The Magic Sauce to Account-Based Marketing is Experimentation

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The magic sauce to account-based marketing is … experimentation and iteration. If you’re a B2B marketer, you have no doubt been pitched, hustled or otherwise heard about account-based marketing (ABM) at one point or another over the last couple of years. But what is it, really? How does it work? And does it really work?

In this Rethink Marketing podcast, we dive into the topic by attending a recent panel discussion and workshop on Account-Based Marketing, which Act-On co-sponsored with the AA-ISP’s Portland Chapter. Nearly 50 marketers participated in learning how to create a successful ABM program. We talked with a few of them about their thoughts on ABM.

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What is Account-Based Marketing

ABM has also been called account-based everything or account-based sales. But really that’s just a lot of marketing and sales talk. 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. And while it’s been talked about and written about as though it’s something new, it’s been around for a long time. And it’s been delivering positive results for a long time as well.

“Yeah … there’s a lot of momentum right now happening in the whole account based marketplace,” said Troy O’Bryan, vice president of strategic growth at Bonfire Marketing. “I was actually looking back today. I started doing an account-based approach in 2001. And so I’ve been learning for a long time and still trying to perfect the trade here.”

“Bonfire is a digital agency out of Portland, Oregon,” O’Bryan siad. “And so what we focus on is creating the content that matters that drives engagement. So it’s all about proof-based content. So from content strategy, to content creation, and then also into the distribution of that content is where we focus.”

Getting Started with ABM

Conventional wisdom says that ABM is an enterprise play. That’s because historically it was labor and time intensive, which made it an expensive strategy best deployed when the potential customer is especially large and profitable.

As with just about everything else, technology has lowered those barriers to enable just about any company to implement their own ABM strategy. At the ISP event I chatted with Stephanie Ristow, who is a senior marketing programs manager for Charter School Capital, which provides growth capital and facility financing to charter schools nationwide. They are planning out their own ABM program now.

“We’re in the process of building out the tactics right now, so I can’t attest to the efficacy of anything yet. But we have our national-based strategy, which is product level. And then we have our regional strategy, which focuses in on the specific messages for different states,” Ristow said. “And then we have our account-based strategy, which is where the sales team has selected their top targets, typically charter management organizations that own a bunch of charter schools, and will build out tactics specifically for them.”

Stephanie came to the event looking for ABM tactics that she could begin implementing.

“There’s a lot of buzz around ABM right now, which is really just another way of saying a personalized approach to marketing,” Ristow said. “I think what I’m hoping to get out of our time here are some specific tactics that can be easily personalized at low cost for ABM.”

DiscoverOrg’s ABM Example

Katie Bullard is the chief growth officer for DiscoverOrg.

“DiscoverOrg is the leading sales and marketing intelligence platform,” Bullard said. “And what that means is we give sales and marketers the data that they need to find the right account, the right people at those accounts, and then engage with them at the right time.”

She was one of the event’s panelists, sharing with the audience her experience implementing a successful ABM program.

“DiscoverOrg has never had a problem generating demand or generating leads,” Bullard said. “But what we knew was that we could get smarter about the kind of demand that we generated and the types of accounts that we went after. And we could get smarter about aligning sales and marketing around those target accounts.

“what we decided to do was when we had a new product that was entering a new market, we said this is a perfect opportunity for us to really experiment with true account based marketing, where we define a really tight list of target accounts, we orchestrate a series of cross-functional plays between sales and marketing going after those target accounts, everything from advertising, to direct mail, to really personalized emails, to a specialized event for that target account.

“And we wanted to measure the success when we did those kind of activities versus when we did our traditional prospecting, emails, cold calls, kind of spray and pray type approach. And it worked out really, really well for us. What we found was that we had a much higher opportunity creation rate when we did ABM. We created a lot more pipeline. And we had a much higher close rate. And when we did close deals, not only did we close them more often, but we closed them at a higher price point. So because of that small experiment that we did with this one target market, we’ve now expanded that to additional products that we sell.”

When an ABM Strategy Works For You

As we mentioned, account-based marketing can require extra time, money, and effort to pull off successfully. Bullard recommends ABM complement, not replace, the marketing you are already successfully doing.

“I think it’s all about how you resource it,” she said. “And so for us, doing ABM didn’t mean abandoning the highly efficient lead gen efforts that we were doing before. For us, we took about 20 percent of our resources and 20 percent of our target accounts, quite frankly that really top list of target accounts. And that’s the group that we do this really, highly personalized ABM efforts with. And we’re smart about the rest of our lead gen efforts, but we don’t abandon it.”

And ABM done well means that it is specific your business, your business goals, your prospects, and your industry. Charter School Capital, DiscoverOrg, and Act-On, would each approach account-based marketing differently.

“I think every company can do ABM. It’s really about the percentage of sales and marketing resources that are devoted to ABM that is dependent on the target market,” Bullard said. “The example that I always give us, I used to work for a company where the Fortune 1000 was our target market. That was it. We had a nine-month sales cycle and an average ASP of over half a million dollars. And so for us, we were 100 percent ABM. Because it was a small group, it was a tight group, we could devote all of our resources against those thousand companies.

“At DiscoverOrg we have a target market between 50 and 100,000 accounts. I can’t personalize outreach to eight contacts at all 100,000 companies. So about 20 percent of our efforts are focused on that top, you know, the couple thousand that are at the top of the list. And the rest of the market we absolutely go after in a variety of different ways. And we look to secure a lot of inbound leads.”

Emphasizing the Account in 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 buying 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. That 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. 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. By leveraging Act-On’s ABM module, 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, and automatically score accounts and trigger campaigns and workflows inside and outside of the inbox.

Want to see the process from start to finish? Check out the video series DiscoverOrg created to document their ABM efforts.

“I would just say what works for one company doesn’t work for another company,” Bullard said. “And so there’s never a magic secret sauce to ABM. The biggest advice I have is experiment, refine, don’t try to get it perfect the first time, but just keep getting better. And that’s really how you make it successful.”