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Account Based Marketing Best Practices in 6 Steps

Start ABM Campaigns with these Tips in Mind

Account-based marketing (ABM) is a strategic tactic employed by business-to-business (B2B) marketers to reach a defined universe of targeted business accounts. In other words, instead of focusing on sales and marketing strategies aimed at a large group of companies, your message is precisely and narrowly targeted to an individual account. It’s taking marketing from the traditional one-to-many approach and making it a more personal one-to-one approach, and it’s been adopted by many organizations, big and small.

There’s no shortage of reasons why ABM is attractive to B2B companies. Companies practicing ABM have better alignment with sales, often close bigger deals with target accounts, and increase pipeline velocity with companies they may have never thought about going after in the past. Not surprisingly, 58% of B2B organizations currently employ an ABM strategy, and 28% plan on doing so in the next six months, according a recent Dun & Bradstreet study.

And even while ABM has been one of the hottest buzzwords over the past few years, it is not entirely new. In the past, ABM has been viewed as a laborious and expensive strategy reserved for large corporations that concentrated on targeting just a handful of their biggest accounts. But with advancements in technology and the proliferation of data, ABM can be used at scale for any business. But that’s not to say it’s gotten any easier to execute.

Data is really the fuel for any successful ABM program. And while having access to the most accurate data and the right tools to inform the type of decisions that help companies succeed with ABM, there are some other steps that need to be taken when starting to develop an ABM strategy.

Connect Sales & Marketing for ABM

First, you absolutely must have alignment between sales and marketing.  In fact, we need to stop focusing on the “M” in ABM; it really needs to be called account-based marketing and sales.  Because, when it’s done well, you shouldn’t be able to tell where marketing ends and sales begins.  To create that synergy between teams, you must have a shared processes, shared data and insights, and shared measurements.  At Dun & Bradstreet, we’ve even gone as far as measuring our marketing team against closed sales, not just pipeline, because pipeline doesn’t pay the bills, sales do.

Combine Sales & Marketing Efforts

Secondly, you need to change the way the organization thinks about accounts and the way teams are structured.

Stop focusing on the “M” in ABM; it needs to be called account-based marketing and sales. Because, when done well, you shouldn’t be able to tell where marketing ends and sales begins.

Sales and marketing teams must be structured so they can easily work together to serve the target accounts.  It’s important to break through traditional silos, encouraging comprehensive thinking and nimble actions across departments to drive the optimal customer experience. One way to achieve this is to develop cross functional teams dedicated to specific personas with joint metrics to ensure integrated experiences for every specific account.

There really is a culture shift that needs to happen when you move from traditional “batch and blast” and cold calling methods to a more account-based approach. And don’t worry, this does not have to happen overnight.

Leverage Customer Data for Results

Additionally, you need to use data and analytics to architect the most valuable engagement for each account.  This requires leveraging data to understand what the real-time needs of the account are and what messages are relevant to it, and then deliver those through the proper channels.  For this step, you must start with structured, connected, real-time data.  You need to understand your current customer base to figure out who your best customers are and then identify more accounts like those.

Prioritize with Predictive Analytics

Finally, you need to use predictive analytics to prioritize the highest revenue opportunities. This starts with collecting data on every customer touch point, both on and offline.  It also requires implementing a master data strategy so you can build a 360-degree view of the customer account across the organization. Once this master data strategy is in place, you must determine how to surface the insights from that data to the right systems and people who can then act on the data in real time.

Six Steps to ABM Success

It’s important to recognize some of the biggest obstacles that typically arise when trying to implement an ABM strategy. Always be prepared to tackle them before they become too big to overcome. One of the biggest problems I’ve seen is not knowing where to start, or not having buy-in from the executive team.  While sales teams have been basically working in an account-based way for years, it’s only recently that ABM has become a company-wide effort that requires alignment, measurement, and more resources.  I would suggest starting small, with just 5-10 accounts. Test, learn, and measure so you can prove the value and then get funding to scale your ABM programs. 

The Biggest Challenge for ABM and Marketing Departments

But by far the biggest challenge I’ve seen facing companies today is bad data. That will quickly put the brakes on any ABM plans you have in mind. Irrelevant, incorrect, and outdated data should be a warning sign for all organizations. Companies need to ensure the data they are feeding in to their system is structured, real-time, and connected across departments to allow for deep, relevant, and contextual insights. Don’t make the mistake of not enriching your customer database as this will lead to inaccurate or misleading profiles which can inhibit new business wins, stall the sales process, and obstruct growth.

Let me give you a shining example of a company doing ABM right. One of our customers in the financial services industry was a small, regional bank looking to stay competitive. The company was essentially going against the big, national banks. One of the things that the company realized was that they wouldn’t be able to differentiate on scale and cost, but they could differentiate on customer experience. We pulled all the data together that gave this financial service company a differential understanding of the opportunity with certain customer groups. They were then able to target accounts that the larger banks may not focus on, and provide more tailored service.  That was a game changer for them, thanks to a sound ABM strategy.

Again, it’s no easy task, but if you apply some of these steps to your ABM strategy, I’m confident your organization will reap the benefits.

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