Get Started With ABM: a Practical Guide to Account-Based Marketing

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Account-based marketing is not a tactic, or a campaign. It is a strategy you choose to drive your marketing. Where ABM gets exciting is the speed at which you can identify ideal customer profiles, hone that to in-market accounts, and engage with them at a personal level. Progression through the buying journey in a highly tailored, well-timed, and cost-efficient manner. As that lead pulls through the marketing funnel, the sales team is thoroughly informed of the individual’s intent, and therefore have the most relevant discussion.

However, it is easy to lose sight that account-based at its core is a strategy, not a technology. That strategy fits nicely into a framework that is commonly referred to as a T.E.A.M.

“Validity”

Having taken a 10-year tour building new Demand Generation teams from the ground up, I’ve seen the evolution of Demand Generation and the increasing value placed upon establishing a holistic account-based go-to-market strategy.

This post has been adapted from a user group presentation, where we’ve tried to keep the original feel of a live whiteboarding session.

What is Account-Based Marketing?

There are many ways to think about account-based marketing, but one of my favorites is how the team at Engagio defines it:

“Account-based marketing is a strategic approach that coordinates personalized marketing and sales efforts to open doors and deepen engagement at specific accounts.”

Let us pick that apart:

  • Account-based is not a tactic, or a campaign. It is a way of doing, or fundamental strategy that drives your business.
  • Personalization is the core of account based. The goal is to be as relevant as possible, by telling the best story that you can, which comes to fruition through personalization.
  • It may be called account-based marketing, but it is not a marketing-exclusive function. Delivering the best customer experience across the buying journey is a team sport and cannot be won solo.
  • It is not just about acquisition; it also is about improving the relationships that you already have.

But that is definitely the marketing practitioner’s definition.

So, in layman’s terms?

Account-based marketing is a convenient label placed on the principle of doing more with less, faster, and at scale. It is built to maximize results, while lowering acquisition costs and accelerating the funnel.

Many marketers will tell you that account-based is what B2B marketing has always been. However, the difference in today’s B2B Marketing is the emergence of the technology category that brings together these tenants and enables maximum efficiency, at scale.

Starting ABM: Strategy First, Technology Later

The ABM discussion often begins with a technology discussion, driven by the many technology vendors who are actively promoting and marketing in this space. As they should – they have great products doing great things.

However, because of this technology dominating new conversations, it is easy to lose sight that account-based at its core is a strategy, not a technology.

Strategy → Tactics → Technology

That strategy fits nicely into a framework that is commonly referred to as a T.E.A.M.

Target. Engage. Activate. Measure.

If you are beginning your journey, or levelling up your existing ABM approach, a good place to start is by critically examining the fundamental strategy and the fundamental processes by which your company goes to market.

Visualizing your strategy within the TEAM methodology neatly facilitates a crawl-walk-run approach, and emphasizes that meaningful first steps towards ABM can be achieved without investing anything more than your time.

Beginning your ABM journey does not necessarily require new technology, staff, or budget. It just requires conversation, alignment, and curiosity.

In the next section, I will start explaining T.E.A.M as I do in my live whiteboarding sessions. See one of those sessions I recorded below, useful to follow along:

Introducing the T.E.A.M. Framework

At the fundamental level:

Target: Understand who you should target, and why.

Engage: Understand how you should engage the target, and with what message, and where.

Activate: Understand when, and with what priority, your sales team should proactively engage the buyer as you begin pulling buyers through the buyer journey.

Measure: Understand what you are achieving, and continuously improve the outcomes of your marketing.

Above: How your whiteboard should start.

T.E.A.M. Framework Explained

One level deeper:

Target:

Many marketers begin the process with identifying what is often called the ideal customer profile (ICP), which is essentially a hand-picked subset of your total addressable market (TAM).

For example, you may decide that you have 500 target accounts in that subset.

Engage:

You’ll likely start with passive engagement, also known as vanity metrics (eg. impressions, clicks, visits). You’re firing off these passive tactics such as advertising, emails, or anything inbound. Traditionally, an impression wouldn’t be that exciting – but in ABM, if that impression was made by a prospect in a specific role in a specific account, passive engagement can begin to accumulate and reach a threshold (‘threshold of engagement’). This is a key difference between traditional demand generation and ABM.

Activate:

Achieving a threshold of an engagement turns this into a marketing qualified account (MQA). Your objective is for MQAs to become ‘sales ready’ (SRL), in the hope that they become ‘sales accepted’ (SAL).

Measure:

Set up a dashboard at this stage to track which of the target accounts are at what stage (MQA/SRL/SAL) in the process. With that dashboard, open up a feedback loop with the sales team to assess the quality of the MQAs coming through.

As your marketing engages the focused subset, tactics are deployed maximize engagement via a mix of relevancy and performance optimization.

Layer on Active Engagement

To take that one level deeper:

Engage:

Then, you start layering on the active engagement. Salespeople want to know who to reach out to in the account – just qualifying an account is not good enough.

  • Passive engagement: effective for the ‘unknowns’
  • Active engagement: effective for the ‘knowns’

Active engagement tactics cost more money than the passive tactics. As you drive engagement up beyond the threshold of engagement, you will typically spend more money.

Measure:

What’s the journey? The ‘engagement history’ of that account means you will begin to figure out the combination of activities that are moving MQAs through the funnel. Attribution is key here too.

As the sales team gets familiar with visually seeing the journey these accounts are going on, you can work in ‘interesting moments’. What happens when, for example, yesterday there was no one on your website, but today 5 people from that account are? That email campaign that went out, got forwarded around the company and opened by 10 different people?

These moments make sense to share with the sales team in the context of the account.

Note: this is what the Engagement History Dashboard for accounts aimed to do:

Optimization: Account Tiering

The sales team will eventually come back wondering how they can get a faster conversion rate. This becomes a matter of optimization. As a marketer, you need to optimize which accounts sales are seeing, and why they are seeing them.

You would introduce tiering for your accounts ie. tier 1, tier 2, tier 3. Out of those 500 target accounts, you could have 50 in tier 1, 200 in tier 2, 250 in tier 3. From this, you can work out our resource allocation (time, energy, money, SDR time).

FIRE and More

The next stages of rolling out the account-based approach are:

  • Looking at the FIRE model (Fit, Intent, Recency, Engagement) – are you sharing all 4 types of data with sales?
  • Department engagement – looking back to your TAM and target accounts, which departments are you having success with and which are you are not?

 

The finished whiteboard!

…and more! This framework really is best understood by walking through the whiteboard exercise. Watch it in full below:

Getting Started with ABM

Target:

  • Establish visibility into your target market by understanding your Total Addressable Market,
  • Define your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP),
  • Get a unified view of your target accounts across your data sources.

As you set the baselines, you can then work to:

Engage:

The easiest place to start is with a scoring model. The most important thing about the scoring model is building one in the first place. As you begin to configure you will learn, iterate, and improve it.

Once you have a model, you can then begin aggregating that data into an account view and start to understand which accounts are engaging, in what ways, and with what efficacy.

Setting a baseline scoring model and aggregating at the account level is not a perfect solution, but it will put you on the path of optimization, and it will give you the tools to uncover the interesting insights of intent, recency, and engagement. There are also Pardot Einstein features, such as Einstein Behavior Score, that uncover interesting insights that are often hidden in large amounts of engagement data.

Activate:

Many marketers face a lot of pressure to rapidly justify the crossover to ABM with quantifiable results. A big part of getting this right is understanding what kinds of results to look for.

While revenue is the holy grail, it is not feasible to drive meaningful revenue results fast enough to keep the momentum up. To that end, understanding the impact of an account-based approach on metrics like:

  • Velocity,
  • NPS,
  • CLV/ACV,
  • Product penetration

Beginning your ABM journey with a firm grasp on the current state of these funnel metrics will give you the baselines on which to improve. It then becomes up to the Marketer to collaborate with the Sales partners on the best-fit metrics to improve upon as you ramp your program.

Measure:

Establish the feedback loop between Sales and Marketing – the most important first step in the adoption of the account-based approach, by far! It is important for both Sales and Marketing to have an accurate view of what Account-Based Marketing is, and to understand how the account-based approach delivers value.

Establishing the process, cadence, and accountability behind the organization alignment will give you an edge as you pick your targets, engage them, and deliver the output to the Sales team.  

Summary

Where ABM gets exciting is in the degree to which, and the speed at which you can identify ideal customer profiles, hone that to in-market accounts, and engage with them at a personal level.

As your marketing engages a specific account, specific roles/members of the buying committee at the account are engaged on individual paths of progression through the buying journey in a highly tailored, well-timed, and cost-efficient manner.

As the individual pulls through the marketing funnel, the sales team is dynamically allocated to proactively engage the individual. That sales engagement is thoroughly informed of the individual’s intent, and therefore the most relevant discussion is prioritized.

Watch the full video below:

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