B2B Account Based Marketing: Best Practices for 2019 and Beyond
Everyone loves a big idea. A game-changer. And while a lot of things in marketing can lean towards hype, B2B account based marketing is not one of those things. It reinvents B2B digital marketing so comprehensively that the effect spills over into other departments.
But account based marketing (or “ABM”) may also be an idea that had the good fortune of coming along at exactly the right time. It synthesizes so many of the best practices and big trends in B2B marketing right now.
Here are just a few of the core principles of ABM that are also major B2B marketing trends in their own right.
- the push to align Marketing and Sales
- lead quality over lead quantity
- marketing automation
- content marketing
- marketers focusing on revenue rather than leads
- multi-channel marketing
- the buyer’s journey
- the rise of marketing technology and big data that fuels all these tactics, strategies, and goals
- AI and machine learning
The list could go on, but you get the idea. So is it any surprise at all that ABM has become so popular in the last few years?
But the real reason ABM has grown into a major marketing strategy? It works. Of the companies using ABM, “45% are seeing at least double the ROI.”
Companies using ABM generate 208% more revenue for their marketing efforts. And 40% of marketers say account-based marketing has been “very successful” for them. 55% more say it has been “somewhat successful” or that they’ve gotten above average results from it.
B2B Account Based Marketing is Still in Its Early Years
Despite all the gains of the last few years, account based marketing is in many ways still in its infancy. Half of all account based marketing programs are only in their first year, and only 17% of ABM programs have been running for three years or more.
So if you’ve been holding back from trying ABM, or if you’ve only just launched a pilot program, don’t worry about having missed an opportunity. Most B2B account based marketing programs are just underway. You haven’t missed the boat. Your competitors don’t have an insurmountable lead.
How B2B Account Based Marketing is Done in 2019
There are nearly as many ways to execute an account based marketing program as there are companies executing such programs. But some ABM experts warn that some companies think they’re “doing ABM,” when actually they’re just doing one element of ABM.
As mentioned before, account based marketing is a blend of several best practices, technologies, and strategies. ITSMA explains it like this:
“Core principles for ABM include:
- Strategic focus on improving business reputation, relationships, and revenue (if it’s just about lead gen, it’s not ABM!)
- Tight partnership and integration with sales (if there isn’t active, ongoing collaboration throughout the lifecycle, it isn’t ABM!)
- Tailored and personalized programs and campaigns based on deep customer insight (if customers get the same experience and inside-out messaging, it’s not ABM!)”
3 Approaches to B2B Account Based Marketing
While every company approaches ABM differently, there are some common trends. Sirius Decisions found that companies tend to use one of three strategies for their ABM programs. They define those approaches as:
- Large Account – “A very small number of large existing or targeted accounts”
- Named Account – “A moderate or larger number of defined existing or targeted accounts”
- Industry / Segment – “A moderate or larger number of new or existing accounts in the same vertical or other specific segment”
Many businesses employ more than one approach, and so when you look at how often each approach is used (in the graphic below), the percentages don’t add up to 100.
Other account based marketing experts define ABM approaches differently, but they find remarkably similar things.
Like SiriusDecisions, ITSMA’s study also found three primary ways companies do ABM. Their “one to few” approach corresponds to SiriusDecisions’ “Large-Account marketing” above. “One to few ABM” corresponds to “Named-Account Marketing” and “One-To-Many ABM” corresponds to “Industry ABM.”
ABM in 2019 is About More Than Just Prospects
This is another smart way for B2B ABM to evolve from marketing as usual – for it to focus not just on prospects, but also on existing customers, and even on company partners.
ABM marketers do just that.
If you’re on the cusp of developing or launching a pilot program for ABM, make sure you take this best practice to heart. Target both existing and potential customers. ABM is as much about expanding relationships with the right companies as it is about finding new companies to build a relationship with.
Don’t Practice ABM Alone: Aligning Sales and Marketing
If you’ve ever even interned in a Sales or Marketing department, you’ll know how “complex” the relationship between Sales and Marketing can be. Logically, these two departments should be BFFs. Instead, they often seem to be pulling in different directions, if not openly distrusting each other.
This is one of the fundamental problems ABM overcomes, and it’s worth celebrating. Aligning Sales and Marketing is also one of the core reasons companies launch ABM programs in the first place, as research from Ascend2 shows below.
Just about every research study or general guide to ABM mentions aligning Sales and Marketing. It’s been a consistent priority for B2B marketers, too.
In our own research study of B2B ABM in 2017, almost the exact same percentage of marketers said that “unify marketing & sales teams” was both a core objective of ABM, and also a challenge to achieve.
So why is ABM so good at bringing Sales and Marketing together, when countless workshops, retreats, and company initiatives have failed at this before? Chris Golec, Peter Isaacson, and Jessica Fewless, in their book, “Account-Based Marketing: How to Target and Engage the Companies That Will Grow Your Revenue,” say there are several reasons, including:
The two departments are focused on different targets.
“Marketing has traditionally had a lead-centric focus, which is pretty much the opposite of their counterparts in Sales, who have always had an account-centric approach.”
This reflects a real disconnect in how many companies and marketing departments have structured their campaigns. In B2B, significant purchases are rarely made by one person; they’re made by a buying committee.
Account based marketing corrects this bad assumption. It’s designed from the top down to focus on buying committees rather than isolated individuals.
Marketing is focused on top of funnel conversions. Sales is focused on bottom of the funnel conversions.
“Marketing usually spends most of their time at the top of the funnel with a quantity strategy. On the other hand, Sales spends their time trying to convert, accelerate, or close accounts that are in the middle or bottom of the funnel.”
Neither of these approaches results in a coherent customer experience. But when Sales and Marketing are aligned and committed to doing a real test of ABM (even if it’s only to verify it won’t work). Then the two departments can finally “pull in the same direction” and deliver a consistent user experience.
This alignment between Sales and Marketing is so critical that Golec, Isaacson, and Fewless recommend it be the first phase of even a pilot program for ABM. Before a company ever selects a target list, Sales and Marketing need to get on the same page. Everyone needs to understand that ABM is a joint department undertaking.
What’s Changed in ABM Over the Last Few Years
While some of the fundamentals of ABM have stayed the same (like Sales and Marketing alignment), other aspects of ABM are evolving rapidly.
Using Machine Learning and AI to Scale ABM
Not too surprisingly, technology is one of those things. More specifically, the ability for technology to let ABM programs “scale.” So while a B2B company might have hand-picked clients for their target list in 1995 or even the early 2000s, now they’re more likely to have a machine learning algorithm or AI select target accounts.
This is especially true for large companies and when companies expand beyond pilot programs. The target list for a pilot program might be a few dozen companies. The target list for a multinational in its fourth year of ABM might be several thousand companies, and those companies may be selected based on hundreds of data points. When you’re handling that much data, it’s best to let an algorithm do the heavy lifting.
The Rise of Personalized Content
“The right message to the right person at the right time.” You’ve surely heard this said several times before and probably in several different ways. It’s the ultimate goal of personalization, though that goal also requires mastering the buyer’s journey and delivering the just right content.
Using personalized content is the very acme of B2B account based marketing. The whole point of this endeavor is to design a program that fits target companies like a glove. And while personalized content can be a challenge to manage, it’s also one of the most effective tactics in ABM, as shown below.
The good news is that personalized content has gotten significantly easier to do in the last few years. In 2017, in the chart below, 63% of the marketers surveyed said it was difficult to do. In 2018, only 39% said personalized content was difficult (in the chart above).
That’s still a significant portion of marketers, but if the trend continues by next year only 20% of marketers will say personalized content is difficult. B2B marketers are learning, and learning quite rapidly at that.
Even if you haven’t tested an account based marketing pilot yet, the odds are extremely high that you’ve got at least one active project that uses an element of ABM.
That’s a great start, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. So as you review your plans and budgets for 2020, consider taking the next step with ABM. This is most likely how much of B2B marketing will be done in the future, so there’s every reason to start shifting into it now.