Account-based marketing (ABM) is the latest strategy to improve your marketing ROI. But most organizations are doing it wrong. Let’s help you fix that.
According to ITSMA, 85% of marketers surveyed said that they believe account-based marketing outperforms other marketing efforts.
It’s a nice belief. It even makes sense. The problem is, only half of them said they actually see a significantly higher ROI.
Sure, your new implementation might show a marginal 5-10% increase in ROI. But what about 50%, 100%, and 200%? Aren’t those the numbers you should be after?
Account-based marketing is a highly-targeted approach. That means you’re spending both your time and resources on th most profitable accounts and improving conversion rates with a focused effort.
Unfortunately, as we just learned, many marketers are missing the full value that account-based marketing offers.
Instead of developing a true ABM strategy, they are treating the initiative like glorified marketing segmentation. Which is better than nothing, but not nearly as powerful as it could be.
So what sets a true ABM strategy apart? By the end of this article, you’ll see the difference between ABM and other marketing approaches. You’ll be able to update your ABM strategy and gain the knowledge you need to close more deals.
But first, let’s take a look at the main problems with traditional marketing and how ABM aims to solve them.
Account-based marketing is a new type of funnel
Traditional segmentation separates leads into different buckets (the “segments”) so that you can market to them with more specific messaging. For example: eCommerce store owners versus Fortune 500 marketing managers.
It often relies on tracking the lead’s behavior online to take a guess at where they land. What lead magnets did they download?
But there are three problems with this:
- It still relies on lumping leads into broad categories.
- It’s reactionary – you can only segment based on the behavior you successfully track online.
- It requires the customer to find you, engage with your content, and opt into your funnel.
This weak structure is probably why Forrester found that, on average, only 0.75% of leads that companies generate actually result in sales.
Only 0.75%? That’s less than 1%!
Account-based marketing solves all three of these issues by introducing a new type of funnel:
It starts with specific and personalized targeting right out of the gate by identifying the key influencers inside companies you’d like to work with. You then engage those key players directly with personalized marketing.
This approach has many advantages:
- It’s personal and specific. You eliminate the broad buckets that only connect with the customer halfway.
- It’s proactive because you’ll plan specifically for key accounts and key individuals (and then tweak your plan based on their reactions).
- You control the dialog. You don’t have to wait around for customers to find you and decide that they’re interested
This can lead to serious results for your bottom line.
It better aligns your marketing initiatives with your sales goals. Instead of focusing on attracting as many leads as possible, your team will be focusing on attracting accounts that will close and bring the most value:
While you’ll bring in fewer leads, an effective ABM strategy will actually raise your marketing ROI because each lead will be worth more.
Which explains why 78% of B2B Marketers surveyed in 2016 said that ABM was important or very important to their marketing strategy and 86% said that its importance has been growing over the past two years.
Something there tells us it’s only a matter of time before the 22% realize they’re missing out on something big.
The problem is that many businesses say they’re doing account-based marketing but fail to see it all the way through.
They fall into bad habits or take shortcuts and end up with a glorified segmentation campaign. It’s a great starting point, but there is so much more to a full-scale ABM strategy.
Even if you are seeing results, unless you’re following these techniques, you’re probably not getting as much as you could from account-based marketing. Let’s fix that.
So, what exactly is account-based marketing if not segmentation?
Account-based marketing is segmented marketing all grown up. As we learned above, the main distinction is that the segmentation starts before you even make contact. And this acts as a filter against wasting time on unqualified deals.
It’s best suited for B2B companies selling to mid-size to enterprise-level businesses with multiple stakeholders that influence the purchase decision. Because it’s designed to reach these key influencers individually and turn them into advocates for your product who will do some of the selling for you.
With a smaller business, it’s easier for sales to get in front of the key decision-maker personally, so there’s less need to create multiple internal advocates.
That doesn’t mean it can’t be effective on a smaller scale, but it’s important to keep in mind what this technique was developed for so you can properly apply it.
Fix #1: Trash bad data for successful ABM
Automation still plays a major role in most companies’ ABM strategies:
Good automation relies on quality data. Having complete data allows you to personalize media like display ads, emails, and landing pages. Like how HubSpot changes their messaging depending on what segment their customer falls into:
And what about people’s positions? Phone numbers? The organizational chart? With the length of most B2B sales cycles, it’s important to keep this up to date. People change positions, offices, and companies all the time.
You need to make sure you’re hitting all the right people and have all the information you need to do so.
This is why it’s important to keep your data clean and organized.
If your team doesn’t trust the data, they can’t operate efficiently or effectively. And if the data isn’t accurate, it can lead to deal-killing mistakes.
There’s nothing more awkward than repeating a conversation with a prospect on the phone. Or worse, giving them information that conflicts with your marketing materials!
This is why it’s so alarming that only 24% of managers surveyed said that their organizations have the right data for effective marketing. And just 31% felt their data was sufficient for good sales.
To fix this, you need to regularly update or delete out-of-date information.
And it’s not just quantitative marketing data that matters. Your team should be keeping detailed qualitative notes inside your CRM so that everyone knows where the account stands.
Fix #2: Align your sales and marketing teams
Account-based marketing requires marketers to think a bit more like salespeople, and it requires salespeople to think a bit more like marketers. There isn’t the same hand-off that happens in traditional marketing where the marketing team finds and develops the lead before passing it off to the sales team to nurture and close it.
It’s a good idea to include your sales team right from the beginning.
Salespeople often have a better intuition about which deals are likely to close, so they need to be involved in selecting the target accounts right from the very beginning. They can also help you identify the right influencers inside the organization to target.
I know what you’re thinking: it’s brutally tough to get sales and marketing to work together. But consider running weekly status updates where both teams meet together to discuss your ABM leads and their status. Both teams can find mutual benefits by exchanging information, allowing marketers to better touch on pain points to bring in leads for the sales team.
And it’s not just in the beginning. The sales team should keep the marketing team updated throughout the process so that the marketers can continue to hit them with the right content and resources to aid them in the decision-making process.
This is why organizations with “tightly-aligned” sales and marketing teams see 38% higher sales win rates along with 36% higher customer retention rates.
The problem is that, despite the clear benefits, Forrester research reports that only 8% of companies believe they have strong alignment between these departments.
To fix this, your organization should follow RollWorks’ process for sales and marketing alignment:
Accountability is key because it encourages the teams to coordinate their efforts toward a common goal. For example, when marketing is measured solely by the number of leads generated, it incentivizes them to focus on quantity, not quality.
If this is how you measure results, then disqualifying leads would cause them to report worse metrics even though it would be in the best interest of the company to do so.
Here are some joint metrics you can use to evaluate both departments using shared KPIs:
A fully-integrated Sales Pipeline CRM will help you keep track of where leads that close are coming from and how they engage with different content in addition to traditional sales interactions. Key sales pipeline data like opportunity, contact and visit can help you customize your messaging for each account based on their stage in the buying journey.
This will let you analyze the win probability of each account based on their interactions with marketing content so you can deploy the right sales talent.
It will also show which lead sources are most effective for specific types of clients and help you refine which ads you send to help reinforce the sales proposals.
Fix #3: Recycle resources for all they’re worth
Nearly 30% of B2B marketing budgets are dedicated to content marketing.
It’s expensive to create content that is high-quality, data-driven, professional, well-researched, and well-designed.
You’ll spend hours conducting research. Then someone needs to write it up, someone else needs to design graphics, and it will go through a few rounds of editing. Finally, you’ll get an end product you can show to your customer.
But you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time.
Repurposing content is one of the most effective ways to boost your marketing ROI.
You’ve already done all the research and effort organizing information. Maximize its value by converting it into different formats that will connect with different targets.
Traditional repurposing strategies focus on maximizing exposure:
This is great. There’s no harm to your ABM strategy by ranking higher on Google and getting your brand published as industry experts.
But with ABM, your goal isn’t simply to attract more inbound leads, it’s to improve the conversion rates of your qualified target accounts.
If your sales and marketing teams are tightly integrated, then you can be more efficient with your content resources and extract maximum value.
You’ll know what specific challenges customers face and what types of media they respond to. You can see which format drives the most sales in your CRM as you track click-through rates and response rates with RollWorks contact-level reporting.
Pair that with qualitative feedback from your sales team, and you’ll be able to take your most popular content and update the format to connect better with your influencers.
Depending on your persona type, you can structure different content offerings.
For instance, if you are communicating with C-Suite executives, they might want more formal content like SlideShare presentations, guides and a full consultation. Whereas smaller target accounts might prefer an in-depth webinar or a detailed eBook.
You can then deliver the content in the format most effective for the specific persona of different influencers.
Fix #4: Nurture leads across multiple channels
Since account-based marketing is focused on closing mid to large size deals, you need to spend time nurturing leads over time before trying to close the sale.
In a 2017 interview, nearly half of marketers said their normal sales cycle was long and complex, involving many decision influencers. Another 19% said that these complex deals made up about half of their sales.
Looking at this particular study, it’s critical to analyze the data set. In the study, both B2B and B2C teams were surveyed. Considering that most B2C sales are simple, one-time, direct purchases (think clothing, food, toys), it’s likely that the 48% “complex sales” are B2B.
That explains why marketers also said that lead nurturing was one of the most important features in a marketing automation system:
This is why it’s critical to use a platform that allows for both inbound lead nurturing and outbound lead nurturing. In other words, you should look for both demand-gen and ABM capabilities in whichever platform you use. At RollWorks we call this The Double Funnel strategy:
A Double Funnel strategy involves first using lead-gen to find new opportunities you might not have considered, and then piping those opportunities into your ABM campaigns.
Using a Double Funnel approach can be highly more effective than keeping your funnels separate, and it’s something we recommend constantly to those who are first starting out with account-based marketing.
Of course, you’ll want to make sure you’re selecting the right accounts to target, which makes nurturing them much easier.
Here’s a handy criteria checklist for selecting ABM accounts:
Now that you have the right accounts, good data, integrated teams, and a content library (you’ve already implemented the other tips right?), you need to apply them all to nurturing your leads with multi-channel marketing.
Email is still the most preferred channel for sales communication for buyers, and it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon:
But if you look at the younger demographic, there are a number of channels that seem to be on the rise like social media and online video.
Here are some other effective channels to nurture leads:
Direct mail still works, even though it has become less preferred by most buyers (see chart above). Less than 30% of those under 34 years old favor it.
That just means you need to step it up and get creative. Don’t send a boring brochure that the recipient will just toss in the trash.
Let’s take a look how Workfront effectively used direct mail in an ABM campaign when their competitor announced they were no longer supporting their product going forward.
First, they leveraged traditional telemarketing to find companies that used their competitor’s product and interviewed them to find out what they liked and disliked about the product.
They then used the data in their CRM to analyze the characteristics of recently closed deals—particularly those that switched from a competitor’s product.
From this they created a list of 2,000 target customers and influencers to reach out to and used clever messaging around Valentine’s Day.
The message was bold. It focused on a relationship breakup and looking for a partner that won’t “dump you.” It directed them to a personalized landing page that kept the theme going:
For their top 500 prospects, they also sent a bouquet of flowers to make sure they’d stand out (and to place a daily reminder in the prospects’ offices).
Imagine going home and telling your husband or wife that someone else sent you flowers at work on valentines day when they didn’t!
That’s bound to be a memorable conversation.
By investing a bit in identifying their highest value prospects, they were able to justify going the extra mile for them. That’s what account-based marketing is all about.
When you send information kits, take the time to personalize them and offer incentives (like discounts, free trials, and freebies) for the client to schedule meetings with you. This will have the client coming to you to redeem their reward rather than you chasing them.
Sending useful swag can be a great way to keep your brand present in their mind with your logo on their desk every day.
Useful swag is a combination of quality and utility. Send something they might actually use. If they use it at the office, that’s even better. Here are some ideas
- Mobile device chargers
- Cell phone stands
- Bottle openers
- Reusable water bottles
- Moleskine notebooks
But make sure that you pair this with quality. It will only make you look bad when you send a cheap water bottle a week after HubSpot sent a nice metal one.
If you can’t afford to invest in quality, don’t send anything at all. Or better yet, narrow down your list of top prospects and spend the money where it will bring the most results.
And please, no more cheap pens. Those really aren’t cool.
While direct mail can be a powerful tool, it’s quickly becoming a saturated tactic.
Nearly every B2B company is sending direct mail nowadays and the positive effects are wearing thin.
Using display ads in addition to direct mail is a great way to make a bigger impression.
In fact, our most successful ABM campaign used precisely this one-two punch. You can read about the full account-based marketing campaign here.
In our campaign we leveraged our ABM platform’s personalized ads to ensure we stayed top of mind during the entire buyer journey. For example, these ABM ads pulled the company name into the ad unit itself, ensuring that we grabbed their attention. We saw immediate results here, as our CPA decreased by 42% with these targeted ads (compared to a test group that saw non-company-specific ads).
Personalized Landing Pages
Because they work.
Personalized landing pages target the specific interests of visitors, making it far more likely to appeal to them.
The only risk with custom landing pages is getting the “custom” part of it wrong. This is why choosing a good landing page provider is crucial to creating the right post-click experience for the right prospect.
When you’re juggling several different channels at once, automation can be a life-saver. It can help you touch more customers with less effort.
In the complex world of B2B sales, you can expect that generic messaging will be less effective.
If you have a broad, traditional funnel, you’re probably willing to sacrifice some of your leads for the time you save when you automate your promotions. But with ABM, it’s important to nurture every single lead. After all, you hand picked them!
Most people can tell the difference between a message that a real person wrote and a template response that a computer filled out. If your automation feels impersonal, your entire ABM strategy will suffer.
ABM is all about building relationships, you simply can’t make people feel like just another lead in the system.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t use automation with ABM.
If you use a cookie-based ABM vendor with a solid targeting background you can provide personalized messaging at scale. RollWorks, for instance, can pull in information from your CRM and serve it directly in your display ads.
Remember that the goal of ABM is to increase ROI by growing revenue, not reducing costs. It’s okay to spend a little extra time personalizing your assets if it leads to a signed deal.
Takeaways & Next Steps
ABM is all about treating your most valuable prospects like the VIPs that they are.
ABM is a targeted approach that finally takes advantage of all the data available to modern B2B marketers and pairs it with AI (artificial intelligence) to make marketing well…more intelligent.
The main takeaway you should get from this post is that there are dozens of ways to run both effective and ineffective account-based marketing campaigns.
The targeting you choose, the content you choose, and the platform you run everything on can make a big difference between ultimate success and just another cost in your excel sheet.
If you’re curious to see how other companies have started running ABM campaigns, you can browse through The Big Book of ABM Campaigns, which was co-written with Bizible, Datanyze, LiveRamp, and Radius. It includes 5 ABM campaigns that each company actually ran, along with pictures and lessons learned.