The "How" of Account-Based Marketing (ABM)

At the end of the day, marketers should be able to credit their account-based marketing (ABM) campaigns with measurable lifts in engagement, revenue, and retention. The how is where it gets tricky, which is why the Technology Marketing Alliance (TMA) enlisted a few experts to help us answer some key questions. Mike Lees (Jigsaw CEO), Stacey Piper (Piper Strategies CEO), and Charles Gold (FireMon CMO) joined a recent virtual fireside chat to discuss their individual journeys through ABM while answering burning questions from attendees. Topics ranged from planning, engagement, and campaign metrics to optimizing programs and ultimately proving marketing’s impact on revenue. 

Here’s what was discussed at the event.

You say ABM, I say ABX or ABSM

The experts started the fireside chat by diving into what the term “ABM” actually means to them. “We define it as ABX, account-based everything,” Gold said. “We do that because it allows us really to bring in the sales teams, the customer success teams, the channel teams, and have a really holistic company strategy around account-based.” Gold added that marketers can create better customer profiles and sales strategies by working together across teams.

And, the overall consensus was that ABM is more of a holistic company strategy. The speakers agreed that if you treat this as only a marketing initiative, then you alienate other teams. For example, if a sales team only views this as a marketing initiative, it could create additional friction and challenges between the two departments.

A personal touch – with value

From gifting to relationship building, everyone agreed that a personal touch is the way to go. While some mentioned direct mail campaigns, others talked about providing targeted custom ROI calculations. Piper mentioned that in the B2G space, gifting is not allowed, so oftentimes key account contacts are offered speaking engagements. Lees stressed that in other industries, gifting works so long as it’s not crossing the line of bribery. First and foremost, the gift needs to have value to the contact.

Taking ABM to a digital “virtual roadshow"

By nature, ABM is meant to be one-to-few or one-to-one, thus, marketers should get personal with any events they host. Lees mentioned running a targeted “CEO Birds of a Feather” event where prospective client CEOs participate in an intimate live Q&A.

Gold recommended making virtual events fun and unique, even if the expense is higher. Virtual events still need to stand out from the competition, but they should still attempt to mimic a live event.

The panelists shared what they have learned during these past few months in which virtual events have become the norm. They said being highly communicative on email and social about who is on deck to speak, what is coming up next, and utilizing polling and whiteboard capabilities seem to be the way to go if you want to run a successful event. They also noted that it’s helpful when participants can see one another, which makes the event feel more interactive. Try to simulate live social and tweeting from the event.

The overall recommendation is to first think of the role that events play in ABM as part of a personalized strategy, and if you can make it more intimate, all the better.  

The buyer’s journey

With ABM, using buyer personas may be too generic when identifying where a buyer stands during their prospective period. Piper emphasized that buyer personas do not always grasp the entirety of the message, and instead she creates “empathy maps”. Empathy maps are meant to do a deep dive into what the prospective buyers might be thinking, feeling, and doing during each step of the journey. A tip to creating “empathy maps” is to first bring in sales to identify the different stages of the buyer’s journey, and then bring in marketing to produce custom content for each corresponding emotion.

What has proven to be a challenge with ABM is making sure that the right people are receiving the right message at the right time. Lees added that by aligning sales and marketing during this process, the teams can jointly and proactively assess how a buyer can change along the way. This enables them to have important conversations that ensure the right content is in place to involve buyers at different stages of the funnel. The most important thing to do is focus on the sequence, not just the beginning.

“A lot of people are good at digital or getting people engaged at the top of the funnel,” Lees said. “But I think the more that you can do middle of funnel, content and conversions in digital, you're automatically getting people at a certain stage in the buyer's journey where you can target them much more effectively.”

Gold noted that there are new technologies to map a buyer’s journey and place them in certain stages in the funnel. Once the mapping is complete, marketers can utilize the right tools to target and automate ads and content delivery tailored to the buyer’s journey.

The tools

As mentioned above, utilizing the right tools to target the right prospects is essential with ABM. All three experts emphatically agreed that you never start with the tools. First, know the plan. Then, break it down into steps, do research, find the right tool to drive the plan, and continue the usual steps of ABM.

Privacy considerations

Today, it is more important than ever to be clear about where you retrieve your data and how you are using that data. In the past, it was common practice to ask for forgiveness, not permission, but that does not apply anymore. Not only is the transparency about the intent of the data necessary, it is expected. With ABM, this transparency about the policies, data use, collection practices, and where the data is going can actually help build and strengthen that trust within your relationships. In turn, if you do not communicate and question properly, you can be just as liable as the vendor for using the data wrongfully.

A “test and learn” culture

If anything goes off course when executing a campaign, marketers can always go back through the first steps of alignment and expectation-setting. The early expectations should be based around a broad set of measurements and metrics that everyone agrees upon. For starters, getting the right dashboards set up that all teams can buy into is a great start to a smooth campaign. The ABM approach is more about continuous engagements and awareness that makes the sales job easier and less about lead generation.

“Set the expectation within your team, but also with sales and with leadership, that this is a test and learn culture, and that you're going to need to keep pivoting and tweaking messages and channels on the fly until you find what does work for this audience,” Piper said.

Let’s talk.