Typical B2B setup is characterized by fewer accounts, larger deal sizes and longer sales cycle. There are multiple stakeholders involved in making a buying decision and the entire process is much more complex compared to B2C.
In such a scenario, there is a growing emphasis on Account Based Marketing (ABM). What makes ABM unique is that it is one activity that closely integrates Sales and Marketing teams and has a potential to make a direct impact on the bottom line.
With the huge possibilities that ABM brings with it, the question that arises is – Are your three teams (Sales, Marketing and consulting) working in unison as One Team to achieve an incremental business objective? Do you have a clearly defined plan of executing an ABM program? And, most importantly, can you say with decent certainty that the dollars that you have spent has indeed paid off?
Different organizations are carrying out ABM in different capacities – some are organizing client visits and showcasing their facilities, some are carrying account research projects, while many others are creating customized content and doing digital campaigns targeting their accounts.
Each of these activities is important but none of these when done in siloes can even reach half of the results that integrated approach to ABM can yield for your business. An integrated approach to ABM means:
- Integration between teams i.e alignment of Sales and Marketing to a common account specific business goal
- Integration among channels i.e activities across all channels to be planned consistently and in line with account objective
- Integration with account’s buyer’s journey
This post is meant to ignite thought and provide direction on how you can institutionalize SMarketing and reimagine your Account Based Marketing efforts with a strategic zeal.
The 5-Step Integrated ABM Approach
Step 1: Identify your high potential accounts and define ABM objective
“You can do anything but not everything” – David Allen
Primary Owner: Business Head
Support: Sales and Marketing
You would have a huge list of logos whom you would want to bring on-board or up-sell a new solution to. But focusing everywhere is like focusing nowhere. Remember Pareto’s principle – 80% of the results comes from 20% of the efforts.
Recommendation is to identify 2-3 key growth accounts as your target and plan a pilot for these. This step is more about segregating the niche and bringing the necessary stakeholders in consensus of action. The decision needs to be taken by the business head and would depend on multiple factors including the overall vision of the business, potential for growth, account’s purchase propensity from you as a vendor and also the client partner’s readiness to invest time and efforts in the program.
Once the accounts have been identified, the next thing is to jot down a clear objective of your ABM efforts. Do you want to increase awareness of your initiatives, let the account know that you have a perfect solution to their problem, or have an actual deal conversion? What is the timeframe by which you want to achieve the desired outcome and what do you think are the broad metrics of ‘success’?
Step 2: Understand the account’s buyer stage and create buyer personas
“Thinking before acting is wisdom but acting before thinking is regret” – Anonymous
Primary Owner: Sales
Now that you have your target accounts defined, what is important is to understand them in depth. More often than not, the sales team would already have good information on the existing engagement, the key decision makers and the future plans. The idea here is to dwell deeper.
Key information to gather:
1) The account’s stage in the buyer journey.
Decision making in B2B takes a long time as the buyer transitions slowly from feeling the pain and understanding the problem to finding solution to finally engaging with the vendor. Categorize the accounts you have shortlisted to one of the 3 stages – Awareness, Consideration or Purchase.
2) Buyer Personas of key decision makers
Complexity of the B2B lies not just with long sales cycle but also the fact that there are close to 5-10 decision makers involved in a purchase stage. Make a list of all the decision makers in each account and create buyer personas for each. Buyer personal should include General Information (Personal Information, Professional Information, likes/dislikes, Goals and challenges), Decision making ability (Whether the decision maker is a coordinator, influencer or has a decision making power) and Purchase Drives and purchase barriers.
3) Heat Map for Account Pain Areas, our strengths and competitor strengths
Now that you have deeper insights into the account, it is time to gauge what core factors of your offerings directly solve the consumer pain points and are also unique only to you. A simple heat map detailing Account Pain Points w.r.t your strength and Competitor’s Strength can help you identify your USP and this should be used as the key to drive all your messaging.
For gathering information there are couple of useful methods, over and above the existing market research methodologies. These include Social Listening, usage of twitter Lists and setting up alerts on monitoring tools. Marketing team can contribute to significant value addition at this stage by leveraging digital mediums to extract market insights which are otherwise not available upfront. Comprehensive Account Research Reports should be created for each account identified in Step 1 and this should cover all 3 points of Step 2.
Step 3: Create personalized content as per your account’s buyer stage
“People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories and magic.” – Seth Godlin
Primary Owner: Marketing
In the times of decreasing attention spans, it is extremely important to customize your content marketing efforts to ensure that your communication resonates with your prospects. You may want to sift through the content you already have and segregate the applicable ones, but the efforts only begin there.
3 hacks to make your content marketing efforts in-line with ABM efforts
- Content Type: Type of content that you produce should depend on account’s buyer journey. You cannot sell your solution to someone who doesn’t see a problem in the first place. Your content has to slowly move from Thought Leadership centric to solution centric to account centric as you nudge the account down the sales funnel.
Highlighting the various content types that can be used across buyer journey:
Awareness: Blogs, 3rd party Research Reports, White Papers, Industry Trends, eBooks, Analyst Reports
Consideration: Self-assessment Tools, How-To guides, Brochures/Flyers, Solution Videos,
Purchase: Account POVs, Vendor /Product comparison, Demos/Trails
- Content Messaging: Ensure that the content aligns with the following principles:
Disruptive: Breaking the clutter is important and so your content has to be unique. Take cues from challenges of various buyers and heat map of your competitive advantages identified in Step 2 and create content accordingly.
Story telling: There can be multiple problems that a client might be facing, but weaving them all into a concept and illustrating what the post engagement future beholds, can ‘pull’ your audience like no other means.
Personalization: Content should be specifically tailored for the account and should showcase in-depth understanding of account’s problems along with possible solutions and milestones of implementation.
Value Messaging: Messaging should be ‘you’ focused rather than ‘me’ focused, detailing how the engagement can ensure conversion of the Client’s ‘Pain’ to a ‘Gain’.
- Content co-creation: You should collaborate with accounts for joint asset creation. A co-branded thought leadership artifact on a 3rd party platform or showcasing account’s success story in media can be good way to drive engagement.
Step 4: Solve the last mile problem – Execute personalized campaigns
“If we can hit that bull’s eye, the rest of the dominoes will fall like the house of cards.” – Futurama
Primary Owner: Marketing
Creating content won’t serve much purpose unless the people whom you are targeting are reading it. And that is why it is important to solve the last mile content delivery problem. Two important factors here are – the right timing and the right channel. And both, in-turn, will be depend on the Account’s Buyer Journey identified in Step 2.
Not only personalized content, but personalizing the campaign is equally important. Determining the appropriate Touch points across both offline and online mediums, will ensure you have your account’s eye balls. And then ‘pushing’ the content at the right time just when sales team is talking about it, will make the message sink deeper.
Select the appropriate channel according to the account’s buyer journey:
Awareness: Website, Social Media, Banner Ads/ Sponsored Campaigns, Mobile App, Strategy Sessions
Consideration: Email Campaigns, Events, Analyst Strategy Sessions, Webinars,
Purchase: Account based Client Visits, One-on-one meetings, Bespoke Events
Once you have identified the campaigns to run, define the parameters you will measure. These parameters need to be directly co-related to the objective of the campaign and the success metrics that you had defined in the first place. Look at the industry benchmarks and what you would have achieved without the integrated ABM program and then aim for 10% higher than the latter.
Step 5: Close the open loop – Monitor, Measure, Optimize
“No one can hit their target with their eyes closed” – Paulo Coelho
Primary Owner: Marketing for campaign tracking and Sales for Lead Tracking
This is one step that is more often than not missed in traditional form of marketing and sales. What do you do if someone from the account downloads your white paper or registers for a webinar or writes back to the contact e-mail address? What do you do when you get a lead from the event you attended or the webinar you conducted?
Question is – Are you closing the open loop? Are there specific owners defined for the various expected forms of engagement?
Recommendation is to prepare use-cases during the planning stage itself and demarcate ownership. And once the campaign is live, you need to ensure governance of actions corresponding to each engagement.
- For marketing, this will mean measuring the campaign in terms of campaign parameters defined and ensuring that every action is properly captured, segregated, assigned and, if possible, automated.
- For sales, it will mean taking action as per the engagement and updating the details of the buyer movement in the CRM every time there is some movement.
Thus, the ‘success’ of the campaign is not necessarily just few views on the website or downloads of a white paper, but when the client actually picks you as a vendor for their upcoming engagement.
Account Based Marketing is not about executing some account related activities here and there. ABM in true sense means that all marketing activities – be it content, campaigns, events or alliances – all work in unison to achieve the desired objective for a particular account. Idea is to hit when the iron is hot!
This integrated approach makes the ABM program more effective because it makes both sales and marketing work towards a common goal. Since the efforts of all the teams are focused, the net results achieved would be higher and costs lower in the long run.
For marketers, this brings an awesome opportunity to be directly involved in the revenue generation process and contribute not just to lead generation but lead nurturing process as well. Sales team benefits from marketer’s ability to extract market insights like never before and also to promote content exactly at the time when it is needed to substantiate their claim. End result will be that the prospects would be pushed deeper into the funnel and eventually lead the buyer to the purchase stage.