John is the CEO of a corporation that specializes in software solutions for enterprises in the power and water industry. He’s also an avid football fan. One Sunday in October, while watching the game from his company’s stadium box seats, he sees an ad for one of his competitors on the Jumbotron. “Hmm. I wonder if I should buy that ad space. I’m here. Other leaders at my customer companies are probably here too.”
But does John really know how many prospects are sitting in the stadium? What’s the ROI on buying that ad real estate? How many relevant eyeballs would he get with this approach? Will the purchase influencers see it? How about the decision makers? Am I instead getting in front to the objectors and detractors? This is how a LOT of inbound marketing strategies work. Send it and see how many relevant people it hits. No data. Little or no predictive quality. It’s essentially a crap shoot.
But what if John knew where each of those key stakeholders was seated? If, instead of putting an ad on the Jumbotron, he delivered a personalized message and a bag of popcorn directly to their seat, “compliments of John’s company”, he’d know how many key stakeholders he reached. What would the engagement be? How about the projected conversion rate? What if that message was followed up by a visit and a handshake to introduce his customer liaison to each important prospect?
This simple Jumbotron example, albeit silly, exhibits the core difference between inbound marketing and account-based marketing. It’s marketing 101 applied with judicious use of a marketing sniper rifle instead of carpet bombing the entire marketplace hoping you hit something, or someone, who matters.
Most of account-based marketing (ABM) is just marketing fundamentals wrapped in an account-first approach. To get basic ABM started, pick the right accounts and go from there. But if most of the tactics remain the same, what’s new with ABM? Well, selecting accounts requires you to understand which account you should target, and we do that by diligent development of your ideal customer profile (ICP). This should go far beyond simple segments by company size and industry to explore what really makes an account highly closeable by your sales organization. What about accounts with very specific situational criteria? New CIO? Recent merger or acquisition? How about certain local geographies experiencing a different business climate than other areas of the country or globe?
In John’s case, his software is a slam dunk to integrate with a very popular analytics package in the water and power industry, so he’d want to add use of that analytics package as part of his ICP. The key for ABM is to focus on accounts that you can close far more easily, so you don’t waste time, energy and resources on pursuing prospects that will be much more difficult to make customers. The better you understand your ICP, the better your ABM results will be.
At this point you should be able to infer the second difference…research. To find accounts that match your ICP takes more research than your average batch and blast campaign. You may need new data sources, staff focused on research and new tools to process and catalog account data. You’ll also want to ensure access to data and tools that identify the key people in each account…the decision-making unit (DMU). In complex IT sales, for example, there may be 17 people who influence the buying decision in some way. The ABM approach means we market to ALL of them according to their role and responsibilities in the process. So, researching who they are is a critical element of ABM.
The last major change ABM brings to most practitioners is a significant enhancement of messaging. The idea is to do the opposite of John’s Jumbotron ad. Instead of showing a one-size-fits all message typical in brand marketing campaigns, we highly segment and customize the message for each member of the DMU in an account. In this way we address everyone’s needs, pain points, challenges, etc. at an account that creates account-wide awareness, engagement, reputation, and hopefully trust and demand. Essentially, you make a highly closeable account even more closeable.
If you said this sounds like playing the long game, you’d be right. ABM is intended to make customized marketing scalable. We recommend leaders look at investing in ABM like they would investing in more production equipment. It takes upfront spending, installation, setup, optimization and maintenance but it pays dividends, repeatable over time, that increase your business’s predictable output. And like production equipment that costs money, ABM is actually a revenue source.
Eventually, even investments in growth can induce other changes. Many organizations end up making changes to enhance the output. For production, you might add new staff to operate equipment, put in predictive analytics for maintenance, or add shipping logistics tools for the increased output. With ABM, many organization make structural changes to marketing and sales groups to improve collaboration and integration. Reporting and measurement, supported by more a more capable marketing tech stack, also accompany successful ABM programs in most cases. But this starts getting into the 201 and 301 level evolutions for your marketing. In the near term, we recommend planning out the ABM road map but get started with a few accounts and see where that road takes you.