Account-based marketing (ABM) is gaining ground among B2B marketers. In fact, more than 90% of B2B marketers believe ABM is absolutely essential. And it’s for good reason: ABM’s ROI reportedly outperforms all other B2B marketing investments.
However, labeling ABM as a marketing program is a misnomer. It’s really a business initiative that requires marketers to collaborate closely with other teams, including product, sales, IT and customer service.
In addition to interconnecting a diverse crew of experts, everyone on the team works to strengthen a network of relationships within each target account’s buying centers. This makes ABM inherently more complex than standard lead generation.
To be sure, the familiar tricks and tools in your marketing shed will come in handy. But to succeed in ABM, “garden variety” marketing just won’t cut it. You’ll need to work according to a carefully orchestrated design. And it won’t follow a template. If you pursue ABM, you’ll need to create a customized plan for achieving your specific goals. Your plan design will be shaped by the accounts you select, the types of relationships you hope to build and the best ways for your ABM team members to work together.
When executed correctly, ABM brings new life to our old marketing yard, creating a synergistic space with clear dimensions and a utility that’s responsive and flexible.
So are you ready to interconnect your marketing landscape? Follow the five steps below, and your marketing will be ABM-ready before you know it.
Step 1: Set Goals
Start your ABM initiative where landscape design begins: Set clear goals. Remember to be specific. “We want to generate revenue” is not much better than telling a design professional, “I want my landscaping to look gorgeous.” Hone in on what you really want to achieve by answering the questions below.
Step 2: Choose the Style
A Mediterranean design requires very different materials, plants, color palettes and décor than a country-style landscape. Similarly, the type of ABM you choose to pursue will impact the required investment, tactical choices and expected rate of return.
Graphic adapted from ITSMA, 2016.
Strategic ABM initiatives (one to one accounts) resemble custom landscape projects, which are tailored to an individual’s unique preferences and needs.
ABM Lite efforts (one to few accounts) are like residential landscape jobs, undertaken in small, HOA-governed communities with limited home builders and standard lot sizes.
Programmatic ABM (one to many accounts) is the least customized approach, similar to offering landscape design templates and standard price packages to many targeted buyers.
Step 3: Develop a Features List
When picking features for your landscape, refer to your original goal. For example, if the primary use for your outdoor space is entertaining, choose features that support that purpose. You might like the thought of having a Zen stone garden in your backyard, but a fire pit would be a better fit for entertaining.
Use a similar mindset when identifying the accounts you want to target with ABM. What “features” or characteristics indicate high-value accounts for your “style” of ABM?
Your initiative should not move forward until both sales and marketing agree on the account selection criteria and the targeted businesses.
Step 4: Lay It Out
When organizing your outdoor space, it’s important to lay out the hardscapes first. These are the solid structures (e.g., walls, patios and steps) that will anchor your design. In your ABM effort, the “hardscaping” stage is when you start mapping the key accounts that will function as strategic footholds for your strategy.
- Consider the design of the whole area, even if you’re just tackling only one or two accounts at first. No one wants a new patio blocking the perfect site for a pond.
- Think about terracing your effort, elevating accounts by sales priority and/or time investment.
- Do the appropriate groundwork. If you don’t install the right amount of base material for your hardscape, your wall or patio may sink. It’s similar with ABM: Ensure the foundational technologies, processes, roles and deliverables are identified before attempting to deepen engagement with anchor accounts.
- Do you need a pro to help? If you’re not feeling confident about the accounts your team has selected, you may need a vendor to assist with data cleansing, enrichment and/or advanced analytics. Struggling to map out your ABM initiative?
Next, think about the plants, pathways and other features that will tie your hardscapes together and enhance the functionality of your outdoor space.
Plant & Feature Pointers
- Aim for graceful transitions. Good landscape designers balance curves with hard edges to create a unified whole. ABM initiatives also benefit from harmonious design. B2B purchases involve multiple influencers, buyers and personas, so it’s important to carefully orchestrate what’s happening across the account as a whole. Critical prerequisite: Clean, interconnected account and contact records.
- Strive to naturalize. Plopping a boulder on top of a hardscape can look unnatural. But if you bury a large rock deep enough, it can look native to the outdoor space. Similarly, ABM tactics should create a seamless experience for targeted accounts. Your content should be personalized by account as well as by the personas within that account. How do your ABM targets regularly consume content? Prioritize these channels, and be sure not to disregard inbound marketing. Is your website personalized for your high-priority accounts?
- Consider maintenance investment. Keep a steady eye on your budget as well as the time required to care for the ABM landscape you’re designing.
Finally, refine your preliminary design into a plan that gives everyone a bird’s eye view of your ABM effort. Are there landscaping risks that you might have previously overlooked, such as underground power lines or, in the case of ABM, intensified competitor pressure? Are additional walkways and access points (touches/channels) needed to achieve your goal?
Step 5: Water, Trim & Feed. Repeat.
Like any newly installed landscape, ABM initiatives need time to grow and mature. Remember, you’ll need rich data and insights to personalize your interactions and fortify your account relationships. If improperly maintained, ABM opportunities will stall – and may not survive. At the other extreme, account relationships may take off quickly, suffocating the growth of other nurturing activities in your ABM landscape.
If you remember one thing about ABM, here’s the takeaway: It’s a living, dynamic endeavor. While ABM promises good ROI, it can require considerable financial investment and sweat equity. It isn’t something you set and forget. Gather your best talent and design your strategy with care. Once you roll up your sleeves, if you find you’re outside familiar stomping grounds, don’t hesitate to get a little advice from those who have already pursued the same path.
“Account-based Marketing: Welcome to the New Reality in B2B,” SiriusDecisions, 2015.
“Do You Really Understand How Your Business Customers Buy?” McKinsey, 2015.
“Fishing With Spears: All About Account-Based Marketing,” Jon Miller, 2015.
“How High Is B2B Account-Based Marketing Adoption?” eMarketer, 2015.
“Lead Generation vs. Account-Based Marketing: Which Strategy Will Work For You?” Customer Intelligence 360, 2015.
“Making the Consensus Sale,” Harvard Business Review, 2015.
“Most Still Stuck on First Base in Account-Based Marketing,” Direct Marketing News, 2015.