Is account-based marketing (ABM) the answer for B2B organizations that are struggling to reach buyers?
- Part 1: What is account-based marketing (ABM)?
- Part 2: Grow your business with ABM
- Part 3: Implementing an ABM approach
The Curiosity Report is a manifestation of one of treetree’s core values: curiosity. In this series, we tap current and prospective clients, partners and vendors to learn how they’re navigating the twists and turns of their industry, adapting to change and learning along the way.
Each volume aims to answer one big question we’re curious about.
WHAT HAS US CURIOUS TODAY?
In the Curiosity Report Vol 4., we dove into why and how marketing and sales teams should strive to reach internal alignment on processes, KPIs and goals. In volume 5, we wanted to explore what’s possible for B2B marketing and sales teams after alignment transforms them into an internal powerhouse. We also wanted to dig deeper into how to best reach today’s customers who own the buying process differently than ever before.
OUR BIG QUESTION
Is account-based marketing (ABM) the answer for B2B organizations that are struggling to reach buyers? If so, what’s the best chance of success with ABM?
We partnered with third-party research company PATH to conduct interviews with dozens of leading B2B marketing and sales experts to explore how they are reaching their customers.
Participants represented a range of industries, including distribution, professional services, banking, manufacturing, regional healthcare systems, global logistics, financial institutions, retail and real estate. This group of national and global brands, most of which have headquarters in Ohio, all have an inside and outside sales function with a variety of team sizes and annual revenue.
Account-based marketing, or ABM, is a marketing methodology that reaches prospects before they even enter the traditional sales funnel. ABM shifts the focus of your marketing strategy from generating many leads to nurturing key, targeted accounts. It provides a framework for your sales and marketing teams to personalize their efforts for the highest-impact, highest-return opportunities.
ABM requires marketing and sales teams to align to create content that is intelligent, compelling and valuable to individual audiences at key accounts and prospects. When you deploy highly personalized content in the right channel with the right message to the right person at the right time, the result cuts through the digital clutter with laser precision.
It’s a better spend efficiency with a higher ROI potential. In fact, 77% of teams achieve 10% or greater ROI from ABM over traditional tactics. And almost half of ABM leaders generate more than double the ROI of other marketing efforts.1
Marketing, sales and leadership must align for ABM to be successful.
Otherwise, the nurturing process will be fragmented, and the customer will feel interrupted rather than engaged.
(Need a refresher on why alignment is crucial and how to start moving your company in the right direction? Check out the Curiosity Report Vol. 4).
With focused collaboration from both sales and marketing, you can create top-notch content that rises above the competition to speak directly to your ideal customers. ABM can be aimed at landing new accounts or expanding current relationships.
It’s not casting a wide net; it is highly targeted.
It’s not attracting; it is growing.
It’s not generalized; it is customer specific.
Buyers prefer personalized interactions, and you can deliver through ABM.
While any organization can employ ABM, leading with customized content can be particularly effective in B2B industries. Why? Because B2B buyers are some of the smartest and most well-informed individuals in their respective industries.
It’s one of the reasons traditional sales tactics have reigned in the B2B space—smart buyers require even smarter salespeople. ABM combines the individualized experience of a great salesperson with the tools and power of great marketing. By leveraging the sales team’s data, the marketing team can deploy targeted advertising efforts that will warm up leads before a salesperson even reaches out. And through gated content such as whitepapers and webinars, the marketing team can generate qualified contacts to supercharge follow-up for the sales team. It’s all about meeting your prospects in the spaces where they’re already spending time—and with content that matters to them.
Right now, that space is digital.
In 2021, 70% of marketers reported using ABM, up 15% from 2020.2
THE DIGITAL DILEMMA
Digital marketing already dominated marketers’ priority lists, but the COVID-19 pandemic ushered us into that future with a bang. According to research by Gartner, Inc., the exponential rise in digital interactions between buyers and suppliers will break traditional sales models over the next five years, and 80% of conversations between buyers and suppliers will happen in digital spaces by 2025.3
With digital channels playing an increasingly vital role in both marketing and critical conversations, the customer owns their buyer journey like never before. As a result, brands are braving the digital frontier to meet their customers on their own terms—with mixed results.
Because inbound marketing and ABM are both lead-generation strategies at their cores, it can be hard to imagine how they play nicely together. But they’re a perfect pair.
Think of inbound marketing as the launchpad for your ABM program. Much of the content a brand uses in its inbound efforts can be further customized and repurposed in ABM outreach.4
Inbound primes your target to embrace your brand. And ABM provides the framework for the marketing and sales teams to work together to pinpoint the most-qualified prospects and then create personalized marketing tactics. A mature ABM program relies on collaboration from dedicated marketing, inbound sales and outbound sales teams.
Digital ad spending increased by almost 30% in 2021,5 and that trend shows no sign of slowing down.
The rising demand for quality content creation—and digital channel management—has placed pressure on the expertise needed to create it.
Many B2B brands have struggled to meet the demand for content to fill those digital spaces. More than half of B2B marketing teams report that they don’t have the capacity to create consistent, quality content that’s also tailored to specific prospect decision-makers across multiple channels.5
This leads to three things:
1. Your customers feel inundated with online content but lack the information they need to make a decision.
2. Your marketing team feels the content they’re deploying is getting lost in the noise.
3. Your sales team feels a wall looming between them and their prospects.
THE DIGITAL SOLUTION
ABM can help you make the most of your social media and digital advertising channels. Start by segmenting your audiences and determining what uniquely motivates each one. Sales and marketing teams that are already aligned can draw upon their combined data to establish audience segmentation.
To gain and retain their attention, serve up a personalized message that will make your audiences feel seen and heard. Focus on how each of your available channels can support your goals, including Google ads, paid and organic social media, marketing automation, remarketing tools, email marketing and more. The most mature ABM programs leverage at least eight tactics or channels.6
The good news is that you probably already have the foundation of an ABM program, even if you haven’t been calling it that. Conduct a deep-dive audit of your existing clients to determine the traits that make your best accounts so valuable. Use your findings to create personas with key characteristics that you can then seek in new prospects.
ABM relies on your ability to create those accurate and insightful buyer and customer personas so you can explore lookalike audiences and identify new targets that will be optimal for your business. Engage a partner who has experience in consumer
research and profiling to help you dig deeper and gain the critical knowledge you need to succeed.
Casting a wide marketing net is watering down your prospecting efforts.
Focus singularly on the accounts that need what you offer.
When developing audience personas based on current high-value accounts, look for the following behaviors and traits.
- Business behaviors: What do they buy, and how often? Where is the entry point to buying?
- Psychographic attributes: Where are they located? What industries do they serve? How does their purchasing process work?
- Target customers: Who is their end user? Are there any similar behaviors or activities between end users of different accounts?
FUELING THE CONTENT CREATION MACHINE
In 2021, marketing budgets were cut across almost every industry, dropping to their lowest percent against overall company revenue in history.7 Yet with lean teams and budgets, organizations are still putting herculean expectations on marketing and sales teams. As we discussed in the Curiosity Report Vol. 4, it’s time for marketing and sales teams to align their goals and support each other in meeting those expectations. Sharing the unique knowledge and experience each team brings to the table will result in higher caliber content.
But once the teams align, the need for content remains. ABM requires a consistent content stream that many organizations simply are not staffed to create. In our experience, even the most talented and knowledgeable marketing teams need help fulfilling their content calendar. The top challenge for B2B marketers who outsource content creation is finding partners with adequate topic expertise.8
Effectively executing ABM starts with tracking and knowing your current customers, then powering content with data and analysis.
An ABM timeline
- Base your categorization on analysis of current high-value accounts and any identified opportunities you want to break into
- Bringing in an outside research partner can help eliminate blind spots and identify new opportunities
- ABM technology providers are already tracking your prospects
- Investing in ABM software gives you the next-level data you need to analyze your prospects’ behavior
- Leverage data points including which companies are showing intent around certain areas of your business, and who has visited or engaged with any of your owned content
- This data will tell you where your prospects are spending their time, whether on your website or elsewhere
- This data can also help you identify new prospects who have interacted with your website but haven’t contacted you
- Serve customized content to your prospects in the places they’re spending the most time
- Continue to nurture your prospects with custom content in their digital spaces
- Use behavioral data to serve up content that aligns with where the target is in the buyer’s journey
- Utilize a marketing automation tool such as HubSpot to actively manage and maintain your content stream
- When you determine that the prospect is primed for conversion, a salesperson should reach out
INVESTING IN ABM
ABM requires a greater up-front investment than other marketing programs. The tools can be costly, but it’s also an investment in time—time it takes to curate highly custom pieces of content for individual leads. However, the ROI of account-based marketing is typically much higher9 than traditional marketing strategies because your efforts are directed at high-value contacts and leads.
84% of businesses using ABM say it delivers higher ROI than other marketing campaigns.9
In addition to targeting high-value accounts, ABM increases your chances of conversion because it primes your target before they even enter the sales funnel. By the time a prospect realizes they need a product or service like yours, you will already be in front of them. With back-end data that supports compelling content, you can almost personally lead your prospects down the sales funnel.
When ABM is in the picture, even cold calls are targeted.
By the time your salesperson reaches out to a prospect, they’re already warm—even if they have never been in contact with your company before.
The ROI of account-based marketing is typically much higher9 than traditional marketing strategies because your efforts are directed at high-value contacts and leads.
ABM is measured differently than traditional marketing tactics. Because it is so custom to your unique audiences, you should establish metrics and benchmarks that make sense for your program and business.
Here are a few methods to track ROI and report back to your leadership team on your success:
- Measure awareness: Website visits, social media mentions, social shares and email responses
- Measure engagement: Website behavior, number of return visits, time spent on site, content downloads and email sign-ups
- Measure relationships: Calculate the number of decision makers reached, meetings set and proposals submitted
One of the best ways to measure the success of ABM is to track attributable revenue.6 It will help you and your team measure the effectiveness of your approach and put your success in terms that are easy for your leadership team to understand—and buy into.
1. Marketing, sales and leadership must align for ABM to be successful.
2. Digital ad spending increased by almost 30% in 2021,5 and that trend shows no sign of slowing down.
3. Casting a wide marketing net is watering down your prospecting efforts.
4. Effectively executing ABM starts with tracking and knowing your current customers, then powering content with data and analysis.
5. When ABM is in the picture, even cold calls are targeted.
Remember, ABM is the long game. But if you commit to an ABM approach, you’ll see bigger wins down the road. Take the time now to re-discover your audience. Learn where your contacts are spending their time and how they consume content. Determine what information they need you to provide to help them make decisions. Then build your sales and marketing KPIs around your ABM approach to create quality content that converts high-value targets.
treetree can help with any aspect of your ABM program, from audience segmentation to content creation and digital deployment and management. Get in touch and see how our dedicated, thoughtful team of strategists and creators can augment your team with some additional creative firepower.
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