What is account based marketing? The not-so-secret B2B marketing ingredient

Posted on 12/08/2020 by Matt Berry

Are you aware of account based marketing? This strategic approach helps to target specific high-value accounts, offering them a more personalised experience that will result in higher quality leads to maximise ROI. Here’s why you should be taking full advantage.

At the dawn of the age of digital marketing, it was all about the ‘shotgun approach’: focus on conversion rate, volume of traffic and try to bring in as many leads as humanly possible. However, as digital marketing has transformed, allowing detailed targeting, along with a skyrocket in consumer expectations around personalisation, the usual approach is now the ancient approach.

The co-founder of Terminus, Sangram Vajre – in my opinion, the unofficial boss of account based marketing (ABM) – uses the phrase ‘fishing with nets’ for lead generation throughout his ABM presentations. This phraseology is the simplest and most accurate way of differentiating ABM from standard lead generation.

Inbound marketing is all about fishing with nets, capturing as many leads as possible. ABM changes this approach and swaps the net out for a spear.

So, what is account based marketing?

What is account based marketing in layman’s terms? It’s a marketing approach that focuses on a specific set of targeted predefined accounts, creating personalised experiences for those accounts to generate highly-qualified leads. Account based marketing forces close alignment between sales and marketing teams. This is because successful ABM requires an understanding of the motivations, frustrations and needs of the individual accounts.

Using Sangram Vajre’s metaphor, ABM forces ‘fishing with spears’: you are no longer concerned with bringing in as many leads as possible. Instead, the switch of focus means that sales have a critical purpose in marketing efforts by identifying a set of accounts that are aligned with the business, and then working closely with marketing to create truly customised journeys, specific content and individualised messaging for these accounts.

This goes against the ‘shotgun’ approach that blanket campaigns result in. According to ITSMA’s (the Information Technology Services Marketing Association) definition from their 2019 benchmark study Moving to ABM Maturity, ABM treats “accounts as markets in their own right” and focuses marketing efforts in this same way. This concept is also explored within Meghan Flannery’s blog post, Account Based Marketing (ABM).

Let’s break this down to a real sales situation. We all know from experience that when a sales decision is being made, there are usually many different stakeholders involved that typically fall into a ‘researcher’ and ‘decision-maker’ model. The larger the company, the more people involved in the decision itself, and there are many more people that need to be satisfied before a deal can be made. ABM takes this into consideration and doesn’t focus on the individual, but focuses on the businesses instead and seeks to satisfy each of the decision-makers within a company – or, in ABM speak, account. 

Account based marketing turns the traditional inbound marketing funnel upside down:

account based marketing funnel

Why would you want to practice ABM?

If you’re wondering why you should practice ABM, the best place to start is looking into Pareto Law (the 80/20 rule). ABM forces you to plan, identify and really think about a personalised experience for the accounts that have been identified – specifically, the ones your business wants to work with. Effectively, you are spending 80% of your time in the right areas. It also forces you to consider the viewpoints of individuals within a business and make sure that you are attempting to influence all the key stakeholders.

We are also living in a world of very high expectations: no longer can large-scale, generic e-shots be used to gain leads. Potential customers expect personalised and tailored marketing, and they also expect effort. Solving an individual’s problems has to be your focus, engaging with them on a personal level and then influencing them. 

Just as Megan Golden explains in her LinkedIn article ‘What Is Account Based Marketing, Why You Should Adopt It, And How’:

a personalised approach is essential when aiming marketing and sales efforts at a few select, high-value accounts. Personalise well and buyers are more open to your outreach and less likely to ignore your content and communications.”

The top three benefits of account based marketing

Everyone loves a ‘top 3’ and here are our top 3 points as to why you should implement account based marketing in your business.

1) A focused marketing & sales funnel

This was mentioned in the introduction, but it’s worth repeating: because ABM is so targeted with its marketing efforts, resource waste is limited. As Joe Chernov said: “ABM aspires to be ‘zero-waste’ marketing.”

Remember, ABM is fishing with a spear, not a net. This means that there’s considerably less “by-catch” as you’re only engaging with prospects that are likely to buy and accounts that you have identified and actually want! Combine that narrow focus with an amazing customer experience, and conversion rates will soon start to climb.

2) Better customer experiences

Instead of going for that shotgun approach and showcasing huge amounts of broad content that is ultimately generic and certainly not personalised, with ABM you go deep — researching accounts and designing campaigns specifically for them. Every touchpoint along the buyer’s journey is personalised. 

Usually, we would see content that is focused around a subject area, market or industry. Account based marketing really gets us thinking about content and information that is important and interesting to the individual account. That content only gets shown to that individual account or group of accounts.

3) ROI and Effectiveness of Time Spent

LinkedIn and ITSMA’s 2019 benchmark survey found that 84% of businesses who use ABM reported an increased ROI. Sure, one study is not going to make you decide to use ABM – it’s just one study. However, hopefully, it might encourage you enough to run a trial campaign.

So what makes ABM so very different?

You may feel like what you are doing right now is quite similar to ABM. You may feel like your digital team is being ultra-targeted with their activity and you may be happy with all the high-quality leads you are getting at the moment. However, ABM is the next level of B2B marketing!

ABM marketing is beyond the targeting that you are doing right now

You may be already using all the targeting methods that networks and channels allow you to use (location, job titles, industries, etc.), but ABM goes well beyond that. ABM targets the exact companies that you want to work with, the ones that are most likely to buy from you and using the very similar channels, just with a very different approach.

ABM marketing focuses on accounts and truly understanding these accounts.

The best marketing and sales teams who undertake ABM successfully truly know their targeted accounts. Why? Because ABM forces practitioners to be personalised and to produce content that is interesting and engaging to predefined accounts.

ABM marketing isn’t just about getting more brand new customers

It isn’t just there to bring in brand new accounts; it also focuses on the accounts that you already have and increases the growth of these current accounts.

The role of marketing in account based marketing

The name says it all really and, as you might have guessed it, marketing plays a fundamental and crucial role in ABM. The most critical aspects are really around the ideation of the user journey, making the user-journey personalised to individual accounts and truly creating great content that leads to a conversion. 

Channel marketing is just as critical once all the planning and creation has been completed. The user journey needs ‘users’ and the only way this happens is through fantastic use of digital marketing. Choice of channels, targeting, amplification and a sequential journey through a personalised experience is how digital marketing makes account based marketing a success.

The role of sales in account based marketing

The very first part of this article talked about the identification of a set of accounts and this should come from your sales team. Your sales team has the in-depth knowledge of current customers and customers they would love to work with. They engage with these companies daily, understand their challenges, issues and requirements: your sales really are the fountain of knowledge when it comes to ABM. If you can get your sales team and marketing team working together, the user-journey will be incredible.

The best resources to understand more about account based marketing

Here’s some further reading on account based marketing:

A final thought

So, there you have it – our guide to what account based marketing is, why it’s beneficial and the roles that are critical to its success. Hopefully, now that you’re at the end of this blog post, you’ll want to know even more about ABM; we will be creating and posting a series of guides of how to implement ABM, especially around the role that digital marketing plays, so stay tuned!

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