Jonathan Grana — Mar 23, 2018
How many marketing messages are you bombarded with every day?
From billboards and TV to webinar invitations or LinkedIn ads, each of us is exposed to thousands of messages a day. You don’t even notice most of them because your brain has learned to block them out.
The flip side?
It’s becoming increasingly difficult for B2B marketers to capture the attention of their target audience – especially those of key decision makers in enterprise-level companies.
That’s where Account-Based Marketing comes in. It’s a robust approach that a growing number of companies are using to land high-ticket enterprise deals.
Account-Based Marketing is an approach where your marketing activities are focused on converting specific companies. You identify a small group of organizations you want to sell to and execute campaigns to target those particular accounts. In some cases, you might even create customized marketing campaigns focused entirely on just a single company.
Account-Based Marketing is essentially marketing that is personalized. It attracts people’s attention by addressing specific challenges their companies are facing.
I am talking about the kind of marketing messages that make a prospect feel, “These guys are talking about me!”
You demonstrate that you understand their world. And so, they listen to you.
Account-Based Marketing is becoming a vital piece of most companies marketing arsenals.
According to SiriusDecisions’ 2016 State of Account-Based Marketing (ABM) Study, 87% of companies said that ABM is “extremely” or “very important” to overall marketing efforts. 71% of companies announced that they have stuff wholly or partially dedicated to ABM.
Marketing has always been about generating as many leads as possible. All marketing activities at the top of the funnel are usually measured regarding the number of leads you generate, not the quality.
This lead generation approach works perfectly well for B2C companies and B2B companies selling to small and medium-sized businesses.
But what if you want to close high-ticket enterprise deals?
Then, you need a different strategy that’s a lot more personalized – Account-Based Marketing.
It’s not, and it doesn’t have to be.
That’s because you are targeting enterprise-level accounts. Even if your company closes just one deal a month that would generate revenue equivalent to 20 smaller accounts.
Account-Based Marketing has several advantages over other marketing methodologies.
Shorter Sales Cycle
Account-Based Marketing is a lot more effective at getting the attention of prospects and convincing them that you are worth his or her time. Your personalized messaging creates a higher sense of urgency among all stakeholders,and everyone moves faster. Consequently, you have a shorter sales cycle.
Everyone is Qualified
90% of the leads that marketing acquires through inbound marketing are not qualified. Outbound marketing or sales prospecting only fare slightly better.
On the other hand, Account-Based Marketing, *begins *by identifying high quality leads. You know you are not wasting your time by talking to people who will never buy!
ROI is clearer
According to a Marketo survey, 97% of respondents said that Account-Based Marketing had a higher ROI than other marketing initiatives.
Tracking the ROI of most marketing initiatives involve a certain amount of ambiguity. However, it’s far easier to do so when you are targeting a smaller set of accounts. Whether your account-based marketing involves display ads, email, sending direct mail or events, you can measure the effectiveness clearly. Account-Based Marketing software makes it even easier to keep track of ROI.
Better Sales and Marketing Alignment
Sales and marketing don’t always get along in most organizations. That creates a vicious cycle of less collaboration and less effective results for both teams.
However, Account-Based Marketing is quite similar to sales in several ways and requires both teams to work together very closely. Marketing shapes their campaigns in line with the sales team’s expectations and therefore messages remain consistent throughout the buyer’s journey.
Account-Based Marketing needs to be executed according to a specific process. Let’s look into the seven steps that go into it.
The first step is to determine what types of companies you want to target. This is the most important step of the Account-Based Marketing process because it helps you focus on your Ideal Customer Profile.
This is similar to creating a buyer persona, except that you are profiling organizations, not people.
There are three broad types of attributes you should define while creating your target company:
Firmographics are preliminary attributes about your Ideal Customer Profile such as:
Each campaign should be targeted towards a specific industry such as banks, pharma companies, commercial airlines and so on.
Define company size in terms of revenue, market share, number of employees, etc. Which attributes you pick would depend on the nature of your offering. Example are SaaS products which charge per user or HR tools which charge by the number of employees onboarded.
Location matters a lot because of language, cultural differences, local economic drivers and so on, which would affect buying behavior. This also matters a lot if you have to deliver physical goods to office/ factory locations.
Deal Size, LCV, and Margins
Just because a company has billions of dollars in revenue does not necessarily mean that they are ready to sign a million-dollar contract with you. For example, plenty of Fortune 500 companies use different SaaS products across its various locations and do not implement a single solution throughout the entire company.
Determine what your minimum deal size and Lifetime Customer Value (LCV) should be and make a reasonable assessment if the account is likely to be worth that much.
Another factor in determining is the margins you would like to earn with a particular type of account. Lower pricing or higher implementation costs in a specific industry might eat into your margins.
Technographics refers to the technology your target companies are already using. For example, if they are using a CRM which easily integrates with your tool, then they would be open to buying from you. If not, then it would be harder to convince them to try you out.
Cultural differences can make it more difficult to get the deal, as well as retain the customer. Therefore, your Ideal Customer Profile should include attributes that your team would be comfortable working with.
These are qualitative factors and would include:
Their risk-taking appetite
Their company values and what drives them
Their HR practices
Should you create buyer personas for Account-Based Marketing campaigns?
You can but it’s not necessary. Since you are targeting a limited number of companies, you would be building buyer ethnographies (more about that in the next section) rather than personas.
Once you have defined the attributes, the next step is to look for companies which match that profile. You begin your search by using Firmographics-based search filters on LinkedIn.
Then go through the company’s press releases, look at news articles, social media profiles, annual and quarterly financial reports and so on.
A great place to look for cultural aspects is Glassdoor. Going through reviews will give you a fair idea of the company’s values.
Now that you know which companies you want to target, you need to do two things:
Map their decision-making landscape.
Identify key people within each organization who are involved in the decision-making process
Build Buyer Ethnography
You need to understand in detail their goals, challenges, beliefs, preferences, interests and so on.
There are three groups of people who will be involved in buying decisions:
These are people who will be using the product. They might not have too much of a say in the formal decision-making process, but their opinions can certainly influence the decision.
These are people who will directly be involved in the decision. If you are selling a marketing software, this will include the marketing head and a few senior people in the marketing team.
These people will not be taking a decision directly, but they their roles will set parameters within which decision makers will have to operate. If you are trying to sell a marketing suite, influencers might include the CTO, the CFO or the CEO. Sometimes, it might also include people from their procurement team.
How do you acquire this information?
The easiest way to identify these roles is to use LinkedIn Sales Navigator to search for specific people within a company. (This is now a premium feature which was earlier called ‘LinkedIn Advanced Search’ and was free.)
Alternatively, you can just look through the names of all the employees of that company on LinkedIn, but it will probably take you 10x the time.
Your entire sales and marketing team should actively work together and try to find people who are familiar with the decision-making landscape in these companies. Both teams should leverage their networks too for doing this research.
An Overlooked Source
However, one of the best sources of information for finding connections is something that we usually overlook – it’s people within our own companies.
You will often find colleagues who have either worked in a target organization or knows someone who does. Searching for common connections on LinkedIn is a quick way to identify these opportunities.
However, just because an engineer in your product team knows the VP in your target company doesn’t mean that they are connected via social networks. To make sure you don’t miss out on any opportunities, start a slack channel specifically for connection inquiries. Any time you want information about a specific company, post in in the slack channel. You will be surprised at the number of positive responses you get.
The next step is to know as much about the decision makers as possible. The more research you are willing to do, the more detailed your profiles will be, and the more impactful your marketing messages will become.
For example, Medidata is a company that conducts intensive research into buyer ethnography for its Account-Based Marketing Programs.
John Seaner, VP of Global Field Marketing at Medidata says about one of their campaigns,
“We looked at the conferences they attended, who their peers were, we understood their interest, where they spoke, who they spoke with directly through social media and what they spoke about, how they tweet if they tweet, the types of information the consume and the channels they prefer when consuming it. That level of detail is essential when engaging with C-level executives.”
Medidata tripled its revenue as a result of investing in this level of detailed research.
Creating content for your audience in an Account-Based Marketing Process is slightly different than what you would normally do in inbound/outbound marketing or sales.
In this case, your content has to be far more specific to your target companies.
Use the information gathered in the previous two steps to customize your content. The more personalized your content is, the easier it will be to get the attention of your prospects.
Your content has to be tailored to two aspects:
Your content needs to highlight your prospects’ pain points. You can do this in two ways:
Based on the Ideal Customer Profile
Every company matching your ideal customer profile would have a common set of challenges and goals. You can create State of the Industry reports, how-to guides, case studies, etc. which provide them with valuable information.
This content can be in different forms such as:
Webinars/ webinar recordings
For Specific Companies
However, if you just have just a dozen companies on your target list which can become large accounts, you should go the extra mile. Create unique content for each of them.
Here are a couple of examples:
Personalized Industry Reports
This could be a state of the industry report too, but the copy would be more closely aligned with that company’s specific goals and challenges. For instance, you can provide more information on the specific challenges the company has mentioned in their latest quarterly financial report.
You can go even further and create data-based content that would be extremely valuable to a particular company.
For example, one Account-Based Marketing team created a social media activity report of a prospect’s competitors. It would be nearly impossible to ignore this kind of intelligence about your competitors’ social media activity, and therefore, these reports usually have a 100% download rate. It’s an extremely effective way of generating high quality leads.
Personalized Landing Pages
Optimizely creates targeted landing pages for each company. When you see your own company’s name on the page, it’s hard not to download the asset! Account-Based Marketing Software allows you to enable real-time personalization to target specific visitors.
Decision makers across different teams would have their ways of looking at a problem.
A Sales Head would look at product features while evaluating a CRM tool, but the CTO would consider how easy it is to roll out, what tech resources it will consume and how well it integrates with other tools.
Each decision maker would have their reasons for liking or dislike a tool, and your content will have to address each perspective.
If you are targeting ideal customer profiles, your content will be tailored to roles. However, if you are targeting a specific company, your content needs to speak to specific people.
When you do create content for specific people, you have to do additional research about those individuals. Look through their social media profiles and check out what they are talking about. Look through their tweets, social updates on other channels, articles they have written and comments they have left on other articles.
Find out as much as you can about their goals, the challenges they are facing, their perspectives about what works and what doesn’t as well as their interests.
This information can play a vital role in shaping your content, so don’t ignore this step.
For example, a salesperson at SAP discovered that a key decision maker was a huge sports fan. Armed with that knowledge, he created collateral with plenty of sports analogies to make it easier him to relate to the pitch. His approach worked, and SAP was able to close a large deal.
You also need to create content for different stages of the buyer’s journey. The first piece of content might be an industry report and the second one might be a more company-specific analysis report.
Now that you have created the content to speak to your audience, it’s time to choose the right channels to distribute it. This depends on which channels they frequent and are responsive to.
These are the channels that you could target:
You can place social media ads and banner ads in targeted publications.
Social media channels would include LinkedIn, FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, etc.
Both LinkedIn and FaceBook have excellent targeting features that will allow you to display ads only to your chosen audience.
Your marketing team can also place banner ads in targeted publications such as CIO, Adweek, etc.
Your ads would lead to a landing page where you host your asset – a report, video, etc.
It’s usually best not to ask for an opt-in on your landing pages. You already have their contact details and asking for opt ins will discourage many people from viewing your content.
However, you might have an opt-in at the end of the content piece where prospects can request additional information.
You could also send cold emails to your audience with Interseller. These would not be sales emails, though. These emails could contain a webinar invitation, a state of the industry report, or a competitor analysis report to download.
Account-Based Marketing doesn’t necessarily have to be done online.
You could attend an industry event you know your prospects will also be going to. Your booth’s messaging can be positioned around your Ideal Customer Profile’s challenges. You could also book speaker slots where senior leaders at your company talk about an issue that is specific to your Ideal Customer Profile.
This isn’t a scalable approach, but as I have pointed out, it doesn’t need to be.
In the last step, you would have spent a bit of time figuring out which channels your audience visits. In this step, you need to do this research in a bit more detail.
If you are targeting marketing leaders at large hotel chains, you could place an ad in a hotel marketing website. However, if you are simultaneously targeting CTOs at those same hotels, you should target hospitality blogs that write about technology too or tech blogs.
Coordination is key when your marketing team executes Account-Based Marketing campaigns.
Getting this wrong can lead to your prospects being exposed to conflicting messages, your sales team reaching out to them at the wrong time, and overall – a less effective campaign.
Before you launch your campaign, map each piece of content with the different stages of the buyer’s journey.
You also have to make sure that different decision-makers are being delivered the right content at the right time.
Create an execution calendar, so that everyone on the marketing and sales team is clear about when each content will be delivered and through what channel so that they can coordinate their tasks accordingly.
In the last section, I spoke about creating different pieces of content according to the buyer’s journey. You can offer progressive content by using retargeting.
For example, everyone who’s seen the first piece – a report would be shown the next one – a video, which goes deeper into the topic.
Retargeting might be a great way to generate high-quality leads, but, be careful not to overdo it. Many find it to be intrusive, so use it judiciously. This might be no matter in B2C marketing, but in Account-Based Marketing, you have to be extra careful.
Sales and Marketing need to be perfectly aligned about when the handoff happens from marketing to sales. Make sure the different triggers are defined as processes.
Your sales team should always be in the loop about how your prospects are engaging with your content. That will help them figure out the best time to take the next step and reach out to them for a call or a meeting.
Use a marketing automation platform and map each prospect as a contact in the platform. That will help both the sales and marketing team to keep track of your prospect’s activities.
According to Demandbase, 67% of CMOs have trouble demonstrating the ROI of their marketing efforts.
However, one of the best things about Account-Based Marketing is that it’s far easier to measure than other marketing campaigns.
To evaluate your campaigns, here are a few questions to ask:
How much revenue are you generating from the target accounts?
What are the number of views and time spent on a page in your content pieces?
What are the conversion rates at each stage of the buyer’s journey?
Which customer profiles are demonstrating higher conversion rates?
Which channels are the most effective?
Which target industries have higher conversion rates?
How can I optimize my landing pages?
Evaluating these parameters will help you improve your campaigns.
The final step in account-based marketing is to revise your campaigns based on your results and campaign evaluation.
At every step of the process, you would have made assumptions about what would work. Once you see the results of your campaign over months, you will figure out which assumptions were correct, and which need to be re-examined.
Double down on what’s working and drop the initiatives that are not delivering.
Like any marketing tactic, success in Account-Based Marketing Campaigns is all about continual testing and improvement. The better you optimize your campaigns,the higher your conversion rates and ROI on marketing spend will be.
Account-Based Marketing certainly requires you to think differently about your marketing funnel. However, it’s not rocket science. All it takes is a commitment to doing more research, creating tailored campaigns and greater coordination between your sales and marketing teams.
Companies investing in it are growing their revenue like never before, and increasing their marketing ROI too. That’s enough reason for you to join the thousands of companies who are succeeding at Account-Based Marketing.