How to get an Account Based Marketing programme up and running

What’s changed?

Right now, we are all responding to fast changing market conditions. Yet if you are responsible for B2B Marketing Strategy and run 1:1 Account Based Marketing (ABM) then perhaps nothing major has changed in your approach.

When you have laser focus on the handful of top accounts you want to acquire or grow, then the principles of adaptability and pivoting are already embedded at the core.

Yes, in general buyers needs have changed, budgets have changed and our lives have changed. Like many B2B Marketing leaders, you will be asking your team to review all your content to ensure it is contextually relevant to the current environment that’s changed so significantly in the blink of an eye.

However, in Account Based Marketing nothing ever stays the same and you adapt your engagement tactics in response to the business, political and economic environment around you.

ABM is a proven approach to increase demand and pipeline generation. It also supports further down the funnel, working in strong alignment with sales throughout the sales process to help close deals. Post-sale, it can also be used very effectively to drive customer engagement and turn happy customers into delighted ones.

Types of Account Based Marketing

  • 1:1 or Large Account – this involves bespoke activity to individual accounts, typically used for the largest, highest value and/or most strategic.
  • 1: Few or Named Account – a small group of named customers that have similar needs and requirements.
  • 1: Many or Industry – clusters of customers from the same industry, segment or sub-segment are grouped together. This approach is ABM at scale, typically requiring a significant level of automation and a highly programmatic approach.

Our focus here is on establishing a 1:1 Account Based Marketing programme or proof of concept. Typically, this activity can be done without high levels of Tech and automation which makes it an accessible place to start for those thinking about including an ABM strategy in their 2020/21 plans.

Why it’s a great time to think about an Account Based Marketing Programme

ABM is a major focus for B2B marketing leaders. While large corporate marketing departments have resources and budget to invest in MarTech, for SME’s and scale-ups, ABM remains much talked about but less often implemented successfully. Common worries include the cost and resource required to deliver effectively.

Let’s allay some of those fears with regard to establishing a 1:1 programme and give you a practical way forward for getting started. Using either your own team, or as many do, a specialist provider to run a proof of concept to give you the results and ammunition you need to sell it into your Board effectively.

Clarity and alignment before you begin

Before you start your Account Based Marketing programme, you will need to think about the following:

  • Support: Do you have clear endorsement and support across sales and marketing? Is there common agreement on the priority accounts and transparency and commitment to the plan of action?
  • Resources: Will you run the programme entirely in-house or will you outsource some (or all) of it? Either way, it’s time-consuming and requires clear ownership. The initial development phase is front heavy as you research the account, map the stakeholders and behavioral profiles and align your proposition to their unique needs.
  • Budget: What is your budget – is this coming from your marketing opex or forecast as a cost of sale against a specific strategic account?
  • Time: As 1:1 typically targets large corporate accounts the associated sales cycles are anywhere from 6 to 18 months. Unlike a traditional lead generation programme, marketing involvement doesn’t stop when the lead is passed to sales.
  • Lifecycle: An effective ABM programme continues for the entire customer lifecycle, helping sales to close the deal and proactively identifying and responding to changing account needs, articulating value and relevance and building deeper relationships with a wider set of senior stakeholders beyond the day to day account contacts.
  • Success: What results are you expecting? How will you measure? Will it be leads, pipeline, revenue or softer but equally important brand factors? Aim to have common agreement within your business from the outset.

Getting started: Your 1:1 Account Based Marketing Programme

Phase 1: Strategy – sector and business level

Choose your top accounts. Don’t attempt to boil the ocean with strategic planning at the beginning but do have a clear rationale for defining the top accounts to target. Gather initial insight on why these accounts are a good reciprocal fit for your brand and your solutions. Capture any intel, even if it’s anecdotal, for example plans for an upcoming RFP or tender. You will most likely be starting with a proof of concept first so choose an account that is either a must win or must retain on your deal list.

If you are a scale-up the most likely scenario is that you are either trying to acquire your first major logo or you want to break into a new market segment, so take this opportunity to identify your segment and start researching.

Depending on whether you are operating within a single sector or multi-sector will impact how you and your team need to execute this piece of work.

Ensure your research includes:

The market itself

  • What is the market worth?
  • What does the value chain look like and which businesses are established/new/developing players?
  • Is the market expanding or consolidating – what JV’s or Mergers are taking place?
  • How active and established are your competitors in the market?

Today’s context

  • What matters to them? What are the key success factors, key initiatives and buying criteria of the business? Has anything changed as a result of recent economic or geopolitical activity?

What you can do for them

  • How does your product or service relate to them? What is your unique value proposition specific to this sector or group? This will not be your final per-account value proposition but it will help to start organising your thoughts and understanding and developing the sector story.

The buyers

  • Where in the organisation and which roles will use, influence and make the final decision to buy your kind of product or service?
  • What motivates people in each of those roles and what do they care about?

We recommend you create a shared folder which everyone in the account team can access (think functional, not pretty), to capture everything you find out. People within your business may have access to different information sources and valuable perspectives and insights to offer.

Keep your quotes. Attribute sources. Find data points, that either substantiate the need for your solution or can be utilised in your engagement, such as how much they currently spend. Remember that a key part of this phase is getting your head into the account on a 1:1 level.

You aren’t writing a generic value proposition; you need to prepare the information as if you are going to a face to face meeting to pitch to a specific clientStart with them, and shape your product or service benefits specifically to their needs, answering their concerns before they’ve been raised.

Making a decision

At the end of this phase you review and make a final decision on which accounts you will target. As a general rule of thumb, 3-5 accounts would be about right for a highly targeted 1:1 engagement. Beyond that you can identify commonality in issues, needs and stakeholder groups leading you towards a 1:Few approach.

Both generate above average conversion and success rates; you just need to define and agree the approach you’re going to take.

Whichever you choose, we highly recommend that you work on the founding principle of agility. You might find a few weeks down the line that a particular business is unsuitable for inclusion and will want to take them out of the programme and put another account in. So as before, don’t let this decision take long. If the analysis is good you should know the top 3 straight away. 

Phase 2: Know your buyer

In this phase you are aiming for your team to really get beneath the skin of individuals within the account. We recently wrote another article on adapting to changing buyer needs which you might want to read too.

  • Create a per-account deck that includes their unique market context, 1-pager messaging overview and the buying centre. Influencers, decision makers – it’s common to go straight for the C-level but often this level of seniority only gets involved at the very end of a purchase decision and will be guided by the recommendations of the influencers.

Do think about ways to build some brand recognition and credibility with C-level audience, but ensure that the individuals selected for initial engagement can identify with the need. They need to be aware of and potentially involved in the service you are selling at this stage.

Remember to include supporting functions such as Supply Chain. They will likely have active involvement in vetting and recommending new suppliers and new product ideas and know their markets very well.

  • Write pen portraits for all the key players. Imagine you yourself were about to pick up the phone and make a cold call to them. What would you want to know to help you build rapport? That’s what goes in. LinkedIn and other social channels are relevant here. Videos of them presenting or being interviewed give insight into their communication style and personality, in addition to the topics that they are passionate about.

Phase 3: Content

Your team will need to consider the content strategy as it relates to the customer’s lifecycle and how your message and format evolves across these stages:

  • Awareness
  • Interest
  • Consideration
  • Decision

The nature of the content will also depend on whether your objective is to acquire or expand an existing account. With existing accounts build trust with valuable insight, opinions and recommendations based on what they care about and how you continue to add value to their business.

If you’re looking to win a large new account then an effective way to capture attention can be to positively disrupt the customer’s status quo; question their current priorities and purchase process and make them consider you instead.

This is called the challenger approach. (Based on The Challenger Sale Methodology). Your aim is to deliver individually crafted, commercial insight direct to individuals that:

  • Sparks concern – make it provocative and stand out.
  • Scope’s the problem – provides evidence and illustrates the dynamics.
  • Personalises the pain – present the problem as it relates to the customer’s business, using figures and numbers where you can.

The aim is to create an opening in your target buyers mind, that there is a better way to do things.

Less costly than you might think

The good news is that you don’t have to create expensive content. In fact, we would advocate making your content as simple as possible, such that you can update and change it almost instantly, which is critical in 1:1 Account Based Marketing. If you send a piece of content that doesn’t take into account the very latest changes in the environment the business is working in – you’ve wasted your time and money.

Typical engagement assets that you might create per account would include a Challenger Paper/Report, Infographic, Video, Direct Mail (when situation and budget allow), Emails and Landing pages with each of these featuring a single creative device or thread to connect them visually as a part of the integrated ABM campaign.

The key to success: Personalisation

The key to success is in ensuring you personalise everything. The market context, the business challenges, the internal environment. You might build a unique proposition or offer, just for that business or more simply express the benefits of the value you bring in terms that mean something to them. You will find yourself constantly referring back to your strategy and insights folder.

  • Calculate cost savings, time benefits, efficiency gains or environmental impact – whatever the benefits are for your specific business – for that individual company.
  • Co-brand the materials and design the reports you write to look as though your target customer has commissioned the report themselves.
  • Send direct mail as ‘strictly private and confidential’ to help bypass the PA and get your message directly to your target individual.

The main body of work is in the preparation and drafting of content. Creative execution in the prospecting and lead phase is visually simpler in many cases because such direct copy works well with plain text emails and simple letter/report formats.

Whilst it still needs to be highly professional and an integral part of your visual campaign concept – save your creative budget for further down the sales process, when you may want to support pitches and meetings with high value high, impact sales support and communications materials.

Phase 4: Delivery

When it comes to delivery, the first thing to emphasise (as every marketing leader well knows), is that you will need to match your tactics to your objectives. Also consider the environment your target customer and individuals within the buying centre work in. Are they office, field or home based? Do they commute? What is their first language? Do they travel? There is no single approach – it’s a little bit like asking how long is a piece of string!

So rather than try (and fail) to write an exhaustive list of possible options here…

Let’s focus on an example

Situation: Established scale-up business looking to break into a new market segment.

Objectives: Pipeline development, reduce time to revenue by identifying quick win opportunities where there is a direct need for the service/product. Make introductions to sales.

Considerations It’s lockdown. Offices are closed. The vast majority of people are working from home so tactics that would have been used such as direct mail, or advertising opportunities on a regular commute route are non-starters. In this environment, digital first is the only viable strategy. The key will be remaining completely agile such that when lockdown rules change (and we know they will continue to evolve in the next 6 months) you adapt your response too.

Approach: The pandemic has affected the sector the client wants to break into in a number of positive ways, which enabled us to approach customers with a very direct and positive message. The tactics chosen were digital and fast to deliver, having been crafted with a deep understanding of the individuals who make up the buying centre. The content was created based on the well-established principles of inbound marketing, ensuring different content pieces engaged based on objectives at different stages of the lifecycle. And critically, every piece of content was personalised. Not only from a branding and messaging perspective but also offering an individually tailored benefits case outlining cost/efficiency/resource savings.

At a high level the following make up the key tactics and flow of the campaign;

Awareness:

Social engagement – connect, build rapport, qualify the need and validate the buying centre. This phase could take a week or a few months, depending on response levels and speed. Key content pieces included crafted connection requests, infographics and key data points.

Awareness & Interest:

Deepen engagement – a carefully crafted series of emails with personalised landing page experiences. Immerse the target decision maker or influencer in a benefits case that is unique to them. Videos and Challenger Papers are central pieces of content here.

Consideration:

At this stage we are aiming to extend the conversation and convert the target buyer into requesting a demo or call with the sales team. More detailed content, use cases or case studies and testimonial videos are essential here to help the target buyer understand more about how the product can help solve some of his/her business challenges.

Wider considerations

Aside from the delivery elements within the specific account based marketing campaign, businesses also need to consider the wider and broader market messages they are broadcasting in their standard channels.

Company social media channels for example, do not need to be updated to reflect the campaign messaging – as this is personal and distinct – but you do need to be actively publishing quality content to support your position as a thought leader in your field.

In addition, the individual from whom the campaign messages/emails are being sent, needs to ensure that their profile is optimised and current, showing regular social engagements. You might also want to consider sponsoring a piece of content targeted to the industry and profile of the campaign to support your message and drive wider awareness.

In summary

Now is absolutely a good time to look at a 1:1 Account Based Marketing trial or proof of concept. By its very nature, its adaptability is one of the best ways you can actually help your business to maximise its potential in the current environment. COVID-19 has meant different things – good and bad – to different businesses depending on industry focus and circumstances. So broad based campaigns, advertising or content are hard to get right. If the message jars with all or some of your intended audience, they could prove a false economy.

If you find yourself needing to develop new ways to deliver MQLs or pipeline, and have face-to-face event or advertising spend sitting in your opex line, it offers a practical way of building and converting some of your most valuable prospects or opportunities with low barriers to entry and lead-in time.

About the author

Helen Brown is Co-Founder and Director of Seeblue Marketing, a specialist B2B Marketing Consultancy that helps their clients to grow through customer obsessed ABM and growth programmes. They are Tech Sector specialists, passionate about challenging the status quo and delivering exceptional strategic marketing. Before starting Seeblue, Helen and her business partner spent many years working in-house for Global Telecommunications and SaaS companies, driving growth in B2B Markets across the world. It is this commercial marketing experience and knowledge of the environment their clients’ operate in that gives Seeblue its edge. Find out more about us or say hello@see-blue.co.uk

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