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In recent years, account-based marketing (ABM) has taken the field of B2B marketing by storm. While the idea of marketing to a well-defined set of target accounts is nothing new, new marketing technology has made discovering, contacting and developing these accounts much more attainable.

The immediate result of this rush to begin account-based marketing is many fledgling ABM programs. In fact, according to separate surveys by ITSMA and the ABM Leadership Alliance, 85% of the marketers surveyed have had their ABM efforts in place for less than two years.

And of course, with new ABM efforts come growing pains. Building and configuring a MarTech stack is a no small task, and many of the quirks don’t become apparent until the system has been put to purpose. It’s only after these initial issues have been solved (or at least managed) that marketers can even begin to think about optimizing their approach to the actual accounts.

As brands continue to overcome technology hurdles and dive into ABM campaigns, many are surprised to find things are still not running as smoothly as they anticipated. At that point, it’s time to look at the underlying strategy.

What’s wrong with my ABM strategy?

When it comes down to it, most ABM strategies are based on dated sales ideology. Programs are designed to seek out a single, high-level decision-maker, influence the decision-maker through a series of one-on-one communications and get that same decision-maker to sign on the dotted line.

In today’s businesses, however, the lone executive decision-maker is a myth. While executives often hold the final say, they rely more and more on end users and other internal stakeholders to find, compare and present solutions. The real decisions are made in team meetings and conference calls rather than closed offices.

Now more than ever, purchase decisions are defined by group buying. According to the Gartner Group, in a typical firm of 100-500 employees, an average of seven people are involved in most purchase decisions.

Not only are more decisions made by groups, but the size of the groups making decisions is growing as well. Demand Gen Report Survey found 45% of the B2B buyers surveyed saw an increase in the number of team members involved in the purchase process in the past year.

Moreover, a clear majority of those taking part in buying decisions are outside the C-suite. Directors, managers and even staff-level employees are finding themselves as members of buying groups. A staggering 81% of non-C-suite employees influence B2B purchase decisions at their companies, according to research by Google.

Given that buying groups are now the standard in B2B, the important question is how we adapt our ABM strategy to accommodate this shift. Naturally, a group of five or more unique buyers (a majority of whom wouldn’t be considered traditional “decision-makers”) have drastically different needs and preferences from the one-stop decision-makers of the past.

Here’s how you can bridge the gap.

1. Connect with multiple members of the buying group

Under the single decision-maker model, the plan for ABM was to generate a lead, nurture that lead and sign business through that lead. Whether generating leads via inbound marketing tactics or working with a third-party demand gen vendor, brands would often take steps to limit the number of leads from the same company.

In the context of group buying, more leads in the buying group mean more seats at the table. Consensus is the name of the game. An additional advocate or two can be the difference between a “Yes” and “No,” or at least help to speed things up.

Consider raising, if not removing, your caps on leads at the same company. Winning business requires you to win over the buying group, and, as group sizes continue to grow, that requires you to win over more and more individual members. Even if awareness is the only thing that comes from these additional members, the name recognition helps to cement your offering as a legitimate option when others bring it to the table.

2. Market to the account, not just the individual

Having multiple leads at your target company is good start. You’ll want to serve them personalized content and nurture them as you would with any other lead. However, you’re not getting the value out of the “account” portion of account-based marketing if you don’t make use of the fact these people all work at the same place.

Coordinate your messages within the same company. Rather than sending everyone the same content, send complimentary assets with a unifying theme. Encourage sharing by including sections for other functional areas (managers, developers, designers, etc.). Accounts are also a great opportunity to introduce gamification elements to further encourage interaction and sharing.

3. Pay attention above the funnel

Unfortunately, you generally won’t have direct access to all the members of the buying group. Most will never fill out a form and enter the traditional marketing funnel. That doesn’t mean those contacts aren’t actively shopping, though.

A lot of the interaction from the buying group will come without any sort of identifying form completion. Members of the buying group present to one another and otherwise distribute information within the group. There’s no need for every member of the group to download a buyer guide, for example, when one member could simply download it and distribute the asset or the related information later.

Look for signs of added activity within a target company, such as:

  • a spike in traffic to your website from IP addresses associated with a target company;
  • high numbers of views/shares of an asset at a target company; or
  • an increase in email forwards from leads at a target company.

These “above the funnel” actions are reliable indicators of activity within a buying group and help you identify accounts to prioritize.

4. Support your advocates

All other steps aside, your success in ABM will come down to your ability to win over internal advocates in the buying group. Advocates are your brand’s voice inside the buying group. So, make their lives easier.

You can empower your advocates with specialized content; short, shareable, fact-heavy content is ideal. You want to give them something they could hand out or quickly reference while speaking. It doesn’t need to the most beautiful item in your library – it needs to communicate what you do well in no uncertain terms.

In addition to content, be sure your team makes themselves available. Let your advocates know that your salespeople are a resource to help them address any questions or concerns brought up by the buying group.

Finally, if all goes well, thank advocates for their help. Send them a handwritten card and/or some small, branded items. If advocates know you value them, they’re more likely to stay advocates in the future.

Wrapping it up

Because most marketers are still getting their feet under them with ABM, now is a great time to establish yourself as an industry leader. Shift your focus from individual decision-makers to collective buying groups.

You can embrace group buying in your ABM strategy by connecting with multiple members of the buying group, marketing to the account rather than just the individual, paying attention above the funnel, and supporting your advocates.

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