It’s the marketing strategy, stupid!
When it comes to marketing as a generic term, decision-makers are confronted with very different interpretations. Some see marketing as powerful images and beautiful words. That’s kind of right, but also pretty 80s. Others see marketing as a totally important department for organizing trade shows, events and giveaways. Welcome to the 90s! Still others see it as the way to align a company with the needs of the market and to develop it strategically with the help of target group-specific strategies and differentiated tactics. What a sentence! But it is important and correct. Because even if the sentence is almost indecently long: IT is the basis for the topic of this article: Account Based Marketing (ABM).
If you have never heard of target groups, buyer persona, value proposition, customer journey, omnichannel marketing and go to account, you probably won’t find much enlightening in this article except for technical jargon. Everyone else is cordially invited to follow us on this young path of targeted marketing.
The challenge: Everyone always wants the same thing from the same people.
Agencies and consultants know this: If you ask 10 clients what makes them special, 11 say “because we are so competent”, “because we are a partner” or similar exciting things. Surely something is missing? What is it that makes the company’s performance interesting for the customer? What is it that really sets the provider apart? Today, we see a buyer’s market in almost all industries: The offer is immense, the services comparable, the buyer has the choice between an unmanageable number of alternatives.
You have to be more precise. What moves the customer is quite simple: “What’s this all about?”, “How does it help?” and finally, “What’s in for me?”
Even if we don’t like to hear it: Our services, our products are more or less comparable. What counts is the added value we create from the customer’s point of view. One of the basic tasks of modern marketing is to think consistently about the customer journey from the customer’s point of view. Experienced marketers know what comes next: Inbound Marketing. But that is only one side of the coin.
ABM is like inbound marketing. Only upside down.
Inbound marketing in three words goes something like this: Focus, focus, focus. And in three sentences: A company addresses potential buyers via various channels, captures prospects with suitable offers and, after disclosing the address data, repeatedly submits targeted value-added offers, such as references, webinars, etc. Depending on the interaction along the customer journey, the “value” of the prospect increases, e.g. based on a suitable points system. Once the prospect has reached a defined threshold, he is handed over to Sales, which gratefully accepts a highly qualified opportunity. That’s it, right? That’s modern marketing!
Yes and no. Inbound marketing is particularly suitable when it comes to finding suitable candidates in a large market. That’s why we call it Go to Market. In fact, the question is what happens after we have acquired initial candidates in this phase. This is because a number of Must Wins are hidden in the mass of fresh prospects. Must Wins are Triple A prospects – they should be given full attention from here on.
The question is: What can marketing do to penetrate these accounts further? But also: Is this still a marketing task at all or should the sales colleagues take care of it? They shouldn’t (exclusively), because marketing can actually contribute a great deal to success here. To do this, however, we need to reverse our thinking
Before, it was about focusing, but now that we’ve opened the door to a company, it’s about getting our message to as many decision-makers as possible. Go to Market (Breadth) becomes Go to Account (Depth). Or (- branders like fancy names -) Account Based Marketing, ABM.
The nucleus of an ABM campaign is the infamous Must Win list. As described above, this can emerge from an inbound campaign, but it does not have to. Because such a list will also emerge at the end of targeted account planning in sales. Especially when penetrating enterprise accounts, with their complex organizational and decision-making structures, marketing and sales can jointly increase the win opportunity by means of account-based marketing – we will go into this in more detail later.
And while we’re on the subject of drivers for an ABM campaign, we should also take a closer look at markets with few potential customers or existing customers. Is inbound marketing the appropriate tactic here, or are we just shooting cannons at sparrows?
Let’s keep it simple: In account-based marketing, the message is broken down for defined target customers and prepared for those involved in decision-making, with ever more, ever more precise information and offers. In other words, Inbound Marketing Upside Down.
One thing the marketeer dislikes just as much as the CFO: coincidence.
Providing a large amount of diverse information in the hope that someone will read it is not for the strategic ABM approach. Budgets are always calculated with a sharp pencil and the question of the “impact” of a marketing organization is a beloved lived ritual in every ROB (Rhythm of the Business). That is why the professional also proceeds in a structured and efficient way in ABM. He does not shoot with the big gun at everything that moves in the target company, but focuses on the people who are important for the decision. He does not let the target audience decide what information to choose, but offers targeted material. This information is most likely different than what we use in inbound marketing.
It has to be that way: in inbound marketing, we make assumptions about what will move a large number of target customers; in account-based marketing, we research very specific target people, company goals, departmental challenges. Does this mean that EVERY decision-maker at the customer gets information designed specifically for them? It can, but it doesn’t have to. Experienced marketeers cluster the topics and look for promising gateways. But enough of marketing theory and (beautiful) marketing words. ABM in practice – is it possible, does it work and: what does it look like?
ABM means: Achieving a lot through a few.
Now it’s time to roll up your sleeves: in account-based marketing, everything revolves around the continuous playout of relevant and personalized content for the target persons in the target account. This happens over a longer period of time and includes all relevant touchpoints along the customer journey. Meaning what exactly? Let’s assume it’s an enterprise customer and let’s further assume the C-level decision makers are difficult if not impossible for sales to reach. Nevertheless, we can identify these people, for example, through social media research. Here we may also find initial posts that give us an impression of what the target persons stand for, what topics move them. If contacts are already present in the accounts, we can create an organizational chart of the buying center at the same time. These people can also be researched and analyzed. In practice, focal points then quickly become apparent, for example in the areas of technology, business management or human resources.
The task of the ABM is now to put all the information in relation to each other and to marry the communication of “classic” marketing with the targeted marketing in the account. This makes it much more differentiated, more pointed, and more catchy for the customer than in the normal external presentation. We know the protagonists and know at least a little about their media consumption. So we break down the communication to suitable messages in the respective channels, documents, multimedia content, etc. At the same time, the sales department receives individual battlecards for discussion with all the buyer personas.
Such an approach is strongly reminiscent of the way a dedicated key account team works and – in fact – it’s not all that different. Because this is also one of the characteristics of ABM – Marketing & Sales grow even closer together and work together to successfully win key customers.
So: All ABM, all good?
ABM is not suitable for every scenario. If you look at the ROI of ABM measures, you have to realize that it takes targeted account planning on the part of Sales to justify the effort. See above, a must win list is always the starting point of an ABM measure.
ABM is excellent for breaking down and sustainably developing customers with complex organizations or existing customers. However, this is only successful if, as shown, marketing and sales work together at eye level.
In our view, account-based marketing absolutely belongs in the toolbox of a modern, growth-oriented marketing organization that can do more than just produce beautiful words and powerful images. The latter is fun, of course, but, let’s face it – marketeers don’t just work for the gallery.