Account-Based Marketing is hot.
How hot? SiriusDecisions reported last year that the number of companies focused on driving account-based selling programs increased more than 350 percent in just one year. This year’s State of ABM report says 93 percent of B2B marketers say that ABM is very or extremely important.
When a solution gets that hot that quickly, buzz is going to outpace reality in the marketplace. While the trade press talk about ABM as though it’s now the defacto approach to B2B marketing, many successful, smart marketing teams are still nascent in their path to ABM, even at large companies.
I saw this first-hand recently during a sales call with a high-level marketing manager at a large, prestigious client. By prestigious, I mean very prestigious – this is a well-known brand that has been growing its online presence over the last decade.
The client has until recently focused entirely on managing their own extensive database. It has developed its own proprietary CRM, and has fully embraced marketing personalization and automation based on its in-house customer data.
Now, the organization is actively evaluating ABM as the path to grow its business moving forward. It recently implemented an industry-leading Marketing Automation System (MAS) and is now evaluating third-party business contact and intent signal monitoring data services, such as True Influence’s InsightBASE.
Third-party data is fundamental to ABM success – no less an authority than SiriusDecisions has made that clear – and the marketing team I was meeting understands that relying only on their house lists creates a vacuum in their overall B2B marketing strategy. The push to grow the company’s online presence has brought them to a ceiling, and they see ABM as key to continuing growth.
They also understand that they are beginning a long learning curve to successfully integrate third-party data into their ABM programs.
The immediate challenge now is what I call a sense of “analysis paralysis” in the ABM and third-party data marketplace. There’s a glut of ABM solutions out there, and they all are making the same basic promises. Marketers are being bombarded with ABM sales pitches, and are struggling to differentiate between products and get a clear picture of how ABM will impact their daily operations.
Kick the Tires With a Pilot Program
My advice to this organization, and any business evaluating ABM and third-party data solutions, is to launch pilot programs that illustrate the core benefits of ABM and how it can impact your bottom line. Such programs not only prove the value of the approach – and we at True Influence absolutely believe in ABM – they also highlight strengths and weaknesses of your team members moving forward as your refine your ABM processes.
I’d be remiss not to make my own pitch here – flexibility is key as you determine exactly how ABM will work in your organization. You don’t want to devote resources to integrating a third-party data source into your MAS before you kick the tires. Our InsightBASE solution includes native integration with industry-standard MAS systems, such as Eloqua and Marketo, but we also offer a dashboard that any marketing or sales professional can learn and be comfortable within about 30 minutes. So, we offer a tremendous amount of flexibility as you learn more about ABM.
In short, an ABM and third-party data pilot program should focus on:
Identifying Target Accounts
As I discussed with the client, there are two models for using intent signal data to identify and prioritize target accounts.
- Create of list aspirational target accounts, and then narrow in on those companies’ intent signal data to discover the topics that contacts inside the accounts are searching on and reading about. As a sales professional, I tend to favor this approach – your sales team will be immediately engaged in the process and will likely add a lot of additional intelligence about these wish-list accounts through the their personal research.
- Alternatively, you can simply run broad-scale research to find spikes of interests in accounts, regardless of where they rank on your current wish list. This tactic definitely needs to be part of your overall commitment to ABM, but it likely will require additional firmographic research to fully qualify such accounts as actionable targets.
Understanding accounts that are already in-house
Knowing what your current customers are researching online is a valuable new dimension that third-party data brings to ABM. If customers are looking elsewhere for information, it signals either new opportunities or emerging threats to your business.
Prioritizing resources to spend on accounts
After you determine the revenue potential and interest level of your accounts, you need to prioritize them in tiers of effort as part of your pilot programs. You can’t focus only on the lowest-hanging fruit to either prove or disprove the ABM model. Many marketing teams identify accounts in three tiers, with the most attractive candidates receiving direct personal attention from marketing and sales.
Tailoring communication to key decision-makers and teams
A key component of successful ABM efforts is highly personalized, relevant communication with decision-makers in the target account. A recent ITSMA survey found that 75 percent of executives welcome relevant content, even if it is unsolicited and comes from a source with which they don’t have a current relationship. Third-party, verified contact information, such as we offer in our InsightBASE solution, is essential in tailoring your messaging to executives and key influencers.
Stay Flexible, But Be Smart
With these key objectives in minds, your team can design pilot programs to test out the value of ABM and third-party data. Again, such programs are essential in developing a winning ABM strategy. SiriusDecisions notes that as recently as 2016, 60 percent of respondents who were using ABM were still in the pilot phase. So you won’t be alone.
Your pilot program doesn’t need to be overly complicated, but it also can’t be overly-simplistic or executed on too small a scale. Successfully integrating third-party Big Data into your ABM program requires smart, right-time analysis of customer activity, and your pilot program must reflect that level of intelligence and agility.
You’ll have to track more than just clicks and opens to define success; movement down the sales waterfall toward closed business is the ultimate goal. Your team will need to clearly define and measure key triggers in for shortening the sales cycle and driving higher, more predictable revenue. Multi-channel testing of in-house lists against those same lists segmented with intent signal data is one useful test case, but it’s up to your team to define the scenarios that best map to long-term ABM success.
ABM and Third-Party Data: The Future Is Near
ABM is real, and successful B2B sales and marketing teams will ultimately find the best ABM strategies to grow business. For now, cutting through all the noise in the market is a learning curve for even highly successful companies, but it’s a process that will definitely will pay off in the long run.