Seven Essential Ingredients for Account-Based Marketing Success

By Aaron Bean on Oct. 27, 2015


Build your account-based marketing (ABM) program from a solid foundation and set yourself up for success. Skip these fundamentals and assume risk at your own peril!

The concept of ABM is rather straightforward – focus your marketing on the most promising target accounts. However, the strategy and mechanics of building a successful and scalable ABM program require careful planning and coordination to achieve success.

Here are the foundational ingredients for account-based marketing success:

  1. Talk with your sales partners early and often; get buy-in for their participation
  2. Ensure you're working with clean, accurate data
  3. Use personas; delineate unique roles and actionable buyer insights
  4. Define attributes of high-propensity accounts versus a dream list
  5. Baseline target account engagement before launching your program
  6. Segment your engagement strategy and tactical mix by account priority
  7. Think orchestration of channels, not one-off tactics

Here's a closer look at each of the ingredients.

1. Talk with your sales partners early and often; get buy-in for their participation

A highly functional partnership and candid relationship with sales is one of the most critical ingredients for ABM success. Talk with sales leadership and key account managers to understand their point of view and arrive at a shared definition of what constitutes a high-value account worth their time. Delve into assumptions and surface insights around the most predictive attributes of accounts with the highest propensity to buy your products and solutions.

In addition, agree on shared goals and objectives that marketing AND sales will contribute to achieving. Also determine how your marketing activities can integrate with sales efforts to maximize buyer engagement and conversion in the later stages of the buyer journey.

These same sales contacts will be instrumental in defining your initial list of accounts to target. However, more than likely you will need to help sales further build out the total universe of potential accounts.

One tip for engaging with sales – rather than approaching them with an overview of your marketing program as a starting point, engage them in a conversation around buyer insights. By helping your sales people better understand the mindset of prospects and customers they are seeking to drive sales with, you'll build trust and rapport as a partner who is focused on helping them hit their numbers.

2. Ensure you're working with clean, accurate data

Aside from a poor working relationship with sales, bad account and contact data will kill your ABM program. This is particularly true for any 1-to-1 tactics such as email, telephone outreach, direct mail and events.

Note also that ABM programs can have both 1-to-many and 1-to-1 approaches, often within the same program. For broader reach ABM tactics such as account-based advertising or account-based targeting via social channels, though data accuracy is still important, for these broader reach ABM tactics you can initially worry less about your in-house data.

Either way, if you don't have a data hygiene practice in place today, you'll want to start one before getting too far into planning or executing ABM programs.

It's unfortunate, but true, that many corporate contact databases are a mess. Whether a function of inconsistent data capture, purchase of poor quality lists or other habits, bad data is often the norm rather than the exception.

There are many services available to clean up your data and enrich it with accurate details. Whatever approach you decide is right; get the most out of your efforts by ensuring that you're working with clean and accurate data.

3. Use personas; delineate unique roles and actionable buyer insights

The practice of developing buyer personas should be second nature for most B2B marketers. If you need an advanced primer on buyer personas, check out my previous post here. 

For the purpose of ABM, ensure that you've identified the unique personas involved in the decision-making process at your target accounts. Segment your accounts by attributes that define unique decision-making behaviors, buying triggers and/or solution interest areas. Gather fresh insights around topics and themes of relevance to your buyer personas. Lastly, look for any changes in decision-making criteria since you last built your buyer personas.

If you sell enterprise solutions that have “users,” consider structuring your buyer personas around four primary buyer roles: Economic Buyer, User Buyer, Champion and Technical Buyer.

If you have the resources and voice-of-customer insights to support it, optimally you'll also layer mindset attributes into your persona schema for a more complete and in-depth view of people and motivations across the buying committee.

4. Define attributes of high propensity accounts versus a dream list

Not every company you want to sell to is the right fit for your products or solutions. And while it's important for organizations to have aspirational goals related to big wins and strategic account growth, aligning your list of target accounts with companies who share similar attributes with your best customers is often a winning approach.

There are multiple ways to figure out what constitutes a high propensity account. For starters, look in your CRM and talk with sales and finance. Which customers deliver the highest revenue to your organization? What common attributes do they share?

For a more sophisticated approach, consider predictive analytics. Using your customer data and powerful software-as-a-service (SAAS) solutions, predictive analytics companies, like Leadspace, Everstring, Lattice and others, can help you build a data-driven model that teases out the attributes of companies most likely to be your next customers.

Whatever route you choose, look at your customer data to spot commonalities across your best accounts, and use these attributes for assessing the target accounts your program will seek to engage.

5. Baseline target account engagement before launching your program

ABM is all about increasing the depth and breadth of relationship and engagement your organization has with a finite number of companies. Before you launch your program, ensure you understand what relationship depth and level of engagement look like for your targeted accounts.

Consider the following. Using a solution such as Demandbase, you can benchmark the engagement of accounts with your website. In addition, looking at the data in your marketing automation platform you can benchmark the level of engagement with your content and marketing programs from contacts within each of the accounts you're targeting.

Whatever you do, benchmark before you begin so that you can prove the impact of your programs once they are in market.

6. Segment your engagement strategy and tactical mix by account priority

Not all accounts have the same value. Therefore, your approach should align with the revenue potential of the accounts you're targeting. Whereas you may have a small list of big, strategic accounts, it's probable you also have a larger list of named accounts that while strong prospects will still net less revenue per account.

Think about how you can scale programs to reach each of these account types. For the strategic accounts you'll likely want to invest in higher-touch, higher-value programs and experiences. Think small group events such executive round tables, invite-only dinners and other tactics that offer an intimate setting for 1-to-1 relationship building.

Whereas when you're looking to scale a targeted accounts program to a larger list of named accounts, think more about how you invest in customizing your messaging and content offers, as well as routing a few named accounts with high engagement into more premium programs and experiences.

Note that in the first scenario your strategic account approach may have a higher participation requirement from sales, especially when compared to programs geared towards reaching a larger list of named accounts.

Bottom line is that you should evaluate your ABM investments as a function of account revenue potential and align your strategies and tactics accordingly.

7. Think orchestration of channels, not one-off tactics

The goal of an ABM program is to surround multiple people at the accounts you are targeting, across channels they frequent, in a context that is highly relevant. The magic of account-based marketing stems from the orchestrated integration of multiple, cross-channel tactics.

Given this, good performance by traditional metrics isn't enough when it comes to ABM programs. Instead we need to layer multiple channels because we have a small target audience and need to progress a major percentage of them; a percent we will never attain with any single channel, even with record results.

Account-Based Marketing Takes Rigor

As you plan and implement your ABM programs, measure outcomes beyond the numbers; for example, also gather feedback from sales on lead quality.

Additionally, consider ways to maintain a continuous presence with your target accounts beyond your core ABM program; for example, leverage always-on content and communications such as opt-in newsletters, social communities and online forums where buyers from your target accounts are learning.

There's certainly more detail and rigor involved in building and implementing a successful ABM program; however, starting with these foundational ingredients will put you on the right track towards success.

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