but ABM takes it further by merging the skills of sales and marketing together and treating an account as a whole market.

If you’ve been focused on a more inbound marketing strategy, the good news is that ABM is a great fit with that too. As a more organic approach, inbound marketing can help to lay a firm foundation for your ABM strategy, attracting high-value target accounts that you can win over with your personalised approach. The twin powers of inbound and account-based marketing can attract more prospects than just one strategy, and you can easily create and repurpose content that fits both approaches.

What are the forecasts and growth trends of ABM?

The growth trends of ABM are strong – and seem to be getting stronger. According to research by Mordor Intelligence, the ABM market is expected to register a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of approximately 12% during the period 2021-2026. The growth is largely driven by a desire to see more direct return on marketing investment aimed at long-term revenue increases.

It is thought that the banking, financial services and insurance sectors are likely to adopt ABM on a large scale. It is also forecast that there will be a significant increase in providers of ABM solutions, with more innovation and product development offering ABM adopters more support and range of services. It’s an excellent time to think about an ABM strategy for your business – “there is no time like the present, in terms of being an early adopter of ABM” (Forbes, 2021), as you could be saving money and generating more revenue.

“Marketing is no longer a one-way street—you cannot simply shove promotions to your prospects. You need to engage in an active dialogue and ABM lets you do that with unparalleled precision.”
Shari Johnston, SVP of Marketing, Radius.

Our take? Many of the principles and strategies around ABM are not new. Aligning sales and marketing activities, being laser focused in your targeting, researching and building target account data, creating audience-specific messaging and content, executing, measuring and refining results. All these are tried and tested best practices.

The upside? ABM can provide the focus and align the various strands of activity, bringing teams together and attracting executive support. And the beauty is that new practices, channels and tactics can be added into the mix.

“ABM can be a highly effective lightning rod to channel best practices in sales and marketing, attracting energy, focus and executive support.”
Virginia Bray, Director, Marketing Fusion.

Of course, these are just a few of the most commonly asked questions around ABM, but you may have others. We’d love to help, so please get in touch and we’ll work with you to give you a better understanding of ABM and how it could help your business. Or for more information around how ABM and Personalisation can enhance the B2B Buyer Journey, sign up to read our upcoming eBook.

eBook: Creating personalised buyer journeys at scale