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What You Need to Know to Get Started with Account-Based Marketing

Account-based marketing (ABM) is a white-hot buzzword for B2B marketers right now. You see it everywhere: guides, eBooks, infographics, blog posts by handsome bald content marketers–the works. Yet as much as everyone is talking about ABM, there’s still plenty of confusion about what it is and how best to do it.

It’s all well and good to say, “We should get some of that sweet account-based marketing; I hear it’s a gold mine.” But implementing a program in a strategic way takes a little more digging.

What Is Account-Based Marketing?

My favorite definition of ABM comes from Engagio CEO Jon Miller:

“Account-based marketing: a strategic approach that coordinates personalized marketing and sales efforts to open doors and deepen engagement at specific accounts.” – Jon Miller, Engagio

Think of traditional marketing as a confetti cannon. You set it off, it blankets the entire audience in confetti, and hopefully the one or two people you really wanted to confetti-ize get covered.

In a similar metaphor, ABM is a T-shirt cannon. It aims to deliver a valuable payload directly to specific roles–even specific individuals–in key accounts. Instead of roping in and audience that might include your most valuable people, you’re identifying the most valuable ones ahead of time and not wasting effort on anyone else.

Like content marketing, ABM is a concept that has been around for a long time, but technology makes it more feasible to do it at scale. The ad men of the 60’s went after big-money accounts with laser precision, spending hours crafting elaborate proposals on spec.

Now with email automation software, CRM, targeting platforms, and other martech, finding the right audience and personalizing content is much more efficient than it used to be. Some level of ABM is bound to be the right fit for your organization. Here’s how to get started.

#1: Sit Down with Sales

ABM is situated somewhere between sales and marketing. Neither department fully owns it; they need to work closely together to be successful. Sales will need to identify key accounts. Marketing needs to produce the content salespeople can use to create and nurture relationships. Sales needs to report back on what content is working, identify gaps, and request content to fill them. And so on.

This whole delicate back-and-forth will only work if your sales and marketing departments are tightly aligned. Now is the time to sit down together, schedule regular joint meetings for the foreseeable future, and start a genuine conversation. Agree on definitions, purpose, and goals. Discuss the rest of this list with sales and make decisions together.

When you’re running a successful ABM campaign, the lines between your two departments should start to blur. Think of it as creating a new team: The Department of Revenue. That has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

#2: Choose Your Level

There is no single right way to do ABM. Note Jon Miller’s definition up there was pretty broad–as long as you’re strategic and targeting key accounts with personalized content, you have yourself an ABM program.

Generally speaking, there are three levels of ABM your team might pursue, depending on industry, target audience and resources available. They are:

  • Full ABM: This is the classic 60s model, but spiffed up with smarter targeting and a smidgen of automation. You’ll be going after just a few huge accounts, with high personalization–down to the individual, even. This level makes sense if you have a high-cost offering with a long sales cycle.
  • Partial ABM: In this model, you’re still running relatively few accounts, but starting to scale up your efforts. Rather than individuals, you’re targeting personas–more role and job function than single human beings. Still, you’re delivering deeply personalized content to each persona.
  • ABM Lite: The shallowest level of ABM looks much more like traditional marketing, but with a little more personalization and a higher level of targeting. These small moves toward ABM can make a big difference; if ABM Lite is all your organization can do, it’s still worth doing.

#3: Identify Key Accounts

The first step after picking a level of engagement is finding the accounts that your ABM efforts will focus on. The sales team is a strong ally at this step. Find out what accounts they dream of landing but can’t seem to get a foot in the door. Add the potentially high-yield accounts that have made initial contact but are stalled at some stage of the deal.

If your team struggles to come up with these key accounts, work backward–construct a persona of the business that would most benefit from your offering and your sales team would be most happy to land. List the characteristics that make the business a great fit. Then use these criteria to profile potential ABM targets.

#4: Decide on Metrics/KPIs

At this stage, communication with sales is absolutely crucial. You will need to work together to establish goals and agree on how progress will be measured. Agreement at this step will help avoid the kind of squabbling later on that can sink a whole program. Make sure you agree on what goals need to be accomplished, and what metrics will best show progress toward those goals.

For example, a goal might be to engage decision-makers at a certain level in one of your target accounts. A metric to measure progress would be likes and shares of content your team shares with that audience.

#5: Develop Personas

If your team is practicing full ABM, this step is less important–rather than personas, you’ll likely be focused on individuals within your big accounts. For everyone else, this stage is a major part of making ABM effective.

Map out the buying committee of your key accounts–what roles will be involved in the decision-making process? What demographics define these roles? What are their chief motivations at work? What information do they need to succeed at their job that you can supply?

Answer these questions with research on the company’s website, industry websites, and on LinkedIn. Consult sales for the insights they have gleaned in the trenches, too.

#6: Create & Distribute Content

Once you know who needs the content and what they need to hear, go ahead and create content. Think about curation as an ABM function, too–you’ll want to supply your audience with valuable information from a variety of sources. That way you can establish usefulness and authority without seeming overly promotional.

Your sales team will help distribute content. After all, you created it to their specifications, to specifically enable sales conversations, right? In addition, consider using native advertising and sponsored social media posts to get your message in front of the right people. LinkedIn and Facebook both have sophisticated targeting tools. Use them to create custom audiences of the personas at your key accounts.

#7: Continue to Support Sales

Once the content is flowing and responses are coming in, evaluate your performance. Refine and optimize the content type, topics covered and methods of distribution.

As relationships start to grow, stay aware of what the sales team needs to continue educating potential clients all the way to a purchase decision. There’s no real sales “handoff” in ABM–plan on staying in the game until the deal is closed, and beyond.

Account-based marketing is yet another age-old  practice made more efficient and strategic with modern marketing methods. For B2B companies, it makes sense to at least adopt some ABM principles to your marketing mix. Depending on your industry and offering, a full plunge into ABM might be the better investment of time and resources.

Either way, it starts with sales and marketing alignment. Form your Department of Revenue, agree on KPIs, metrics, and definitions, and take it from there.

Has your organization tried ABM yet? Is it working? Let me know in the comments.

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