Account-based marketing (ABM) has been around since the early 2000s—but over the past few years, it’s become an increasingly hot topic among B2B marketers. According to a recent SiriusDecisions survey, 93% of B2B marketers said they “consider ABM ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ important to their organizational success.”

The reason is simple: If successfully executed, ABM leads to more effective pipeline generation and better conversion rates. But successfully executing an ABM campaign is key. “Account-based marketing is not a tactic, it’s a not a technology, and it’s not a one-off program,” says Matt Senatore, a service director at SiriusDecisions’ account-based marketing service. “It’s a change in mindset, and it’s a strategic discipline.”

That, in part, has made it difficult for some B2B organizations to successfully implement ABM. According to a recent Forrester survey, only 30% of marketers say they have established, successful ABM practices in place.

Sound familiar? This guide will help you break down the complexity of ABM and explain how savvy marketers think through—and successfully execute—powerful ABM campaigns.

What Is Account-Based Marketing?

Originally coined by ITSMA, ABM is “a strategic approach that combines targeted, insight-led marketing with sales to increase mindshare, strengthen relationships, and drive growth in specific new and existing accounts.”

In layman’s terms, ABM campaigns focus marketing and sales resources on “high-value” target accounts and the decision-makers in those companies, leveraging highly personalized, strategic deliverables to increase relevance and engagement. In many ways, ABM is the opposite of traditional demand-generation marketing: Instead of creating large-scale campaigns to attract as many leads as possible, ABM laser-focuses resources on a select set of accounts.

Successful ABM campaigns depend on a mixture of technology to target prospects, strategic creative plays to get their attention, and an understanding of how to personalize each experience to deliver the most relevant content at every stage of the buyer’s journey.

The Benefits of Running an ABM Campaign

The biggest benefit of running a successful ABM campaign: Improved ROI. In a 2018 study conducted by ITSMA and the ABM Leadership Alliance, 45% of marketers reported achieving more than double the ROI with ABM compared with traditional marketing activities. What’s more, 77% reported achieving 10% or greater ROI from ABM.

This is due, in part, to the fact that ABM campaigns are more targeted and personalized than traditional demand-generation marketing. Tools such as IP matching technology make it easier to target specific accounts early in the buyer’s journey, and help marketers deliver more personalized content and experiences from the first touch. That personalization is critical: Marketers who personalize their messaging report a 19% lift in sales, according to the personalization provider Monetate.

And that brings us to the last benefit: ABM makes tracking and measuring campaign success clear. Instead of tracking large-scale campaigns that touch a large number of prospects, ABM requires carefully monitoring a smaller set of targeted accounts—and that brings a sense of clarity when it comes to tracking success.

How to Build a Successful ABM Campaign

Whether you’re planning your first ABM campaign or are already a seasoned pro, every ABM campaign breaks down into the following key steps.

Step 1: Identify and Prioritize Your High-Value Accounts

Using all the data at your disposal, the first step in any ABM campaign is identifying and prioritizing your high-value accounts. This can include current customers and new accounts alike—you’ll want to focus on factors such as potential deal size, the likelihood an account might become a repeat customer, and market position and influence.

There are two ways to identify target account:

  1. Work Directly with Sales to Identify Key Accounts. Your sales team has an on-the-ground understanding of what accounts would move the needle, and what opportunities would be best to pursue. Working directly with them to identify key accounts is a tried-and-true method of account selection and prioritization. Decisions are often made on the basis of industry vertical, enterprise size, geographical location, total revenue, and other identifying information.
  2. Use Intent Data to Identify Key Accounts. When selecting target ABM accounts, intent data can give you a leg up. Intent data is any data that is “collected about business web users’ observed behavior—specifically web content consumption—that provides insights into their interests,” according to Bombora. Providers such as Demandbase can help you identify which accounts are actively in market and researching solutions in your space.

Pro tip: For more advanced ABM campaigns, some marketers have taken to layering in predictive analytics on top of intent data. Though more resource-intensive, predictive analytics can help you determine who is most likely to buy your product so you can focus your efforts on the right accounts.

Step 2: Identify Key Decision-Makers & Build a Personalization Strategy

Once you’ve built your target account list, you’ll need to dig into how each account is structured and who the key decision-makers are that you’ll want to reach. There’s a chance that you’ll already have insights into how some accounts are structured; but if not, you’ll want to work with your sales team and use vendors like DiscoverOrg and ZoomInfo to get department-level organization charts, phone numbers, and email addresses.

Step 3: Develop a Content and Personalization Strategy

After making the two most critical decisions—which accounts you’re going to prioritize and who to target in each organization—you’re ready to start developing creative assets tailored to each of your target accounts.

As you develop a plan, pay attention to what the buyer’s journey will look like, tailoring your assets to speak to different needs and questions a prospect will have on the journey.

This is where in-depth research of your target accounts will come into play. You should have a good idea of what your target audience is looking for at every step of the journey, so you can deliver the information they need to take the next step.

When it comes to personalization, think about how to tailor your messaging to a prospect’s:

  • Industry
  • Buyer Stage
  • Target’s Name
  • Account Company Name
  • Location
  • Behavior

Some companies have a small enough subset of accounts that it makes sense to completely personalize every communication. But for larger ABM campaigns, you’ll want to follow the 80/20 rule: 80% of your content should remain the same across your campaign, with 20% personalized to speak directly to your individual accounts. This can include inserting the prospect’s name, adding their company name, or keying certain messages to triggers such as a repeat visitor to a webpage.

Step 4: Define Your Channels and Media Strategy

It’s a multi-channel world—we’re just living in it. And there’s a good chance your prospects are, too. That makes it critical to define your optimal channels with a media strategy focused on making sure the right content is put in front of the right accounts at the right time.

While there are multiple methods of delivering content (direct mail, email campaigns, events, etc.), media is the most effective way to get your message to your audience. This includes social media advertisements, banner ads, and other paid media outlets that allow you to put your brand in front of your target.

For most B2B marketers, the professional networking site LinkedIn is a safe place to allocate some of your media spend—but the online publications, forums, and “watering holes” your prospects visit often vary by industry, job title, and geographical location. That makes it critical to develop a well-thought-out media strategy that accounts for where your target accounts are most likely to be.

ABM campaigns are often less costly when it comes to media investments because you’re targeting a smaller number of accounts who you know are active in the market based on market research and intent data (step one). When you deliver relevant content to a well-defined audience with well-defined needs, you can expect more clicks, page views, session times, and conversions.

Step 5: Track the Right Metrics

The adjective “data-driven” has become a big buzzword in the marketing world over the past five years, and for good reason. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it—or improve it.

When it comes to ABM campaigns, tracking, measuring, and optimizing campaign performance is critical. And there are three types of data you should pay special attention to.

1. Take a Baseline Assessment

A great first step is to take a baseline assessment of how your other non-ABM marketing campaigns are performing. By doing this, you’ll give your team a benchmark to compare your ABM campaign to—and bolster your business case for scaling your ABM efforts in the future. You’ll want to focus on full-funnel metrics that run the gamut from the initial inquiry to closed sale.

2. Define Your Key Campaign Metrics—and Track Them

In B2B marketing, it’s critical to define success from the start, and agree on metrics to track to prove success. It’s even more critical with ABM campaigns.

Before your push your campaign into the wild, you should settle on key performance indicators to monitor success throughout your campaign’s lifecycle.

These can include engagement metrics such as clicks, page views, and session times, as well as conversion metrics such as meetings booked and deals signed.

3. Monitor Business Impact

Let’s be honest: Marketers often turn to vanity metrics—awareness, impressions, share of voice—to make their business case. But while impressions are important, pipeline and deals closed move your business forward and have concrete business impact. That makes it critical to track these metrics to prove your ABM campaign’s effect on the bottom line.

Before you push your campaign live, you should ensure you can track pipeline increases, average deal size, and funnel velocity (or, how quickly customers are moving through the buying cycle) back to your ABM campaign.

Step 6: Rinse & Repeat (Planning for Your Next ABM Campaign)

You’re fresh off your first ABM campaign—congratulations! Whether you’re looking to scale or optimize, there are a few things to look at before beginning your next ABM program.

The first step is “rinsing” out your target account list. This means defining which accounts should remain on your target list and which ones need to be removed because they’re no longer a good target, or they became customers.

Once your account list is updated, you’ll want to run a post-mortem on your content and personalization strategies. Were certain content types working better than others? What themes resonated best in market? Look at click-through rates, page views, session times, and conversion rates to find out what worked best, and how to build on that success for your next campaign.

That post-mortem should extend to analyzing your media strategy and targeting success. Were certain channels more effective than others? Did you have more success targeting higher-level employees with direct mail versus social media ads? The answers should inform how you build out your media and channel strategies for your next campaign.

Pro tip: IP matching products can make a significant difference in your ability to scale ABM campaigns and deliver better and more targeted experiences to prospects. Companies such as KickFire, Demandbase, Marketo, and Bound offer IP matching solutions that can help you quickly identify unknown website visitors and deliver relevant content.

The Bottom Line

Account-based marketing, or ABM, continues to be one of the more popular practices among B2B marketers, and for good reason: It gets results. According to SiriusDecisions, 91% of B2B organizations report that they are more likely to close a deal when they use ABM versus when they do not.

“ABM helps you take your time and resources and apply them to the accounts that matter most in a prescriptive fashion to drive more successful outcomes,” Senatore says. Part of this comes down to bringing sales and marketing into tighter alignment. “In an ABM discipline, you bring those two sides together to ensure that what marketing is doing is more tightly aligned to overall revenue goals and objectives.”

A large part of ABM’s success comes down to personalization, which is the most important factor that drives the success of any ABM program. Where content was once king, relevance has usurped the throne—and the more you can do to speak to someone’s pain point instead of an idealized persona’s pain points, the more relevant you can make the buyer’s experience.

And remember: You never get a second chance to make a first impression. So, what does your first impression look like?

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