Account-Based Marketing Strategy 101: A Roadmap to Results

November 8, 2017

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Imagine you’re driving in a strange city. You’re looking for a coffee shop. Twenty years ago, you either had to stop and ask for directions or keep driving until you came across an open business.

This is a foreign concept today. If you want to find a coffee shop, just tell your phone to pull up locations, hours, customer ratings, and once you’ve decided on a place, directions. Sure, you could drive around and see if you get lucky on your own, but what’s the point? In the end, it’s a waste of your gas and your time, and there’s still no guarantee you’ll get that cup of coffee.

This scenario illustrates why account-based marketing (ABM) is growing in popularity. Although it made sense in decades past to cast a wide net, today’s most effective B2B marketers don’t have the patience for such a scattershot approach. Like the best coffee shops, the best accounts to target are far more findable than they used to be. Digital channels make it easy to conduct extensive research on a target account, allowing you to identify the people you need to reach so that you can customize your engagement strategy.

In other words, why rely on hope that your marketing efforts will surface a few qualified leads when you can use digital tools and data to identify and prioritize target accounts on the front end? Thanks to ABM, marketers are building leaner, more focused, results-oriented strategies that deliver greater ROI to their organizations.

Whether you’re just learning the definition of ABM, you’re familiarizing yourself with ABM terminology, or you simply want to know what ABM success looks like, this post will help you understand the basics of ABM strategy and what you can do to drive better business results.

Account-Based Marketing: The Basics

On a fundamental level, ABM is a strategy that focuses marketing resources on engaging a specific set of target accounts. According to ITSMA, with ABM, marketing creates an account-specific marketing plan and integrates it with the sales plan. In other words, marketing becomes part of the account team. When marketing and sales share a similar mindset – how to target and land accounts – they can collaborate around a common goal.

Sales and marketing team members use personalized campaign strategies to engage on an individual level. For example, a company trying to sell marketing software would want to identify the key decision-making roles that would be impacted by the solution. In this scenario, a list of individuals might include the CMO, CIO, and digital marketing managers.

Once those individuals have been identified, the team will then reach out using a personalized strategy that makes sense for each contact. For example, maybe you select a specific team member to reach out because they went to the same college or share the most professional connections with the contact. Relationships drive ABM strategy, which is why prospect outreach is more often being determined by social proximity vs. traditional sales territories.

The point of ABM strategy is to focus your resources on the highest-value prospects. Then, because you’re using your resources more efficiently, you have the luxury of slowing down and investing time into a thoughtful dialogue that is more likely to garner engagement.

Of course, every business will have its own strategy for gathering data, conducting research, and reaching out to target accounts, but the takeaway is this: Marketers and salespeople cannot be satisfied with finding only key decision makers and directing messages, content, and offers at them. B2B marketers must reach the broader buying group, which means targeting their message at scale to every part of a company that can wield influence on the final buying decision.

Essential Tools for ABM Success

To some degree, the success of any ABM strategy will be dictated by the tools and data at your disposal. You will find yourself swimming in a sea of information, hoping to find the right data that guides you toward the best target accounts. To identify these accounts and conduct sufficient research to market to them more effectively, marketing teams will, at a minimum, need the following essential ABM tools:

A CRM platform. A customer relationship management (CRM) platform is central to your ABM strategy, helping to align sales and marketing while tracking your progress with accounts and contacts. Most organizations already have this in place.

Marketing automation software. Automation solutions will help integrate sales and marketing while providing an easy outlet for managing ABM campaigns, scoring leads, and tracking when and how different types of content are used. Many automation solutions also have analytics built into their platform.

An active, polished presence on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the top social platform for B2B marketing and selling, and your company – and anyone involved in account outreach – should have a polished, active profile in place.

Other possible ABM technology and tools to call upon include:

  • Analytics
  • Ad serving
  • Personalization
  • Account planning
  • Progressive profiling
  • Customer advocacy marketing
  • Salesforce automation
  • Customer intelligence
  • Social media

Laying a Foundation for Your ABM Program

By focusing on specific accounts instead of unfocused lead generation, ABM helps marketing better align its efforts with sales. At the same time, because messaging is customized per account, ABM more naturally aligns with the buyer’s journey.

Both types of alignment fit today’s best practices for B2B marketing strategy, but these changes won’t take root unless marketers proactively drive change. In order to align with sales, marketers need to be in constant communication as the two sides identify the target audience, devise and coordinate outreach, and manage communications throughout the buyer journey.

A disconnect between the two sides will result in a fragmented experience for your target accounts. If they aren’t working side-by-side, marketing and sales will get in each other’s way more often than they help each other.

Because marketing and sales will work together so closely, it’s critical that they agree on the overall goals. According to SiriusDecisions, agreeing on goals makes it easier to:

  • Select tactics
  • Show how each tactic contributed to goal achievement
  • Justify further investment
  • Evaluate ad hoc requests in light of whether it will help advance the agreed-upon goals

While the overall goal is to land new accounts or expand business with existing ones, marketing and sales should define discrete goals that align to the bigger goals. Discrete goals can include:

  • Identifying a higher number of individuals within each account
  • Securing a greater number of senior-level appointments/meetings
  • Driving faster sales cycle time
  • Promoting higher customer loyalty
  • Closing a higher percentage of major deals
  • Growing revenues within existing accounts

Account-Based Marketing Tactics

With more than 500 million members and 8 million companies sharing accurate first-party data, LinkedIn’s platform is one of the most popular outlets for building and deploying an ABM strategy. As Matt Heinz says, “There’s no fresher source of lists than LinkedIn. If you go to a typical list vendor, they’ve build those lists x days, x months, x years ago. Your best prospects are updating their LinkedIn profiles in real time.”  

“They’re telling you what their job is,” continues Matt. “They’re describing their job in their profile. If you’re saying I want to go after these companies, and I want people with these roles and these levels, there’s no better source than LinkedIn.”

While there are several ways to use LinkedIn for ABM, the feature every account-based marketer should know about is LinkedIn Account Targeting. With Account Targeting, marketers can upload a list of their target companies, which are then matched against the 8+ million Company Pages on LinkedIn. You can also refine your targeting strategy to focus on specific roles within your target accounts, including senior positions more likely to be involved in the decision-making process.

From there, it’s about getting the right message in front of the right people. For example, your initial outreach can utilize LinkedIn Sponsored Content campaigns to display relevant content to a select audience segment. And through Sponsored InMail, you might conduct direct outreach through a short message that introduces yourself and includes a personalized offer.

These initial conversations will be fueled by the research you’ve conducted on your target accounts, leaving you well-prepared to connect on common interests and speak directly to challenges facing the contact’s organization.

Evaluating Performance and Improving Your Account-Based Marketing Strategy

If you’re new to ABM, know that you won’t achieve perfection right away – there’s a learning curve for everyone. It will also take time to get a sense of the best approach for your target accounts, in terms of your personalization strategy, calls to action, and the ability to align marketing with sales and the buyer’s journey.

A good analytics solution, along with data available through LinkedIn’s Campaign Manager, will help marketers identify strengths and weaknesses in their ABM strategy. It’s also important to experiment with different messages and content formats to see which strategies get the best results. Experiment freely, and pay close attention to what the analytics say.

Account-based marketing has become a popular trend in B2B sales, but it’s not too late to jump on the bandwagon and reap all the benefits this strategy has to offer. Now is as good a time as any to roll up your sleeves and put your newfound knowledge to work, so send that meeting invite to your sales team and start building your ABM strategy.

You may not stumble upon a perfect approach the first time around, but with dedication and diligent testing, you’ll eventually navigate your way to a better marketing ROI.

Ready to reach decision makers at your target accounts? Get started with Account Targeting on LinkedIn.

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