Struggling with ABM? 7 practical ways to create value now
Getting started with ABM isn't as difficult as it seems. Contributor John Steinert lists ways you can jump-start the transition from traditional demand-gen marketing.
When I look at a lot of the material that’s available on Account-Based Marketing (ABM), one of the things that strikes me is how complicated it can seem, how hard to get started. And much of the research out there confirms that a significant percentage of companies say they are either unfamiliar with the key concepts or that they’re progressing slower than they’d hoped.
Having spent much of my career working in very large companies with a lot of organizational distance between marketers and sellers, I have a lot of empathy for those who might simply want to ignore ABM altogether. But now, both being in a smaller company and working with clients of all sizes, I’m confident in saying that that’s the wrong approach.
There are simply too many benefits to an account-based focus to ignore. Fortunately, getting started can be a lot easier than imagined. Most ABM starts with simply choosing a list of accounts to focus on. I can’t see any major reason to overly complicate that process.
1. Let the ABM lists choose you
The obvious fact staring all of us in the face is that our sales organizations are account-focused by definition: Salespeople are assigned to accounts. If we can agree that one fundamental purpose of marketing is to help improve sales results, then it should follow that becoming more account-focused as marketers – that is, more explicitly aligned to a sales team’s worldview — makes basic sense.
The fallacy is that there is likely to be one perfect list. So rather than waiting for the right time to kick off an ABM program of your own devising, a great way to get started is to look for opportunities in your organization where teams have already been assigned a list of accounts, and where they’d be happy to have your help.
Since any particular list may have only a small number of accounts on it, it may be necessary for you to build your program around a handful or more of the account lists your sales colleagues are working on. A perfect example would be to assemble lists for different salespeople’s territories.
We see precisely this playing out among our more than 400 purchase intent data clients: They’ve now loaded over 5,400 custom account lists into our system so they can apply marketing energy to the business focus that already exists for those particular accounts. And they’re applying marketing thinking to make these lists as productive as can be.
2. Solve the 1% Problem: Turn too-small account lists into larger, more useful ones
When marketers embark on an account-based approach for the first time, it’s common for them to be coming in with a strong background in classic demand generation. In broad-based demand gen, you’re operating in a volume world where the lists are large and the response rates are small.
Applying the same metrics to the small-list world of ABM is a recipe for disappointment. If you’re used to emailing thousands of contacts and getting response rates in the 1 percent range, using a list of 10 or 20 accounts comprising maybe 10 contacts each isn’t going to yield enough click data to know even directionally what’s working and what isn’t.
So, the first thing we see many companies doing is making sure they implement an account data enrichment strategy to broaden the aperture of their list. To avoid early disappointment with your ABM effort, perform list enhancement before you start.
At its simplest, expanding your list of contacts at an account means adding in names from a reputable source. Make an effort to match the personas — titles and roles — that have been decision-makers in past deals and consider adding in key influencers who have an interest in related areas.
Remember that while salespeople need to be laser-focused on a small number of key players who will make or break the opportunity, marketing is in a great position to make sure that the account is as well-covered with role-relevant content as possible: Marketing uses a bigger list. It’s super important that the account is well-informed about your company, the business they need your help with and what differentiates you from other approaches they might take.
3. Use advanced third-party data sources to reach influencer constituencies
That said, we don’t see expert practitioners simply trying to blanket their targets with broad-based advertising, generalized messaging and spammy email campaigns. Instead, what they’re doing is looking for ways to discover who in the account — what roles and what individuals — is likely to have an interest that intersects with the decision at hand.
Beyond assessing the appropriateness of the account itself for your solution, you must define constituencies within the account which should be interested in the value you bring even if they are not directly involved in a purchase.
When you do this right, you can positively influence them, and, if they raise their hand to learn more, you’re also providing your sales team with validation that your messages are resonating with the account, as well as identifying a potential way in.
To do this, the evidence shows there’s an advantage in turning to providers who can help uncover the names of people at the account who are already expressing an interest in the specific topic you address or in topics that are closely related.
This is an area where third-party purchase intent solutions can be particularly useful. It’s common practice in consumer retail to use signals from one type of purchase to promote products that complement it, like pasta and cheese or cheese and crackers.
While B2B is more complex, the concept is just as clear: A company looking for a networking solution upgrade is likely to also be very interested in the latest security technology. Inside a company, the networking constituency and the security constituency are different people, and yet, their needs and interests intersect.
4. Find ‘Commonalities of Interest’ across your ABM lists
Because they focus account-by-account, and because they’re in control of each message they send, salespeople have the ability to deliver highly customized communications. Obviously, as marketers, this same approach is impossible. We shouldn’t promise what we can’t deliver.
However, we know that account-relevant communications perform much better than general messaging. The key to being more relevant is to find commonalities of interest across your ABM lists and to use those to structure messaging that can overlay the list definitions you began with. (Of course, this isn’t a problem if you’re already working with lists constructed on commonalities like vertical industry — you can overlay that on any aggregation.)
The vast majority of lists that companies consider for the purpose of contact augmentation don’t make it easy to find messaging commonalities that you can use to strengthen communication relevance. That means that unless you seek out data sources that come with such information, you’ll have to go through the added steps of establishing commonalities you can use.
Alternatively, you can turn to new sources of insight based on recent content consumption behaviors within your target account audience. You can do this using analysis of your website visitors’ preferences and you can look to third-party purchase intent providers who can match your audience and your solution to their own.
Once you have strong indicators of what resonates with the audience, assemble the best content assets you have that already address this angle, whether it be use cases, case studies, white papers or other materials. Modify if necessary, but keep original creation requirements to a minimum if you possibly can.
5. Help your business development reps (BDRs) transition to an ABM approach
Unless your company is large enough, mature enough or lucky enough to already be differentiating assignments within your telephone-based prospecting resources, it’s very likely that before you embark on ABM in a concerted fashion, these colleagues will be using a very volume-oriented set of tactics.
As we saw with the transitioning of demand-gen pros to ABM, small lists create a new set of challenges for the phone-based team. In the basic case, were you to focus a large volume outbound team on a small number of accounts, they’d simply run out of names.
While adding in names, as I described above, is a perfectly legitimate thing to do for marketing purposes, I certainly don’t want to suggest supplying that same list to your BDRs. However, just as I mentioned that marketing should consider aggregating together lists from rep territories, building up total lists available to your BDRs may be necessary.
6. Move from a large general list to a prioritized list to create ‘pursuit plays’
If you’re launching an ABM program but your BDRs are only provided with a large, un-prioritized set of names, you’re going to experience frustration quickly. ABM success comes from better treatment within the list rather than heavier treatment across all members.
There are not-so-subtle differences between prospecting across all contacts and BDR coverage within particular accounts. Broad-list approaches assume no real differentiation between each call. ABM approaches should be prioritized based on known behaviors within an account.
Rather than seeking needles in a haystack, in ABM, BDRs should be empowered to pursue accounts differently. Specifically, when an account can be seen to be active around relevant topics, that should trigger a “pursuit play” that allows the BDR to spend more time within the account.
Pursuit plays can be triggered by account-based web activity, the presence of multiple early-stage leads and third-party purchase intent insights.
7. Make BDRs your secret ABM weapon by arming them with the right hooks
BDRs have the potential to be one of your secret ABM weapons, but if you don’t enable them effectively, they can just as easily become your weakest ABM link. Just as we discussed for messaging, BDRs need all the help you can give them to make their outreach more relevant.
It takes only about 10 seconds to make or break a call. In ABM, marketing can be key to making expensive tele-outreach a differentiated touch. If you’re not able to pass hooks to BDRs along with other trigger information, you’ll want to create a framework of “verbal hooks” that make sense for your BDR plays. Starting from the same sources you’ll use for marketing outreach, website data, your existing email performance and third-party intent, you can craft openers based on what your target audience is already telling you piques their interest.
Pre-enabling a tele-team in this way, and combining it with an evolved ABM-centric service-level agreement (SLA) structure, helps inspire them to continue to innovate on their own. By paying attention to properly preparing these colleagues, you’ll create a more naturally aligned end-to-end process at the beginning of your ABM journey instead of having to remedy it after the fact.