Account Based Marketing is not a new idea, though it has become trendy in the past five or six years, as companies realized that focusing on large accounts requires a different approach from traditional demand generation. The idea of selecting and targeting high-value prospects and supporting key sales representatives with appropriately customized communications has always had a place in B2B marketing, though it was not referred to as Account Based Marketing until the mid-2000s.
But while today’s ABM is considerably more sophisticated than the programs we implemented decades ago, the lessons we learned from our successes and speed bumps do still apply today.
Lesson 1. Engage top management early and often.
Programs like ABM that focus on large accounts require a different and longer-term commitment from management than traditional demand-gen programs. This is because it usually takes longer to convert large prospects into revenue, which means that the payback (ROI) is hard to identify until you start to write proposals to your leads—something that may not even take place in the first year of the program.
The reasons for the importance of this step are clear: Chief Marketing Officer tenure is down to 40 months—the lowest on record, according to Spencer Stuart’s study released in April 2021. At the same time, Chief Executive Officer tenure is at its highest point (80 months). So, if your program doesn’t have approval at the highest level, it can get caught up in politics. In our experience, Account Based Marketing always pays off, given enough time to calculate its impact.
Marketing to management by publishing your ABM Playbook, making periodic reminders of your progress, and celebrating your wins all contribute to the success of your ABM program.
Lesson 2. Educate and motivate your sales force.
Not every salesperson can effectively call on your dream accounts, your largest accounts. Your company often needs to be represented at multiple layers of management, so your sales team needs to face off, not only with users and decision makers at your prospect accounts, but also their management. Some salespeople were born to this role, while others need to be trained to be comfortable. Sales incentives can help make it worthwhile. Consider an incentive program that rewards engagement as well as the more typical KPIs of pure numbers.
Lesson 3. Test, test, test!
No matter what success you have had with your traditional demand-generation efforts, Account Based Marketing may require different content, different offers, a different cadence, a different mix of media. And because your quantities are small, your analysis of test results may have to depend less on statistical analysis and more on anecdotal feedback from multiple sources as you fine-tune your program. In one recent program—against intuition—we switched our main prospecting offer from information content to a demo, and doubled our success overnight. Testing keeps your program fresh while it provides constant feedback to help fine-tune your results.
Lesson 4. Keep your pilot simple.
ABM is easy to complicate, and as such it can chew up resources that get in the way of progress. You do need a critical mass of content for each functional role at each stage of the buying continuum, but you can build your content library over time. As the program moves forward, you can often repurpose existing content by customizing and personalizing it for your ABM accounts. When you have some feedback on engagement, you can add to your content library over time. You don’t have to have a complete portfolio of content from day one.
Lesson 5. Market from the top down as well as from the bottom up.
With large accounts, it often makes sense to market both to your prospects’ senior management as well as to your prospects’ user bases. An important part of ABM is to create a dialog about your solutions among your top prospects. If you can get management and users talking about you, it improves your chances of making it to the consideration set. When you become aware of this type of intracompany activity, you’ll know your ABM program is really beginning to heat up!
These “Lessons Learned” are the result of Verdi’s decade-plus of experience marketing to large accounts—since the early days before it was called Account Based Marketing. Then we called it one-to-one marketing, preferred account marketing, high-value prospecting, all with the same goals and with much success. Earmarking resources for prospecting among your dream accounts is not a new idea—but with a solid plan, a well-researched list of prospects, and sophisticated testing and analysis of all resources (blogging; video; social media; and email integrated with more traditional media, telemarketing, and direct mail as appropriate), our results have proven that these programs can be even more effective than ever.