Account Based Marketing & The Hype
Some tactics, some opinions, and mostly reflections
Note: this essay was first written on Nov 11th, 2016. There were some pending edits that I never got to. But I want to put it out there as is for now.
Title edited based on early results on a headline A/B test via Verst
New preamble: Some tactics, some opinions and mostly reflections on account based marketing. Every time I open LinkedIn, there’s someone asking or talking about ABM, so I put some thoughts (opinions perhaps) together. My perspective is; don’t jump into something because it’s new. Especially if you are a small/medium business or tech company.
Also, ABM isn’t really something you need specialized tools for? Or do you? Would love to hear your thoughts.
I get the need for Account vs Lead. A scenario that happened to me the other day, a new contact came in, from an existing account. Does the lead go to the person who owns the account or do I round robin the lead as I always do? In this case I round robined, and the new person who came in had a great conversation with our team and as a result, the entire ‘account’ moved forward. Had I given it to the same person who owned the account, would things have been different?
Sure, we’re all selling to companies at the end of the day, but companies aren’t uniform entities.
Marketers love buzzwords. It may even border on an unhealthy obsession. So the latest obsession with “ABM” — an acronym that stands for “account based marketing” — comes as no surprise. But the truth is, ABM isn’t as “new” a buzzword as we think it is. As a matter of fact, ABM has been around since the mid-1990s. It was the promise of the “one-to-one” sales approach, but did not come to fruition until a combination or technology, hype and culture shifted.
So, does this mean ABM is the new inbound? Perhaps. Not for your average SMB though. More on that later.
Where did Inbound even start and how did we get to ABM? Inbound was a term coined and owned by HubSpot, built on top of Permission Marketing that Seth Godin coined. ITSMA a consulting and research practice coined the term Account Based Marketing to address the gap between inbound marketing, which works great for SMB’s and the big complicated, buying committee type enterprise deals.
Yep, marketers love their buzzwords, Growth & related Hacking are topics for another post.
So does this mean Inbound Marketing is dead? Should I just stop doing what I am doing and cry into my pillow?
No. Here’s the deal, marketing still works wonders if you’re selling to small & medium businesses where the user & buyer are the same person & the price point of the solution is relatively low. In those cases you’re selling to a person or persons without any complicated approval, purchase, legal leg works involved.
When you’re selling to large multi-national companies (think Microsoft or HP) the process is complex, the user(s) and the buyer(s) are not the same people and in between the two is a fire pit of legal, purchasing and security teams. So you’re not selling to a ‘person’ but to structured groups of people with their our concerns & agendas. This is where ABM can help move things forward.
So what is ABM and how does it help you? In essence, with ABM you start narrow and targeted, instead of going wide and across. The reason that companies love ABM is the complexity of a business deals. That’s where the sales conversation comes in.
If you’re selling are a B2B SaaS company, there’s two ways you sell: One involves having a sales team, the other is a self-serve route.
Subscription products with over $5000 Annual Contract Value most likely have sales reps and sales teams actively trying to close deals. What Account Based Marketing does is, make the process more efficient. So the sales team is focused on high value accounts rather than chasing tire kickers that come through the door. Since the Sales team is ideally involved in the process from start to finish, they also feel more invested in the overall strategy and they can have inputs on which companies they want to sell to. Currently I work at Uberflip where our sales and marketing teams sit together to build a ideal customer list based on different parameters and build our ABM list.
If you have a freemium or lower priced product, it’s likely you don’t have sales teams that handle inbound leads or accounts. In that case ABM can work as well but in a different way. For example, in one of my previous roles, I worked at Organimi, a SaaS Organisational Chart tool for $99/year subscription. The product and process was completely self serve. We implemented a version of ABM by building Org Charts for strategic ‘brand name’ companies like Uber/Google etc in house and then sharing the link with people inside the company via social and email. This worked because 1) it was personalised 2) we did the work for them 3) they probably needed an Org Chart anyway. 60% of the time, they would pull out their credit card and purchase the subscription for the product without even talking to anyone of us.
How does ABM help me do my job better?
Back to ABM: If you’ve looked at the Marketing funnel — it starts wide at the top with different acquisition channels and paths. Once someone is in your system as a ‘lead’, they start trickling down the funnel — leads dropping off till at the very end, a handful of those leads from the top convert into revenue and customers.
With ABM — you start the opposite way. Instead of casting a wide-net to acquire as many leads as possible, you start very focused. As a team or as a company you sit down and figure out, which logos do you want on your website? Which companies would be great to have as customers and who are most likely to be customers. This not only helps the organisation as a whole focus on a common goal, but optimises your spend on sales & marketing and improves conversions down the funnel.
Figure out your ideal customer profile
Before jumping in and listing off accounts, figure out. Who it is that you’re selling to and who benefits most from your solution? Most design, product and marketing folks swear by buyer personas. I am personally looking more into the Jobs to Be Done Framework (Thanks @amritachandra for introducing me to it). Ideally you should already have a crystal clear idea of who your customers are, that is what marketing is based on. If not, now is the time to start building out those characteristics on both a company level and person level. Don’t just look at demographics but also other signals, such as:
Did they just raise a massive funding round?
Did they make a key hire in an executive role that you will be selling into?
Did they purchase a complimentary technology?
Company level Persona’s tie into the Account of ABM. If I am selling a Marketing Automation System for $1,000/month for example, I need to target companies of a reasonable size as a proxy for revenue and already having a good foundation of marketing in place (like content, blog, a conversion focused website etc) since automation will help scale marketing. To go further, if the tool is tailored towards certain industries and integrates or complements existing tools that helps narrow the persona into a more realistic picture.
Side note: If you are JUST starting out and have not reached product/market fit or still in the early stages of your business. Don’t do ABM. You don’t have enough of a baseline to work with. First get your marketing & sales engine running smoothly and get some customers under your belt. Something I will dive into in a future post.
When building a list of Accounts, you can look at various sources for data and signals:
Research from tools like CrunchBase, Mattermark or Datanyze. Based on your ideal customer profiles, you should have some parameters of what kind of companies your looking to target. This might be based on a variation of industry, revenues, employees and the market they’re in.
Current open opps from sales: if your sales team has some open opps in the pipeline, that can be a good starting point for an ABM Account List.
Brand name customers: ever wished you had someone’s logo on your customer section in your website. Throw them in the ABM List 🙂
Use predictive analytics tools to build a customer profile based on a list of existing customers.
Campaigns & ABM Programs:
Once you have a wish list of customers, it’s time to brainstorm how best to get someone’s attention. To make the process more manageable in case your account wish list is massive, break them down into tiers by the approximate ACV values. For the higher ACV, put in more effort to create personalised campaigns, with the hope being that time/cost will be offset by the revenue. For the lower ACV values, bundle them into a more generic ‘Industry’ or ‘Vertical’ type ABM Campaigns.
Marketers, this is your show. This is where your campaigns come in. But remember you’re not doing SEO or Paid Search for anyone searching for a solution to the problem your product solves. But your tailoring your message to a problem a specific company has that you’re trying to solve.
Quick side note: If you’re wondering how to set this up within your Salesforce or CRM instance, you are literally creating Accounts, within the accounts tab and trying to find as many relevant contacts you can within that account. You’re not touching the leads side of things.
Since your campaigns aren’t wide but rather deep. There’s a couple of things to look at here:
LinkedIn: a goldmine of data and social graphs. Within LinkedIn Advertising, you can target a minimum of 1,000 people. So if your desired company is large enough, you can specifically target people who work at that company. Keep in mind the ‘personalisation’ part so make sure the content + landing page from that add at least as the company’s name. Some examples of personalised offers can be ‘How Acme can solve problem ___ with ___ “ or make a video/webinar on the same topic. If you’re feeling a little courageous aka ballsy you can record your VP of Sales talking directly to decision maker in your target company. If you don’t know then go back to research.
Custom Audiences on Social: The great thing about social, especially Twitter is that it makes it easy to have conversations. There’s two ways to leverage social for ABM.
Use a tool like FollowerWonk to search Twitter bios for the company names you are looking to target. Use a tool like Kimono Labs (Update: they shut down — use this) to scrape and download the user names into excel. Upload the user names into your Twitter Ads account as custom audiences for your social ads.
Put the twitter names into a Twitter list and use Twitter to start conversations and monitor their tweets.
Direct Mail: Design print and snail mail some personalised post cards or swag bags for the account lists. Have a trackable short URL to invite them to a chat with your team about the problem they’re having or a webinar or a personalised microsite. Forget that it isn’t digital and think about how giddy you felt when you received a postcard in your mailbox.
City Tours/Events: Marketo, Unbounce, Salesforce all these folks put together smaller local events in cities called Road Shows. These are great events to invite open opportunities, prospects from your target account list. Getting in front of people is a great way to build rapport.
Competitive Reports: Everyone wants to know what their competitors are doing and what they’re using. Leverage the FOMO inherit to people to create competitive reports such as ‘Company X is leveraging our product (or technology) to generate Y. Learn more about how Z can help Company A to achieve stellar results’
Use a tool like Terminus or insightBase to run Display Ads to specific accounts. Full disclosure, I’ve used Terminus in the past and happy to chat about my experiences.
Operationally on your back-end, these are all ABM Campaigns. So instead of focusing on converting leads, you start at the Accounts and add relevant contacts and contact statuses into your CRM instance.
As they interact and respond to campaigns, attend events, signup for webinars or download ebooks and personalized offers, you can change the contact status on each to reflect the progression down the funnel.
You will have to rejig your Marketing Automation and other technology along with your mindset to look at things like Pipeline Velocity rather then Leads to MQL conversions because you’re trying to create an opportunity within an existing account rather then turn a visitor into a lead and hence forth.
Bring it all together:
Account Based Marketing needs to be aligned with Account Based Selling — which is why it is so important, not rush head first into ABM without thinking through the entire marketing/sales engine and get the whole company on board. You’ll have to train yourself and your team to stop looking at funnels with leads but look at accounts and funnel velocity and average deal size. Your sales team will need to stop chasing leads but rather be strategic about engaging with contacts within accounts.
Note: There’s a growing number of ‘ABM’ tools out there. I have used a handful, but a tool is a tool. It only helps you scale or automate something that is working, it cannot replace a well thought out strategy and process that actually works in the first place.