How to Tie Your Content Marketing into Your Account-Based Marketing

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Account-based marketing is having quite the run lately. It’s not hard to see why. Who doesn’t want to improve their close rates by 300%? Who doesn’t want to finally get sales and marketing and other departments to work together like a finely-tuned orchestra?

So ABM is thriving, being adopted by B2B companies left and right. We’re all still figuring it out, but the results so far are highly promising. To help you take the first steps toward an account-based approach, or to refine the processes you’ve started, we wanted to explore how content marketing fits within this new strategy. As it ends up, the two practices are highly complementary.

We’ll take a close look at content in just a moment, but first, let’s build some context for how ABM fits into the marketer’s world and company architecture overall.

ABM is a strategy for brand, demand, and expand

The reason account-based marketing works is this: For B2C, the decision-maker is usually one person – the consumer. For most B2B companies, decisions are signed off on, officially, by one person, but the decision is made by a consensus of stakeholders. As noted in a Harvard Business Journal story, CEB found that the average was 5.4 decision-makers within an account.

And the reason that content plays so well into an account-based marketing strategy is this: “CEB’s surveys found that individual customer stakeholders who perceived supplier content to be tailored to their specific needs were 40% more willing to buy from that supplier than stakeholders who didn’t.”

So. Your mission is to market to an entire account-full of contacts, not just one lead who looks like a decision-maker. You will be finding contacts inside an account and coordinating your marketing among them. They will be individuals with differing responsibilities and differing agendas, and they’ll come into your orbit at different times, so they probably won’t be at the same stage in the buyer’s journey. You’ll need to calibrate and coordinate how you communicate with them, and pay close attention to account scoring to determine when it’s time to hand them off to sales.

ABM will be working on several levels at once: cultivating brand awareness for those new contacts you discover inside an account you’re already marketing to, and cultivating staged demand with nurturing tactics. Your content marketing will play into every step. 

After an account is closed, you (and your customer success team) will find account-based marketing to be a critical strategy for retention. Instead of one champion inside an account you’ll have several, giving your product or service continuity and your relationship with the account resilience. When one champion changes companies, you’ll still have traction.

Leverage what sales knows

ABM works best when your sales and marketing teams are aligned. You should agree on which accounts to pursue, and on which personas within those accounts. Once you know who your audience is, you can figure out whether you can use the content you already have, or need to create new materials.

Well-planned ABM brings in other departments, too. Customer service should be involved (because ABM is about existing clients, too, not just the ones you want to close). The C-suite also needs to give its blessing. Many other areas may participate, too, depending on your strategy and execution needs.

Account-based marketing is kind of like persona marketing 2.0

We mentioned this above, but let’s take it a bit further. Each prospective account is not just one persona. The different players in that target company have different perspectives – and needs. You are selling to a team of people. You may need to create content for each team member, and see to it that they can find the content they need at the right time. Remember to keep your overall messaging and offers relatively consistent. You don’t want to look like one type of company to one buyer, and a different type of company to another.

Account-based marketing is mostly about building stronger, healthier, multi-dimensional relationships with your customers.

Account-based marketing is about more than just closing sales. It’s about retaining more clients. And finding additional revenue streams from existing clients. Or shortening the sales cycle. All those results are possible. But if you want them, you’ll need to identify them as goals and build a strategy around them.

How to develop an account-based marketing plan that’s content focused 

1. Determine your audience

A. Gather your lists of likely target companies

Every company approaches this a little differently, but here’s a typical plan:

  • Analyze your customer list for customer lifetime value, costs of acquisition, and maintenance costs. Clearly identify the common characteristics of your best customers, the ones you’ like to replicate. Look for things like industry, technologies used, size of company, locations, team size, etc.
  • Analyze how you marketed to those accounts, and the messaging and other factors that helped win them.
  • Get a wish list of 5-10 top clients from every key person on the sales team and key members of the executive team. Even your CEO may want to contribute a list. It’s critical to get this participation early on.
  • Some companies will use a software package to recommend target accounts. This is smart from an analytics standpoint, but could get expensive. And if you do let a computer pick your target list, vet the list before you dive in. Your sales team members are the ideal vetters of any computer-generated list – they know the landscape better than anybody.
  • Once you’ve got all the names of target companies collected, break them into tiers. As your sales staff knows, not all accounts are created equal. You may need to trim the list to whatever you’ve got the resources to really handle.

The best ABM initiatives are about way more than just getting the business. They’re about keeping the business, expanding the business, and just simply delivering a world-class customer experience. Your content needs to reflect all that.

B. Add accounts you’ve already got.

You’ll boost retention and upsell, which is an efficient, effective use of resources, and very healthy growth.

C. Add accounts that are already part-way through the pipeline.

This is one of the best opportunities in ABM – speeding the sales cycle, and using marketing assets to make sales’ job easier. Companies like WPEngine have had great success with this strategy. Here’s how they do it:

  • Marketing and sales sit down together and identify known accounts that are already well into the pipeline.
  • Marketing steps up targeted and retargeted advertising, email marketing, and social media.
  • After two weeks of this exposure, sales steps in to make their first call.

By then the contacts at the target account know WPEngine well. They’re more receptive to the calls, as they’ve already begun the sales process.

2. Executive buy-in: Don’t leave the meeting room without it.

Account-based marketing requires an unusual level of coordination from different departments. And while it’s extremely effective, it’s also a major investment of resources.

So make sure your executive team is completely onboard and has a say in the early strategy plans (like choosing the list of target accounts mentioned above). They need to bless the goals you define – whether you want to close more sales, shorten the sales cycle, retain more clients or get more revenue from existing clients.

Without this buy-in, you risk being starved of budget, or having the entire initiative canned.

3. After you’ve defined your goals, define how you’ll measure them.

A few months from now, you and your ABM team will sit around a table and try to decide whether your work was a success. Having specific goals is a great start to making that future meeting a success, but being able to measure your results is how you can close the loop.

For more information on measuring your ABM work, see our eBook, How to Profit from Account-Based Marketing.

4. Define your buyer personas, and how they will move through the buyer’s journey.

Take all those content strategies and goals, then map out how you’ll get your prospects to them. Each step along the way needs to be defined, and then have a piece of content attached to it. Each different contact within an account may have different paths to the close. And even if they have the same path, you might need to tweak each piece of content so it’s tailored to their specific needs and interests. The CTO may want a new Widget for different reasons from the CIO; the CFO’s criteria may be different from the department manager whose staff will be hands-on.

Sound like a big job? It is. But it’s definitely not impossible, and it’s really critical for success. Big whiteboards can be helpful for the mapping part. Or just a few big blank pages of paper might do.

As always, make sure you have input from your sales team for this. Their input now can save you a lot of time later.

5. Consider a content audit

You’re getting warmer… you’ve got the goals and the strategy and measurements to achieve them. You know how you’re going to move prospects through to becoming clients, step by step.

Let’s try to save you a little bit of work. You’ve probably actually got most of the content you’ll need already. It’s time to just catalog what you have, find the gaps and see which pieces need to be re-tooled for a different audience.

Download this content worksheet COMING to help get the process started.

Once all that is done, bust out your editorial calendar. Spell out a plan to revise or update those assets for each target account.

6. Don’t get caught in just one content format.

You’ll need to think beyond text if you want ABM to really work. It’s a multi-channel strategy, and that means content optimized for each of those channels.

For social media:

Once you’ve identified your list of targets,

  • Start following them on social media, if you haven’t done so already.
  • Consider setting up a listening station (https://www.act-on.com/products/platform/inbound/social-media/), to track both what they’re talking about online and what their customers are talking about online.
  • Consider making a private Twitter list of key contacts for each account.
  • Sign up for the LinkedIn groups they’re on.
  • Notice which third party content they share. You might get a clue about where your earned or paid media budget could best be spent.

For social media advertising:

  • You know Facebook advertising has killer targeting abilities. Now’s the time to use them.
  • Don’t overlook Twitter. It has a tracking pixel. LinkedIn advertising does not.

Follow your target accounts off social:

  • Sign up for their blogs and email lists.
  • Start sharing their content in your social feeds. Mention them in your public-facing content. For instance, if you’re analyzing a particular tactic on your blog, use their work as an example. Just be careful about being too critical – often that doesn’t go over so well.

For earned media:

  • One of the best ways to attract earned media in the business press is to do a major research report. Original data is valuable. The key is to make it valuable to your target clients. So include them in your research. This gives you an “in” from several angles:
    • You can reach out to them while you’re doing the research.
    • You can mention them in the research (making it more likely they’ll read it and share it).
    • You make recommendations for their company in your analysis of the research results. This shows off your expertise and is a subtle sales letter for why they should hire you.
    • You can break up this research into profiles of each company, and publish the profiles as blog posts on your site, or share them as “snackable” content on social media. This re-uses the content, but it also lays out a few more breadcrumbs for your target accounts to find.

For paid media:

  • If you know which websites your target accounts are visiting, or which conferences they’re going to, it might be a good idea to spend some ad budget there.
  • Don’t forget retargeting! All your work to get people to look at your messages deserves to be backed up with strategic use of retargeting messages.

For email marketing:

  • Marketing automation plays a massive role in account-based marketing. And while marketing automation is much more than email marketing, it manages this tactic better than any other technology.
  • Plan out the different buyers’ paths through your content. Use email to sew them together, and as a nudge to move people along through the process. Or simply as a way to stay in touch and top of mind. ABM is where your marketing automation investments can really start to pay off.

For your website:

  • Personalize your landing pages so the contacts inside your target accounts feel like you know who they are.

7. Measure and refine as you go.

Here’s the thing with content marketing: You’re never really done. The happier side of that is: you’re always improving. This year’s work should make last year’s work look stodgy. So spend some time every month or so to review your content (according to those goals and metrics you defined before) and assess if your strategy needs any changes.

Conclusion

Content can be, and should be, a core element of account-based marketing. It can warm up targets before sales steps in, and it can help existing clients use your products and services better. Used properly, content can shorten the sales cycle, too.

It can even free up some time for your already-taxed sales team. Just be sure to bring them in early, and keep them involved throughout the content development process. In ABM, the sales team’s expertise matters most.

What do you think?

Are you using account-based marketing yet? Is your content supporting your ABM goals? Tell us how it’s going for you in the comments.