Account-based marketing is more than just a trend in the sales world: it represents a shift from the idea of chasing deals individually, to strategically prioritizing and coordinating between sales and marketing teams. Read on for a definition of account-based marketing, an overview of key tactics and best practices.
Account-based marketing (ABM, sometimes called key account marketing) is a strategy that defines target customers very granularly (even down to a company or individual), and then coordinates marketing, sales and even executive teams to create information and collateral specifically targeted to that account.
It's easiest to understand ABM as it differs from traditional marketing. In a typical outbound marketing setup, the marketing team blasts out content, advertisements, etc. to a broad audience, and the fraction that responds to those efforts gets passed on to the sales team, who then works to convert them into customers. ABM is the reverse: the sales and marketing teams work to identify individual, high-value potential customers, and personalize marketing efforts to those specific accounts - hence account-based marketing.
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ABM vs. traditional marketing
Here are some key differences between ABM and traditional marketing strategies:
|Traditional marketing||Account-based marketing|
|Audience||Broadly defined demographics||Specific individuals or companies|
|Reach||As large as possible||Highly targeted|
|Team structure||Defined roles between and within sales and marketing||Integrated, more loosely defined roles|
|Customer relationships||No interaction after conversion||Ongoing relationship with existing accounts|
|Success metrics||Marketing- or sales-qualified leads (volume)||Revenue, engagement, return on effort (quality)|
Audience. The most immediately visible difference is in the target audience. Traditional marketing aims at a demographic (B2B companies, young adults, etc.) while ABM targets an audience of one - the target account.
Reach. Outbound marketing relies on having a broad reach, whether it's through social media, paid advertising, content or any other tactic. Holding conversion rates steady, a bigger reach means more customers. ABM relies on the target's quality, not quantity - since marketing efforts are heavily tailored, the reach of each effort doesn't matter as much.
Team structure. Traditionally, sales and marketing roles are clearly defined, and even marketing is broken down by channel or customer type. Account-based marketing requires close contact between sales and marketing teams to identify, connect with and nurture target accounts, so teams are defined vertically rather than horizontally.
Customer relationships. Outbound marketers are happy if they're consistently getting new accounts into the sales pipeline, and generally don't track leads once they've been converted into customers. However, nurturing relationships with existing customers is a major part of ABM - from upsells to advocacy, sales and marketing teams have opportunities long after a deal's been signed.
Success metrics. Typical funnel metrics - marketing- or sales-qualified leads, conversion rates, and marketing-sourced leads - aren't as relevant for ABM, and can actually be counterproductive. Since ABM is based on quality, not quantity, simply filling the pipeline isn't enough. Instead, key metrics include revenue, customer engagement, return on time spent and high conversion rates. Importantly, these metrics are shared between sales and marketing teams, and given the importance of maintaining customer relationships, the feedback cycle is slower.
A successful account-based marketing strategy includes a few essential components:
Personalize like nobody's business. If you're used to creating collateral that's interesting to as many people as possible, you'll have to change your mindset substantially. Rather than optimizing for a broad reach, invest time in understanding an individual account's key decision-makers, priorities, needs and potential obstacles to buying your product. Then, create a marketing effort tailored to the account.
Prioritization/lead scoring. Given the amount of time required to do that personalization, it's important to make sure the target account is worth the effort. Invest in a lead scoring system - either one developed in-house or an outsourced product - to decide in collaboration with sales which accounts are worthwhile.
Timely engagement. Even if an account is generally a good fit, it may not be a good fit right now. Part of your prioritization is emphasizing targets that are in that narrow window between when they need your product, and when they have it (or a competitor's). Sales triggers like new hires, office moves and partnerships can boost an account to the top of your priority list.
Ongoing engagement. ABM encourages marketers to deepen relationships with existing customers, not just handing them off to the sales team and moving on. Whether it's implementing retargeting to keep site visitors engaged, or getting social proof in the form of a quote from a satisfied customer, staying engaged will reap dividends down the line.
Choose your audience carefully. ABM doesn't give much leeway for a spray-and-pray marketing effort - you'll need to spend time defining your target customer. One of the most effective ways to do this is to use your existing customers as a template. If you've had success selling to midsize fintech companies, look for other companies that fit the bill. In fact, looking for an existing company's competitors is a great way to build a likely prospect list. If you've successfully sold to Salesforce, for example, looking at Salesforce competitors in the CRM business would be a great place to start.
Facilitate decision-maker to decision-maker communication. If you've hand-tailored your content for a company, you don't want to waste your time pitching to an entry-level sales rep. Instead, aim for getting a key decision-maker (a VP of sales, engineering head, CIO, etc) in a meeting with an executive from your team as soon as possible.
Implement ABM at scale. It may seem like a contradiction, but with the right tools, high-volume ABM is possible. sounds like a contradiction, but it isn't. Invest in the tools to make account-based marketing scalable: prospect-building services, lead scoring systems and integrated sales trigger sources can help you reach a large number of customers even as you personalize your efforts.