How to Get Started With Account-Based Marketing in 8 Steps

Get Started With Account Based Marketing header

Account-based marketing has been around for several years now. It’s widely acknowledged as being an effective strategy, and there have been dozens of studies documenting its success.

Some of the statistics that have attracted marketers to ABM include:

  • 87% of account-based marketers say that ABM initiatives outperform other marketing investments (ITSMA)
  • 80% of marketers say ABM improves customer lifetime values, while 86% say it improves win rates. (TOPO)

And yet, many B2B marketers have still held back from adopting ABM. A July 2020 study of marketers revealed that only 22% said their “ABM strategy is in place and measurable.” 14% are only now rolling out their ABM programs. While 34% are in the planning phases, as many as 30% surveyed have no plans for ABM in the future.

how many marketers have gotten started with an account-based marketing strategy

If you have not yet implemented an ABM program, this hesitance among your peers is actually good news. You’re not too far behind your competitors, and you may even be ahead of some of them.

Now is also one of the best times ever to launch an ABM strategy. 2020 has changed the rules in many parts of business. Marketers and companies are more open to doing things differently, given how different everything is.

This open-mindedness, driven by a keen need to maximize the results of reduced budgets, may help you motivate team members who had been resistant to ABM before. It may also help you find a positive path forward at a time when there is so much uncertainty.

To help you launch or hone an ABM program, we’ve assembled this 8-step plan for implementing account-based marketing into your B2B strategy. It will help you avoid the worst mistakes marketers make with ABM, while also positioning your ABM program for success. 

Start Small and Design for Scale

If you’ve never done an account-based marketing program before, it’s wise to start small.

It may also help to understand that even experienced marketers with large ABM programs have been having a lot of success with a “tiered” approach to ABM. Instead of trying to use the same “one size fits all” approach to all their accounts, many B2B marketers have been segmenting their target accounts. Then they use a tailored ABM approach for each of these tiers.

Here’s what it looks like at a high level:

there's more than one way to do account-based marketing

Let’s walk through this graphic. In “one to one” ABM, the program may only target 10-50 prospects. That’s a small group, but if you’re short on budget and you want to secure a few wins before you ask for more budget, picking just a few companies to start with is smart.

Or you could aim a little higher and pick 25 target accounts to use the one-to-one strategy of ABM on, and then test a “one to few” ABM strategy to, say, 75 additional target accounts.

This means you’re testing two different approaches, but it also opens up how much lift you could see from your ABM program.

This graphic outlines what the cost might be for each of those approaches.

here's what each type of ABM strategy typically costs per account

These graphics show what’s possible, but before you start thinking about which companies to include on those lists, consider our next point.

Coordinate with Sales and Other Key Players from the Beginning

You’ve probably seen plenty of articles about Marketing and Sales team alignment. There has been a lot of talk about this goal, but it’s worth all the discussion. B2B firms no longer have room for Sales and Marketing to be out of sync. And Sales and Marketing alignment matters even more in 2020, when the adverse business environment means there is simply no room for inefficiencies.

So try to think of ABM as a partnership. Without Sales, your ABM program may well fail.

A 2020 survey from Ascend2 (cited above) found that “Marketing and sales alignment” was the second-most-common challenge to the success of ABM programs.

Top challenges marketers face when they get started with ABM

So consider Sales an essential element of your ABM program as you get started with account-based marketing. Don’t make any major decisions about your ABM program without significant input from them. Solicit their input as often as you can, from details as small as advertising creative to decisions as foundational as the criteria for which accounts you’ll target.

Sales will be an essential partner for your ABM program’s success, but if you are not the sole controller of your company’s sales and customer data, you may need other people on your ABM team as well. Namely IT, or whoever manages your company’s customer data.

If your company has a dedicated “Information Officer,” that’s another person who should be contributing to the planning and execution of your ABM program. ABM relies far too heavily on both technology and information to go far without those departments.

Of course, you’ll also need a champion among at least one of the senior executives of your company. According to DemandBase’s 2020 ABM Market Research Survey, this is most likely your CMO or VP of Marketing (29% of the time) or the Head of Demand Gen (18%). Only 13% of marketers said their company had a designated leader of ABM who had the term “ABM” in their title.

Evaluate Marketing Technology You’ll Need

ABM programs deserve significant investments in technology, but they don’t necessarily require them, especially if you’re just starting out. According to the DemandBase study cited above, “When asked what tools B2B companies can’t do ABM without, CRM (83%), Marketing Automation (73%), and LinkedIn (60%) rounded out the top three” tools most essential for success.

So while technology can support ABM, you may be able to run most of your ABM with the martech you have now. This is especially true if you, like so many other B2B marketers, have not been using the martech you have to its full capacity. So if your budget has been cut, or you simply want to be frugal, review your current martech investments. See if you can’t do most of what you want to do with ABM with the technology you already have.

This might be a particularly smart move in light of the next step to implementing your new ABM program, which often requires an investment of time and resources to complete.

Clean Up Your Data

Data quality issues were the #1 challenge for executing ABM in 2020 while improving data quality landed in the top three list of 2020 priorities, according to DemandBase’s 2020 ABM Market Research Study.

ABM runs on data. And if that data is old, poorly formatted, or even outright inaccurate, that’s a problem.

It’s not an insurmountable problem, but you may need to invest some budget into updating or streamlining your data management. This may require several weeks of work before your data is organized and updated enough to implement even a starter account-based marketing program.

Get Your Content Ready for ABM

While IT and other teams are cleaning up your data, take the time to review your content and how your buyers are consuming it. Account-based marketing is content intensive. It also requires content to be nearly as organized, personalized, and current as customer data is.

How organized content is (including advertising) ends up being one of the primary differences between early stage and full stage ABM programs.

In the graphic below, the pie charts on the far right side show how B2B marketers in either the early stages or the later stages of ABM rated their “ABM Content, Web Personalization, Ads.”

early versus late stage account-based marketing programs

73% of marketers (the green and blue sections of the pie) in the early phases of ABM said they had either an “early” or “very early” handle on this part of their ABM program. Compare that to B2B marketers with full ABM programs: Only 33% of them said they had an “early” or “very early” handle on this part of their program.

If your content isn’t quite ready for ABM yet, it does not necessarily mean you’ll need to do a full-fledged, month-long content audit to get ready for ABM. But it may well mean you have to spend a week or so outlining what content you have now, and figure out how to adapt, update and format it to support your ABM program.

So save some budget for this aspect of getting started with account-based marketing. Even if you and your content team can do all the work required, hiring outside help may allow you to launch your ABM program faster.

Embrace Personalization

ABM is, in some ways, just personalization writ large. It is an entire sales funnel personalized for the buying team of each account you target. So this is far more than using someone’s first name as a greeting in an email. It’s more than personalizing the website message they get. It means tailoring the buying experience according to their needs.

This might sound like advanced, cutting-edge marketing, but it’s increasingly just meeting customer expectations. The graphic below, from the 2020 State of Account-Based Marketing Survey outlines how highly buyers and consumers value personalized content and personalized experiences.

Personalization is a core feature of account-based marketing

One area of personalization that has evolved considerably is advertising, especially in 2020. eMarketer reports that “US B2Bs will spend $8.14 billion on digital ads this year, up 22.6% from 2019 when spending was $6.64 billion.”

Advertising has become increasingly important in 2020 as in-person events have declined. Of course, in-person events may make a comeback as COVID-19 gets under control. But that may not be the only thing suppressing in-person events. If the economy has not improved or has gotten worse, senior staff may trim travel budgets to optimize budget.

Embrace Intent

When an individual downloads an ebook, does it mean the entire buying committee of that company is ready to purchase? Maybe… or maybe not. Digital body language can mean very different things at different times, for different people, for different pieces of content or phases of the buyer’s journey.

That’s where intent analysis comes in. This is the new technology many ABM marketers are investing in now. Intent comes up in many studies as being a powerful way to know which accounts are worth flagging or worth the immediate attention of Sales or a Sales Development Representative (SDR).

As explained in DemandGen’s special report, “What’s Working in B2B Advertising? B2B Organizations Fuel Digital Ads With Relevancy, Content & Interactivity To Fill In Demand Gaps Left Behind During COVID-19

“As everything moves to digital, marketers are also equipped with new data sets that can help fuel ABM strategies that are customized to their audiences’ needs. Intent data has been a key ingredient for organizations looking to develop highly targeted plays that stand out from the digital noise.”

Get Your ABM Measurement Right

Even a modest, introductory ABM program has quite a few moving parts. There’s a lot to measure and track. It’s easy to get bogged down in analysis.

So decide early which KPIs matter most. Aim for the “one-sheet” model of reporting. If you had to distill what you track in your ABM program down to just one sheet (in readable type, with whitespace) what would you include? What are your company’s larger goals? What are Sales key goals? If you could only improve one metric in your current sales funnel, what would it be? This should be built into your plan as you get started with account-based marketing.

Individuals on your team will want to get into the weeds with second-tier KPIs that affect their jobs, of course. But measure your overall program from the high-level metrics that really matter. This could make all the difference in the success and failure of your program.

Here are what top-performing and under-performing ABM marketers said they tracked in a recent study.

which metrics and KPIs account-based marketers track. As you get started with account-based marketing, use these as a reference point.

Why it’s Important to Get Started with Account-Based Marketing Now

There is no going backward in B2B marketing. B2B buyers won’t drop their expectations about personalization or about having good digital experiences. Ad rates and SQL/MQL quotas won’t ease up much, if at all. Marketers won’t switch back from intent analysis and sophisticated ad serving to go back to simpler approaches.

We are all moving forward. So as more and more companies adopt ABM, it will become more and more necessary. There will be no going back to the old inefficiencies we tolerated before. How each company and each B2B marketer moves forward will be different, but every B2B marketing program must evolve. We expect ABM and the principles behind it to be at the center of that evolution in 2021 and beyond.

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