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What Does Account Based Marketing Really Mean?

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Marketing and sales folk have a tendency to talk in acronyms that baffle most people outside of the marketing world. Whether it’s CRM, SEO, CRO, ROI or KPI, MQL, or BANT, we like a good abbreviation.

The latest in this long line is ABM. But, what is ABM and should you sit up and take notice?

What is Account Based Marketing (ABM)?

ABM simply means Account Based Marketing. And, perhaps surprisingly, at its heart, it’s a simple concept. And, if done well, it can reap dividends.

Historically, marketing has been about what marketers call reach. In other words, if you could group all of your target prospects together, how many of them are reached by your marketing activities?

Whilst that concept hasn’t disappeared, ABM is a more focused approach. In the past, we marketers also spoke about eyeballs. That’s to say that we need to get our marketing to as many relevant people as possible. The problems with that are (1) it’s expensive (2) there’s a lot of wastage and (3) there’s little to no guarantee it will work.

Whilst the above can take a segmented approach by sector, size of business, location etc, it is still, to some extent, wide in its reach. And, that makes communication difficult to personalise other than at a high level based on role or industry.

A Change of Approach

ABM changes this approach. The aim is to define your audience tightly so that you can focus on a much more targeted set of businesses that allows your team to focus and tailor its energy and communication. Typically, these are classified as ‘whales’. In other words, if you land one, it’s a big deal!

In some ways, this is entirely logical. It’s fair to say that you can’t sell everything to everyone. It’s impossible to fulfil the needs of every customer in every segment, every time. ABM allows you to laser target a select group of high value prospects.

Yet, despite this common sense, there are risks and the approach raises a few valid questions, not least:

      • What if these customers are unresponsive?
      • Is your offering well-suited to this target audience?
      • How long will it take to convert these prospects?
      • What if your marketing is ineffective?
      • What are the best channels to use?
      • What if a resultant lack of care to your previously core customer base means they’re alienated and go elsewhere?

Of course, ABM doesn’t mean you abandon the past and do an 180 degree turn. It means that you refocus activity towards potentially higher spending accounts.

Is it as Simple as it Sounds?

It sounds fine in principle. However, how do you define the best sectors and the right business targets? Well, clearly, your most lucrative accounts are a good place to start. That demands a proper analysis of your core verticals and an assessment of revenue against costs including manpower to service those clients. Once you’ve done that, it’s about identifying other businesses that have similar characteristics and needs, and going after them.

A multi-channel approach would make sense thereafter. That could mean amongst other initiatives:

      • Identifying a tight set of target companies that meet certain criteria
      • Researching the kind of requirements these clients have
      • Identifying appropriate decision makers and influencers within those companies
      • Unearthing accurate contact information for these including phone number, email, and LinkedIn profile
      • Developing compelling content that fits the defined needs e.g videos, blogs, white papers, infographics, and webinars, etc
      • Distributing the content in places where the audience will see it
      • Segmenting the audience and advertising, where possible, to this tight set
      • Broadcasting sequential personalised emails to the right individuals
      • Telemarketing to build relationships using a range of stimuli e.g inviting them to an event or offering your white paper
      • Reaching out on LinkedIn to begin a relationship and gain connections that will see the content you post

The above list is not exhaustive but the point is that the approach is segmented, tailored and focused. Yet, it depends on the ability to identify the right targets and the data for those and then creating compelling reasons for them to engage with you.

Patience is Required

An ABM-oriented approach is not a short-term strategy. Big clients have incumbent suppliers that are often contracted and embedded in the organisation. Change can be slow and difficult. It’s often essential to dig deep to identify reasons for change. To a large extent, it’s a waiting game until contract reviews come up. Yet, you need to be in position to know when this is. That means you need to build up your knowledge, insight and data so you’re ready when the opportunity arises.

ABM is reliant upon effective research and insight, and using that intelligence wisely to create a pull strategy so that your target audience notices you and has ample reasons to engage. This is where content development and distribution and targeted advertising come in. This can be combined with creation of opportunities to engage such as webinars, breakfast or lunch events (when we are able to meet face to face again) on specific topics of interest.

Data is one thing but people still buy people. It’s still about human contact. This is where disciplines like outbound calling can be effective as means of engagement. A call can be research-oriented. You may want to ask a set of questions, the responses to which go into a white paper that you offer to the respondent. This can be the start of a relationship.  Or, the purpose of the call may be to invite them to a webinar with a topic expert. This can further develop the engagement. And, an invitation to meet to review a new approach or product can start the sales conversation.

It’s not Business as Usual

Ultimately, ABM isn’t business as usual even though, to some extent, it may seem that way since segmentation, profiling and targeting have been buzzwords for ages. For ABM to succeed, it requires an integrated approach. It also means decisions need to be taken that mean sales and marketing teams are allowed and encouraged to ease away from focus on short-term wins for long-term gain. That requires a change in emphasis from top management since it means that sales and marketing professionals may at times seem to be in a marathon that never seems to end. Large customers don’t typically make quick decisions so the fruits of ABM labours may not be seen for some time. So, it’s important to try to focus, where possible, on quick wins and smaller projects within those accounts and on being present when the bigger opportunities arise.

This is definitely a mind shift. We recently had a client refocus its criteria three times. Each time the qualification criteria went higher meaning that fewer prospects reached the desired benchmark. In that case, organisations must stop chasing every prospect that comes along. It’s not easy to generate BANT qualified leads, especially with large corporations. Hence, marketing spend allocated for telemarketing, content development, LinkedIn and other channels will require patience. ABM activity will also require funds pulled from elsewhere which will almost inevitably cause friction inside the organisation. Yet, ultimately, a long-term strategy to chase profitable business has to be a good thing. As they say, revenue is vanity and profit is sanity.


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