Account Based Marketing (ABM) In 8 Steps
This Little Black Book is a practical guide to illustrate how Forbes Baxter Associates can help you launch your own Account-Based Marketing programme.
There’s a very short introduction about what Account-Based Marketing is and why it matters to you but we’re working on the assumption that you already understand the benefits – that’s why you’ve downloaded the guide. You want to get started so…
- What is Account Based Marketing (ABM)?
- Who needs Account Based Marketing?
- Does Account Based Marketing Work?
- ABM Step 1: Identify Target Companies.
- ABM Step 2: Management & Review.
- ABM Step 3: Project Targets.
- ABM Step 4: Data & IT.
- ABM Step 5: Define The Message.
- ABM Step 6: Create The Collateral.
- ABM Step 7: The Active Marketing Phase.
- ABM Step 8: The Active Sales Phase.
What is Account Based Marketing (ABM)?
Account-Based Marketing should really be called ‘personalised marketing’. Although accurate, that’s far too dull to be a marketing buzzword.
ABM is the process of targeting a smaller number of businesses with greater intensity than typical marketing.
Typical marketing might see you sending out an email broadcast to 1,500 prospects with your personalisation limited to knowing their first name and job title.
ABM would see you contact just 15 people in one prospect company using a variety of comms techniques with your personalisation as extensive as knowing the company’s business in detail:
- its market and competition
- legislation that affects it
- purchasing frameworks it uses
- the roles of the 15 people
- their influence on purchasing and
- a deep understanding of their goals and challenges.
The second naming blunder with ABM is that it should be called Account-Based Sales & Marketing. It’s a collaborative system that requires your sales and marketing teams to work together.
ABM is like the Italian Job, normal sales like a street mugging. It’s precision and planning not ad-hoc chancing it. It’s knowing the target not depending on pot luck. It’s planned timing not knee-jerk reactions.
And who doesn’t want to be Michael Caine?
Who needs Account Based Marketing?
Account Based Marketing for High-Value, Low-Volume B2B
ABM is a technique that works well for high-value business-to-business transactions.
You devote a lot of time to each target customer so every one must be worth a significant profit. It’s rare for a business-to-consumer customer to be that valuable.
If you deal in high-value goods or work through long-term contracts with a high overall value, ABM suits you.
Account Based Marketing for Similar Companies
ABM also works well if you’re targeting similar companies in the same industry. The research you do for one will be just as applicable to the others.
You need to be able to target several prospect companies. Even if your approach is compelling, only a small fraction of them will be looking for a new supplier when you contact them. ABM is a risky strategy if you only have one potential customer.
Does Account Based Marketing Work?
If you want a fuller answer, we ought to say “it can” because, like all business techniques, it only works if you do it properly.
Respondents to Alterra Group research said:
|97%||ABM had a somewhat higher or much higher ROI than other marketing initiatives|
|84%||ABM provided significant benefits to retaining and expanding existing client relationships|
|65%||ABM provided significant benefits to attracting new clients|
If you want to understand why, think in terms of basic psychology. People feel comfortable when you demonstrate that you know them and their business. ABM demolishes that common customer complaint, “our suppliers don’t understand us.”
With ABM, the problem isn’t showing that you understand them, it’s persuading them that you haven’t learned so much about them by intercepting their mail.
ABM Step 1: Identify Target Companies
The co-operation between your sales and marketing departments starts right at the beginning of the ABM process.
Your sales and marketing strategy will have determined which markets you want to target. Forbes Baxter Associates will help you decide which companies to target within those markets.
- We’ll check your existing prospect database. This will reveal some companies that you’ve failed to break into before – probably because you weren’t using an ABM approach.
- We’ll have an open discussion with your sales team. Salespeople are individuals. They’ll have a list of accounts they’d love to get into even if they’ve never dared put them into your CRM system (once it’s in CRM, they worry that it’ll get targets and actions attached to it). Talking to salespeople is especially important when you’ve got new bodies in the business. You won’t know their successes, failures and near-misses.
- If you have the budget, buy a Plimsoll report for the industry. Plimsoll reports are the exception to the golden rule of market research (that it’s inaccurate and over-priced). At the time of writing, Plimsoll reports cost £600 for the first industry and £300 for each subsequent industry. It could be the best investment you make. Plimsoll tells you:
- The names of all the companies in the industry. It might miss some, but only if they operate in stealth mode.
- Their financial performance. Are they growing or shrinking? Can they afford what you’re selling? What market share do they have?
- Their current directors with ages (so you know who might be more of a figurehead than an active manager).
- An assessment of which companies are good trading partners based on their commercial and financial success.
- Their locations so you can plan a regional campaign if that suits your business.
- Check records at Companies House. The data isn’t as comprehensive as a Plimsoll report but it’s free. Companies House provides:
- Current directors.
- Filed accounts. Full accounts are useful because they tell you key financial indicators such as profit and turnover. The real gold dust is in the directors’ comments. This is where they tell you what has gone well and badly and what they plan to do in the future. It helps you position yourself in those plans.
- Smaller companies only need to file abbreviated accounts. These show profit (often called Retained Earnings) but not turnover nor directors’ comments.
- How badly does each company need your products or services? Its turnover might be £20m but if the division than needs your product only turns over £20,000 there may be better targets.
- Check the employees listed on LinkedIn. Does this reveal the decision-makers you need to influence? LinkedIn doesn’t tell you their email addresses but you only need their names. It’s relatively quick and easy to identify a company’s email address format (but we’re keeping that trade secret out of this Little Black Book).
- If you can’t identify enough decision makers and influencers, drop the company from your shortlist. There’s no point investing time into a strategy that you can’t put into action.
ABM Step 2: Management & Review
A key feature of the ABM approach is that it encourages (forces) sales and marketing to work closely together.
You’ve got to have regular meetings to coordinate actions, requirements and progress.
Your job will be much simpler if you have a CRM system that can track the progress of activities. Then your meetings can be about the future, not the past. ABM doesn’t work well without good IT (more on that later).
Decide who you need at your meetings. If you want all your salespeople there, roll the ABM review into your regular sales and marketing meeting. This stops ABM becoming siloed, detached from the rest of sales.
ABM Step 3: Project Targets
“If you don’t measure it, you can’t fix it”, as the old saying goes. But what are you going to measure?
Forbes Baxter Associates will help you develop meaningful metrics. The simple option is to stick with your existing sales and marketing metrics. That’s probably revenue and pipeline value for sales, leads and something brand-related for marketing.
It’s simple and it maintains consistency with the past but it doesn’t take ABM-specific targets into account.
With ABM, you also want to measure:
- Engagement with contacts i.e. when you have hit a threshold of interest from a contact – how many emails have they responded to, how many phone calls have they taken, how many webinars have they attended, etc.
- Engagement with companies i.e. when you have engagement with a sufficient proportion of the decision-makers and influencers in a company – maybe 50% of them.
Engagement-aside, revenue and pipeline are the only metrics that are common to your ABM sales process and traditional process. Record which accounts are using which process so you can compare effectiveness later.
ABM Step 4: Data & IT
ABM is a process-driven technique that requires data and activities to be properly recorded. You need effective IT to sit as the bridge that joins sales and marketing together:
- Salespeople have got to be able to access information about the prospects they’re targeting.
- Sales managers have got to be able to see what activities are complete and outstanding.
- Marketing has got to be able to record the steps they’ve taken, log the follow-up tasks and submit the materials salespeople need.
There are ABM platforms available from the likes of DemandBase and Triblio but they’re better suited to enterprises than SMEs. Quite apart from the cost, they replicate a lot of what you already have in other systems such as CRM, analytics and ad management. Having all the systems in one place is a nice-to-have, not a must-have.
For ABM to work in an SME environment, you only need a CRM system in which:
- You can customise fields, adding the structured information you need to support selling to multiple contacts.
- You can customise actions and workflows so completing one task automatically generates a follow-up task (sometimes for the same person, sometimes for somebody else).
- You can automate actions and accept results from other systems such as email marketing and web monitoring.
- You can develop custom reports that indicate progress through the ABM process.
This may sound complex but it isn’t. Most CRM systems from Salesforce, HubSpot and Marketo can do it but our choice is always Zoho. Depending on the skills of your IT and marketing departments, you may need an agency like Forbes Baxter Associates to develop the necessary customisations.
If there’s one critical lesson to be learned, it’s this:
Simple systems are reliable systems
If you make ABM too difficult for your users, if you make it too time-consuming, there’s less chance they’ll embrace it.
Invest development time early to save user time later.
ABM Step 5: Define The Message
That’s a very short title to describe a much longer task. You need to understand why people buy from you.
To avoid repeating advice we give elsewhere, we’ll point you towards our web page and Little Black Book on Lead Generation.
These resources will take you through the steps to defining a compelling message for your target customers. The nice twist with ABM is that your audience is small. You can make your message very specific.
Because ABM has its own process, you can trim the usual lead-generation process to these steps:
ABM Step 6: Create The Collateral
Ouch – that’s another short description for a very large task. ABM collateral needs to be personalised.
Personalisation needs to happen on several levels:
- Personalised to the company: you have to show that you understand the company and the challenges it faces. “Show” is the critical word. Having the knowledge is not enough.
One of our most successful ABM campaigns didn’t just highlight poor keyword performance for a company’s website, it compared that performance to the company’s competitors. And not any competitors – competitors of a similar size in their local area. Our targets knew these names very well. We hit a nerve.
The challenge is to get the context right. It’s easy to spout theory. It’s harder to put that into practice. We’ll put the research into your target markets to good use:
- Do the company’s latest accounts express concerns about Brexit reducing exports or increasing costs?
- Does your market data reveal a new competitor or, more likely, a merger between two weak competitors to make one strong one?
- Does your knowledge of the market indicate new legislation that will affect the company or its entire industry?
Only research reveals the approaches that both matter to the target company and attract their attention. Only research gets you beyond the generic.
- Personalised to the individual: Account Based Marketing deals are too valuable to be authorised by one person. You have to focus on the decision-maker(s) and woo the influencers.
If they’re in different roles with different responsibilities, you need different messages that suit each of those roles.
- A sales leader might care most about growing revenue and pipeline.
- A marketing leader will care as much about how that pipeline will be generated – it’ll be their job to put it into practice.
- A finance leader will care as much about cash flow as turnover and profit – does your solution have a lot of up-front costs?
Once again, it’s easy to talk in theory but, once again, your research will come to your assistance.
- LinkedIn gives you their career history. Have they moved from SME to enterprise (or gone the other way)? Have they moved industries? Do they follow a group with a prominent member that you could reference?
- Are they a member of a society or trade body whose findings you could quote or whose events you could mention?
- Do they appear in any published YouTube videos? They don’t have to be new – old videos can provide a vivid contrast between today’s best practice and what went before.
- The jury is out on whether you should mention hobbies or other extra-curricular activities. In its favour, it shows you’ve taken the time to do research and it adds a human touch to your contact. But against that, it might be seen as insincere or be considered an intrusion even if the information is on public platforms like FaceBook and LinkedIn.
For example, I once found out from Companies House that a Director lived in the same street in Wolverhampton where I was born. It could have been a great ice-breaker but I shied away from using it. Showing I knew where they lived seemed too creepy.
ABM Step 7: The Active Marketing Phase
Account Based Marketing is an outbound marketing process. You reach out to your targets. You don’t wait for them to come to you.
As such, SEO, PPC and other inbound techniques that draw prospects to you won’t help. We’ll help you find the most appropriate channels:
- You can initiate your contact by email but emails from unknown people tend to get binned. Use email last, not first.
- See if you have any shared contacts on LinkedIn (2nd level connections). If so, ask their advice on the best way to contact your target. The chances are they’ll say “I’ll put you in touch.”
- That darling of the 1990s, direct mail, is back in vogue. People delete emails. They open postal mail for the novelty value.
|55%||Response rate for the direct mail element of our latest ABM campaign.|
Direct mail doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy. Some of our most successful campaigns have been simple A5 cards that we printed in-house. It’s what’s on them that makes the real difference (which brings us back to your message which brings us back to your research).
- Every campaign will need to be supported by a personalised landing page – a part of your website that’s devoted purely to that company and perhaps even that contact.
Your initial communication has to be short and compelling. It doesn’t have the time or the space for details. Details belong on the personalised landing page.
The second purpose of the landing page is tracking. The only people who know about its existence are your targets (you keep it hidden from Google). Ergo, any hit on the page can only come from your targets.
- An introductory email could follow any positive responses to your direct mail and to activity on your personalised landing pages.
We’ve recently started using video in email because it introduces you as a person and says in seconds what could take a minute to read.
The logistics are more complex but it’s worth it. You need to setup a video area where your salespeople can record their messages. You need to produce an outline script. And you need to send the individual emails through an email marketing system that tracks responses i.e. not Outlook.
PS: nobody likes recording videos. Tell your salespeople to grin and bear it.
The purpose of the introductory email is to, er, introduce you.
- Tell your contact what you’ll send them in the future.
- Explain why it’ll be useful for them. Then make it useful.
- And inject some personality.
By the time you speak to them they’ve got to consider you a long-lost sibling.
You may want to abbreviate this sequence. That’s a question only your sales and marketing departments can decide. Our goal is to reduce the number of deadbeat leads that are sent to salespeople.
You, on the other hand, might have a telesales team screaming for people to phone. You might need to send them less qualified leads. The danger is that an under-qualified lead is less ready to take a call. A premature sales call could antagonise a prospect that would otherwise have blossomed into a valuable lead.
- The final stage before the sales call is to send out an email series. Rather than a standard email series, an ABM email series should effectively lay out your project plan for working with them.
You can draw on existing materials to showcase your expertise (we use our Little Black Books, for example), but you need to explain how this would be applied when working with your target.
Including a Gannt chart is a great way to show your professionalism, demonstrate your organisational skills and indicate the timelines you’d be working to.
Including a targets and goals template shows that you’re commercially-focused and starts them imaging positive results from the project.
Nobody ever went wrong using 3rd party accreditation. Use any case studies you have. Nothing says “we can do it” better than “we have done it.”
ABM Step 8: The Active Sales Phase
Positive responses are tracked through your email marketing system and fed into your CRM system. Once they reach your threshold of being marketing-qualified, you pass them to sales.
It’s typical in an ABM process to be further along with one contact than other decision-makers and influencers. This frames the structure of your initial conversations. They may be on your side but others remain unconvinced. The discussion is more “How do we work together to get this project moving” and less “Buy this from me. Now.”
Marketing’s role at this point is to ensure salespeople are fully aware of the history with the contact and their company. This should be a non-task because:
- You chose the targets together.
- You’ve had regular sales and marketing meetings.
- They’ve been copied into all emails.
- All other activities have been recorded in CRM.
- You’ve jointly recorded video follow-ups.
What could go wrong? If you’re transitioning from a traditional sales methodology, plenty. Salespeople may value their familiar sources above something new and unproven (to them).
So take the time to make sure they’re ready to continue your company’s relationship with the target.
It should not be necessary to draft scripts for these calls. Your salespeople are experienced and the relationship history should give them everything they need to start a productive conversation, book meeting and, ultimately, land deals.