Where to Start With ABM

By Madison Taylor
March 23, 2020
woman leading a meeting

There’s always something new and exciting happening in the world of marketing. In 1941, Bulova spent $4 for 10 seconds of air time on TV before a Phillies-Dodgers game. In 1970, telemarketing allowed marketers to infuriate customers right in their homes. And in 2007, the iPhone launched paving the way for full color web ads delivered straight to the palm of consumers’ hands.

The latest and greatest is account-based marketing. For B2B businesses that operate within a specific industry, it can be an incredibly lucrative and efficient way to expand your customer base. Interested? Here’s how to kick things off.

What is ABM?

Account-based marketing (ABM) is a strategy that focuses on tailoring your marketing materials to a few specific companies, rather than spreading your message industry-wide. It’s a specific, one-on-one approach that can generate better relationships, better ROI, and better customer loyalty than any other form of marketing.

Step 1: Build the Right Team

You probably already have sales and marketing teams in place, but you might need a different set of personnel for an ABM strategy than you do for your more traditional, industry-wide marketing campaigns. Sales and marketing will have to work closely together to set goals, define KPIs, and track the success of your outreach. Here’s who you want in your corner:

  • Business and sales development reps — responsible for finding prospects, making contact with the right people at a target organization, and executing the bulk of your ABM outreach efforts
  • Database administrator — maintaining good relationships with the companies on your list will rely heavily on knowing who to talk to. Since 70 percent of B2B data is out of date within a year of receiving it, it’s vital that you have someone on board who can keep up with the constantly shifting people and roles of the business world.
  • Marketing operations — the link between your contacts and your campaigns, the marketing operations manager is responsible for deciding which accounts should be aligned with which marketing activities, depending on where they are in the purchase process.
  • Content team — a content manager will work with marketing and sales to decide what kind of content each prospect needs to see at each stage of their buyer’s journey. And of course, someone has to create that content! Copywriters, designers, photographers, and the like will craft the content that makes up the core of your marketing campaigns.

Step 2: Define Your Goals and Strategy

Don’t charge into any marketing plan — especially one that you’re not familiar with — if you don’t have a sense of what you’re hoping to get out of it. Specifically, what is this ABM approach supposed to accomplish?

In most cases, ABM isn’t a complete replacement for industry-wide marketing. Instead, it’s a supplement to the rest of your marketing efforts, attempting to expand or fill in gaps that your usual techniques aren’t hitting. For example:

  • Launching a new product — if you have a new offering, there are probably a few customers you can think of who would especially benefit from it. With an ABM approach, you can reach out directly to those customers with a whitepaper that explains exactly what the new product can do for them and how it fits into the products they already use.
  • Going after your competition — if there’s a major client out there who’s using one of your competitors’ products, it’s not enough to hope they see your social ads and make a switch. ABM can address their company and needs more precisely in an effort to woo their business.
  • Upselling your existing customers — it’s easy to look at your existing customers and see exactly how they interact with your company, how they use your product, and what they like the best about what you do. Customizing your messaging for each customer is a great way to show them what they’re missing.
  • Entering a new market — if you’re venturing into unexplored territory, no one knows your name. You can educate them with inbound marketing, but that might take a while. Instead, seek out the biggest and most influential members of that new market and market directly to them in order to get your foot in the door.
  • Catching big fish — in every industry, there are a few really big companies that would make a huge difference to your bottom line. If you make software for managing the logistics of delivery vehicles, signing UPS or Domino’s would be a game-changer. Target companies like that deserve dedicated campaigns.

Step 3: Get Your Technology in Order

One of the reasons that ABM is having such a heyday in recent years is that we have the technology to make it work properly. In years past, creating specific marketing campaigns for individual accounts at this kind of scale wouldn’t have been possible.

Now, your CRM software can keep track of the relevant contacts at every one of your target accounts, which channels they prefer to use to communicate, and what kind of materials are likely to be the most effective. You can create targeted advertising that engages an entire company, even if you can’t find the right individuals. Most importantly, you can keep track of everything you’ve already tried, what works and what doesn’t, and what you plan to do next.

It’s vital that your staff is up to speed with the technology you’re using, the methods you’re using to reach out, and the clients you’re targeting with your ABM strategy. When someone engages with your materials, downloads a whitepaper, or clicks on an ad, your sales team needs to know who they are and what they’re already seen in order to give them the personalized sales pitch that they deserve.

Step 4: Pick Your Accounts

In order to create a list of the accounts and businesses you want to target, you first have to decide what you’re looking for. Your ideal customer profile (ICP) is essentially the B2B version of a buyer persona — the kind of customer that can get the most out of your product.

Start with the customers you already have. Look at the ones who have been the most satisfied with your service, the ones who have been with you the longest, the ones who have generated the most revenue, and the ones who have been the most receptive to upsells. Look for patterns to see what they have in common. Examine characteristics like:

  • Industry or vertical they operate in
  • Employee headcount — both company-wide and within key departments
  • Annual revenue and the budget they can dedicate to your product
  • Location — think about time zones, language barriers, and your ability to provide service to your customers
  • Technology stack they use and whether it’s compatible with what you use in-house
  • Size of their customer base
  • Level of organizational or technological maturity

Once you have a sense of what a good customer looks like, you can turn your business development team loose with that checklist. They’ll generate a list of target accounts that fit your criteria so you can get started.

Step 5: Choose Your Channels

One of the best things about ABM is that it takes most of the guesswork out of finding your customers. With traditional marketing, you have to play the odds — your target audience tends to spend a lot of time on LinkedIn, so it makes sense to find them there.

With ABM, you know exactly which channels your target accounts use, so you can reach your target accounts exactly where they are without wasting your time casting an overly wide net.

Step 6: Get Started!

Once you’ve found your target accounts and channels, you can start creating the actual marketing content that will get them on board. This can be as broad or as specific as you want — you can make marketing materials for different buyer personas, verticals, company sizes, account sizes, or stages of the sales cycle. For the really big accounts, you might even want to create a completely custom package of marketing materials.

Once you’ve started to make an impression and get some traction with your target accounts, you can hand off to your sales teams to close the deal with more traditional channels like phone calls and emails. Marketing is an art form — there’s no exact right way to do things, so you’ll have to experiment. But if you’ve done your homework and laid your plans out ahead of time, you’re already ahead of the curve.