Today’s marketers have a dazzling array of skills, and have become experts in fields and platforms as diverse as analytics, social and digital. Technology has brought a huge degree of sophistication to marketing, but it has also made the role of the marketer incredibly formulaic, limiting the roles of science and intuition that make marketing such a rewarding field to work in.
As a discipline, account-based marketing (ABM) is a world away from today’s established marketing practices. It takes traditional marketing principles of creativity, initiative and audience engagement (once widely-accepted but now sadly neglected), and marries them with the capabilities afforded by new technology.
Account-based marketing is about people, not personas; accounts, not markets. Rather than focusing on the broadcast method, ABM is a highly-targeted and real-time technique of influencing individual “markets of one”.
There is no typical day in the life of an account-based marketer. If there were, we probably wouldn’t be doing our job right - and life would be far duller!
But while every day is different, we can look at the typical tasks that account-based marketers will generally undertake as they design, deliver and measure a successful ABM campaign. And in doing so, we hope to show how we can all breathe new life into an industry that is at risk of surrendering too much initiative to technology.
So, with that in mind, let's explore the main tasks an account-based marketer could expect to undertake.
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Building a strategy
Marketing has always been a numbers game. By distributing a message or an image as widely as possible, there is always a decent chance that it will reach and influence the right person. And while technology has made it possible to target individuals based on their interests, behaviours and location, marketers still ultimately rely on (and measure by) volume and reach.
Account-based marketing is different: it is highly selective in its choice of whom to target and how. In its own way, ABM is a numbers game too - it focuses on which key accounts can deliver the biggest and longest-term value for any investment.
Account-based marketers will be expected to interrogate their existing customer base to profile ideal candidates.
Strategy and selection forms the first and most important step of any campaign. Therefore, account-based marketers will be expected to interrogate their existing customer base to profile ideal candidates for ABM, looking at the relationships they want to foster or grow, and which will bring the greatest returns.
They would typically analyse the top 20% of customers to gather intelligence on characteristics such as industry, size and location, and then examine the teams and individuals within these organisations who are responsible for purchasing decisions.
It’s important to remember that ABM is not a one-size-fits-all prescriptive process, which is why so much work goes into examining the existing relationships with accounts, the key people, and the particular issues affecting that company or industry. Only then can we embark on crafting a unique, compelling campaign to influence them.
Technology-first marketing relies on establishing consumers’ interests and behaviour to target and tailor their campaigns. But even with all the tools in the modern marketer’s armoury, the individual remains a cypher: a faceless entity, defined and understood only by their data points, rather than a real person or business - with all the complexity that entails.
With ABM, insight informs everything the marketer does. It helps them identify who they'll engage with and what their needs and concerns are; it shapes the propositions the marketer puts forward, and enables them to tailor their messaging.
Much of the account-based marketers day-to-day work involves detailed research.
Much of the account-based marketers day-to-day work involves detailed research, both internally and externally, enabling them to understand their clients, their customers, their markets, and the people who make the purchasing decision. Every client is different, but research will encompass myriad factors including market intelligence, company values and objectives, annual reports, social media sentiment, purchasing history, LinkedIn profiles and many more.
This insight isn’t just used to determine how and to whom the marketer communicates, but also to understand the real needs of a business. This means the marketing team can work with sales to deliver meaningful solutions to real business problems, rather than push a particular set of products - the secret behind every great, long-term relationship.
People love a good ad: one that combines great creative with a powerful message. But people know the difference between a carefully crafted, personalised and targeted communication and one generic and indiscriminately broadcast.
So when we talk about “content” in ABM, it goes much further than creative and messaging (important though they are). Account-based marketing targets real people not mass audiences, and its aim is to build relationship.
This naturally informs the content that ABM practitioners create, so their focus is on creating narratives that enable them to have two-way conversations with people; one that focuses as much on the audience’s needs as it does on the marketer’s propositions.
Research by IDG shows that purchasing stakeholders are 40% more likely to buy from a supplier whose content is tailored to a specific need.
This is where the hard research work - the gathering of insight - is put to use, by creating narratives that are tailored to each person we want to influence and for their preferred channel of communication, from direct mail to email, LinkedIn and Twitter posts to web landing pages, long-form whitepapers to infographics and blogs.
If this sounds like an awful lot of work, you’d be right - but it’s well worth it. Research by IDG shows that purchasing stakeholders are 40% more likely to buy from a supplier whose content is tailored to a specific need, compared to generic marketing “content”.
Driving real engagement from clients
Engagement is a much-abused word in the world of marketing; often, it can entail nothing more than someone viewing or hovering over an ad. With ABM, on the other hand, everything is geared towards meaningful, measurable engagement, and it’s what makes the account-based approach so powerful - and so accountable
The difference with ABM is that engagement is not just a measurement of success, but a clearly-defined part of the process itself. Engagement should take place at every stage of the funnel, so it takes many forms.
Take the example of a business that’s undergoing a digital transformation. Engagement could involve everything from a CIO commenting on a LinkedIn post or downloading a relevant whitepaper, to a full-scale workshop convened to discuss the business’ needs and its transformation strategy.
Because engagement is the goal of each stage of the relationship, it means it’s easy to set success metrics for ABM activity. These range from new relationships, increased reputation (as measured by greater awareness of your product portfolio or an uplift in RFPs and proactive bids) and, of course, revenue metrics such as accelerated pipeline speed and value.
This complex, multifaceted and always-individualised process is what makes the daily life of ABM so rich and so interesting, but it is the engagement and the results that make it rewarding. Research shows that 84% of marketers say that ABM delivers higher ROI than any other approach, and I hope that, having seen the work that goes into building a campaign, you’ll understand why it’s so successful.
Alisha Lyndon is CEO of MomentumABM.