ABM Technology is Cool and All, But ABM Is Really a Strategy

ABM Technology is Cool and All, But ABM Is Really a Strategy

When marketers think about account-based marketing, ABM technology quickly springs to mind: tools that let you find, target, track and convert the accounts you want most. While technology is an important part of the puzzle, it’s easy to be lulled into thinking that in order to do ABM well, you just need to invest in the right software and off you go. But ABM is about strategy first and foremost, then using the right tech to support it (a theme you’ll hear often here at MTS).

And it looks like the market agrees. Demandbase, a leading ABM technology (although they call themselves ABX because, why not?), recently acquired two other platforms, including InsideView, a prospecting tool I’ve used. They’re making a play at a “full B2B go-to-market suite”, of which ABM is one piece of the bigger puzzle.

So, how do strategy and technology intertwine in account-based marketing? Well, thanks for asking…

The goal: Create your target account list

The strategy: You can’t do account-based marketing without knowing the accounts you want. Your best accounts are your best opportunity for future growth (think: cross-sell, upsell and retention). But you’ll need to think about how you define your best accounts: are they existing customers, the target accounts you’ve built personas for, both, or something else entirely?

So start by determining the types of companies that would be your perfect customer (and include those current customers that you’d like to do more with). Look at things like company size, annual revenue, geography, and business stage (startup, growth, established). Don’t forget to look at indicators of need and fit, like whether they’re actively investing in the types of services or products you provide, and whether they have an established partnership with a vendor already.

The technology: Once you’ve identified the types of companies you want, you need to build out a list of individuals at those companies. Prospecting tools such as ZoomInfo, the afore-mentioned InsideView, Data.com and DiscoverOrg help you identify the people (by criteria such as job title) at this companies who you need to be talking to. Think about the buying roles you need to cover at each company and make sure you cover as many as possible: champion, decision maker, budget holder, influencer(s), blocker, executive sponsor, etc.

Pro tip: If those tools are a little too pricey for you (and they may very well be), there are definitely some “grittier” approaches you can use here. Think about getting crafty with some LinkedIn searching paired with a cheaper email finder like hunter.io or VoilaNorbert.

The goal: Go broad (but smart) with ABM technology

The strategy: Your target account list should be divided further into a smaller group of key accounts. Your broader account list are the accounts that you want, but your key accounts should be the ones that you can’t live without. You’ll be spending more time on that smaller subset of accounts.

For easy math, let’s say you design your target account list with one hundred accounts at the “broad” level and ten accounts at the “key” level (you’ll need to determine the actual breakdown based on your industry, budget, and the size and support of your sales team). You’ll want to develop campaign-level messaging that covers all of your accounts, and then get really specific with account-level messaging for your key accounts (see the next step). You can then “broadcast” your campaign-level content to your broader account list.

The technology: With programmatic ABM tools like Demandbase and Terminus, you can deliver digital advertising at an account level. Typically, you provide them with your full list of accounts and they’ll let you know how many of your accounts they have in their database to target, based on company-level IP addresses. These platforms allow you to upload and deliver your ads and optimize your campaigns much like Google Ads, only you know that you’re reaching just the accounts you want. Similarly, you can run targeted advertising to specific companies using LinkedIn advertising. This broad “air cover” is how you can reach the “unknowns” at the accounts that fit your profile.

The goal: Get specific with the right strategy & message

The strategy: Don’t attempt to jump into ABM with a cookie-cutter value proposition and off-the-shelf content. You have a clearly defined audience; now is the time to get creative and tailor your message and your content. Spend some time researching your target accounts and the target people at those accounts. Check out recent news articles about the company. Understand their pain points. Look at your target’s LinkedIn profiles. Then put together a message that speaks directly to those companies — and those people.

The technology: In order to get this specific, you’ll need an integrated or all-in-one CRM and marketing automation platform. Solutions like HubSpot and Salesforce are adding ABM tools that let you segment your target companies and get account-level views. You’ll be able to identify and monitor the activities of your dream companies at the individual contact and aggregate account levels. You’ll be able to send personalized, relevant messaging at the scale you need. And some platforms, like HubSpot, also let you integrate your LinkedIn account, so if you’re using LinkedIn Sales Navigator, you can view the info directly from within HubSpot.

Pro tip: We talk about this a lot, but ensuring that your data is standardized, clean and consistently formatted is critical when you get into personalized messaging. Take the time to set up processes and do some data maintenance before you start sending out marketing that says something cringe-worthy, like, “Hey, MILLER, Joe!”

The goal: Pull sales on board

The strategy: This type of marketing campaign just doesn’t work if sales isn’t bought in (trust me). So that elusive “sales and marketing alignment” that everyone’s always talking about becomes really important. You’re going to need the sales team to do their part, pulling the leads you’re warming through the funnel. And you’re going to need everyone to be on the same page with the status of each account and the campaign as a whole, in real time.

Definitely get the sales team involved early in the planning so they have a hand in helping to define the campaign. If you’re having a lot of resistance (I’ve run into this), you might want to test out the idea first with a small group of salespeople who are most willing to play ball. Once they’ve started to win some deals, the rest of your salespeople may suddenly be more open-minded.

The technology: A closely-aligned (there’s that word again!) CRM and automation platform are critical. Make sure that you have your target accounts clearly marked and easy to identify and segment. Ensure that the marketing and sales teams are seeing the same data, and that the data is synching immediately. Before you hit send on a marketing email, you need to know if a contact has entered discussions with a salesperson. And likewise, your sales team needs to know which marketing assets the lead they’re about to talk to has been reading. Set up reports that drill into the success of the ABM program so you can keep an eye on things as they develop.

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