Business and the way you interact with customers is ever-evolving, and you and your B2B company need to develop innovative ideas, especially in these extraordinary times. One of the good commercial possibilities in B2B is Account-Based Marketing (ABM). ABM complements conventional, short-term goals of generating leads with efforts focused on driving long-term revenue.
Imagine a world where you could begin selling directly to your most valuable accounts. A world where you do not waste time working to market and trying to sell to unqualified leads. Instead, you can move straight into the phases of engaging and delighting your target accounts.
ABM makes this possible. It allows you to align your marketing and sales efforts to promote long-term growth, delight customers, and boost revenue. This guide exists to help your ABM happen.
What is ABM?
ABM is a commercial strategy that allows you and your company to target and engage a focused set of accounts in your target market.
By targeting accounts in a structured way, marketing and sales teams must agree on mutual targets and create communication and messaging that is specific for these accounts.
ABM is a preferred approach for B2B companies as it often generates higher revenues in a shorter time frame. ABM is a bit like the reverse of a traditional marketing and sales approach. With ABM, marketing and sales closely identify key accounts and prospects first, and then tailor personalised communication and messaging for the target accounts and their purchasing team.
One of the episodes of The Onlinification Pod is actually devoted to answering this question - take a listen to learn more.
The importance of ABM in B2B
As ABM evolves from a cutting-edge approach to an established, trusted technique, companies are realising its importance and are beginning to implement and use it.
According to research from HubSpot, over two-thirds of marketers say their company currently uses ABM, and other studies show that a majority of marketers say they can measure a positive impact since introducing ABM, in terms of customer lifetime value, deal win rates, and more.
Generally, when B2B companies fully understand ABM, they realise that it can fit in well with their existing resources and activities. Since the ABM approach focuses on only vital accounts, you and your company can become more personalised and targeted in your communication, messaging and interactions. As a result, using ABM the right way will improve your company's conversion rates.
ABM and inbound
This dynamic duo is to be reckoned with when they work together. When paired, ABM and Inbound have the power to make a big impact on your company.
Although they may seem like two different approaches, their philosophies complement each other.
ABM is a highly targeted approach, while inbound is more foundational — it allows you to attract customers by providing relevant content and a delightful experience. Rather than interrupting your potential and existing customers, Inbound enables you to offer the content they want, when they want it. But both methods rely on a deep understanding of the accounts you want to reach, what their problems are, and how you can solve them. If you already work with Inbound, your can leverage the knowledge you already have and use it to accelerate your ABM operation. Once both methods are up and running, the additional understanding you gain from one approach will benefit the other. In effect, Inbound serves as the foundation for ABM by preparing the way for an efficient and highly-targeted allocation of resources towards your valued accounts.
Here are some more reasons to implement a combination of ABM and Inbound:
- Inbound helps you attract target accounts, and ABM accelerates the flywheel to win and delight target accounts with extraordinary customer experiences.
- With this combined approach, you will attract a broader group of potential customers than with just one of the methods and catch any opportunities the other process has missed.
- Your content now suddenly has a two-for-one value — you can use content that serves both an ABM and inbound approach, e.g. by making a personalised case study for a specific account that you also share on your .com/.xx.
- Like HubSpot's ABM software, software options are available and make it easy to implement ABM and inbound strategies in a complementary way.
For more information on how ABM and inbound compare to each other and how they can be combined, take a look at our article: Account-based marketing vs. inbound marketing
Benefits of ABM
ABM has many benefits, but these are some of the main ones that you and your targets will notice:
- ABM is a more personalised approach.
- It keeps the right people's attention and reaches them at the right time.
- It delivers higher ROI, since it focuses your efforts on accounts who are most likely to become customers.
- It will naturally align your sales and marketing efforts.
- It makes it easier to measure the return on investment of your marketing activities.
- It streamlines the sales cycle.
- It builds stronger relationships with your existing accounts, making it easier for your company to expand.
Cross-team collaboration and improved communication is beneficial for any business. In terms of ABM, transparency and alignment between sales and marketing will ensure focus on the goals, the mutually-agreed-upon budget, and each internal stakeholder's specific roles.
This alignment helps you to ensure that all interactions, content and communications are consistent for the accounts you work with. No matter how long a customer account works with your company, all your colleagues can pick up where other colleagues left off at any point — this creates a seamless and delightful customer experience.
ABM requires you to personalise content, product information, campaigns, data, and communications for each account you invest your resources in. This personalisation and customisation maximises your relevance among these accounts.
Therefore, you must tailor your content and interactions in a way that shows potential and existing customers how your offering, solutions, products and services, are what they need to solve their challenges. ABM allows you to present your company in a way that makes it the most relevant and ideal option for your target accounts.
Deliver consistent customer experiences.
As mentioned, ABM requires you to deliver consistent experiences for your accounts — this plays a significant role in your success. This is because ABM is a long process that lasts several months or years — it's not just a quick fix. Achieving this is challenging, but it's a perfect approach for long B2B sales cycles.
For your ABM approach to be remarkable, you should maintain a long-term sense of delight among your accounts. This will be your way to make each account feel as though they are your company's market of one — why would they ever stop doing business with you and your company if that's what they experience?
We already discussed that an ABM approach requires that you internally are aligned on all the things and actions related to each account, e.g., their objectives, budget, unique challenges and needs, members of their team and their buying committee.
When there's an understanding of these factors within your company, everyone involved will deliver that consistency through everything communicated and shared with each separate account, for example with personalised content, targeted campaigns, pricing and product information, and more.
Measure your return on investment
With ABM, you can measure return on investment (ROI) for each account you invest in. You can confirm whether your accounts were ideal for you and your company.
You can then nurture and delight those accounts long term and can identify and target similar accounts. If your ROI improves, your ABM approach worked, and you can use these results as a motivator to drive the process forward and count on it to improve your bottom line continually.
Streamline the sales cycle
Depending on your industry, your digital readiness and your resources, the sales cycle typically looks like this:
Prospect → Connect → Research → Present → Close → Delight
ABM will streamline your sales cycle. By focusing your efforts on specific high-value accounts, you will save time and be more efficient with your resources, and you'll be able to spend more time on the phases of the cycle that will positively impact your desired result and outcomes:
Identify Target Accounts → Present to Target Accounts → Close Target Accounts → Delight Accounts
ABM will streamline your ideal sales cycle by helping you to stay efficient. Rather than experimenting with various tactics to prospect and qualify a large pool of leads, ABM will ensure your target accounts are ideal for your company so that you can quickly dive into building relationships.
The 'closing' stage of the sales cycle is very streamlined through ABM. That's because your chances of converting target accounts and retaining in the long-term increase, thanks to marketing and sales alignment, personalisation, and consistent experiences.
Expand your business through account relationships.
The saying "quality over quantity" applies to ABM. The process requires you to invest time and resources in engaging and delighting a group of carefully-chosen targets, instead of trying to quickly close deals with less-qualified leads who may not be the best fit for your company in the long run.
By taking the time to develop trusting relationships with accounts, you'll expand your company's business by retaining the valuable customers for a longer time. Considering that it costs more to obtain customers than keep them, this will positively impact your bottom line.
Additionally, as a result of personalised, relevant and consistent customer experiences, accounts will become more and more loyal to your company over time. Loyal customers always tend to become your best promoters and brand advocates — and it's likely that some of them will help you to expand your business among their networks.
Who should use an ABM approach?
ABM requires a focused approach and detailed planning. It is a high-contact, multi-interaction tactic that requires the appropriate distribution of resources — that's the reason why not every B2B company can or should implement ABM.
To find out whether you and your company can succeed with ABM, you can brainstorm on a couple of questions:
What is our usual customer base?
If you have large accounts on your decided target list, ABM could be the perfect approach for you targeting them. However, if your focus is on small accounts and volume, ABM may not be the best option as it requires a significant workforce and resources to devote to each account's performance.
How much customer data do we have?
You should have a sizable database to be able to execute ABM successfully. If your target markets are very varied or don't have enough customer data, ABM will be challenging.
Think through these questions carefully before you get started on your ABM journey.
ABM mistakes to avoid
Some companies are getting great results with ABM. Others have seen their ABM ambitions fall short. ABM is an easy approach to understand — every decision maker can agree that they would prefer to be approached by a company that has done their research and comes to the table with a tailor-made solution, rather than one that cold-calls them and hundreds of other potential accounts a day. However, actually implementing ABM effectively isn't easy.
Here are some examples of common mistakes you should avoid:
- Not having a clear view of the target accounts or who the decision makers are.
- Not aligning sales and marketing.
- Lack of personalisation.
- Not reviewing your toolkit for ABM.
- Not creating ABM focused content.
- Not combining Inbound and ABM.
- Making a wish list of target accounts, instead of a firmly-built, well-segmented and realistic list.
ABM best practice
While it is essential to avoid ABM mistakes, you need to follow some best practices to build a successful ABM operation. These are examples of best practices to keep in mind:
- You should focus on identifying and understanding your high-value, high intent audience.
- Don't approach ABM like a traditional sales pitch, always address individual accounts' challenges and needs with advice and suggestions.
- Implant relevance and context into all your communication and content.
- Don't try to mix all the channels. Choose only the relevant and best ones for your communication.
- Measure, track, and optimise your ABM over time.
You can find out more best practices to adopt when beginning with ABM in this article: Tips for getting started with ABM
Using ABM to enter new markets
It's an immense undertaking to launch a solution, product or service in a new market. Many B2B companies have successfully used ABM to do this, but finding the proper contacts from the right companies in a new market can be difficult, especially if you don't have access to the types of information that will help you make data-driven decisions on who to target with ABM.
Generating B2B leads using ABM
As ABM requires an account-specific approach, you need to study the target accounts persistently. Doing this makes it easier for you and your company to plan the right actions and activities.
ABM focuses on lead generation to create tailored and tactical campaigns for specific and desired high-value target accounts. With one eye on quality outreach, ABM will enable you and your company to construct strategic sets of consistent and highly bespoke activities to improve relationship-building – not just in the short term, but also in the long run.
Creating content for ABM
When creating content for ABM, companies often go too wide, trying to reach a huge amount of contacts with as many content pieces as possible, on a wide range of platforms and in a very short space of time.
This approach inevitably results in wasted resources, time and material, because the content you produce in this way is unlikely to be high-value. High-value content is knowledge content that is relevant to your specific and desired target audience, and ABM lets you define members of this audience and approach them with personalised content.
Knowing your target accounts and their stakeholders well is essential for thoroughly personalised content.
While creating an ideal customer profile helps you identify and segment the desired target accounts and target new ones, you will need more information about these accounts to produce your ABM's most personalised content.
How to turn ABM accounts into customers
It's crucial to understand how to utilise ABM tactics to convert prospects into buyers — otherwise, what's the point of working with it at all?
An ABM sales funnel is all about the customer. Considering the complexity of the decision-making process in the companies you're targeting, you need to nurture accounts with personalised content and use the right channels to reach them.
If you use the wrong channels and touchpoints, your success rate will falter. If a target company receives a tailored offer that fits its needs or challenges, it is much more likely to engage and take their next step. This is a customer-centric and focused approach, and this is where the most value is.
How to automate ABM
Once you have compiled a structured list of target accounts, you need to map out a plan for each step of the sales cycle. You must build synergies between marketing and sales to engage your customers and get closer to making deals.
It's essential to know that ABM requires manual effort to execute successfully. But the manual effort can leave you wondering how you can scale an ABM process.
Here's where marketing automation plays a crucial role. Automation will allow you and your company to hyper-target your outreach based on the target's interests and actions. You must automate your ABM as far as possible at every step, to minimise your efforts and to simplify the process.
The importance of data quality in ABM
Every step you take implementing ABM is data-fueled. If your data is weak, unreliable, or unorganised, you will struggle to succeed with ABM. Your data should allow you to tailor your account targeting, and to target key accounts you must create an ideal customer profile (ICP). While creating an ICP for your ABM, you'll require data points such as:
- Company size
- Average purchase size
- What technologies they use
If you have many target accounts but cannot connect with the decision-makers within them, you won't turn those accounts into customers.
How to prepare your B2B data for ABM
ABM targets a group of accounts that should be a perfect match for your product, solution or service, and nurtures them with outreach tactics and content. Your outreach must also address several stakeholders within the target account and include interactions through email, social media, events, calls, video meetings, chats and advertising.
Therefore, preparing your ABM database becomes a critical first step to successfully executing an ABM program. However, preparing quality data involves work before it is ready for ABM. It's vital for you and your company to decide the data and information you need when adding new accounts and contacts.
To help you prepare your data for ABM, we've written an article on the topic - take a look on The Onlinification Hub if you want to know how to get started.
How to choose an ABM partner
The easiest way to pick a partner is to ask them to show their own best practice and prove how they do this for themselves. And the next step is to ask them for three customer references over the last year. Very few can meet this.