Imagine you’re on a pirate ship. The salty sea air, the seagulls calling overhead…
SDRs are swabbing the deck, AEs are swinging daringly from the rigging, and your CEO is bravely steering the ship towards the “X” marked on the treasure map.
Suddenly, an AE spots an island on the horizon. The SDRs get to the oars and start rowing toward it as fast as possible.
Is this the island on the treasure map?
Could it be a deal?
But the wind and currents are working against the crew, and the ship starts to drift away. What do you do?
“Deploy the marketers!” the AE cries, and they all fall in at the oars, giving the extra push that you need to get to shore.
The treasure is in piles on the beach, and it’s all yours for the taking!
If only sales and marketing were that swashbuckling in real life, right?
But there’s more parallels to real life here than you might think.
First of all, this pirate ship is built on account-based marketing (ABM). Every crew member on a ship has a duty to perform, and it’s the same when your sales and marketing teams are aligned. Every person has a role to play if your company is going to sail smoothly along the straits of pipeline and revenue goals.
Secondly, did you notice that marketing was sales’ secret weapon? In ABM, that’s true. For ABM to reach its full potential, sales and marketing teams need to fully commit to working together. That gives sales permission to “deploy the marketers” whenever they see fit.
A good ABM marketer is always willing to step in when a deal is floundering to provide just the right piece of content, field event, direct mailer (or perhaps a cannonball) to get a prospect interested again.
Now, you might be asking yourself what does account-based marketing have to do with sales? It’s a marketing tactic after all. What’s in it for me?
Truth be told, account-based marketing is a misleading name. It’s not exclusively a marketing initiative — in fact, industry experts agree that ABM works best in companies where all revenue-generating disciplines are closely aligned.
What is Account-Based Marketing (ABM)?
Most sales and marketing strategies focus on casting a wide net to attract new customers, but ABM starts by identifying key accounts and then tailoring your communications to directly address that specific account or decision-maker.
Here’s a look at some of the best channels for account-based marketing:
- Cold calling
- Email marketing
- Social media
- Direct mail
- Paid ads
Think of account-based marketing as a one-to-one lead nurture strategy where you tailor your approach based on the individual needs of a potential client.
Account-based marketing is all about making sure your brand is involved in every stage of the consumer decision-making process.
Why Account-Based Marketing
Is account-based marketing really worth all the time and effort it takes?
With ABM, you spend less time sending half-baked cold outreach emails and more time focusing on customer pain points, budgets, and specialized needs in order to give them the best offer of your product or service.
Here are just a few of the benefits of employing an account-based marketing strategy:
1. ABM improves alignment between sales and marketing
For ABM to reach its full potential, your sales and marketing teams need to fully commit to working together. After all, teams that work in isolation are more likely to miss opportunities, duplicate efforts, waste insights, drop the ball in clunky handovers from one department to another, or inhibit important metrics from close-rates to deal-velocity.
But ABM helps solve this. Over 80% of marketers say that ABM greatly improves alignment between marketing and sales.
2. ABM leads to a higher ACV and more revenue
According to TOPO research, companies that implemented ABM saw a 171% increase in average contract value. The SiriusDecisions 2019 State of ABM Study backs this up with 73% of respondents saying that deal size is larger for ABM accounts. The systematic discipline of ABM significantly outperforms the more ad-hoc approaches of the past.
The SiriusDecisions 2019 study also found 80% of respondents had a higher close rate with ABM accounts.
With both bigger deals and higher close rates, ABM is particularly sales-friendly.
3. ABM increases your customer lifetime value
If faster, bigger deals aren’t enough, the customers you get with ABM are also more likely to stick around and provide more recurring revenue.
According to MarketingProfs, customer retention rates are 36% higher at companies where sales and marketing are closely aligned.
Eighty percent of B2B companies also say that ABM increased their customer lifetime value.
So if that’s the case, what can sales do to make sure they’re keeping this ABM pirate ship in top condition?
How to Create an ABM Strategy From Scratch
The whole point of ABM is to focus your sales and marketing efforts on a relatively small number of high-value accounts that have the highest revenue potential.
That’s why account selection is a critical step in any ABM program. And who knows the most about the accounts? Your sales team.
So, sit down with your sales team, go through these four steps, and at the end, you’ll have a powerful list of accounts.
1. Create a profile of your ideal customer
Think about your best deals. Which industries are they usually from? How many employees do they usually have? What kind of technology do they typically use?
Figure out what characteristics these accounts share, and then put them together to create your ideal customer profile (ICP).
How to determine your ideal customer
Account-based marketing works when you focus on your ideal customer. An ideal customer isn’t simply who will bring in the most revenue. In fact, there are several factors to consider when deciding which accounts to target when your ABM strategy.
Here are some things to consider when choosing target customers for your ABM strategy:
- Does this customer have a high life-time value?
- How much support will this customer need after onboarding?
- What is the cost of acquisition for this customer?
- What is the potential of this customer becoming an advocate for our brand?
A potential customer doesn’t have to fit all these criteria to be worth your while, but answering these questions will give you an idea of how much effort it will take to convert (and keep) this customer.
Get everyone involved, and keep it moving
Since ABM can’t be done in a silo, the exercise of creating your ICP is also your first and best chance to get marketing and customer success to sit down with you and help list the commonalities between your best prospects, your best deals, and your best customers.
But once you have everyone in the room, remember one important thing — don’t overthink it. Your ICP description should fit on a single sheet of paper, so don’t spend a ton of time hammering out the exact details and getting everyone to agree on everything.
Instead, look for the lowest common denominators and discard what doesn’t fit. This is only your first step along the way to building an account list, so it doesn’t need to be 100% perfect.
Pirates aren’t perfectionists after all.
2. Create a list of target accounts
Once you have your ideal customer profile, look at all the accounts you have in your database and figure out which ones match the profile.
If they don’t match the profile, take them off your list. Don’t be shocked if you’re left with a shortlist. Remember, ABM is about reaching out to high-value accounts that have an immediate need for your product or service, not lukewarm leads.
From there, narrow down the accounts left with this one simple question: Do they care that your company exists?
You can tell they care if they either show intent on topics related to your products and solutions or if they’re actually engaging with you and your content in some way.
You can see who’s engaging by using technology that provides first and third-party engagement data.
If your prospects are showing interest in what you can provide to them, they stay on the list. If they’ve never shown any signs of interest at all, make them walk the plank!
Below, we have an example of a collection of high-value accounts that have been sorted for likeliness to purchase.
As you can see, the lowest of these accounts is sitting at 70%!
3. Segment your key accounts into three buckets
If you hunt around the internet for more content on account-based marketing, you’ll find a lot of explanations about one-to-one, one-to-few, and one-to-many ABM tactics. Sometimes, this is also referred to as classic, lite, or programmatic ABM.
But don’t let the fancy names fool you. The team at ITSMA does a great job outlining what it all actually means:
Let’s take a closer look at each of these strategies and when you should use each one:
These are the accounts you care about the most, and they’re the ones you’re willing to do things for that you simply couldn’t do at scale. For instance, creating a content asset just for them, showing up at their office with a box of donuts, or having your CEO give them a presentation.
Put 10% or fewer of your accounts into this bucket, and make sure that whatever number you have, it’s few enough that you can commit to giving them the white-glove treatment.
These are the accounts you care about a lot but that are slightly less important than the one-to-one accounts.
You’re still willing to go out on a limb for them, but in ways that can apply to a handful of accounts at a time rather than just one.
Maybe you’ll still create a bespoke content asset, but it will apply to a specific industry rather than a specific account.
You’ll send Starbucks gift cards instead of showing up with donuts. And you’ll invite them to a Q&A webinar with your CEO rather than having them talk one-on-one.
Put 30% or fewer of your accounts into this bucket, and think about them as a series of small groups (usually divided by industry), so that you can address a section of them at a time.
This is the bucket for all your other target accounts. But this doesn’t mean these are the dregs (You should have filtered those out while creating your list of accounts in the first place).
One-to-many accounts still deserve your time and energy, but in a way that allows you to work smarter rather than harder.
With these accounts, you’ll rely more on marketing to use broad demand-generation plays and automated personalization tactics like ABM advertising, content syndication, and web personalization.
4. Assign accounts to your sales reps
Once you’ve divided your target account list into these three buckets, decide who on the sales team will be responsible for which accounts.
Keep in mind that accounts in your one-to-one bucket will require a lot more time and energy than accounts in your one-to-many bucket, so assign accounts accordingly.
By focusing on the accounts with the highest potential to buy, coupled with the highest likelihood of signing a larger deal, you’ll be able to focus on fewer accounts at a time.
Fewer accounts with larger deals mean that you’ll have the time and attention to give the accounts the consideration they deserve, which is not only proven to increase customer satisfaction but is also a less stressful way to work.
We’re going after quality here, not quantity.
Account-Based Marketing in Action
Once you’ve gathered your key accounts and decided who will tackle outreach, it’s time to align with your marketing team. This is a crucial step in the process — and believe it or not, your marketing team will probably thank you for including them.
Account-based marketing makes it easy for marketers to see which pieces of marketing collateral scale directly up to revenue and which ones fall flat.
Here’s your guide to creating marketing campaigns that directly align with your ABM goals:
1. Reaching out to your one-to-one accounts
Once you have your list of one-to-one accounts, work with marketing to create custom outreach plans for each account.
This process relies heavily on open communication, so having weekly or bi-weekly meetings with the marketing team can be very helpful.
In these meetings, take your highest priority accounts and figure out all of the people who could help drive the sales process forward. Then, figure out a game plan to go after these people.
A good way to start is to ask marketing for a menu of what they can do to attract your prospects’ interest. Chances are they’ll give you a whole list ranging from personalized events to gifts, to targeted ads, and more.
Then, put your heads together to figure out which marketing tactics will help you reach the people you need at your accounts.
Here’s an example of what that could look like:
You have a one-to-one account that you really want to make a deal with, and you’ve gotten signs of interest from a couple decision-makers, but you know that you need to get the CMO involved if you want the deal to go through.
Through some good old fashioned LinkedIn research, you know that the CMO likes chocolate and wine. Your marketing team can then take that information and put together a personalized one-to-one package with Cadbury chocolate, a bottle of merlot, customized content, and a handwritten note that starts with “Cadbury and wine for five minutes of your time?”
Then, they can have the CMO of your company follow up to make sure their fellow CMO got the gift.
This showcases three strategies that are at marketing’s fingertips — customized content, thoughtful direct mail, and peer-to-peer outreach.
Once the CMO is involved, you can step in and continue the deal from there, confident in the fact that you’re speaking to all the important decision-makers.
This is a fundamental tenet of ABM — sales and marketing working together so that deals go through, using complementary skills to get the job done.
And before you worry about dropping in on someone unannounced with a gift they didn’t ask for, did you know that 83% of people like receiving packages, even if they’re unsolicited?
So, while someone you’re reaching out to might not like chocolate and wine specifically, direct mail is still a great way to catch someone’s attention, no matter what you send.
2. Reaching out to your one-to-few accounts
For one-to-few, you could work with your field marketer to throw an event for all the important accounts in a geographic region, or you could figure out the pain points of a specific industry and have your content marketer create an asset that speaks to them.
But let’s look closer at an example play you could use at events, since 85% of consumers say they’re likely to make a purchase after participating in an event or experience.
Here’s an example of what that could look like:
Let’s say you have a lot of accounts based in San Francisco. So you talk to your field marketer about upcoming events in the region, and it turns out that there’s an industry conference coming up soon.
They arrange for you to have a booth, and you send out customized invitations to the people you want to meet.
That all sounds pretty standard so far. But to make it customized ABM, the marketing team also looks at your target accounts and creates custom bobbleheads of the decision-makers using their LinkedIn profile pictures.
Who you’ll specifically want to target in this sort of play will vary, but you might want to target marketing directors or above.
Then, you can take a picture of the final product, paste them into a pre-written email, and invite decision-makers to come pick up their personalized bobbleheads at the conference.
If they’re not able to pick them up or aren’t attending the conference, you can offer to send it to them after a meeting with a rep.
After all, who doesn’t want their own personalized bobblehead?
3. Reaching out to your one-to-many accounts
For one-to-many accounts, you can run larger campaigns. For instance, we recently ran a large product launch event at Demandbase.
The SDRs were then given follow-up cadences by the marketing team. This provided messaging and resources that felt highly personalized to the event but that were easy to send at scale.
Here’s an example of what that could look like:
A great one-to-many strategy is account-based advertising. With account-based advertising, you can deliver relevant ads to decision-makers at the accounts that you care about most.
We run “always-on” ads for awareness at our target accounts that give us good air cover. These are nice-to-have plays that can provide good brand awareness and serve to warm up accounts before our team reaches out.
What makes account-based advertising different from normal advertising is how targeted you can make it.
For instance, the audience of an ad campaign we’ve run before is “Director of marketing and above at all target accounts that don’t have any engagement in the last 30 days.”
Once those target accounts start to show engagement, you then have an opening as a rep to start a meaningful conversation about the topics they’ve shown interest in.
This makes it easier to provide value because if you’ve seen what they naturally gravitate towards on their own you can provide them with assets that they’re more likely to engage with.
Keep in mind that 73% of B2B buyers want a personalized, B2C-like buying experience. So the more you can speak to their specific interests and concerns, the better off you’ll be.
While we’re giving you specific examples here, the trick is to play to your marketing team’s strengths as you work with them to win accounts.
Find out what they’re best at and go from there.
You may have a marketer who’s stellar at sending direct mail that gets prospects’ attention, or maybe you’re always hearing compliments from prospects about your webinars. Use those talents to your advantage.
Every single channel can be put to use in an ABM program — and they should be.
Start by putting together what your prospects need and what your marketing team can provide, and you’ll have the foundation for an excellent ABM strategy.
Don’t forget the art of the hand-off.
Does a pirate abandon their crew? No!
Does marketing abandon an account once sales starts working on it? No!
They’re in it for the long haul right beside you.
It’s important to communicate with each other, no matter where an account is in the sales cycle.
If you’re having trouble getting into an account, let marketing know. If you have a good team, they’ll be happy to help brainstorm ways to drive engagement and get meetings for you.
You’re also the expert on your accounts, so if marketing is doing something that you think would (or wouldn’t!) appeal to your target audience, don’t be afraid to speak up and let them know.
Some of the best marketing assets have come from SDRs and AEs expressing what they need and working with marketing to fill the gaps.
How to Measure the Success of Your ABM Strategy
When pirates work together to find treasure. There’s only one measure of success that really matters for them — how much treasure they found.
When sales and marketing work together to win accounts, your one measure of success is how much revenue you made for the company.
But any good sales or marketing ops person would tell you that there’s actually a handful of success metrics that you should be tracking that will help you achieve that main goal.
- How quickly an account moves from one stage of your funnel to the next
- How many sales and marketing touchpoints an account has, and when they occur in the sales cycle
- How quickly a deal is closed
- The average size of a deal
Not sure how to get all this data much less make sure it’s account-based?
You’re not alone.
According to the 2020 ABM Market Research Study, companies that practice ABM are strongest in sales and marketing alignment and weakest in measurement.
So as your ABM initiative grows, it’s worth looking into account-based platforms. ABM platforms can help you track the important metrics and also alert you when accounts are showing signs of interest or churn.