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What is account-based marketing anyway? Blog Feature

Chris Marr

Lead Digital Sales and Marketing Coach, First certified TAYA consultant in the UK and Europe; creating successful world-class TAYA case studies since 2014

March 11th, 2020 min read

At IMPACT we’re massive advocates of inbound marketing.

Done correctly it will generate increased revenue for your business without you really having to lift a finger.  

It’s very much about creating content that lives online and attracts ideal buyers to your organization in their natural journey, but sometimes this hands-off approach isn’t enough. 

Sometimes your buyers need something more to push them over the line from considering you to actually wanting to work with you. 

Furthermore, most organizations have more than one person responsible for a purchase, and, as the number of people involved increases, the chances of a purchase declines. 

This is why stepping in with a more proactive, personalized, and targeted marketing plan can add massive value to your marketing efforts. 

Account-based marketing (ABM) could be the solution. 

The problem with a traditional sales funnel

What do you picture when you think of a traditional sales funnel? It probably looks a little something like this.

          inbound-marketing-funnel.jpg account-based-marketing-funnel.png

Image source

The traditional sales and marketing model casts a wide net. It aims to reach as many potential customers as possible — and capture the maximum number of leads. 

The leads are then slowly nurtured through the process to try and convert as many as possible into customers. 

So, what’s the problem?

The assumption is always that an increase in leads will lead to increased revenue, however, research suggests that is not necessarily true.

The problem with a traditional sales funnel is that it gets smaller as you progress. 

In fact, research by Forrester suggests that over 99% of B2B leads never become customers

That’s a lot of  time, money, and energy spent communicating with people who will never buy from you. 

Enter ABM.

92% of marketers believe that ABM will have a positive effect on their business, but only around 20% have implemented it over an extended period of time and successfully reaped the rewards. 

In this blog we explore what ABM is, what the benefits are, and how ABM and inbound can work together to align the sales and marketing departments. 

Plus, we draw on the experience of the experts and share the best and most up-to-date ABM resources to help you get started with and master account-based marketing for your business. 

What is account-based marketing?

“Account-based Marketing: A focused approach to B2B marketing in which marketing and sales teams work together to target best-fit accounts and turn them into customers.” - Terminus

Account-based marketing flips the classic B2B sales and marketing funnel on its head by going straight for the “qualified” leads rather than letting them filter themselves. 

While inbound marketing starts with organic lead generation, account-based marketing starts by identifying and targeting key decision makers within accounts which have the potential to bring the biggest revenue to your business. 

It’s looking at the businesses you want to work with and then figuring out who on that team you need to win over in order to make the sale. 

Because of this, ABM often equated to “fishing with spears,” treating the customer as a market of one rather than targeting a wide demographic like  inbound and “fishing with nets.” 

It  is a more personalized and direct communication approach targeted towards B2B industries with longer sales cycles. 

The very nature of ABM requires marketing and sales people to understand their buyer better than anyone else in their industry, leading to valuable long-term connections.It’s also especially relevant for high-value services or products. 

Perhaps the best way to think about ABM is like giving your potential buyers the ‘white glove’ treatment with sales and marketing. 

When clients are spending top-dollar on a service or product, this kind of attention to deal is that much more important. 

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The stages of account-based marketing

I always think of inbound as "First, let's attract them, and then let's qualify them" and with ABM, it's the opposite. "First let's qualify them. Then, let's attract them." - Kathleen Booth

So if you flip the sales funnel, what does it look like? 

The four stages of ABM are:

  • Identify
  • Expand
  • Engage
  • Advocate

1. Identify: Work with your team to identify who your ideal client/account is.

You only have the resources to work with a certain number of accounts so it’s crucial that you choose wisely. 

That is why in this stage, we begin shifting our attention away from one to many marketing, to one to one engagement. 

With ABM, you start with the customer in mind, more specifically, your most ideal customer based on a specific set of criteria — industry, size of company, revenue, geography, number of employees, etc. 

You then research each one more deeply and find out if you already have any contacts you can identify as leads and what position they hold.

You should also ask yourself are they decision makers, or simply someone who has an influence over decisions? 

Looking at your inbound data and analytics, do you have visibility of multiple people from one account consuming your content? What pages are they looking at and what does this tell you about how qualified they might be? 

Use your internal data to help identify ideal opportunities to connect.

You can also make good use of all the information that’s publicly available to you, for example: 

  • Company reports
  • Market data
  • Industry reports and surveys
  • Social media

Expand: Expand on your current contacts within the internal network and discover the key decision makers.

ABM only works if you are giving 100% of your attention to a small number of ideal buyers and making sure outreach and content efforts are not only seen by more of the right people, but that they are also likely to want to spend time with your content. 

That’s why the next step in the process is to expand your reach within your identified accounts and get to know them better.

We need to know more about who we are trying to reach out to so we can personalize the content and make it relevant to them, their concerns, and their organization.

Here are a few ways to expand your network in a specific account: 

  • Use your internal data from CRMs and inbound tools to identify contacts from the same organization
  • Use LinkedIn to identify decisions makers and contacts in key roles within the account
  • Use email conventions (initial.lastname@yourcomany.com) to figure out the email addresses of key contacts. 

Engage: Engage with specific decision makers and share more valuable content.

At this stage, we are looking to make contact, build a relationship and find out more about those contacts we have identified at the account. 

This is when we put on our ‘white gloves’ and actually put our plan into action. 

There are several ways to engage: 

  • Content - blogs, videos, webinars, reports, white papers, etc
  • Paid Advertising - Highly targeted content served to your contacts from the specific account
  • Surveys - use relevant and interesting surveys to find out more about what you don’t know
  • Print - Sending reports, handwritten letters, articles and interesting content in the mail can cut through the noise
  • Case studies - Showcasing how another organization in the same industry benefited from working with you
  • Introductions - Using your network to get in-person introductions to key contacts in key accounts
  • Events - Either your company is putting on events specifically for accounts, or your company is represented at other industry events. Meeting your contacts face-to-face is by far the best way to build a trusting relationship. 

Now, I know what you are thinking: “this all seems a bit spammy and a little creepy.”

Isn’t this exactly the same as cold calling? 

No doubt, there are similarities, but the key distinction with ABM is that all the efforts are highly personalized and relevant to the contacts at the account. The more personalized you are, the better. 

Advocate: The community within the account starts buzzing about your product or service. 

Once the sales team closes the deal that’s when your relationship with your buyer really begins, and it’s time for your company to fulfill the promises it has made. 

We want to continue building the relationship with our key contacts, continue to increase our contacts within the account, and as contacts within the account enjoy working with us, and start to communicate with their peers, your company will become a trusted name. 

But it doesn’t end there.

When a customer loves working with you, they become your greatest advocates driving more business your way from their organization or even their peers. 

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The key benefits of account-based marketing

Now, clearly ABM isn’t easy. Though refined, it still does require a great deal of focused communication and catered service. 

Why is it worth it?

There are four main benefits to ABM:

  • Personalizes the experience
  • Builds trust and long term relationships
  • Shortens the sales cycle
  • Aligns sales and marketing

1. Personalizes your experience

When your buyers are looking for a solution in the marketplace, it’s the organization that can build trust the quickest that’s likely to win. 

With broad marketing campaigns, building trust with your potential buyers is less effective than a personalized approach where each person feels like you truly understand their pain points and the frustrations they are having in their role. 

With ABM, you are working with a small audience, which means fewer overall leads, but a greater opportunity to personalize the whole experience. 

2. Build trust and long-term relationships

A 5% increase in customer retention can increase profits by up to 95%, and therefore keeping the customers you have is crucially important in order to grow your business.

By networking and engaging with people across the account and turning them into advocates you can strengthen the relationship and, if applicable, increase the chances that the contract will renew, that you can upsell at a later date, or that they will refer you to another ideal client.

3. Shortens the sales process

We already know that a large portion of leads don’t turn into customers with traditional inbound marketing. 

This is less of an issue with ABM. 

With specific targeting, the sales team doesn't have to sift through as many leads to eliminate the qualified from the unqualified. 

In turn, they can spend more time on the qualified leads, sending targeted information to move them from lead to customer more quickly.  

Not only is this a much more effective use of time for sales people, but by paying attention to only a small number of accounts, this can drastically increase the speed of the sales process. 

4. Aligns sales and marketing

The most effective companies are taking steps to bring their sales and marketing teams together so they can work more closely on attracting and communicating with ideal buyers. 

No longer should marketing departments working in a silo building brand awareness. 

For ABM to be effective the marketing department must start supporting the sales department by helping to identify ideal accounts, creating the content, campaigns, and playbooks for engaging, and building trusted relationships with these accounts. 

ABM is not only a sales AND marketing strategy, but it’s a business and organization growth strategy. 

In order for it to work, both sales and marketing need to come together to support the growth of the company, specifically around how both teams drive revenue. 

Related content:

Account-based marketing and inbound marketing: Can they work together?

On the surface ABM and inbound are two opposing strategies. 

ABM is often viewed as a sales strategy, while inbound strategy is viewed as a marketing strategy.

This is wrong. Both ABM and Inbound Marketing use the term ‘marketing’ in their name, but they are both very much sales strategies. In both cases, there’s more success for companies that are able to find alignment across sales and marketing.

Inbound marketing is a very broad strategy that is all about creating content that answers customers questions so the ideal clients come to you. Account-based marketing is a focused strategy, specifically for a market of one. 

So, is there a crossover? Or are they entirely different strategies? And can they work together?

The Terminus definition aligns marketing and sales with a unified goal: revenue.

Take another look at those benefits. Do they look familiar? 

The benefits of ABM are very similar to the benefits of inbound. 

When inbound marketing is done right it’s not about trying to reach as many people as possible; it’s about trying to reach the right people, at the right time, when they are searching for a solution to their problem. A solution which you provide. 

Inbound marketing can be used to complement ABM. 

After you have identified your target contacts and accounts, it can be used to help answer in depth pain points that target is having. 

You can see above that many of the funnel steps include using content at points throughout to supplement the process. That’s just like the buyer’s journey outline by inbound marketing. 

Imagine you are talking to someone within an organization. They are experiencing a problem so you share a blog or video or perhaps they Google something on their own and you pop up as the first result. 

Not only will they get a very in-depth answer to the questions, they will without a doubt see you as the leader in the industry and begin to trust you. 

While many companies continue to see inbound and ABM as polar opposites, we think they are supplementary forces that can unite sales and marketing departments to work together toward the common goal of increased revenue.

Related content:

Is account-based marketing right for your business? 

In 2017, inbound giant HubSpot invested $10.3 million in account-based marketing tool Terminus. Think about it - an inbound marketing company invested in an ABM company. I think this speaks for itself in terms of where we’re heading. 

If you are a B2B company and you are struggling with the traditional inbound sales funnel, and your “top of the funnel” content just doesn't seem to be converting to sales, then an account-based marketing strategy may work for you. 

B2B companies by nature have to identify ideal clients and market directly to them using a combination or inbound and outbound techniques to make the magic happen. 

ABM can help target specific accounts, build long-term, valuable relationships and align the sales and marketing silos to focus on the most important metric: revenue. 

This article is a great primer for understanding Account-Based Marketing, but in no way have we covered everything. Here are a few great resources to help you take ABM further and start implementing ABM successfully:

IMPACT Digital Marketing and Sales Scorecard

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