Using Data to Build Your Account-Based Marketing Strategy

Building an account-based marketing (ABM) strategy can be intimidating, especially if you’re starting from scratch. Essentially, ABM is a B2B marketing strategy that focuses your marketing materials on a few specific clients — clients you know would benefit from your product — and attempts to communicate with them directly.

The good news is that you might already be doing ABM, even if you haven’t been calling it by that name. Every industry has a few big accounts, and you probably already know who they are. You might even have prepared a pitch for them. But there’s always room for improvement in your targeted marketing. Here’s how data can help.

Choosing the Right Accounts

As you might guess from the name, account-based marketing is all about the accounts. In order to market to specific accounts, you need to generate a list of the accounts that make the most sense for you to go after, and data can be extremely helpful in doing that.

Basically, there are two types of accounts you should be prioritizing:

  • Whales are the really big accounts — the ones that can sustain a good portion of your expenses all by themselves. Let’s say you’re in the business of enterprise-level data storage. Sure, there are lots of small- to medium-sized businesses that you can try to get on board. But if you landed IBM, you’d be set for years. That’s a whale.
  • Lighthouses are the businesses that aren’t necessarily huge moneymakers, but they carry a lot of clout in the industry. Think about the commercials you’ve seen for Amazon Web Services — specifically, which clients do they name at the end? Netflix, Peloton, Zillow, Snapchat, and Dunkin’ feature in this example.

The only one of those in the top ten of AWS’ actual customers is Netflix — they count as both a whale and a lighthouse — but the rest are trendy, well-liked, household names. People seeing this commercial will relate to them more than they might to Turner Broadcasting or Baidu. The lighthouses are the fashionable, relatable names that Amazon puts front and center.

Define Your Ideal Customer Profile

An ideal customer profile (ICP) is a lot like a buyer persona, except on a B2B level. And it’s just as important. The difference is that an ICP isn’t a specific company that you’re going after, it’s the starting point that you’ll use to generate a list of target businesses for your marketing.

The criteria for your ICP will vary depending on the kind of business you’re in, but there are a few common items that are probably relevant:

  • Company size: some businesses are simply too small to be worth your while or too large for your team to handle. Narrow your search by the companies that you can best serve.
  • Revenue: a company’s revenue will dictate their budget. If they don’t have enough to afford your services, then you’d be wasting your time trying to sign them up.
  • Team: What does the company’s structure look like? If you make database software, you’ll want to know that there’s a dedicated database manager onsite. Look for companies with the right personnel to make the most of what you offer.
  • Existing technology: Maybe your whole agency is run through Hubspot, but your client has been using Marketo. Maybe you do everything through Google Cloud Storage, but they’ve been using AWS. Compatibility with the software you use or the software you intend to install is crucial when judging the quality of a target.
  • Location: unless you’re 100 percent cloud-based, there are probably physical locations that are a better fit for you than others. There might also be concerns about time zones when you’re judging customer service availability, language barriers, and even variations in local law that dictate where your business can operate.
  • Industry: some B2B businesses cover a broad range of industries, but others are more specific. If your business is designed to service the hotel industry, real estate, medicine, or something other more narrow, then you need to keep your search focused.

Once you’ve established an ICP, you can break it down into tiers based on priority — perfect fits, close fits, and targets that would take a lot of extra work to land or service.

The best place to start is by looking through your existing customers. Pick out the ones that have been with you the longest, that have gotten along with you the best, that have proven the most lucrative, and that have been the most receptive to upsells and cross-sells. Look for patterns and what they have in common, and you’ll be well on your way to an ICP.

Find Contact Info

We might call it “business-to-business,” but at the end of the day, you’re still selling to people — maybe as many as seven or eight decision-makers in the company that you’re targeting. You need to find out who works where and how to get in touch with them.

LinkedIn is a great place to start since it’ll give you job titles and places of employment. You can follow up with phone verification, but that’s time-consuming and might not be worth the effort, depending on the type of account you’re after. There are also third-party data vendors you can use to find info, but make sure you keep everything up to date — 70 percent of B2B data is out of date after 12 months.

A CRM can be extremely helpful in keeping track of all this. With a centralized repository of information, you’ll know when the info was entered, when the person was last contacted, and their position at the company. Keep an eye on LinkedIn, too — if one of your contacts changes jobs, you can keep in touch with them or find out who replaced them.

Measure Everything

Analytics are crucial whether you’re in the B2B or B2C field, and that’s still true when it comes to ABM. The difference is that you’re tracking marketing-qualified accounts, not marketing-qualified leads.

It’s essentially a reversal of the traditional funnel model. Rather than narrowing down a wide pool of visitors into narrower pools of leads and then customers, you’re starting with a small list of target accounts and marketing directly to them. Instead of looking at how many people are in each stage of the funnel, you’ll look at which stage each of your accounts is in. Following individual targets will be easier since there aren’t many of them.

ABM can be an extremely lucrative strategy if you’re in the right type of business, but it needs to be done right — and data can help. From the first exploratory phases to the analytics that inform your success, data is the foundation of your marketing strategy. It’s worth taking the time to get right.

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