Tom Hileman leads an award-winning agency to deliver high-touch, data-driven marketing solutions for leading organizations nationwide.
In a typical inbound marketing flow, a wide net is cast to bring in prospects, which are then distilled down into qualified leads and passed to sales. It’s an approach many have used and found success with for years, and it’s not going away anytime soon. But what if you could get straight to qualified leads?
That would mean no more guessing, filtering and finding — just qualified leads with an awareness of your brand, your offerings and how you can help them meet their needs. This is exactly what account-based marketing (ABM) affords.
What Is ABM?
ABM is an approach that focuses marketing and sales efforts to bring in targeted, high-value clients with a high chance of conversion. And it’s one that’s gained traction over the years, especially where the more personalized, targeted approach makes perfect sense for highly specialized or niche products and services in the B2B space.
Those employing ABM, including my company, typically see benefits like increased customer loyalty and higher ROI than traditional marketing. We started employing ABM more than five years ago, knowing that our B2B clients have naturally niche audiences and were bound to benefit from an account-based, highly targeted approach. And with the improving tools, technology and datasets of today, our clients still enjoy an increase in ROI. But don’t just take our word for it. According to a survey by the IT Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) and the ABM Leadership Alliance, 89% of respondents new to ABM saw a “significantly higher” or “somewhat higher” ROI within their first two years. Of more experienced account-based marketers, 85% reported a better ROI. With less qualified prospects filtered out early on, both marketing and sales can engage prospects early and effectively.
However, ABM takes continuous collaboration between sales and marketing. If both teams aren’t aligned, it’s apparent to key target clients, and it can negatively impact account-based efforts. Here’s how to get both teams working in perfect sync.
Shift The Understanding
The basic steps in an ABM campaign are as follows:
• Identify and define high-value accounts.
• Discover how each account is structured and who’s behind it.
• Decide what content to use, and personalize the messaging.
• Select the best channels to use.
• Execute the campaign.
• Measure, learn and improve upon the results.
The most important work in this process happens during steps one and two: zeroing in on those key accounts and how they work. You may have a target account in mind off the bat — but do you also know how it’s structured, who your prime decision-maker there is and how to appeal to that specific buyer? Answering those questions helps you personalize your campaign to the high standards that successful ABM requires.
In ABM, the traditional buyer persona generally isn’t targeted enough. Instead, marketing and sales teams can work together on a customer profile model or ideal customer profile that takes into account the type of company, size, annual revenue, relevant unique attributes and more to sharpen the image of your potential key customers and allow for highly personalized campaigns.
Once you have your key target clients, marketing and sales can research those specific accounts in detail.
Take On New Roles
Sales and marketing each have to adapt within ABM. Sales, for example, usually becomes involved in the process much earlier in ABM compared to other approaches. Because leads are more qualified on the front end, engagement and conversion happen quickly. Sales teams are also often involved throughout the marketing process to provide insight and support on key target accounts.
For marketing teams, pursuing high-value, targeted accounts means using tried-and-true tools like marketing automation, customer relationship management and data-gathering. Using these to find and get in front of those key accounts may come easier to a well-versed demand generation team, but it may take more time and effort to tailor the messaging.
Organizations that successfully employ ABM often have one leader over both sales and marketing or have respective leaders in perfect sync. Regardless, each team’s processes in ABM need to feature abundant communication and collaboration to ensure both remain aligned on vision.
While ABM itself should help naturally align sales and marketing teams, roadblocks are bound to pop up. Misalignment typically occurs when there’s a lack of clarity on measurement or approach — or when either team tries to build the whole process themselves.
Lack of clarity usually boils down to a question of success measures. Having the right tools and key performance indicators in place can guide the process and provide a place to ground both sales and marketing in their approaches. Data quality is another important factor; if data is unhelpful or ineffective, there’s not much one can do to make it better. Ensuring that the data you’re gathering on both sides is high-quality and helpful for your ABM campaigns can contribute positively to alignment.
Ultimately, however, fostering collaboration between sales and marketing often comes from the top. Leadership that fully buys into an ABM approach sets the example for teams and processes down the line. Leadership also needs to be clear on why they’re taking an ABM approach and where they see the benefit for their organization. Driving that vision throughout the ABM process gives sales and marketing an overarching goal to keep them aligned through implementation.
Start The Process
ABM is growing in popularity in the B2B world and for clear reasons. Aligned sales and marketing teams, increased ROI and better loyalty with high-value accounts are all there to be gained. And using ABM in combination with other digital approaches — from inbound to brand marketing — can be part of your formula for success.
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Author: Tom Hileman, Forbes Councils Member