A guide to account-based marketing

Target and engage ideal customers for optimal results

Businesses have to be found by potential customers to succeed. But it is essential to target ideal customers (ICPs) too.

Account-Based Marketing (ABM) is a focused approach that centres on forming connections with ICPs. ABM is a game plan in the marketing and sales locker designed to focus on a specific objective - pursuing and closing contracts that wouldn’t be attainable without a highly tuned programme.

Contract manufacturers can gain an edge with ABM, and with long and complicated sales processes for which a small number of big value deals can underpin growth, ABM can be very attractive. You target high-value, qualified accounts by inverting the traditional B2B sales and marketing funnel. 

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What is ABM?

Account-Based Marketing (ABM) is a growth strategy in which forensic targeting, both inbound and outbound marketing, sales and operations resources are directed at identified prospects and existing relationships to unlock significant sales outcomes and transformative revenue.

abm-fundamentals-diagram

The old model uses a large net to fish, whereas ABM uses fishing spears to hunt, target and catch a specific fish. It can be highly personalised and is precisely targeted. It is long-term and disciplined. It requires collaboration and alignment between marketing, sales and, ideally, service teams. It is especially relevant for companies with high-value services or product offerings.

Inbound marketing uses a broad content strategy that answers questions so ideal customers or prospects organically come to your business and are primed and ready to engage—or at least more likely to buy. 

ABM is also about attracting buyers—but specifically focuses on targeted accounts. From the very beginning, when using this method:

  • You should identify target companies
  • You should identify multiple access points
  • You need compelling content that is an ‘inch wide and a mile deep’ and appeals to multiple converts in the target account. It must help them connect with you and switch to you when they are ready to buy.

Both inbound marketing and ABM tell a defined audience a helpful and persuasive story. Powerful content drives engagement and significant revenue generation. So, rather than using ABM instead of inbound marketing, think of ABM as a particular blend of inbound marketing.

Sep One: Identify

Laser-targeted account selection is required to identify prospects using top-down and bottom-up analytics. Begin by determining someone to own the list. The list owner needs to ‘champion’ all targets on your final list. 

The three main types of ABM:

investment and roi per account


Too many targets will stretch resources and almost certainly dilute results. However, too few targets (less than three) could be a high-risk strategy but might be favourable for exceptionally high-value deals. The One-to-Many ABM strategy is useful for further validation before personalising and focusing your list. 

One-to-Few ABM is ideal when you have a cluster of target accounts with prospects sharing similar characteristics. This allows you to address shared characteristics and personalise them according to management and decision-making structures unique to these companies.

Key questions when building your list can include:

To what extent would be winning company ‘X’ help us achieve our revenue goal?

  • Is there a positive or negative budget connotation with this list?
  • Does anyone know why we may need to remove a target?
  • What might Sales already know about a target which might influence inclusion?
  • Does our sales cycle preclude a company on the list?
  • Is the list balanced for risk or simply cherry-picking?

The objective is to compile a risk-weighted target list that satisfies marketing, sales and service goals and responds to the overall business revenue objective. Segmentation is sensible. You should aim for a mixture of known accounts previously targeted by the sales team and new (unknown) targets. Some will be lower-hanging fruit.

Top-down and bottom-up scorecards can be useful at this point. Consider the target’s profitability and the stability of the management team. Uncover their incumbent supplier arrangements, risk appetite and perceived willingness to make a decision or pay a given price. 

Consider including three groups in your target list - existing customers with upsell opportunities, partners and intermediaries, and prospects.

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Step Two: Attract

Map out as many buyers and influencers in each target account as possible. Understand where the real power and decision-making authority lies. It’s common to classify these as “Champions”, “Decision Makers”, “Budget Holders”, “Influencers”, and “Blockers”. 

This process is known as Account Penetration. Your goal is to deliver as many relevant messages to everyone involved in the purchase decision over time. It’s a mapping and storytelling exercise. The more relevant contacts you can identify and engage with, the more help you give the sales team when they have conversations with the buyer.

Attracting these target accounts should lead to formal or informal ‘face-time’ with multiple stakeholders. You can use online and digital levers as well as offline and low-tech. The following tools might typically be used: sponsored events, field marketing, webinars, attendance at trade shows, email marketing, content syndication, direct mail, search engine marketing, social media and PR.

Sounds expensive? It shouldn’t be—because of the 40:60 rule. Remember, this activity is highly targeted.

ABM Assets – 2

 

You might want to employ some of  the following:

Marketing automation systems:

You need a good CRM platform that helps you maintain the marketing database and launch and manage email campaigns; it should also provide useful campaign performance analytics. HubSpot, for example, allows you to leverage powerful tools such as:

  • Company profiles: Provide useful data (and sync with SalesForce)
  • Custom segments list tool: Allows you to place contacts from a target account into a field. You can customise, re-order, and add lead score, conversion date or type of engagement to immediately see the most qualified records in your CRM.
  • Analytics: Includes the number of emails opened, clicks and much more
  • Automation: Permits you to create workflows to follow up leads based on account information. Each sales rep can add what they feel is important. Sales reps can send personalised content only to those who meet their requirements.

Advertising

1-2-1 LinkedIn advertising can be very powerful. Nowadays, marketers can target ads by geography, job title, interest and recognised company email address—even if a contact is not in their CRM. You can engage decision-makers at your target accounts with precise digital advertising and LinkedIn Sponsorship Content. Savvy digital marketers can leverage ad networks and over 200 million data points to engage the right people proactively. 

You can also personalise messages and CTAs (for example, a Financial Director in a target company can be sent a slightly different message to the Operations Director in the same company). This is very powerful.

When you combine ABM advertising with company-data-enhanced web analytics, you can observe visitor behaviour and engagement without them having clicked on anything and know what traffic comes from target accounts. 

ABM advertising is typically used to:

  • Attract the right contacts within target accounts at scale
  • Engage contacts using ‘push’ and ‘pull’
  • Capture active buying signals
  • Identify highly engaged target accounts
  • Re-target engaged accounts with personalized messages
  • Accelerate prospects closer to revenue

Remarketing
Used for contacts who do not fill out a form and conveniently ask for a demo or call-back. This can also be used for prospects who meet the target account criteria and visited your site but did not convert. It can provide a powerful awareness opportunity at the contact level.

Field marketing
Sales teams can work together and focus their efforts geographically, concentrating on a cluster of accounts. With training, scripts and mentoring, this type of collaborative field marketing often yields extraordinary results. 

Paid social
Sponsored content on platforms your target contacts like and trust can be immensely powerful. You are not aiming for likes, comments or retweets but to acquire insights that build bridges through empathy and common interests. This is part of the ‘Attract’ toolkit that helps build trust. 

Events
Organising events can be extraordinarily expensive and, therefore, must tangibly influence the pipeline to justify the time and expenditure. 

  • Consider sending delegates rather than exhibiting
  • Consider sponsoring exhibition bags, gift content, floor graphics signposting to a meeting point, breakfast or dinners around events and speaking slots 

Being visible, however, will help build trust and subject matter authority.

Webinars
Proprietary or shared platform content is powerful and popular. Webinars are easy to set up and market and can be created cost-effectively. They’re a great way to reach audiences who are tired of or don’t consume blogs.

Content marketing
Highly personalised, strategically written content expressly written for the target audience and their personas are required to take target accounts on a buying journey through to decision. Make sure to focus on quality, relevance, tone and directness.

Key questions to consider about the content you plan:

  • What are the needs of my target accounts
  • What challenges are they currently facing
  • How do they consume content?
  • What types of content do they prefer?
  • What types of personas are involved?

Ensure you have the right content for all personas at every buyer journey stage.

Awareness: Content pieces are thought leadership – blog posts, books, eBooks, videos, and infographics (i.e., big picture).

Consideration: Content pieces are more granular and can include case studies, white papers, product or service-focused collateral (Fact Sheets, etc.)—presented as PDFs, webinars or email sequences.

Decision: Content is more specific. It should reinforce and include demos, free trials and pitch decks. 

The priorities are engagement and outcomes (meeting requests, proposals, wins). Map awareness (company level opens) and engagement (clicks, opens, chat interactions, etc.) against the target accounts list on the contact level. 

Refine your ‘Attract’ planning based on what delivers the biggest contribution to the pipeline. Remember to repurpose content by changing the front-page title and key takeaways to personalise it for different personas.

Here are some tips:

  • If you have little awareness and want to change perceptions or build a brand, focus more content effort on the awareness stage.
  • If you have plenty of leads but they are not converting, consider content effectiveness for the consideration stage.
  • Leverage Sales information and refine as you go.

Step Three: Engage

Moving people through the buyer’s journey and to the desired outcome (ideally, ‘buy’) is crucial. Here are some ideas you could use in the Engage phase:

  • Segmentation (for added relevance)
  • Personalisation (familiarity will considerably drive conversion rates)
  • Use alternative delivery mechanisms (text-heavy, infographics, video messages) because people prefer different formats
  • Use podcasts (said to be overtaking blogs in popularity among some audiences)
  • Optimise your website user experience (Home page, clear navigation, dynamic content)
  • Live chat can also turbocharge engagement (you can direct it at target accounts only and supply real-time company data to reps, so they have added context)
  • Leverage data – by analysing viewing and engagement preferences, you can amend email sequences and workflows
    • Ensures you are pushing your message to decision-makers
    • Educates multiple decision-makers who may be at different stages of the buying process
  • Always-on advertising – delivers two benefits
  • Company Development Plans (CDP) - create CDPs that map all contacts and their relationships (orgcharthub.com can help and is a native integration in HubSpot). 

Sounds complex? It’s both science and common sense. However, if you apply just a few tactics, your target accounts will engage more. You are looking for a contact to ‘raise their hand’ and signal they want to take things to the next stage. So, give visitors every opportunity to engage and ample reasons for doing so.

Step Four: Convert

In a B2C setting, conversions tend to be sale or loyalty based. Sales cycles can be short. There are not usually ‘MQLs’, SQLs, and ‘Opportunity’ stages like in the B2B world.

For B2B, tangible outcomes are increased order value or a ‘New’ customer. Separating the ‘noise’ and focusing on buying signals is key to driving conversions and closing deals.

How do you discern a genuine buying signal and ensure Sales focus on the right opportunities? You could use:

  • Website analytics (monitor visits, downloads, time on page, number of contacts in the same firm engaged, achievement of visitor milestones) – these are all buying signals
  • Intent data to focus on companies (a) searching for your solution or (b) actively searching on competitive sites 

Look for patterns. Prospects often sign up for webinars and download case studies early on in their research stage. They tend to complete forms and make direct signals to be contacted later in the buying decision. Companies using multi-channel campaigns will see trends in potential buying signals over time.

ABM Assets – 3 white background

Marketers use lead scoring to help flag buying signals and prioritise conversion events. For example;

5 = company request
30 = target account company conversion
40 = target account reaches a high-value landing page
50 = target account converts on a landing page
60 = target account hits milestone of 5 separate session visits
70 = demo request from target account
100 = “Champion” or “Decision Maker” requests call-back

Heat maps can also deliver insights. Numerous tools can be useful to test and optimise language on forms and CTAs. Remember to distinguish between the behaviours of target accounts and everyone else visiting the site.

Important on-page signals include:

  • Multiple returns to a web page
  • Second and third contact from the same target company visits
  • A search term used on your website can reveal intent
  • A visit to the pricing or demo page
  • A workflow milestone reached

Minimise information request fields to remove objections. ‘Give’ and ‘Get’ should always be kept in mind by managing what you give in return for information you get (or buying signals).

Increasing conversion likelihood tactics that can be very effective:

  • Non-technical information
  • Restate value propositions along the buyer journey
  • Acknowledge the competition (buyers are twice as likely to progress if you are objective)
  • Include “Damaging Admissions” (i.e., acknowledge weaknesses)
  • Use ROI calculators
  • Use ‘just-in-time’ outreach with intent data

Step Five: Close

What really counts is catching the fish you intend to catch. This means Sales report “order promised” or “PO received”. Sales are happy. Marketing has assisted. The Financial Director is happy. It’s good news all around. 

However, closing deals is no longer only the preoccupation of Sales. For Sales or BD teams to reliably close large near-term deals, they need as much relevant information on each deal opportunity as possible. 

Organisations need to think about the entire customer journey and lifecycle - not in terms of research, marketing, sales and service silos. You can deliver on ABM objectives by taking a more holistic view. 

Marketing can make a discernible difference through ABM by providing information in three groups to Sales:

Background – basic account information such as size, locations, industry vertical, key drivers, list of targeted opportunities, key contacts, telephone, email, etc.

Activity – website engagement, webinar and event attendance, downloads 

Insights and intent – this is the most significant and critical tool designed to help win and close deals. True insights and intent are based on recognised behaviour. 

  • What are target contacts researching?
  • What search phrases are they using?
  • What do chatbot conversations reveal about interest, intent, fears or focus?

This can make the difference in whether a deal closes. Significantly, it can also provide an important uplift opportunity in deal value—adding a target account’s second site needs to the deal, for example.

Step Six: Measure

In the B2B setting, there are multiple ‘touch’ points. It can be hard to determine what is most useful. Your target account may have taken a senior management decision to buy from you. In this case, the Financial Director almost certainly bought into the process at a different part of the sales cycle to the Operations Director, for example—and probably for different reasons.

ABM Assets – 4
Traditional marketing measurements such as ‘first touch’, and ‘last touch’, are not always the whole story with ABM. Pipeline opportunity and future potential are important.

Suppose you landed a fish representing a £1.5m initial order from a hesitant target account. However, subject to great experience and staying power, they have the potential to spend £3.5m—rising to £5m per annum and put the majority of their business through you in a few short years. 

In this example, you should measure the first 12 months' revenue contribution from the newly won account to determine marketing ROI. You should use uplift for the second and third years to determine real ROI.

Useful measurements to consider may include the following:

Marketing Managers
  • Target List Cos LIVE
  • Target List Co Contacts ENGAGED
  • MQLs
  • MQLs by Target Co
  • Most AWARE Target Co
  • Most ENGAGED Target Co
  • % of Pipeline rep by Target Accounts
  • Conversion Rates
  • Lead Score Metrics
  • Customer Retention
  • Customer Upsell / Share of Spend Change
  • Cost Per Opportunity
  • Major Opportunity Conversion Rate
  • Campaign Metrics
  • Web Metrics
Sales Team Managers
  • Deal pipeline (VOLUME)
  • Deal pipeline (VALUE)
  • Deals (WON)
  • Deals (ORDER PROMISED)
  • Deals (DEMO)
  • Deals (75%+ CONVERSION LIKELIHOOD)
  • Deals (LOST)
CEOs
  • Enhanced Revenue contribution by customer in current financial year
  • Revenue by Product / Service
  • Av Contract Value
  • Change in Top 10 Av Contract Value
  • Cost of ABM programme
  • Av cost of major customer acquisition
  • ABM ROI against target of 5x
  • Health barometer for the business described via major sale opportunities, acquisition targets etc

Measurement metrics will vary by company and by stakeholder. Dashboards can be configured to precisely capture what is important for you.

At a simple level, the following metrics may be useful barometers:

Primary Metrics
  • No of companies in LIVE database 6,915
  • No of Target Account companies 38
  • No of contacts known in target companies 241
  • All LIVE (trading) customer accounts 222
  • Average Annualised Account Value  45,045
ABM Metrics
  • Target List Cos reached (AWARE) [GOAL 25%] 37%
  • MQL [GOAL = 30 per month] 45
  • SQL [GOAL = 2 per month] 3
  • Pipeline Value [GOAL  1m]  941,000
  • Closed - WON 5
  • Closed - WON Value (Annualised contract value)  500,000

You can also carry out more in-depth analysis and create leader boards that show the following: top sales rep or BD member performance, distribution of major opportunities by brand, product, company, and geography.

In Summary

Here are eight of the most important benefits of ABM:
  1. Alignment of Sales and Marketing and reversal of disconnect and former inefficiencies (i.e., fewer missed opportunities)
  2. Compelling ROI
  3. Significant revenue generation
  4. High-quality leads
  5. High conversion rates
  6. Growth plan enabler (game-changer within one to two years)
  7. Up-sell to existing customer accounts
  8. Turbo-charge Partner, Affiliate and Referral opportunities

What are the implications for Marketing, Sales and Service teams?

ABM means working in a completely different way. It takes data, lead generation, inbound, marketing-led sales support, sales team hunting, major proposal opportunities and conversion rate performance to new heights.

Service teams should not be excluded from ABM programmes. Remember, the objective of ABM is to bring about a significant change in revenue contribution by successfully engaging a small number of key accounts. 

These accounts must meet your acquisition criteria and be sustainable. Therefore Marketing, Sales and Service need to collaborate and learn from what is won and lost. This will positively impact the wider business.

What can go wrong?

A lot. ABM should not be underestimated. These are the three most common errors:

  • The poor initial choice of target accounts
  • Failure to invest in the proper and full suite of assets and ‘Attract’ and ‘Engagement’ levers. Programme cost should not be a big issue. Companies need to focus on the Opportunity Cost (i.e., the cost of not hitting the growth targets because a competitor may make a move on the long-term opportunity)
  • Failure to allow sufficient time to gain traction

Three tips to avoid disappointment:

ABM Assets – 7

When should you use ABM?

ABM is a particular blend of inbound marketing for organisations serious about scaling sales enablement and driving predictable, transformative sales outcomes. Companies best suited should be able to recognise many common denominators. How many can your business tick?

  • Enterprise business
  • B2B
  • Can identify a cluster of target accounts with common characteristics
  • An industry with long, complicated sales processes
  • Company with high-value service or product offering
  • A small number of big-value deals can be a game-changer
  • Management understands and values inbound marketing principles and methodology
  • The company is at an inflexion point and wants significant long-term growth
  • The sales team is busy, hungry and capable of handling significant high-value leads
  • The company can commit to a 12-24 month investment
  • The organisation is ‘thinking big’
  • Full buy-in from the Financial Director
  • HubSpot or equivalent software is mandatory
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