Account Based Marketing (ABM) expert Q&A

We hosted an Account Based Marketing (ABM) expert Q&A in the latest Tech Marketing Leaders forum, fielding a range of questions from identifying the problems ABM solves, to the benefits and execution detail. Here are the highlights…  

Why is ABM so hot right now?

Since 2012, the way B2B buyers ‘buy’ has transformed. Individuals are hyper-connected through social media channels and communities centred around Podcasts and other digital knowledge channels. 67% of the buyer’s journey is done digitally and B2B buyers are typically 57% of the way through a purchase decision before they engage a provider (Sirius Decisions). In short, buyers are well informed. Success in selling your product or service to them is less about selling, and more about helping them to buy. Marketing then, needs to connect as closely as possible to what buyers need. The more we research and understand at an account, or cluster of accounts level, the more likely we are to connect with important and time-bound drivers that will initiate action.

What is ABM?

Whilst still an outbound strategy, ABM turns the traditional demand funnel (think the downward pointing triangle for a visual) on its head. Rather than starting with your total addressable market and working you way down the funnel from there, the guiding principle with ABM is that you start with a targeted and narrow audience. Marketing budget is assigned to accounts which you have identified through insight and data to have a specific interest in, or reason to buy your services.   Everything is centred on the account and their needs at that moment in time. Read more about the what, why, when and how of ABM.

Is it a campaign or a strategy?

Implementing ABM in your team is a completely different way of working. It should be viewed as a long-term investment and requires significant cross-team engagement. It will require you to engage with C-level leaders, sales, marketing and customer service/success in order to succeed.

This is why it’s sometimes known as Account Based Engagement (ABE) – because it is much more than just marketing or sales. Depending on the internal perspectives (and frankly politics) within your business, you may find it useful to adjust what you call it, to ensure you do not alienate any particular team. Certainly, from our perspective, what you call it is semantics; how you define and implement it are critical to success.

What are the benefits of ABM?

According to Sirius Decisions, 91% of companies using ABM increase their average deal size, with 25% reporting an increase of +50%. Terminus also report that 86% of marketers see improved win rates with ABM.

Behind those headline figures, the biggest thing to say about benefits are that they are long term. Don’t think MQLs and leads. We refer to the benefits as the 4R’s:

  • Revenue – deal size, win rate, cross and up-sell, average order value.
  • Relationships – deepen relationships, grow influence across the account and develop advocates.
  • Reputation – drive awareness, increase credibility, NPS, word of mouth.
  • Retention – reduce competitor threat, lower churn, customer satisfaction.

What problem does it solve?

Firstly, there isn’t always a problem. But it can help you help you optimise a myriad of things including account expansion, deal velocity, AOV and top line revenue.

Here are two examples of specific scenarios;

    • The way enterprise sales people sell has changed fundamentally since COVID. Face to face meetings are returning, but much more of the sale is completed digitally. Are your sales teams armed with the knowledge and tools to do that effectively? How much time are they able to spend upfront researching their account and stakeholders, or are they dragged into dealing with urgent escalations too often? How well does your marketing strategy account for the needs of large Enterprises across the buying cycle? In a 1:1 or 1: few context, ABM can provide a significant boost to your ability to engage and move people through the sales cycle effectively.
  • As one of our attendees reflected, executing ABM well can help you to demonstrate the value of strategic marketing to your internal stakeholders. Deeper customer insight can support a more strategic relationship between sales and marketing and help ensure that marketing delivers and is viewed as a true enabler of growth.

How do you define which approach to take and which accounts to select?

Broadly speaking ABM comes in 3 forms – 1:1, 1:few and 1:many. If you want a breakdown on what each of these are, you can read more here.

You need to think about your specific context. What is the AOV of the product you sell? Who do you sell to? Through what channels do you sell your product or service?

We don’t recommend you start with a 1: many approach, otherwise you run the risk of going through the whole strategy and set up process only to come out with something generic that you would have been able to do anyway.

Start with a handful of 1:1 or identified clusters of accounts (choose depending on factors like resource, contract/product value, high-opportunity/low-engagement industries) and build out ABM from the ground up and find the framework and process that works for you. Then scale this up and leverage the insights gathered from these pilot/initial phases to feed into your 1:few or 1:many approach when you will have a much better idea of effective messages and lookalike accounts/personas.

Do we still use ‘the pipeline approach’ for ABM?

Yes, but the right ABM approach will help you to better identify where key accounts/contacts are in the buying journey. This will help you to define the kind of content that is most likely to have the biggest impact on your prospect. Are they at the top (in the awareness phase) or in the middle (the justification phase)? This gives you more information on the right topics to target and will support in closing the deals more effectively and securing the pipeline/opportunity faster.

What kind of Tech do I need and what will it cost?

How long is a piece of string? Depending on your needs it could be anywhere from £20K to £100K plus. Firstly, let’s be clear – tech vendors in this space spend a lot of marketing pounds to get their message across to you! This can give the impression that tech is an absolute must. When you get to the point of running programmatic ABM at scale then yes, you will need technology to support and enable you to automate and optimise your efforts.

However, you can certainly get started and in fact we have run highly successful ABM campaigns with nothing but bums on seats and a basic CRM.

We will not attempt to review the tech landscape here as there are many detailed resources on that. Some of the critical areas to think about are data (1st and 3rd party), insight, personalisation and automation.

What tech do we use to build knowledge into industry/sectors?

Tech is great for many things, but when it comes to building insight about sectors this can absolutely be done with desk research. Your marketing/sales/C-Suites knowledge is worth its weight in gold here. This should be where you start to understand how the product fits within a certain market and what the proposition should be. Be aware of interpretations though. If all your insight into an account or market comes from internal resources, there is every chance that assumptions have been made along the way. Consider completing some real customer persona interviews as well.

Once you have all the available information, you can start looking to fill in the gaps in your knowledge. The best thing here is you can do this for free (as long as you have WiFi) because the internet is an incredible resource for delving into the nitty gritty insights that are driving the initiatives of businesses within certain sectors. Once you have a full plan, you can start looking into tech vendors that will enhance your programme and make the decision of whether it’s worth the investment.

Can ABM help me to target individual personas (legal vs. HR)?

Absolutely, if there are two different key personas that you interact with to make the sale, then ABM is a great way to split out the bespoke needs of each of the individuals. You can then have much more pragmatic conversations with the personas where your sales teams have a better understanding of the unique needs and challenges of the individuals, and you build an even deeper understanding of this the more insights you gather which can then feedback into and enhance the approach. This would involve mapping the buying centre for an account or type of account and breaking down your messages to the respective parties.

How do I connect my ABM approach to other parts of my strategy, such as brand awareness?

It is really important to connect the message you give through any outbound work, to the one you are representing on your website and in your owned channels like LinkedIn. This is why it often makes sense, to include thought leadership alongside or as part of your ABM programme. Another reason for this, can be the identification of a need to influence higher up the buying centre into C-suite, which requires a differentiated message. Buyers are savvy and the first place a person will look to ‘check you out’ are your website and social media channels. You will need to work on your messaging hierarchy, ensuring that your messages connect all the way from brand down to segments, portfolio and products.

Our expert panel was made up of Helen Brown, Co-Founder & Director and Jake Bird, Head of ABM at Seeblue Marketing.

What is Tech Marketing Leaders forum & how can I get involved?

TML is a forum run by Seeblue Marketing in association with Tech Nation. It is a growing community built around the needs of B2B Marketing Leaders in high-growth and VC invested scale-ups. With a private LinkedIn community and virtual event series it is a safe space to share growth challenges and find insights on some of the latest B2B marketing approaches and debates. If you’d like to join the community, please message either Helen Brown from Seeblue Marketing or Elizabeth Corse at Tech Nation.

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