How to get executives to buy into an ABM program

May 8, 2019 Bogdan Zlatkov

When people think about account-based marketing (ABM) and lead-generation, they usually place them on opposite sides of the spectrum. A lot of marketing executives we speak to share their reservations about ditching their reliable lead-generation campaigns for a new and shiny ABM program. You're not alone in the transition. After all, 52% of companies surveyed by ITSMAA have been running ABM for less than one year. 

This is a huge mistake that most marketers make when pitching an ABM program to their executive team.

In reality, you don't have to choose one over the other, especially when you're just getting started with ABM. While lead-gen and ABM work differently, they can actually complement each other very well. 

Using your lead-gen campaign to qualify your accounts

When starting a new ABM program, B2B marketers tend to think they need a list of target accounts to build the program around. While it’s true that a target account list (TAL) is useful to have, it isn’t really necessary to start.

A lead-generation campaign can actually be used to help you complete your target account list, which you can then funnel into your ABM program.

We call this the Double-Funnel strategy:

A lot of B2B marketers have a hard time identifying their ideal customer (which is why we've created a helpful ICP template), presenting a challenge for making an entire list of target accounts. Sure, you might know the general type of prospect you’re trying to target, but there are so many outliers it’s hard to limit yourself to just one set of criteria.

If you're not in a place where you're ready to build a strategic ICP, you can use B2B lead generation software to build a target account list based on engagement.

A lead typically enters your funnel with very little information. You might know their name and email, but learning other attributes, like where they work or their position, takes some time.

You can quantify the lead’s behavior (like the articles they read, the content they download, etc.) and add those actions to your lead score.

Over time you can use this data, along with a data scoring tool, to figure out other attributes of that lead. For example, if you find out that a lead works at a company with more than 1,000 employees, and your ideal customer includes companies with that same attribute, you can consider adding that lead to your ABM program.

Using lead-gen up front means that by the time you add the lead to your target account list, you have already validated their quality and fit. This also drives up your account coverage and account fit, two key metrics we covered before.

Getting executive support for an account based marketing program

Here’s another big reason why you shouldn’t stop your lead-generation campaign: executive buy-in.

SiriusDecisions has found 92% of B2B companies recognize the value in an ABM program, yet only 20% of organizations have implemented it.

Telling an executive you want to replace your (successful) lead-gen program with an ABM program will understandably raise their defenses, which might explain why only 20% of organizations have actually implemented ABM.

Pitching ABM as a way to enhance your lead-gen program is a much better sell. Reframing the program in this way is the key to selling ABM into your org, here’s how…

Take a tiered approach to ABM campaigns

As an experienced B2B marketer you know the benefits of account-based marketing. After all, 87% of B2B marketers have agreed ABM delivers a higher ROI than other marketing activities.

The problem is that other people on your team might not be as convinced.

One way we recommend getting buy-in from executives is by segmenting your program and your accounts into three tiers:

  • The VIP group: gets a completely custom, high-end treatment
  • The semi-VIP group: gets some customization in your ads, landing pages, and direct mail communications
  • The might-be-VIP-someday group: gets auto customization, if possible

Start at the bottom and work your way up.

If you’re new to account-based marketing, you’ll want to start with some basic customization. Depending on which ABM provider you choose, you can link your existing Marketo, or Salesforce instance directly into the ABM platform.

This allows you to create personalized ads automatically, essentially improving your lead-gen campaigns near-instantly.

In our own ABM campaign, for instance, we saw a 41% decrease in cost-per-acquisition (CPA) in our personalized ads compared to our standard non-personalized ads.

This is the simplest form of personalization, but it’s a very good start and can bring meaningful improvements in your marketing programs.

Once you’ve gotten your feet wet, you can start ramping up the program by scoring the leads in your lead-gen program and then adding them into your account-based marketing program.

Remember the Double Funnel above? We’re now in the “Qualification” stage.

There are a number of ways you can score your accounts:

  1. Using predictive scoring models. A predictive scoring model evaluates a set of indicators and builds a model that predicts the likelihood of an account to convert. Once you add a lead into the tool, you can set it up so your predictive scoring model will automatically qualify them and add them to the corresponding tier.
  2. Using firmographic parameters. Aspects like the company’s size, location, and annual revenue can be enough to qualify an account. The closer the account’s parameters are to your ideal customer profile (ICP), the better it is and the higher in the tier it should be.
  3. Having your sales team pick each account. Finally, you can have your sales reps analyze each account personally and pick those that fit your ICP best. Remember that your sales team does this all day, every day, so put that experience to good use.

The main benefit of an ABM program is that it delivers highly personalized content to a set of highly targeted accounts. The problem is that setting this up can take time.

Starting with the lowest tier of automatic personalization gives you a soft sell into your executive team. You are still running your lead-gen campaigns, you’re just running them with a more personalized touch.

Takeaways & Next Steps

If you are thinking about starting an ABM program, you can use your existing lead-gen campaigns to help qualify your leads into your accounts. You can also pitch your account-based marketing plan as an enhancement to your lead-gen program to help with executive buy in.

The way you categorize each account into the three tiers will depend on your account fit. The higher the account fit, the higher the personalization should be.

The important thing is to get started sooner rather than later. By launching your first ABM program you’ll gain valuable insights. Using those insights will be a far better compass to steer your account-based marketing plan down the line, rather than simply hypothesizing about it in meeting after meeting.

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.

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About the Author

Bogdan Zlatkov

Content Marketing @ LinkedIn

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