Being a marketer at Act-On is great. We use Act-On for our own business and we represent our own ideal customer profile – so we know the challenges that marketers face. Our customers are marketers and executives who invest in marketing, so in our own roles as marketers and executives invested in marketing, we share their ambitions – and their pains.
This commonality sometimes spurs product innovations.
In late 2015, as we were planning for 2016, we became laser-focused on our ideal customer profile. We’d been developing buyer personas for years; this time we were looking at companies as customers, at the account level. We’d done this before, too, as part of developing scoring criteria and other qualification measurements, but this time around we had an old idea: Account-based marketing.
Account-based marketing (ABM), at its simplest, is focusing on an account as opposed to a lead. This might seem like splitting hairs, but it’s actually a profound change in emphasis.
Account-based marketing: old wine in a new bottle
ABM is enjoying a surge of media attention. It’s being talked about and written about as though it’s something new, but it’s been around a long time, and it’s been delivering positive results for a long time. Conventional wisdom says that ABM is an enterprise play. That’s because, historically, it’s been labor- and time-intensive, which made it an expensive strategy, best deployed when the potential customer is especially large and profitable.
But: Our business is marketing automation. And the whole point of marketing automation is to take the “manual” out of the labor/results equation, in order to make high-performing strategies accessible and affordable to the mid-market. We’ve done it with database marketing, we’ve done it with drip and nurture email programs, we’ve done it with behavior tracking. Why not with ABM?
So here’s what actually happened:
- We (me the marketing guy and Tom the sales guy, with help from our teams and the finance department) built our ideal customer profile.
- We wanted a way to serve those accounts better – with our own application – and so we went to our product guru (Gal) with a clutch of feature requests, some small and some complex.
In the meantime:
- Gal was getting the same requests from a growing number of our customers.
- Gal (with input from our customer success team) had found that many of our customers were already doing a version of account-based marketing, but they didn’t call it that; most people just called it “marketing.”
We realized we had an organic convergence of interests and an indication of a clear, unaddressed marketplace need. Now the research began in earnest. How could we finesse marketing automation to support an account-based marketing strategy?
The benefits of account-based marketing
Now’s probably the time to tell you why we’re getting excited about ABM. According to CEB research, the average B2B decision-making group includes 5.4 buyers. Each buyer can play a different role or represent a variety of teams and locations. They are very likely to have different needs, perspectives, and priorities; they may even have competing goals. Add in the influencers, and you have a whole passel of people involved in a decision.
As a result, in the sales process, our marketing and sales teams will inevitably interact with multiple individuals who can make or influence a decision. Those individuals all contribute to what eventually is a company decision. When we close a deal, it’s with an account, not a contact. The same goes for losing an opportunity or a renewal – we lose the account. ABM is not about forsaking the lead; it’s about understanding the lead’s context and the importance of the company the lead represents, and discovering and addressing the additional players in the mix.
In the end, revenue is usually the deciding factor for which marketing strategies and tactics are worth trying. And ABM is developing a nice track record:
- 97% of marketers that try ABM report higher ROI with ABM than with any other marketing tactic. (Engagio)
- Contract value for ABM-targeted accounts increases an average of 40% for mid –market accounts and 35% for enterprise. (Engagio)
- Companies using ABM generate 208% more revenue for their marketing effort. (FlipMyFunnel)
- ABM is good for new business: 66% of companies state that more pipeline opportunities is a key benefit of ABM (DemandBase)
- ABM is even better for customer marketing: 84% of companies believe that ABM provides significant benefits for retaining and expanding current client relationships. (FlipMyFunnel)
Marketing’s new role in ABM
Several decades ago, account-based marketing was all about getting the salespeople in touch with the roster of people who could affect a decision. It was more focused on big companies for two reasons: first, smaller companies had fewer decision-makers, and it was less difficult to get a decision, so it was less necessary to turn on the ABM machine. More important, ABM was expensive, so you needed a big deal to get a good rate of return on your investment.
But that was then, and this is now. As noted above, CEB found that today’s average purchasing decision involves an average of 5.4 decision makers. And because those buyers and influencers won’t engage with sales until relatively late in the cycle, it’s marketing’s role to first help uncover the range of influencers and decision-makers, and then market to each according to their persona, and then enable sales to surround an account purposefully.
Successful account-based marketing requires a lot of coordinated communication
We found that at the beginning of the ABM process, there’s a whole lot of attention paid to choosing which account to focus on. That’s critically important, as it drives priorities and identifies who we spend our key assets – time and attention – on. (This is generally done manually, with marketing automation providing good data to help in the decision-making process.)
The biggest stumbling block in account-based marketing has always been what happens after those accounts are identified. The communication demands – both in communicating and keeping track of the communications – are staggering. Here’s a story to illustrate the issues:
- Your Company realizes that Whizzkers, a fast-growing company with 200 employees in three locations, is right in your sweet spot: size of company, vertical, revenue, growth pattern, media presence, market position, technology stack, and so on.
- You know that Whizzkers is aware of Your Company; your website visitor tracking report shows you that three different people from Whizzkers have been on your website, all looking at the same product.
- Your Company’s marketing and sales team do the research (LinkedIn, social, and other sources) and identify who those three people might be (an executive, a VP, and a senior director), plus two more people who look like they’d be the ones to actually use your product, so they potentially could be influencers.
- Now you need to develop a communications plan to reach those people.
- You might have three people on your team who would communicate (directly or indirectly) with Whizzkers: the marketer who manages email campaigns, the marketer who manages social campaigns, and the sales rep who would have responsibility for closing the account.
- You have five Whizzkers people you’d like to convince of your product’s fit with their needs. It is possible that each one has a different reason for being interested in your product; it’s likely that each is in a different stage in the buyer’s journey.
- You content library has 20 pieces of content that you can use in targeted nurturing campaigns for these people.
- You find that these people can be reached mainly through five channels: email, social media (LinkedIn and Twitter), telephone, and direct mail.
If you multiply the number of communicators you have by the number of people you need to communicate with, and multiply that by the number of content pieces, you get 300 possible combinations of people and content. Multiply that by five channels and you’re up to potentially 1500 touchpoints of contact over the courses of a sales cycle.
You cannot manage this manually.
But you can manage it with a marketing automation platform. You can automate much of the communication, and you can track the results.
How marketing automation supports account-based marketing
Here’s where marketing automation makes account-based marketing communications feasible.
Your Company’s outreach team really needs to deliver the right frequency and relevant personalized experiences to all the right people at Whizzkers at the right time, based on each contact’s role and stage in the buying cycle. Marketing automation plays the role of command center. You can use it to help orchestrate all the customer touch points – across the entire funnel.
Imagine running a nurturing campaign with if/then logic built in, so your contact was in effect creating his or her own path through your communications with them.
What happens if five people from the account you’re marketing to visit your website and review your pricing page? If you don’t know about these visits … maybe nothing at all.
That’s one of marketing automation’s big wins: It watches and tracks the behavior of people and companies you care about, and then it reports to you, so you know, and can take immediate action if that’s called for. Your team needs great behavioral data to execute a successful ABM strategy – and marketing automation platforms gather some of the best behavioral data available.
This is another of marketing automation’s big wins. Once your sales and marketing teams decide how to score accounts and leads, your automation platform will tie those scores to every action and attribute you have set. And just as lead scoring helps you see when a lead is becoming qualified, account scoring shows you which stage of the buying cycle an account is in, so you can gear your own actions to what that buying group needs (individually) to take the next step.
In short, marketing automation gathers intelligence you use to create strategy and content, and then helps you apply it. To our customers, it feels like a natural extension of what marketing automation does for them today.
How Act-On is changing the ABM game
Act-On’s integrated workspace now offers a module for CMOs looking to develop and execute on ABM for both acquisition of new accounts and retention of current customer accounts. In addition, Act-On has also partnered with ABM vendors to provide a true multi-channel experience.
Leveraging Act-On ABM automation, marketers can:
- Precisely target all decision makers within an account and deliver a unified experience across the organization
- Link individual buyer behaviors and data across a single account view
- Create account-based campaigns to improve nurturing and engagement
- Automatically score accounts and trigger campaigns and workflows inside and outside of the inbox
Is lead generation over?
No. Account-based marketing is an addition to your tool chest, not a replacement for everything else you’re already doing. Let both programs run and then calculate the ROI on each. If account-based marketing is much more profitable, you may want to rearrange your budget to fund the most productive programs.
Even if that happens, you’ll still have plenty of leads come in that may not align closely enough to your target account profile to warrant cultivating them with account-based marketing, but they’re still potentially nice business.
In the long view, you’re not leaving lead generation behind; you’re just changing how you do it, and how you look for the context every lead represents. You’re also working more closely than ever with your sales and success/service teams, so the leads you do get in will be followed up better than ever.
It’s all upside.
Want to know more about ABM?
We think this not-so-new strategy could really make a difference for your business. We’ve got a new eBook for you that outlines five key principles to follow, and five pitfalls to avoid as you get started with account-based marketing. Please let us know how you like it, and what we can do to help you get started.
Account-based marketing has captured the attention of the marketing industry, for good reason. According to ITSMA, 84% of B2B marketers say that ABM delivers a higher ROI than any other approach. Get your copy of our new eBook, How to Profit From Account Based Marketing, to learn the five keys you can leverage to deploy a successful ABM strategy that produces real and repeatable success – with technology you probably already have.