Account-based marketing (ABM) is one of the most popular strategies used by B2B marketers. Unlike B2C firms with products that often have broad appeal, B2B firms target much smaller markets. And even in those markets, only a select number of businesses have the need, budget, and headcount that will lead to a successful relationship.
By focusing their efforts on select accounts that are well positioned to succeed, B2B firms will find an audience of potential buyers with their efforts and see better return on their marketing investment.
That’s the short story behind the appeal of ABM. The longer story goes something like this.
B2B organizations have long been more dependent on sales teams than B2C companies. And B2B sellers like to focus on relationship building, both with existing accounts and with new prospects. But B2B sellers can only manage and build meaningful relationships with so many accounts. That means they are best served by focusing their efforts on the accounts with the most potential revenue and room for growth.
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Marketing, as it’s traditionally been practiced in B2C organizations, rarely targeted prospects at this level. It used information like the demographic data of media outlets to put messages where people likely to be a customer spent their time.
In B2B, these broad marketing strategies lacked meaningful data to measure their effectiveness. They also failed to align with sales outreach, which was focused on a specific group of accounts the sales team was likely to win.
This concept of sales-marketing alignment became popular because the two teams were rarely collaborating effectively on their efforts. Fortunately for many vendors, the dawn of the digital age opened up new channels where marketers could engage with prospects. It also led to the collection and analysis of more data, which helped better target who received messages and engaged with content pieces and websites.
Better data and better targeting capabilities allow marketing and sales to operate in a similar manner. Marketing and sales can work together to develop a list of the target accounts and turn the prospects at those organizations into customers.
Two Approaches to Account-Based Marketing
There are two approaches to ABM commonly used in B2B marketing. Which approach your marketing team uses depends on your goals. And many marketing teams employ both approaches.
In one-to-one ABM, the marketing efforts are tailored to each individual account. If you’re trying to win the business of ACME Corp., for example, your one-to-one ABM program will target only the people you want to reach at ACME Corp. Your campaign will rely on customization and personalization built on the knowledge your team has of ACME Corp., including its goals, challenges, and pain points.
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The other way to approach ABM is with a one-to-many approach. The one-to-many approach is more scalable than one-to-one because it groups companies together by similar characteristics. If, for example, a number of companies in the financial services sector will need to comply with a new regulation, your team can launch a one-to-many ABM campaign that discusses how your products can help them meet the compliance deadline.
Differences Between One-to-One and One-to-Many ABM Strategies
Understanding the major differences between one-to-one and one-to-many ABM will help you determine which approach is right for your team and which will better help you meet your goals.
The most obvious difference between the two approaches is the level of personalization. One-to-one ABM treats each target account as unique. That requires collecting the information for personalization and then integrating the data into the tactics.
With one-to-many ABM, one message can be rolled out to a number of different companies. Once you understand what they have in common, you can build a message that resonates with several organizations.
That brings us to scalability. In our example above, all of the target accounts in the financial services sector can be targeted with messaging about the compliance deadline. The effort it takes to gather information and build bespoke campaigns for one-to-one ABM campaigns presents a more significant challenge. And that’s why one-to-one campaigns should be reserved for a small number of high-end accounts where the return is likely to surpass the investment.
It’s clear by this point that the two approaches to ABM have very different resource requirements. One-to-one ABM is resource-intensive, while one-to-many ABM is less so. The size of your marketing team will likely limit your capacity to run one-to-one ABM programs.
One-to-one ABM campaigns are also more complex. Gathering the type of data to deliver deeply personalized messages to key stakeholders is hard work. You’ll need to leverage personal relationships on the sales side to understand how the decision makers think, how decisions are made, and what concepts will resonate. You’ll also need to stay abreast of changes on the team at your key accounts so your one-to-one ABM messaging can evolve as people come and go.
Many marketing organizations deploy both account-based marketing and more traditional marketing tactics. This can also present challenges, especially if the team is short on resources. Traditional marketing tactics and ABM need to work together to be effective.
Brand marketing is one area where ABM and more traditional tactics will meet. In ABM, the brand voice, look, and style should remain consistent with other marketing efforts, even though the audience is more segmented. Prospects and customers will be exposed to both ABM and traditional tactics along their buying journey. Consistency in brand and voice will ensure the audience clearly understands where the message originates.
5 ABM Challenges Marketers Need to Overcome
When revenue teams collaborate on ABM efforts they increase the efficiency of their marketing efforts. They have more meaningful conversations with prospects. They are more likely to build lasting, successful relationships with customers because the companies included among the target accounts are likely to be a good fit for the solution.
Bringing all of the ingredients for a successful ABM strategy together will present challenges for even the most experienced B2B marketers. Here are five challenges marketers need to overcome to build a successful ABM strategy.
Identifying the right accounts
One of the early goals of ABM was to better align sales and marketing around a list of target accounts. At the very least ABM meant both sales and marketing were targeting the same people with their efforts.
While collaboration with sales is important to building a successful target account list, it’s not as simple as sales handing over a “wish list” of accounts. The target account list should consist of companies your team is most likely to win, and which are most likely to see success once they become customers.
You can identify your target accounts, in part, by looking at the data on your current customers. If you have a record of success with businesses with a certain amount of revenue or employee headcount, for example, you can start to develop a corporate persona for businesses to include on your target account list.
Creating relevant and personalized content
If you’re going to go through the exercise of identifying the target accounts best positioned to succeed as your customers in the long term, don’t blow it when it comes to the content assets.
Each ABM program should have a content strategy in place that includes a plan for relevant, personalized content that speaks to the group of accounts (in one-to-many ABM) or specific account (in one-to-one ABM). The content strategy should include the number of content pieces, the formats, how each piece will be used, and how each piece can be re-used and atomized to make the most of your content investment.
Scaling personalized content is always a challenge, but you don’t need to create unique pieces for every use case. In a one-to-one ABM campaign, you’re likely to identify significant overlap in your messaging to different target accounts. When this is the case, build out your content, then apply the personalization where you need it.
Better alignment of sales and marketing teams was one of the original goals of account-based marketing. Whether it was successful in that regard depends on how misaligned the two teams were to begin with.
It’s true that when both teams are working together to target the same accounts they are more focused and should be more efficient in their efforts. But it’s also true that there will remain opportunities for the two sides to disagree.
Foremost among these opportunities is the selection of target accounts. But disagreements around messaging and tactics are also possible. The good news is that today, more than ever, sales and marketing (along with customer success) are aligned around revenue, and are often part of the revenue organization.
Building an ABM program from scratch – identifying accounts, creating content, and more – takes time. Winning revenue from the efforts takes even longer in many cases. This presents a problem for B2B marketers, who are often under pressure to deliver short-term results.
Complex sales cycles in the B2B space make it difficult to attribute revenue to specific marketing efforts. Measuring the success of account-based marketing requires tracking a variety of metrics, including account engagement and penetration, conversion rates, sales qualified opportunities, and (finally) revenue.
Scaling the program
ABM campaigns require significant time and effort. They also require collaboration and orchestration between teams and individuals.
Creating highly personalized content for a large number of accounts requires resources, including content creators and designers. The more accounts your program targets, the more resources you’ll require.
Fortunately, advances in content creation tools and artificial intelligence can help relieve some of the burden. As mentioned earlier, you may not need to create as many pieces of content if you can use tools to add the personalization where it’s needed. AI-powered tools for audio transcription and video editing can also help relieve the content creation burden. Data services will help you identify individuals at your accounts to include in your campaign and let you import them into your CRM or marketing automation system.
ABM: A Foundational Element of B2B Marketing
An ABM strategy makes so much sense for B2B marketers who understand their target market and audience, that it often permeates everything they do, including events, email marketing, and lead generation campaigns. As executives strive to better understand how marketing dollars are spent and the return on those investments, aligning with sales to target the right accounts is just good business practice.
Marketers who can overcome the account-based marketing challenges we explored here will find that ABM – when properly executed – is worth the effort. It’s a more efficient way of allocating your marketing resources and lets you personalize your message while simultaneously reaching a relevant audience.