Despite their best intentions, some new-to-ABM marketers fall back on old habits.
First they identify their target accounts, then they spray them with one-size-fits-all messaging on every channel imaginable.
In their eagerness to accelerate sales, these marketers wind up treating every account the same. Worse, they assume most of their targets are ready to buy.
The truth is, most target accounts don’t know anything about a brand until marketing starts pursuing them—which is exactly why the traditional spray and pray approach won’t cut it.
To design successful account-based campaigns, the most ABM-savvy marketers align their offers with each target account’s unique position in the buyer’s journey.
Here’s how your team can do the same.
Identify buying stages of target accounts
It’s not enough to have a target account list. Before marketing can build ABM campaigns that resonate with their best-fit accounts, they must understand where these accounts “live” in their respective buying journeys.
In practice, this means grouping your target accounts into distinct buying stages. At RollWorks, we approach the process with a simple framework that uses a combination of intent and engagement signals to assess an account’s propensity to buy.
Account-based buying stages
Upper funnel: Unaware
Almost 80 percent of a company’s new target accounts fall in this stage. They’ve shown no recent signs of awareness or engagement with your brand and are usually unaware of your solution before you target them.
Mid funnel: Category aware
Intent and engagement signals come into play in the middle of the funnel. Target accounts that occupy this stage have shown recent and measurable awareness of your category—usually by engaging with related content—even if they haven’t shown product or brand awareness yet.
Lower funnel: Ready to evaluate
At this stage, target accounts have shown either a high volume of engagement in a short period (binge-behavior) or a low volume of product or brand-centric engagement or intent over time. In either case, target accounts that live at the bottom of the funnel are more likely to purchase your solution.
Whether you’re building buying stages from scratch or optimizing an existing set, keep these two principles in mind:
Signal quality matters
When using intent and engagement signals to assess buying stage, your data is the most actionable when it’s:
- Dynamic: Stale data isn’t particularly useful. Make sure the data used to evaluate buying stages updates dynamically—or, at the very least, refreshes on command in real-time.
- Buyer driven: The only behavior that should factor into buying stages is that of your target accounts. Exclude marketing tactics designed to elicit a response from the equation.
- Across contacts: There are typically 5-7 people involved in a B2B buying process, and you’ll want to consider each of them in your assessment. If your team immediately discounts junior-level employees, you may miss crucial data points about an account’s readiness to buy.
- Multi-channel: Marketing also needs visibility into sales activities to make informed decisions about the buying stages of their TAL. With your CRM of choice, pull replies from outbound emails and call connects to get the full picture of where an account is.
- First and third-party: Don’t stop at first-party data from CRMs and marketing automation platforms. Leveraging data from third-parties can help marketing teams understand how their target accounts might be engaging with relevant content categories, competitors, or whatever matters to the business.
Thinking like a seller is a must
Adopting a sales mindset comes down to placing value on the same things a salesperson would:
- High volume of activity quickly: If you notice someone on your TAL consuming a lot of blog content or clicking through all your emails, for example, their level of engagement is worth your attention. The same applies when multiple people within an account show signs of superficial engagement. Collectively, it might mean the account can accelerate to a lower funnel stage.
- Product-centric engagement: People within a target account don’t necessarily need to complete a host of product-centric activities to advance through the buying funnel. Often, once marketing detects one product-centric behavior, it’s worth getting that person (or people) on their sales team’s radar.
Find the right combination of channels and offers
Keeping your target accounts warm—and moving them through the funnel—often takes months of nurturing.
To speed a traditionally slow sales cycle, an account-based approach is most effective when marketers think critically and holistically about how and where to drive engagement.
Whether you’re creating a new offer or repurposing an existing one, you’ll need to “sniff-test” to make sure the offer:
1. Relates to audience buying stage
As marketers, it’s tempting to push for demos as soon as possible (in as many places as possible) to as many target contacts as we can. Most of the time, this approach results in high CPLs with a low response rate.
It can also make your brand seem tone-deaf and annoy some of your most important targets. Exercise caution with lower-funnel CTAs by making sure you’ve earned the right to share these types of offers.
2. Answers “why you why now”
The best outbound messaging caters to the recipient.
With intent and engagement data at their disposal, marketers can determine which content categories are the most interesting and important to high-fit accounts, using these insights to follow up with appropriate offers. Recent changes in company information (such as adopting a new tool) also provide an opportunity for meaningful outreach without the creep factor.
3. Provides appropriate value for their investment
Whatever is on offer should be worth the time investment. If you’re promoting a 100-page ebook, for instance, it needs to go beyond run-of-the-mill insights to provide a corresponding level of value.
You’ll also want to treat engagement as a two-step process. None of your target accounts should receive gated content offers until they’re category aware.
4. Includes next-level personalization
Driving meaningful results with personalization means moving beyond basic merge fields and deliberately creating custom experiences for each target audience.
To increase responsiveness to your offers, craft messaging around a target account’s industry or mention their competitors. Both can be effective at moving the needle.
Figuring out which offers will resonate with an audience is only half the equation. You’ll also need to determine which channels will bolster the performance of each offer.
Before choosing any channels, ask two questions:
How will the channel reach our target account contacts?
- Owned programs: Keeping track of target account reach across channels means making sure your systems appropriately and accurately tag target account status at the contact level. It also means tagging their relative buying stage (and updating it regularly).
- Paid partner programs: With traditional demand gen channels like content syndication and sponsored webinars, focus your spend exclusively on your TAL by asking your vendor to sign an NDA before sharing your list. Once you have a sense of the kind of coverage your vendor can get, you’ll know for sure how well they can reach members of your target account list.
- Remote audiences: The future of work might include permanently working from home, but many companies rely solely on reverse-IP lookups to identify accounts. When working with partners, make sure they use a robust data set to identify the people within those accounts accurately.
Does the channel align with the buying stage?
- Top of funnel offers should leverage channels that provide the largest reach for the least amount of money—whether that means using account-based display ads to link back to a blog post, or social media ads that link to ungated video assets.
- Middle of funnel offers typically require more investment from marketing and your TAL. Use channels like direct mail, retargeting, and LinkedIn ads to promote things like webinars, events, and gated content assets to your most engaged target accounts.
- Bottom of funnel offers are exclusive to accounts that have advanced to the ready-to-evaluate buying stage. One-to-one channels like email, chat, web, and phone will work best for lower funnel offers like demos, case studies, and ROI calculators.
Measure cost and impact with appropriate KPIs
It’s difficult to design an effective ABM campaign without understanding how to plan for ROI. To work towards the right KPIs, marketers must take an account-based approach to two factors: cost and impact.
The narrow focus of an ABM approach changes the math around conversions. When marketers craft campaigns that advance their best-fit accounts through the funnel, conversions happen more quickly and at a higher rate than with traditional demand gen tactics.
For marketers, a willingness to pay more for target account engagement (content downloads) or bottom of the funnel actions (demo requests) will pay off sooner rather than later.
The classic demand gen marketer knows what volume to expect when they spend a certain amount on content syndication or advertising.
But when this quantity-over-quality mindset extends into ABM campaigns, their results may seem disappointing.
To overcome the “more is better” mantra of traditional demand gen, marketers who embrace ABM must also recalibrate their expectations.
In practice, that means acknowledging the relationship between the offer, funnel stage, and volume of responses:
- Top of funnel offers (blog posts, infographics, and ungated video) target unaware accounts and should yield a relatively high volume of responses.
- Bottom of funnel offers (demos, ROI calculators, and product sheets) target your most engaged accounts and will naturally yield significantly less volume.
In either case, knowing what to expect ahead of time empowers marketers to align their KPIs with both the offer and funnel stage.
For example, if you’re targeting unaware accounts by offering them a relevant blog post, a good KPI is something like “site visits from target accounts.” If you’re targeting ready-to-evaluate accounts with something product-centric like a case study, an appropriate KPI might be “content views” or “content requests.”
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