Account-based marketing (ABM) is a hot topic for B2B marketers. According to Marketo, ABM is an alternative B2B strategy that concentrates sales and marketing resources on a clearly defined set of target accounts within a market and employs personalized campaigns designed to resonate with each account. About 27 percent of respondents to a recent SiriusDecisions survey stated they were devoting up to 30 percent of their total marketing budgets to ABM. That’s up from just 19 percent in 2015.
The rising interest in ABM is not surprising: When used correctly, it can “help grow revenue, strengthen connections between marketing and sales, and enhance interactions with customers and prospects,” according to Forrester Research. Prateek Panda, a B2B marketing expert and the co-founder and CMO of Appknox, talks about what constitutes ABM and tips on how to set up a successful ABM campaign.
Economic Times (ET): Is ABM a new idea? Why is the adoption still low?
Prateek Panda (PP): As a concept, sales teams have always been doing account-based selling. Among marketers, the approach has remained mostly unknown until very recently the new-age marketing technologies have made it possible to take up things like account-based marketing at scale.
Adoption is still pretty low because of the lack of understanding about account-based marketing. Most marketers still don’t understand it and do not know how to execute an ABM plan. Additionally, ABM isn’t exclusively a marketing effort. You require participation and support from the entire organization – sales, marketing, finance and leadership.
The fact that it is a complex process to start and scale, there have been few takers so far. But as more knowledge gets shared around, more and more marketers will see the benefit of ABM and will slowly start taking the effort to run account-based marketing campaigns in their companies.
ET: How do you ensure high ROI through ABM campaigns?
PP: In order to achieve success, it is important to plan your ABM strategy well. What is the purpose of the campaign, is there sales-marketing alignment, etc. will help determine if the campaign will work or not.
Apart from that, once you do get started, make sure you spend enough time selecting the right target accounts. Detailed research into the accounts and specific contacts will help you know more about the organization as well as key stakeholders. Finally, create personalized resources and messaging for your campaigns which will help you get visibility in front of the correct audience and eventually drive better conversion.
ET: How do you scale ABM once it is launched?
PP: Personalization with scalability – that’s what you want to achieve as a marketer working on an ABM strategy. First, speak with sales to get an idea about the top target accounts, speak with existing customers to discover problem statements and solutions that you’ve already been solving successfully. Try applying similar messaging to the target accounts you are now focused on. Without a previously established baseline, I’d recommend going after a relatively small goal, see how it goes and plan ahead accordingly. At Appknox, initially our goal was to get only 10 positive responses in a month, and create at least 5 solid sales opportunities. Even if we had one closure each month, considering what we were spending to run the campaign and the size of our annual contracts, we would call it a success.
So, if you are targeting 100 accounts, look at the top 10, figure what would work for them, try to open up those conversations and then replicate the success for a larger audience.
ET: What tips would you give to startups who feel their sales and marketing functions aren’t aligned as well as they should be?
PP: This happens to everyone. As founders, don’t be upset that your sales and marketing teams aren’t getting along well with each other. The fact that you realize there is a problem is already half the work done. This is a leadership problem though. The head of sales and marketing both need to sit together and create a plan that is aligned in terms of goals and KPIs. When we started with ABM, the goals for the marketing team changed from measuring mainly MQLs to seeing the entire journey from leads to MQLs to SQLs to Opportunities and finally winning a Customer.
End of the day, both sales and marketing are focused on closing more customers and that’s the alignment you need between both these teams. Actually. I always say Account Based Marketing is more of a sales campaign than a marketing one and hence, much of the sales KPIs come into play here even for marketing teams.
ET: What would be the first steps you would recommend to a business looking to transition away from the legacy cold approach?
PP: Please stop cold calling, and that includes the robo calls that are going around these days. I always like to put myself in the shoes of the customer. Would I really want to discuss a complex business solution through a cold call? Cold calls are okay if you are looking to invite someone to an industry specific event, something that’ll give them a lot of insights, etc. I think in today’s date when everyone wants to do their research before a purchase it’s important to respect the buyer’s decision-making process and try not to bug them with cold calls.
Again, this needs to come from the leadership. Also, cold calling is a tough thing to do. So, no cold calling doesn’t mean we stop doing difficult things. We just need to be smarter considering the times we are in. Treat marketing initiatives as sales tools and introduce new innovative methods but with continued alignment.
As we do more social selling, it is important to time your sales pitch well. My LinkedIn mailbox is filled with so much spam each day it is annoying. People connect with you and pitch their product/service right away. I don’t even bother replying to some of these. Rather, once you make a successful connection with a target account, try getting to know them better socially. See how you can contribute more knowledge and insights for them through the platform. Eventually make a pitch, but do a soft sell to start with. Hard sells on such platforms mostly head to a dead end even before they start.
ET: How to ensure high engagement and conversion in ABM?
PP: I would say this is highly dependent on how well you pick your target accounts, how well you research them, and how well you create solution collaterals for them. For example, most of our industry white papers address a particular real-world problem that the contacts at our target accounts face every day. We find relevant channels to get their attention and serve them with this solution approach resulting in much higher engagement and conversation rate. When you think you are ready to scale this up, try things like lookalike audiences based on your initial list and you will continue to see almost similar conversion rates and engagement rates as your initial experiment.