Understanding the ABM Framework

Hey, who do you know over at [insert company name]?” Questions like this have been a standard part of the B2B salesperson’s repertoire for generations. Yet, only recently, have we started applying the name account-based marketing, or ABM, to the approach of creating demand generation by targeting individual companies instead of broadly defined markets.

If you want to wow your friends with your knowledge of ABM trivia, you can tell them that the term account-based marketing was coined in 2004. ITSMA created the phrase in an effort to convince marketers to step away from one-size-fits-all sales pitches, and focus on the needs of individual organizations that represent the greatest opportunities for new business.

And it’s something that smart B2B marketers had already been doing for years: treating individual accounts as markets in their own right, rather than marketing to entire sectors of an industry. It’s a simple concept … and, like most simple concepts, it’s easy to get it wrong. If you’re looking to build a successful ABM process, a good place to start is with an understanding of the ABM framework.

The Four-Step ABM Framework

While every team will eventually develop its own style in approaching ABM, every successful account-based marketing plan involves four essential steps.

Step 1: Identify Target Accounts: Build a list of the companies that align the closest with your ideal client, in terms of: industry, size, structure, clientele, and other key factors. This is one step where intent monitoring can become a powerful asset, helping you build your list by alerting you to “intent signals” from potential targets who may not even be on your radar.

Step 2: Engage Contacts at Target Accounts: Reach out to individual people at your target accounts with personalized messages which speak to their needs. Here again, if intent monitoring is part of your process, you have an additional advantage; because you’ve had a glimpse at your targets’ online behavior, you have inside knowledge about the issues that have been on their minds lately.

Step 3: Align Sales and Marketing: The days of sales and marketing being separated by a deep gorge are gone. In the world of ABM, both teams must work together, hand-in-hand, with marketing sharing the initial contact via targeted messaging, then bringing in the sales team once the contact is ready for a 1:1 conversation or demo. Communication must flow freely in both directions if your ABM program is going to succeed.

Step 4: Measure and Optimize Campaigns: As the old adage goes, “what gets measured, gets improved.” Review the results of your ABM process on a regular basis and identify trends that signal opportunities for improvement. For example, if you notice target contacts dropping off at a certain stage in the engagement process, gather your sales and marketing teams and explore the possible reason. It could be your messaging, your timing, or even your format. These regular assessments will allow you to build a culture of continuous improvement into your ABM process and elevate your chances of success.

Put the Rest of the Pieces Together

Of course, a successful ABM program has many more nuances than what we see in the aforementioned four basic steps. Once you have the basic framework down, it’s time to expand your playbook with some advanced ABM tactics. Some of these are standard practices, some are new approaches, and some involve a new spin on old-school deliverables.

  • Develop prospect-specific offers based on what you know about the target company and the individual you’re contacting.
  • Develop “sales” offers designed to get meetings and bring them into the conversation once you’ve successfully engaged your target contact.
  • Use retargeting to keep your brand in front of individuals at target accounts.
  • Offer a personalized experience to individuals from the target account who visit your website.
  • Create sales territories designed to convert. Think beyond geographic divisions and divide up your territories in a way that’s more likely to generate sales.
  • Test direct mail with executives. With many C-suiters dealing with email overload, targeted direct mail is emerging as a worthy alternative.
  • Use social intelligence to discover what matters to prospects.
  • Build a list of legitimate, role-based contacts. Remember, job titles don’t always tell the whole story. Do your research and find out who’s in a position to open the door for you.
  • Purchase white paper and webinar leads. If your target contacts are looking to solve a problem that represents an opportunity for you, they’ve probably sought out some related content, such as white papers or webinars. Contact the brands who produced that content and see if you can purchase their lists.
  • Create a one-to-one C-level campaign. Find out if any of your C-suiters have connections to their counterparts at your target account, and have them reach out to those contacts on LinkedIn.
  • Discover connections to target accounts outside of the sales team. Remember, employees throughout your organization have contacts from previous jobs, alumni groups, and industry associations. Tap into those resources and enlist their help in finding and engaging the right people at your target accounts.

Account-based marketing is nothing new — in fact, the practice has been around as long as B2B marketing itself — but in today’s complex environment, it’s become essential. Instead of launching massive lead generation campaigns to bring in hundreds of prospects, who may not even be a good fit, marketers can build a list of companies who align with the profile of an ideal client, and use it as their starting point. It’s not a new idea, but in an environment where we’re trying to reach busy contacts who have no time for “one size fits all” marketing messages, it’s one that works … when you get it right.

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