When to build ABM into your content strategy

Account-based marketing doesn’t make sense for every business. But as you’re about to see, nothing beats ABM when it’s used correctly to help your sales team close deals worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The best way to think about account-based marketing is to ask yourself: “What would my marketing strategy look like if I had unlimited resources?”

In the real world, all B2B marketers are constrained by their budget. Most respond to this challenge by focusing their efforts on their most important audiences and designing generalist campaigns to engage all these ‘primary stakeholders’ at once.

Account-based marketing is different. Marketers that practice ABM target fewer businesses with all the resources at their disposal.

The basic idea is that winning over just a few of the stakeholders that make purchase decisions at a given company is only half a job. Sales will need everyone on-side to close a deal. So, the best way to support your sales team is to design campaigns that build relationships with all of them.

At the same time, these marketers use the narrow focus of their campaigns to their advantage to design ultra-personalised experiences for key prospects.

As you might expect, this approach is very effective. A recent benchmarking survey from ITSMA reveals that 87 per cent of marketers who practice ABM say it delivers better ROI than other marketing investments.

Meanwhile, research from the ABM Leadership Alliance shows that B2B marketers see a significant lift in their average annual contract value when implementing ABM strategies.

Bizible also reports that marketers who use ABM are 42 per cent more likely to say their team is aligned with sales.

Of course, none of this means you should throw out your existing marketing strategy and start again from scratch – especially if it’s delivering results.

But launching an ABM programme alongside your other marketing initiatives can be a great way to test bold new ideas, engage ignored segments of your target audience and help your sales team win bigger deals.

Today, we’ll look at what that might mean for your business and walk you through how to choose the right ABM model for your audience.

How ABM differs from conventional marketing

ABM works by grouping all the stakeholders you’ll need to engage at each organisation you want to do business with into a single ‘account’, rather than treating them as individual leads.

The point of this is to reframe the way you think about marketing to B2B organisations around buying groups. While the engagement levels of individual stakeholders still matter, you need everyone to see the value you can offer their business before they’ll consider buying from you.

So, the first step when developing an ABM strategy is to decide exactly how many organisations you want to target.

There are essentially four different styles of ABM. The right one for you will depend on the resources at your disposal and the size of the deals your sales team is going after.

Strategic ABM is the only type of account-based marketing that achieves true one-to-one personalisation. It involves knowing each of your accounts inside out and developing unique campaigns for each of them. As such, it’s best for targeting a small number of extremely high value accounts.

ABM-at-scale involves grouping your target accounts into ‘micro segments’ with similar characteristics and facing the same business challenges. You can then tailor a bespoke campaign for each of those micro segments, enabling you to target slightly more accounts.

Programmatic ABM uses technology to personalise the content you share with the different audience personas in your target accounts. Meanwhile, account-led demand generation offers no automatic personalisation but still groups leads into accounts to judge whether a business is ‘ready to buy’.

As you can see, ABM looks more and more like conventional marketing the wider you cast your net. In fact, some would argue that any campaign targeting more than 50 strategic accounts isn’t really ABM at all.

It’s impossible to reap the rewards of ABM if you spread your resources too thin, and the investment will only be worthwhile if the accounts you’re going after are large enough. Ultimately, you’ll need to sit down with your sales team to decide what kind of ABM is right for you.

Work with sales to choose your target accounts

Get your sales leaders involved in the development of your ABM strategy as early as you possibly can.

There’s no need to be nervous about starting this dialogue. Even if there’s historically been tension between marketing and sales in your organisation, sales will probably be over the moon that you’re speaking their language and tailoring your approach to fit their go-to-market strategy.

It’s much more dangerous to make assumptions about what your sales team wants. No one’s going to thank you for developing a marketing plan for winning accounts they aren’t interested in pursuing.

“Marketers can put sales a bit on the defensive,” says Megan Heuer, VP of research at SiriusDecisions. “Sales isn’t accustomed to handing over their account plans, and maybe haven’t been so diligent about building them, and all of a sudden they’re being asked to turn over the keys to the kingdom.”

The solution is to act in a consultative role to understand the bigger picture and build your plan around what sales wants to achieve.

Understand the different sizes and types of accounts in your audience and build from there
Megan Heuer, VP of research, SiriusDecisions

It’s well worth investing in new tools to help you research potential target accounts. Gather data about the size, number of employees and estimated growth rate of the companies sales highlights, along with insights about the technologies and services they already use.

Research from SiriusDecisions shows that using this ‘firmographic’ and ‘technographic’ data to inform your account selection typically results in a 35 – 40 per cent higher average selling price.

Once you know which accounts your sales team wants to close the most and what each of them is potentially worth, you can use these insights to choose the right ABM model for your needs.

If your sales team is going after accounts worth tens of thousands of pounds, you may find a programmatic or account-led demand gen model is best.

For deals worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, it may be more worthwhile to group accounts facing similar challenges and operating in similar industries into five or six ‘micro segments’ and develop bespoke campaigns for each segment.

Meanwhile, a strategic ABM model may make the most sense if you discover your sales team wants to pursue deals worth more than £500,000-£750,000.

Research from Engagio shows that more than half of B2B businesses use a mix of traditional demand generation and ABM. So, you might decide to continue your existing marketing programme and launch a more strategic ABM programme for the highest value accounts on sales’ radar.

This is just the beginning of the ABM process, but it’s the most important piece. Get this wrong, and you’ll be setting yourself up for failure. Before you even begin adapting your content strategy for ABM, you need to know exactly which businesses you’re targeting, how many and why.

Key takeaways

  • Instead of generating new leads, marketers practicing ABM focus on building relationships with key accounts.
  • Don’t spread yourself too thin. The benefits of ABM are diluted as you build more companies into your programme.
  • Work with sales to choose your target accounts and invest in data-gathering tools to decide which ones to focus your efforts on.

Discover more on: