To get real value from ABM, don’t miss this crucial first step

Dell EMC's Senior VP of Marketing EMEA, Margaret Franco, explains how to unlock the benefits of ABM

September 24, 2018

To get real value from ABM, don’t miss this crucial first step

Account-based marketing (ABM) is one of the most exciting concepts in marketing today – but it’s also one of the most frequently misunderstood. I’m fortunate to have first-hand experience of the benefits that an ABM programme can deliver in terms of meaningful integration of your sales and marketing teams, better customer experiences, engagement and revenue. However, I’ve also seen first-hand what it takes to unlock those benefits. There’s a crucial body of work that ABM depends on, but which it’s easy for marketers to rush, sidestep or ignore altogether. And if you miss this essential first step you’ll find it increasingly difficult to generate the value that you should.  

When ABM means different things to your sales and marketing teams, it isn’t really ABM at all. As a marketer, you may be delivering highly personalised content – but if it’s not connected to what sales is trying to achieve with the account in question, and their understanding of what that particular customer needs, then it has limited value. You’re still marketing in a silo. That’s why integration with sales from the outset is a crucial dependency for ABM.

The success of ABM depends on an extended handshake with sales, investing the time and resources to clarify exactly what your programme is aiming to achieve, who it’s targeting and how both teams will measure its success. You’ll need to define the type of ABM that you mean, identify the accounts that matter most and the decision-makers that matter most within them. Perhaps most importantly, you’ll also need to identify what value looks like for those customers. You then need to clarify simple, shared objectives that are relevant to both sales and marketing, and work together to develop personalised insights that build relationship equity:

Define which type of ABM you mean
ABM may be one of the most frequently used terms in B2B marketing at the moment, but I’m not always convinced that marketers and their sales teams know what one another mean when using the term. If you don’t clarify this at the outset and demystify the process, you’ll find yourself with differing expectations that seriously undermine effectiveness moving forward.

Within an ABM strategy, there are two types of activity that an organisation can run. Each has value to add, but they are suited to different circumstances and different objectives. The crucial first step is working with sales to identify which form of ABM different accounts need.

The first form of ABM involves treating large, valuable accounts as a market of one, and developing entire bespoke strategies specifically for that business. You might, for example, build a marketing plan specifically for the CIO that’s focused on helping him or her to explain the value of a project to internal stakeholders. You’ll be hyper-targeting, creating content that’s relevant to the specific issues, opportunities and partnerships of that one company. It requires a deep understanding of the target account that will most likely come from your sales teams’ relationships with their contacts. It might well involve partnering with the stakeholders within the business on their internal marketing initiatives. It’s people-driven and therefore, by its very nature, it’s not scalable.

The second form of ABM delivers content that’s personalised to different stakeholders within a particular type of business – and it’s designed to deliver this at scale, across all relevant accounts in a target list.

Many people assume that ABM means the first type of entirely bespoke marketing – when in reality, many businesses are able to get far greater value from the second type. This is why defining the scope of ABM is hugely important in the early stages of planning your programme. You need to work closely with sales to identify which type of ABM is most realistic and most relevant to your objectives for a given account.

Identify the accounts that matter most – and the decision-makers that matter most within them
You can’t have account-based marketing without a strategic discussion about the value of different accounts and why you are targeting them. Equally, you can’t run an ABM programme effectively without working with sales to identify the most important decision-makers within these accounts – and this applies equally whether you’re scaling ABM across an account list or focusing on a market of one.

At Dell EMC, we refer to today’s B2B audiences as connected customers: they are hyper-connected, hyper-aware, thanks to their ability to research anything through any device at any moment, and they want to be hyper-targeted. Whether you are a consumer or a business decision-maker, you expect content that’s personalised to you – and that’s the real purpose of any ABM programme. It’s all about your ability to achieve engagement through meeting these heightened customer expectations. You can’t personalise without a clear understanding of which specific decision-makers within accounts you need to influence – and how you can build your relationship equity by delivering content that’s of real value to them. That understanding has to come from your initial handshake with sales.

Margaret Franco, Senior Vice President, Marketing Europe Middle East & Africa at Dell EMC

Clarify your simple, shared objectives
The discussion around metrics and objectives for ABM can become unnecessarily complex and I believe there’s a lot of value in sales and marketing organisations cutting through some of this complexity and clarifying the measures of success that matter. If you’ve done the groundwork in aligning sales and marketing around outcomes then ABM ought to involve focusing on fewer metrics, not more, but focusing on metrics that are directly related to revenue.

The ultimate objective for all marketers should be revenue contribution. The difference with ABM is that you can set engagement as a meaningful marketing metric, because you’ve firmly established how that engagement translates into revenue. Any ABM programme should aim for relevant engagement with relevant individuals. When your ABM targets engage with your content, they signal a greater openness to engaging with sales and that correlates with better conversion rates, more revenue and increased customer satisfaction.

Another powerful reason for focusing on engagement within ABM strategies is that it keeps you customer-centric. The focus of this activity is to build stronger relationships, and at the core of every customer relationship is your ability to provide value. ABM gives marketers an incredible opportunity to provide content that is insightful and valuable, intensifying relationships and delivering better experiences by demonstrating to customers that you understand what matters to them. Engagement is a key indicator of whether you are taking this opportunity in the way that you should.

If you get your initial sales and marketing handshake right, you’ll have far less need to monitor influence on pipeline and similar metrics, because sales and marketing are already agreed on the value of the engagement you’re seeking to generate. You can then track engagement collectively all the way through to revenue – not just marketing engagement through content downloads, but sales engagement through briefing meetings and sales calls.

Pool insights to develop personalised content
ABM is an exercise in building relationship equity – and relevant, personalised insights are the currency for that relationship equity. As a marketing team, you need to invest in generating such insights and using them as the basis for your content, and your sales and marketing handshake can play a vital role in informing that investment. Understanding the issues that your sales teams encounter in discussions with different stakeholders can help to identify the types of insight that will offer greatest value to those stakeholders.

Dell EMC’s Connected CIO content series, which we’re deploying through our ABM programme on LinkedIn at the moment, is a great example of how this type of personalised insight drives engagement. It’s an audience-centric approach and it’s shaped by discussions with sales about where the personalised content opportunity lies for this critical audience. It means we can put the customer first and focus on delivering content that’s valuable to them.

How a sales and marketing handshake enables more innovative ABM
Once you’ve established a foundational understanding between sales and marketing, you are far better equipped to identify what you need from your marketing partners and platforms, and track results to demonstrate ROI back to the business.

In our case this involved building an innovative relationship with LinkedIn. We were fully aligned as an organisation on the type of engagement we needed to track, and the level of granularity we needed about who was engaging within our target accounts.

We’re fortunate because, as a technology company, we don’t just sell the technology that enables others to build ABM programmes – we’re also able to use that technology ourselves. Our single biggest item of marketing spend has been a collective IT project to build a data lake. This gives us all of the granular touchpoints we need to operationalise our ABM approach – and scale it across different accounts. The LinkedIn team worked with us to make sure that we could leverage this granular view when executing ABM on their platform. They went beyond off-the-shelf solutions to give us the targeting and view of engagement that we knew we needed. This ultimately allowed us to focus on the value we were generating for the customer, and because we had invested in building the foundations with our sales team, we know exactly what value to our business that engagement represents.

The wonderful thing about an ABM programme isn’t just the view that it provides on how marketing engagement contributes to revenue – it’s the fact that view is shared across the sales and marketing organisation. The transformational effect on the sales and marketing relationship is one of the most important benefits that a business gains from doing ABM right. That transformation starts right at the beginning of the ABM process, before you’ve even created your first piece of personalised content. It’s building a shared understanding internally and truly understanding the value and insight your customer is looking for. These are the most powerful assets for building relationship equity externally.