Account-based marketing (ABM) is a powerful B2B strategy for reaching and engaging specific, named targets in order to grow your sales pipeline. For B2B firms with high-value, low-volume deals, ABM can help align the efforts of marketing and business development, while providing more intentional support during a long and complex sales cycle.

B2B firms have greatly invested in content marketing and demand generation to generate awareness and interest, and they are reaping the rewards, which include raised profiles, thought leadership and new streams of leads. However, ABM has emerged as a complimentary strategy to assist business development teams with accelerating the sales cycle, close more deals and penetrate new markets.

Among B2B marketers who are leveraging ABM, 97% say that it results in a higher return on investment (ROI) compared to all other marketing activities.

According to research from Alterra Group, among business-to-business marketers who are leveraging ABM, 97% say that it results in a higher return on investment (ROI) compared to all other marketing activities. By allowing the marketing team to focus on the companies a firm is most interested in doing business with, ABM can make a measurable impact on business development and the bottom line.

As with any marketing strategy, an account-based marketing program requires the right approach in order to be effective. Here are 7 steps to help your firm get started with ABM.

1. Get buy-in and set goals

Every marketing initiative should start here, and ABM is no exception. Obtaining buy-in from both the C-suite and sales team is critical to the success of the program. It’s important to make the distinct connection between the objectives of the firm and the objectives of the ABM program. You’ll also want to make the case for how ABM will benefit the firm’s sales and business development efforts. An ABM program will require close alignment of marketing and sales, and necessitate ongoing collaboration and proactive support. Once buy-in has been obtained, and prior to putting a plan in place, goals and specific key performance indicators (KPIs) should be put in place.

2. Identify high-priority target accounts

An essential question to ask at the onset of an ABM strategy is who does your firm want to work with? Who are the companies (accounts) that your firm would love to land as a client? You’ll certainly want to talk to the sales team who already has some specific, known accounts that they would like to pursue. But there are others who aren’t on their radar that should be. One great way to identify new target accounts is to profile what makes up an ideal, best-fit client.  Take a look at your best accounts, the ones that firm leadership would love to duplicate over and over again, and identify the characteristics that are common in an ideal client. These characteristics might include the following:

  • Organization type
  • Organization size
  • Annual revenue
  • Geographic location
  • Project volume
  • Method of procurement
  • Projected CLV
  • Strategic importance
  • Leadership/cultural fit

This becomes a checklist of sorts that will help your team better identify new target accounts that your firm should pursue with an ABM strategy.

3. Profile decision makers and influencers

Once you’ve identified specific, named accounts, you’ll then want to identify the right contacts at those organizations. But in addition to knowing who to target, it’s important to profile decision makers and key influencers through the development of buyer personas. In order to create content and campaigns that are going to help you engage these accounts, you have to have a deep understanding of their context and perspective. This is where personas can provide insight into your audience’s:

  • Goals and objectives
  • Issues and challenges
  • Questions and interests
  • Selection and purchasing triggers
  • Sources for information and research
  • How your content can help

In order to create content and campaigns that are going to help you engage these accounts, you have to have a deep understanding of their context and perspective.

Buyer personas are best developed through qualitative research (one-on-one interviews, ideally 3rd party) that provides a real-world basis for the personas, as opposed to assumptions made internally.

4. Create content around personas and the client journey

The right kind of content is at the heart of any effective ABM program. And buyer personas should form the foundation for your ABM content strategy. Building off these buyer insights, you’ll want to create content that speaks directly to decision makers and influencers at each stage of the client journey. At the awareness stage, you need to understand what non-sales content you can provide to a target account that will both grab their attention and introduce your firm. At the interest and consideration stage, you’ll need content that starts to offer specific solutions and/or approaches to a problem or need that your prospect has identified.  Finally, as the account moves into the evaluation and selection stage, you’ll need content that assists with the vetting process and positions you as the firm of choice for that account’s needs.

5. Choose the proper channels and tools

Based on each individual account, you need to determine which channels will be best suited for reaching and engaging those contacts. Likely it will be a combination of channels, as an integrated approach is more likely to make an impact. In addition to the channels, you’ll also want to identify which tools will be leveraged for your ABM efforts. Marketing automation and CRM software are price-of-entry tools to leverage, but can be combined with other tools for things like predictive lead scoring, ad technology, real-time personalization or ABM-specific platforms such as Engagio.

6. Plan and execute targeted campaigns

Once you’ve identified target accounts, profiled the influencers and decision makers, created the right content and selected the proper channels and tools, it’s time to plan and execute specific targeted campaigns. While campaigns may share similarities, each campaign should be targeted and tailored to that specific account. In other words, the content and messages that each account receives should come across as though you have created it specifically for them. You’ll want to gather the content assets, tailor them for the target account and plan out your plan of attack for each stage of the client journey.

The content you create can and should be used for both offline and online distribution, and repurposed for a myriad of channels and circumstances. While much of the process will be done digitally, in-person, offline interactions should be included as well. Look for ways and times to arm the sales team with account-specific content to assist in their relationship building. As the relationship matures, your sales team will gain more insight into their specific interests and needs, so your content should become even more hyper-focused based on those insights.

7. Measure, analyze and optimize

Understanding how your firm’s ABM efforts are performing is critical to the long-term success of the program. To understand performance, you’ll want to measure and analyze engagement related to website visits (individual and multiple visitors), email opens and clicks, lead scores, downloads, opportunities and wins. You’ll want to create a scorecard of analytics and KPIs that will keep the sales and executive team aware of all activities by account. In addition to reporting your activities and success, you should also leverage the analytics for insights into how you should optimize your efforts moving forward.

Build on success, learn from shortcomings

With any new marketing initiative there’s going to be wins and losses. So it’s important to build on success, but also learn from what didn’t work and change your approach midstream. ABM done right can provide your sales team with the proactive sales enablement and support to help your firm close more deals and grow your business.