Account-based marketing (ABM) is capturing a role in marketing strategies and budgets because of its focus on driving better business results by aligning sales and marketing. While useful for most industries, ABM’s advantages are most compelling for Business to Business (B2B) marketers whose sales cycles can be long and complex, and where post-sales retention becomes more heavily weighted than attracting new customers due to the rising cost of earning new business. Many aspects of ABM can also be used for Business to Consumer (B2C) applications, but the difference will be in how we prioritize types of consumers based on personas versus traditional mass marketing efforts.
B2B can highly profit from ABM as shown in SiriusDecisions research; B2B brands shared results such as 20% increase in deal size, 30% improvement in customer health scores, more than 200% increase in sales pipeline, and over a 140% increase in customer engagement. These results are compelling, yet only 20% of B2B companies surveyed by SiriusDecisions have had a full program in place for more than a year; 38% have had a pilot program in place for less than six months.
“Account-based Marketing is a strategic approach that aligns resources against a set of defined accounts and goals in a way that is relevant and valuable to those accounts and to sales.”
Part of this relatively low adoption rate is because the landscape of ABM models and technologies is just as complex as other marketing technologies. The barriers that have prevented marketers from driving more targeted and personalized relationships are now falling away as new digital ABM technologies address these issues head-on. Marketers now can connect the business strategy to digital insights at every stage of the customer lifecycle.
The process of implementing ABM begins with having an identified addressable market. It assumes there is a base of relevant accounts and contacts that may not have brand awareness, or may not be aware of how available solutions address their specific business challenges. Because of this, ABM often starts connecting those dots at the beginning of the awareness state of the customer lifecycle - where prospects are attracted and engaged, and persists through acquisition, and into the loyalty and advocacy stages.
ABM provides a framework of actions and measurements to ensure seamless continuity between sales and account management by connecting business strategy to digital insights at every stage of the customer lifecycle.
The ultimate expression of ABM success is measured in terms of customer lifetime value (CLV).
Adam Schoenfeld of Siftrock, a solution that mines valuable CRM data from auto-replies says: “ABM is so compelling because it aligns marketing and sales around one common goal: driving revenue. In ABM, marketing and sales work together to define their targets, reach prospects, close business, and nurture clients together. It's a powerful dynamic when done right; just about every marketing leader right now is thinking about ABM in some form. Account-based programs have conceptually always been around, but data and technology are enabling more companies to do ABM at scale."
ABM is not about breadth, it’s about depth and involves identifying and nurturing potentially high value accounts using technology and data seamlessly to automate and optimize existing best practices (which are often highly manual). Best practices usually include strategic account identification, a content plan that is relevant to the pains/needs of those accounts, and the brand value proposition that solves those pains needs.
ABM generally starts with moving net new names into the top of the funnel and relies on a series of connected sales and marketing touchpoints, engagement scoring, and progressive profiling to move qualified leads into the sales cycle.
Once these account leads have been converted, the marketing team builds on CRM data by mapping relationships and roles within the account to create highly targeted programs and communications to the most qualified accounts to help influence the ongoing engagement process.
SiriusDecisions identifies four main types of ABM models:
Regardless of which model fits best, modern ABM should start by using available data to segment prospects at top of the funnel into qualified leads. The sales team can be far more effective if they can focus on converting hot leads while allowing marketing automation to message warm and cold leads with segment-appropriate messaging:
ABM’s greatest strength is that it does not end once a lead is converted. The customer journey now continues and the goal of the business is to forge an enduring relationship and transform these into the highest value customers. ABM shifts towards creating segments and matching campaigns to target accounts with upsell and cross-sell messaging, and to pre-emptively address those showing churn signals.
The weight of these post-sales efforts falls on the ability to segment customers based on CRM and behavioral metrics, understanding each segment’s next “best next step” (propensity), and mapping out the ideal journey needed to drive the right results while maximizing revenue and CLV.
Pre-qualifying (predictive lead scoring) of customers starts at the media campaign level using CRM data, remarketing, and marketing automation (MA) email tactics, through the website CMS (personalization, testing, and remarketing), and continues into the post-sales activities. Managing this customer data and messaging segmentation will drive success. The diagram shows some examples of data sources that can be tapped to segment customers.
In the early sales cycle, ABM is about attracting and qualifying accounts – not the individuals.
Business Strategy: The outreach plan would typically identify the decision-makers, their roles, and messaging needs. This campaign executes a series of communications during a defined schedule.
Digital Insights: This process relies on full adoption by the sales and marketing team of a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, and integration of Marketing Automation (MA) systems. This CRM and MA alignment provides the data needed to optimize campaign results.
For most B2B companies, 80% of revenue comes from 20% (or fewer customers). New business acquisition is expensive, and driving post-sales usage/engagement/satisfaction is widely overlooked. Companies that don’t actively fund customer satisfaction will eventually be unable to replace lost customers with new leads.
Customer satisfaction requires creating a strong post-sales narrative and focus, and the adoption of a new set of metrics to measure the post-sales stages. Post-sales success also hinges on designing the right campaigns and measuring the right website metrics to focus on driving more traffic to the content aimed at post-sales engagement and usage – content downloads, video views, update emails or newsletter opens, etc. Finally, address churn indicators early and directly with the right content at the right time.
The cost and complexity of converting new leads in B2B drives the decision to adopt ABM long before the lead pool dries out.
The marketing team is responsible for brand, communications, and content aimed at helping sales close more deals. It’s important that the sales team hits their quotas, but are these new customers going to be around for the long haul? If marketing campaigns are not created to nurture the post-conversion lifecycle, there won’t be enough of an addressable universe of leads to sustain the business long-term.
As stated earlier, the ultimate ABM metric is Customer Lifetime Value - a high-level business health metric. However, each phase has its own metrics that come from connecting various data sources, including financial – many metrics persist across segments or lifecycle stages.
Dave Rigotti, of the marketing attribution software company Bizible, says "A major blocker to adopting ABM is understanding how to consume the new sets of metrics, since leads and MQLs become irrelevant. Unfortunately, too many companies stop at 'engagement' and forget that marketing should be focused on outcomes, specifically revenue and lifetime value."
It’s key to set up the cross-system reporting scorecards on the individual campaign levels for the tactical campaign and web insights, but the more evolved metrics, customer, and business health insights will come from connecting CRM, financial, e-commerce, and social metrics.
Here are a few good metrics to start with: