B2B Marketing Blog

What is Account-Based Marketing? Everything You Need to Know

By Alexis Getscher
Sep 28, 2016
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Account-based marketing is seemingly everywhere these days. If you’re doing it, you’re talking about how you’re doing it and the results you’ve seen. If you’re not doing it, you’re talking about how you can get started and what the benefits are.

If you’ve heard the term and wondered, what is account-based marketing and how do I execute it successfully?  This post is for you.

If you’re already doing ABM, skip down for tips, examples and information on ABM measurement.

Often referred to as fishing with spears instead of nets, account-based marketing is the strategy of selling and promoting to specific, named accounts. Rather than attracting tons of leads and narrowing them down to qualified prospects (nets), ABM goes right to the qualified prospects and sells directly to them (spears).

A successful account-based marketing strategy requires alignment between Sales and Marketing, thorough planning, well-timed execution, and comprehensive measurement. We’ll cover each of those within this post.

Account_Based_Marketing_Funnel.png

Is Account-Based Marketing Right For My Company?

The first step in ABM is deciding if the strategy will be beneficial to your organization. In our 2016 ABM Metrics Report, over 85% of respondents said they plan to do more ABM in the next six months. Implementation of the strategy is clearly on the rise, but evaluating if it’s right for your company comes down to sales cycle, deal size and purchasing base.

In short, the longer your sales cycle and the larger your average deal size, the more you’ll benefit from account-based marketing. And, the larger your purchasing base, the less you’ll benefit. When you have a broad group of potential customers, you can afford to rely on an Inbound strategy because a large number of those prospects will most likely still be qualified.

When sales cycles are long, like in B2B, they typically include touchpoints from multiple stakeholders within a single organization. The same is true for enterprise deals. And as the average deal size increases, the potential customer base decreases. All of your efforts and spend should go directly to engaging only the qualified accounts you want to sell. ABM helps you target and reach the key decision makers within those companies.

Sales and Marketing Alignment

Although “marketing” is in the title, ABM is neither solely a marketing or a sales function. To truly be successful, it requires strong collaboration and execution from both teams.

Companies with aligned sales and marketing teams are 67% better at closing deals and generate 208% more revenue from marketing efforts, according to Marketo and MarketingProfs respectively.

In ABM, the teams work together within every stage of a customer’s journey. They plan who the target accounts should be, sales reaches out through phone calls and email, while marketing pushes targeted content and ads through email lists and paid social. One cannot do ABM without the other.

How Do I Build an Account-Based Marketing Plan?

ABM planning begins by assigning grades to accounts on your radar and in your pipeline. The grades are based on how well the account fits your ideal customer persona.

To decide what traits an ideal customer has, answer questions like:

  • What industries do they work in?
  • What technologies do they use?
  • How much is the company’s annual revenue?

Sales and Marketing should work together to outline the firmographic and demographic characteristics make up an ideal customer.

Create a Target Account List with Account Grades

Answer the questions, then grade accounts based on how well they fit the description. For example, say your product needs CRM data to function, if the prospective account isn’t using a CRM, you’d most likely grade them as an F. There would be no chance they purchase your product because they’d be unable to use it.

To add more layers to your grading criteria, analyze your own customers. Characteristics that your current customers have in common can be a good signal that prospects with those same characteristics are good fits for your product.

Therefore, if a prospect is using the right technologies, in the right industry, and working at a company in the target revenue range, they would be given an A.

The account grading system can then be used to create a target account list. Target account are all of the companies who could potentially purchase your product. Essentially, this will be the A, B and C grade accounts.

The teams should work together to create an orchestration template based on account grades to decide what effort is spent where. For example, should all contacts get company emails, or just A, B and C grades? Does the sales team call A and B grades, or just A grades? Outline all of these scenarios so everyone is on the same page with a definitive plan. The template can be as easy as the image below.

Program

Top 20 Accounts

A & B
Accounts

Remaining Accounts

Company Emails

Yes

Yes

Yes

Event Invites

Yes

No

No

Sales Calls

Yes

Yes

No

 

Map Leads to Accounts

When a deal is signed, the sales team celebrates the closing of a new account, not the closing of a person. In ABM you’re selling to companies, not individuals. Therefore, when marketing tracking and reporting they need to focus on contacts and accounts, not leads.

Lead to account mapping helps organize prospects into their respective companies. The long B2B sales cycle typically includes touchpoints from multiple stakeholders within a single account. Some are researchers who try to learn about your product’s benefits, others are potential users who want to know how it works, and lastly, a few will be decision makers who will sign the check and close the deal.

If we treated them as individuals, multiple salespeople would be trying to nurture each one through the funnel. But, the Researcher would never move past the top of the funnel, the User would mysteriously appear in the middle of the funnel, with no prior touchpoints to provide data on their buying journey, and the Decision Maker would only come into the process to close the deal.

Lead_to_Account-1.png

This creates skewed data and confusion that makes it hard to optimize. Why are we losing so many at the top of the funnel? What channels and campaigns had an impact on the closed deal? If we look at these interactions as individual leads, the data is segmented. If we look at them as pieces of an entire account’s journey, we get the full picture.

Lead to account mapping makes this possible.

As visitors come to your website they are tagged with company data and mapped to that account. A single salesperson can facilitate communication and Marketing can provide a better customer experience because they now have access to the complete customer journey.

Additionally, marketers will be able to spot trends in persona engagement. Is the CMO or Ops Manager always involved in decision making? If so, you know you’ll need to reach them before the account will close. How many touchpoints typically happen before a deal closes? If an account is no where near that number, it’s a pretty good bet they need more nurturing before they’ll close.

Lastly, insight into the complete account journey allows teams to track account engagement and engagement is a key indicator of when an account is ripe for selling.

What is A Predictive Account Engagement Score?

Predictive account engagement scores are an important, valuable part of account-based marketing.

Attribution tracks an account’s journey through the funnel and uses that data to produce the Predictive Account Engagement Score. Indicators like key contacts interacting with your website, bottom of the funnel touchpoints, total number of contacts engaged, and recency of touchpoints, are all used to inform the score.

Historical attribution data is also factored in to give the most accurate score possible. Through machine learning that takes into account all of these inputs, the scores are constantly evolving to represent where in funnel the account is at any given moment.

The Predictive Account Engagement Score is used to tell the sales team when to reach out and tell the marketing team where more effort needs to be spent. The higher the number, the more ready the account is to close. For example, if your scoring is on a scale of 1 to 5, you know that an account with a 5 score should be contacted asap, while a 2 score needs more nurturing.

Additionally, when accounts have a good grade but a low score, it’s an opportunity to improve outreach. What channels or campaigns have you used to try and engage these accounts? Which stakeholders have you targeted? Not all accounts will move through the funnel the same way, but tracking and regularly optimizing the process means that you give each account the best possible chance of converting to a customer.

How Do I Execute an Account-Based Marketing Plan?

Target account lists, account grades, lead to account mapping and predictive account engagement scores all exist for one reason: to help teams take action.  

Building an ABM orchestration plan, a more detailed version of the template above, is the first step to execution. The plan should outline goals and what each team is responsible for doing to help reach those goals, at every stage of the funnel.

In this section, we’ll drill deeper into two channels where executing an account-based marketing plan can be particularly helpful-- paid social and events.

The Definitive Guide To ABM Measurement  Effective ABM requires effective ABM measurement. Learn more

ABM on LinkedIn

Due to its background as a job-seeking site and its growth as a social network, LinkedIn is an ideal platform to target B2B marketers. As professionals sign up, they fill out and publicly post their current job title and company, along with their skills. All of these attributes can be used to target ideal contacts on LinkedIn.

Sales and Marketing should again work together to define the types of accounts they want to target through LinkedIn. Account lists can be created based on where the contacts are in the funnel. For example, you’ll promote different content to contacts in the discovery stage than to contacts who are qualified leads.

One way to do this is to have Marketing align their LinkedIn lists with the Sales outreach list. Which accounts are the sales team actively calling? All of the accounts on Sales’ calling list can be part of a LinkedIn target list based on company name. Targeting the same accounts through multiple channels gives you the highest possible change to reach them.

Additionally, lists can be made to target specific job functions. As we mentioned earlier, the buying journey includes touchpoints from multiple personas and you’ll begin to notice trends in which job titles have a role in the decision making process. Content and messaging should be specifically tailored to reach these contacts.

Say you’ve written an ebook around Marketing Operations. It would be a waste of money to promote the ebook to Paid Media Managers. Instead, use LinkedIn’s targeting layers to promote the content to the Marketing Operations job title, or to Ops specific skills. That way, every click will be from a qualified contact.

Lastly, because of the long buying journey, there’s a good chance that employees within target accounts will switch job functions or companies while the account is still in the funnel. For that reason, lists need to be constantly revisited and revised to make sure they are accurate and up to date.

ABM for Events

Another channel where ABM can be particularly helpful, is events and conferences. Focusing events on lead generation leaves a lot of potential revenue on the table. However, using ABM before, during and after events will help you close more deals, faster.

Events give you the unique opportunity to meet prospects face to face. So it makes sense to make the most of that opportunity and meet the right prospects face to face.

To start, Sales and Marketing should work together to build a list of open opportunities and/or key stakeholders they’d love to engage while at the event. In the weeks leading up to the event, outreach through emails and phone calls can be used to invite these key individuals to stop by your booth, schedule a demo, meet 1-on-1 for coffee or sit down for dinner.

Unlike a web visit where you don’t have full control over the content the prospect chooses to consume, scheduling time for a face-to-face discussion allows you to control the conversation and offer the prospect information that’s tailored specifically for their needs.

For example:

  • Personalized swag can be created for the key stakeholders who say they’ll stop by your booth
  • A scheduled demo can be customized for the persona
  • A coffee chat can center around prospect pain points
  • Dinner can include salespeople, the CEO, and current customers, so the prospect can have multiple interactions that may lead to a closed deal.

With ABM, events are turned into a revenue generator, not just a lead generator.

What is Account-Based Measurement?

Building and executing on an account-based marketing strategy is a great start, but the last step to complete ABM implementation at your organization is to track and measure ROI and revenue.

As we covered above, ABM tracking begins with lead to account mapping. Mapping every lead to an account truly gives the marketing team a full view of the customer journey. How many touchpoints did the account have as a whole, which contacts from the account are interacting with your brand? This valuable information gets lost if you’re only reporting on leads.

When measuring ABM, there are indicators and there are goals. Revenue should always be the goal while all other measurements are an indicator of that goal.

Some metrics that can be indicators your ABM is working:

Pipeline Velocity

Tracking how quickly an account moves from a Marketing Qualified Account to an Opportunity, and from an Opportunity to a Closed Deal, can show how well your ABM efforts are working. Because ABM spends time and money on specific, named accounts, those accounts should ideally move through the funnel at a faster rate than traditional demand generation accounts. The fewer amount of days it takes an account to go from first-touch to closed deal, the more your ABM is working.

Win Rate

For the same reason as pipeline velocity, focused time and money, win rates should improve with ABM. Win rate is calculated by dividing the number of closed-won deals by the total of closed deals (includes closed-lost) within a specified time frame.

Average Deal Size

ABM begins by naming the target accounts that are at the top of your “want to close” list. Since Sales and Marketing works together to decide on these accounts, shouldn’t they be the accounts that will bring in the most revenue for your company? If average deal size remains constant, or worse, decreases, then the teams should revisit their targeting parameters.

Each of the above metrics can indicate that your ABM efforts are working, but the ultimate metric to gauge ABM success, is revenue and ROI.

Account-Based Attribution

All of the metrics above can be tracked and measured with a single solution: multi-touch marketing attribution. An advanced attribution solution maps leads to accounts, delivers a predictive account engagement score, and tracks every touchpoint, from anonymous first touch to closed-won, so you can analyze revenue indicators like velocity and win rate.

Most importantly, attribution ties ABM to revenue. The granularity allows Marketing to single out and measure specific ABM efforts. For example, did that dinner you hosted during an event increase sales velocity? Did you close any of the prospects who attended? Did the benefits of the dinner outweigh the cost?

With account-based attribution, you can measure and weigh the benefit of each ABM effort, whether it’s online or offline.

Conclusion

Although 85% of respondents said they plan to do more account-based marketing in the next six months, the 2016 ABM Metrics Report also shows a majority of marketers list execution and measurement as their biggest challenge.

Account_Based_Marketing_Challenges.png

Based on those stats, it seems marketers are drawn to the success that’s being reported with ABM, but struggle once they get their plan up and running.

The strategy requires calculated planning, execution and measurement from both the sales and marketing teams. It’s not simply a tactic marketing tries for a month, it takes buy-in from the entire organization and demands constant optimization and revision to provide the most ROI.

Account-based marketing is a strategy that requires multiple layers to execute well, but if you put in the time and effort outlined above, the positive results will be worth the work to get there.

2016 ABM Metrics Report  Get great insights on account-based marketing, including data on success  metrics and challenges  Download Now

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