There’s something kind of cool happening in marketing right now.
Actually, there’s always something cool going on in the industry. But as you might’ve recently heard, people are paying a lot of attention to something called account-based marketing (ABM). In fact, more than 60% of companies plan to launch an ABM-based campaign in the next year.
And yet, it seems like account-based marketing is still a fairly new concept to many people. A big part of that has to do with a lagging alignment between marketing and sales within many organizations — while this number is almost double what it was four years ago, still just 22% of companies consider their sales and marketing departments well aligned around the same goals.
But account-based marketing — and its success — is somewhat rooted in that very alignment between marketing and sales. And as you’ll see, it’s highly useable, if you know where to begin. That’s why we’re here to help.
What is account-based marketing?
Account-based marketing (ABM) is a highly focused business strategy in which a marketing team treats an individual prospect or customer like its very own market. The marketing team can create content, events, and entire campaigns dedicated to the people associated with that account, rather than the industry as a whole.
In the above context, ABM really just what it sounds like — marketing that’s based on a specific customer, existing or prospective. It’s a market of one. This practice is typically done by enterprise-level sales organizations, and is most beneficial to business-to-business (B2B) efforts.
Why is ABM so critical to B2B? Well, ABM is a particularly useful for organizations with multiple buyers or stakeholders. Part of its goal, says Sam Balter, a senior marketing manager at HubSpot, “is to address the needs of an organization by connecting with all of the stakeholders within it. That’s one reason why it works so well in B2B — oftentimes you have to work with five or more stakeholders in a given sale.”
That might seem a little tricky — especially, says HubSpot’s Senior Product Marketing Team Manager Jeff Russo, “from an execution standpoint.”
Benefits of Account-Based Marketing
Account-based marketing shouldn’t take the place of your industry-level marketing practices. You should necessarily use ABM as a supplement to your larger digital strategy.
As Balter alluded to in the above section, ABM is particularly helpful when trying to reach multiple buyers at the same company — or perhaps your largest accounts, which are more likely to pose more business opportunities inside the organization that you haven’t tapped yet. When this is your goal, ABM has several benefits:
1. It’s personalized to your audience.
Account-based marketing is dedicated to decision-makers all within the same organization. Therefore, it ensures your marketing campaigns are designed to resonate with these specific people.
It can be hard for marketing campaigns that cater to a wide audience to make each reader, viewer, or user feel that their individual needs are being met. And that’s okay; the bigger your audience, the more types of people you’re trying to help. ABM doesn’t give you a large audience to generate leads from, but in exchange, it allows you to personalize all of your messaging and content to an intimate cohort of people.
2. It’s easier to see potential return on investment.
One of the biggest challenges marketing departments face is attribution — being able to associate certain marketing campaigns with new revenue. But when you’re marketing to buyers, for a business you already have a relationship with, it’s much easier to attribute your marketing campaigns to the revenue it led to.
Let’s say, for example, you spent $500 on an industry-level marketing campaign for three months targeting small businesses in the greater Boston area. At the end of that three months, the sales department closed on eight new accounts, each worth $1,000, and two of them are businesses based in Boston.
Now, it stands to reason your $500 marketing campaign helped generate $2,000 in new business, but without the right attribution reports, there’s no way to know for sure. In ABM, you know exactly where your marketing dollars are going and the money you stand to gain at the end of the campaign. This gives the business more confidence in your marketing efforts, and can ultimately encourage them to provide you with more resources to do what you do best.
3. You spend less time on marketing campaigns that don’t yield new business.
ABM doesn’t just make sure all your marketing efforts have a return on investment; it also makes sure you’re not spending too much time or too many resources on projects with no clear business value.
By spending some of your marketing budget on ABM, you make your entire department more stable in case you have a slow quarter or seasonal decline in engagement from your wider audience. In other words, ABM is like an insurance policy for your marketing team.
4. It shortens the sales cycle.
A (huge) part of marketing is lead generation, and part of lead generation is handing sales some leads that simply won’t turn into customers. It’s up to the sales team to perform the prospecting that eliminates these leads from their pipeline when they don’t respond to their outreach. In ABM, salespeople don’t deal with this nearly as often.
ABM generates more qualified leads because the business is more likely to have folks who want to hear from you. This allows sales staff to cut back on the time they spend grooming leads that won’t become customers, and spend more time on the ones that will — shortening the time between first phone call and closed sale.
5. It fortifies your relationship with existing clients.
According to Small Business Trends, the average American business loses 15% of its customers each year. Customer retention is critically important to a business’s growth, and while your customer service team is at the forefront of this effort, ABM helps your marketing and sales teams become an equal part of it.
ABM might not expand your business with a particular client, but it does strengthen your relationship with this client. By networking with more people across the business, and delivering content that’s laser-focused on their needs, you can increase the chances that customer will renew their contract at the end of the year.
6. It easily aligns your sales and marketing teams.
The tension between sales and marketing teams is a tale as old as time: Sales wants better leads, and marketing wants more visibility to the customer so they can improve their strategy. With ABM, both sales and marketing are inherently aligned. Marketing knows exactly whom they’re marketing to, and sales gets the leads they hope for.
Account-based marketing really boils down to six essential steps, which we’ll flesh out and tie back to inbound marketing — because while they’re two different concepts, they can truly complement each other.
Where Account-Based Marketing & Inbound Marketing Meet
Inbound marketing and ABM are, on the surface, a bit different in theory:
- Inbound marketing primarily focuses on creating great content to bring prospects to you.
- ABM puts the emphasis on individual prospects or existing accounts.
But they absolutely complement each other — in fact, we use them in tandem here at HubSpot. “Our sales team uses ABM and inbound marketing,” Balter explains. “They have a set list of target accounts, and use inbound marketing leads to supplement those accounts.”
You might notice that many of the above-outlined steps incorporate pieces of inbound marketing principles. And really, says Balter, that’s how ABM can be used “to build better relationships with target accounts.”
These days, customers really don’t enjoy feeling like they’re being sold to. That’s why it’s crucial that your marketing — even when account-based — provides value, and doesn’t simply push products down people’s throats. Emails, websites, and calls-to-action all have to be personalized for each target, especially when you’re trying to aid their discovery of your brand.
So let’s break it down. With a little help from HubSpot’s team of ABM experts — Sam Balter from above, Product Marketing Manager Ari Plaut, and Head of Corporate Sales Ryan Spillane — we’ll illustrate the steps you can take to implement and execute ABM.
6 Account-Based Marketing Tactics for Launching a Campaign
1. Identify your target.
Finding your target audience is a fundamental piece of successful marketing. Remember, we’re dealing with organizations here, not people — so don’t get this step confused with developing personas.
Rather, identifying your target accounts should be a collaborative effort between marketing and sales, since it’ll require data from both areas — firmographic data, which consists of things like industry, company size, location, and annual revenue, as well as strategic factors, like market influence, likelihood of repeat purchase, and expected profit margin.
While market research is a very valuable tool in determining this list, some of it is qualitative — that is the kind of information you’re able to contribute using intuition and experience.
2. Research your accounts.
Once you determine who your targets are, they goal is to treat those companies like big, organization-level personas. Remember — we’re not trying to develop personas for individual people here. However, it can help to have that detailed information and representation of your ideal business customers.
Being familiar with elements like the company structure and who the critical players are can, in turn, dictate how you convey your product or service to those targets, especially if you know who the decision-makers and influencers are. Sometimes, this information might already exist in-house; perhaps someone on your team previously researched this target, but didn’t complete the ABM process of reaching it the right way.
But if you don’t already have that information on hand, manual research might be required to get it. We find that LinkedIn is an excellent way to uncover that data with a fairly simple advanced search.
Let’s say someone was trying to figure out who the staff writers are on the HubSpot Marketing blog. Start by opening up LinkedIn and performing an advanced people search, as shown below.
Once you’ve customized your search using the groups of options, shown above, enter the name of your target the “Company” field in the bottom-lefthand group. If you’re trying to find out who fills a certain role within the organization, put that in the “Title” field.
As you browse the results that appear, you can refine your search using the dropdown menus shown below.
3. Create your content.
Now that you’ve got the names of the key players within each account, you’ll want to create new content for them. That content should speak not only to the pain points of those specific employees, but more to those specific businesses.
Remember — at risk of sounding like a broken record — the ABM strategy is less focused on individual personas, and more on casting a wide net for new business. For that reason, this content should be focused on the single deals you’d like to make with each specific organization.
With this step, you might start to see how ABM and inbound marketing are able to work together, as it’s clear that quality, compelling content plays a role in reaching your account-based targets.
Not sure where to start? Check out this guide to creating useful content.
4. Choose your channels.
Even with the best content to reach your accounts, it won’t be very effective if you don’t use the right channels to promote it. It’s important to choose the right channels to deliver it, based on what’s most effective for a given organization or role.
Here’s where it might be helpful to know where the specific people within each target “live” online. The Pew Research Center Demographics of Social Media Users does an excellent job of profiling the users of five major social media platforms — Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter. That should shed some light on which channels the people within each account are mostly likely using, and how they consume the content you’re custom-creating for each of them.
5. Run your campaign.
At this point, you’ve selected your targets, built out the specifics of their respective compositions, created content, and selected the channels you’ll use to promote it. Time to execute! Right? Well, kind of.
Running your campaign will require some care. You’ll have to coordinate your messaging across the various channels — you don’t want to send different signals to the same person within a target account.
That’s a big problem for many B2B marketers, according to Demandbase: “Unlike consumer marketers who have millions of potential customers,” reads its Account-Based Marketing: Fundamentals Every B2B Marketer Must Know report, “B2B marketers have a limited number of potential buyers.”
Perhaps that’s why, according to the same report, 82% of visitors to B2B sites aren’t even actual prospects. So choose and leverage the right channels properly — to target the right accounts, and to make sure the messaging isn’t repetitive or conflicting.
6. Measure your results.
A surprising number of CMOs out there have trouble proving the ROI of their marketing efforts — 67% of them, in fact. Every campaign needs to have its results measured properly, especially with methodologies that are somewhat new.
Ask the right questions when you’re measuring the results of an ABM campaign. According to our aforementioned team of experts, these might include:
- Are we growing our list of known individuals within the target account?
- Have there been any changes to the way these accounts are engaging with our brand and its content?
- How much revenue have we generated from these target accounts?
There are also some tools available to help evaluate your marketing ROI. This guide, for example, explains how to measure your marketing campaigns using the HubSpot Sources Report.
When it’s broken down into a few steps, account-based marketing seems a bit less overwhelming. In fact, as we covered, it’s not so different from inbound marketing, and works quite well with some of the inbound principles that we hold so near and dear.
Just like we said above — find those targets. Then, with inbound marketing, help them find you.