Launching ABM: 5 Principles to Adopt and 5 Pitfalls to Avoid

March 30th, 2017 | by
6 min read

Account-based marketing (ABM)is a hot topic … still.

ABM ‒ a strategy in which an organization considers individual prospects or customer accounts as markets of one and targets them with highly personalized campaigns ‒ retains the substantial industry buzz that has surrounded it in the past few years.

But does ABM actually live up to all the hype? Some key statistics tell this story:

  • 97 percent of marketers that try ABM report higher ROI with ABM than with any other marketing tactic
  • Contact value for ABM-targeted accounts increases an average of 40% for mid-market accounts and 35% for enterprise
  • ABM is linked to improvements in close rates approaching 300%, according to one study

Yet, despite all the talk, publicity, and exposure ABM has received, only about half of B2B marketers have adopted it so far, and most of those haven’t been at it for very long ‒ only a year or less. Many more companies are looking to launch their ABM strategies within the next year.

Yours might be one of them.

Want to learn more about ABM? Watch Inside Look: A True Story of Account-Based Everything

Although ABM may be hot, it’s far from new. It’s actually a long-established enterprise marketing tactic that, thanks to the growth of marketing automation and other technology innovations, is now accessible and relevant for a bigger, broader cohort of B2B marketers.

The evolution of ABM into the B2B mainstream is an important and timely event. “People have been doing demand generation for years and growing their businesses that way, but there are limitations to what inbound marketing can do,” said Jon Miller, CEO and co-founder at Engagio. “You can‘t just continue to double your spend and double your output using the same approaches – sustainability becomes an issue.”

ABM provides a practical and scalable path to continue growth, Miller added. The good news? “You probably already have what you need to get started. Most B2B marketers have a pretty mature grasp of the tactics required to do ABM.”


Five Key ABM Principles

According to Miller, five key principles can give most B2B marketers what they need to launch an effective ABM initiative.

  1. Time and attention are your most valuable assets.

Account-based marketing, whether proactive or reactive, is all about identifying your best account-focused opportunities and spending your attention and resources on those accounts. This is rigorous, disciplined, informed prioritization, and you (and your sales team) will have to say “no” as often as “yes” when an account doesn’t fit the profile closely enough.

“If you don’t care which accounts you reach, and only care about reaching enough accounts, then traditional demand gen works,” Miller noted. “Marketing and sales should align on which accounts get which approach to ABM – or whether they get ABM at all.”

  1. Sales, marketing, and customer success are equal partners.

All three teams must work hand-in-glove to define the characteristics that establish a key account, and value the actions and behavioral factors that can be scored. Marketing’s branding messages are developed with input from sales and customer success. Each team must deploy those messages in concert to assure a consistent customer experience across each touch point.

“In ABM there is really no such thing as ‘marketing-sourced’ or ‘sales-sourced’ opportunities or revenue,” Miller said. “It’s all ‘team-sourced’ – everybody works together, and ultimately everybody shares credit or accountability for the outcome.”

  1. Use the tools and resources you already have to establish an account-based program.

Most B2B marketers can use ABM – and use it well – by taking advantage of their current knowledge, experience, and technology investments. That’s because ABM is really about repurposing common B2B marketing fundamentals and technologies to achieve a different objective.

“Look at your existing resources: people, processes, and technology. What do you currently have in place which could be tailored to execute your ABM campaigns?” asked Sangram Vajre, CMO and co-founder of Terminus. “If you have a CRM, marketing automation platform, website, and social media, then you have the core pieces of a martech stack.”

  1. Use marketing automation to personalize ABM and content strategy.

Personalization is the holy grail of ABM tactics; it reflects the laser-focused, carefully targeted approach that can earn the highest possible engagement and conversion rates from target-account decision-makers. Personalization, of course, is also hard – it’s the modern marketing equivalent of sending hand-written letters to a few dozen (or a few hundred) of your very best prospects. This is a key reason ABM was strictly an enterprise play for so long.

Fortunately, thanks to the evolution of powerful and cost-effective marketing automation solutions, the benefits of personalization are now available to far more B2B marketers. In addition, marketing automation makes it possible to fine tune your personalization and targeting strategies to suit your resources and requirements.

  1. Go for a quick, early win to get traction within (and budget from) the C-suite.

ABM was initially created to expand business with existing customers – not to land new ones. This is where ABM really shines, and you could begin with a program here to prove the concept of ABM.

Focusing first on existing customers gives you a good shot at relatively quick and easy gains. Those gains, in turn, can build the support, the patience, and the funding required for sustained, longer-term ABM programs, and for a targeted technology investment agenda.

This approach aligns with the reality that keeping and expanding an existing customer relationship is cheaper than landing new business. It also ensures your customers benefit first from the extra care and attention that accompany an ABM campaign, which in turn:

  • Strengthens loyalty and advocacy
  • Increases referral business
  • Burnishes your brand
  • Generates wins in the form of upsell, cross-sell, and other types of account expansion that tend to happen more quickly than new deals
  • Increases the lifetime value of an account

And not least … When your champion changes jobs, you still have supporters inside the company who believe in your product’s value. You’re much less likely to lose this account when the new boss shows up.

Whatever strategy you pick, get something on the scoreboard early. “Don’t start ABM without a way to show it’s working within three months,” Miller advised. “Otherwise you run the risk that people will lose interest – and a more ambitious strategy isn’t much good if your program won’t live long enough to execute it.”


Navigate Around Pitfalls

On the other side of the coin, there are five pitfalls that can really trip up your ABM program, Miller says. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to spot and avoid the bigger mistakes that could set back your efforts to launch your ABM program. In fact, the following list of things not to do when implementing an account-based program is a great insurance policy against these avoidable dangers.

  1. Don’t use ABM exclusively to land new logos.

Account-based marketing, whether proactive or new accounts, and especially those coveted marquee-logo “whales,” may seem like the fastest path to big rewards. In reality, this approach bypasses a whole category of key accounts that are easier to convert and often more lucrative: your current customers.

“One of the biggest mistakes I see involves a focus only on net-new accounts rather than account expansion,” Miller said. “And either way, your ABM investments should be proportional to the potential value of the account.

  1. Don’t assume ABM is inherently complex, expensive, and slow to yield tangible benefits.

There’s history for this assumption. ABM, as it was practiced years ago, demanded big marketing teams, lots of time, and boatloads of money. It was a very manual process requiring a lot of hands. Today, however, given modern technology, this view of ABM is only true if you want it to be – a perfect example of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Start small with the technology you already have, and you’ll probably see results fairly quickly. Then you can build on your success.

  1. Don’t get “loud and proud” about your team’s devotion to key accounts.

It’s natural to celebrate – and hope to emulate – marketing programs that result in big, showy wins. But don’t shout too loudly. Your other customers may hear a different message: If you’re not a whale, you don’t matter to us. Make sure all your customers feel the love.

  1. Don’t give sales the key to the ABM machine ‒ and find yourself in the back seat.

This is ABM success principle #2 turned inside out. ABM is totally dependent on creating alignment among sales, customer service, and marketing teams, and that takes an equal and concerted effort by all departments. In a SiriusDecisions study of B2B sales, of all buyer interactions at all stages of buying, 51% were marketing-led and 49% were sales-led.

All of this boils down to some simple principles: making sure the responsibility, accountability, and credit are shared among all three teams. “More than anything else, ABM is about teamwork,” said Cari Baldwin, President of Bluebird Strategies. “There’s no other way to get the insights required for account-based marketing, or to engage in the coordinated conversations, messages, and touch points.”

  1. Don’t assume silver-bullet technology solutions will make your ABM programs effective.

Many marketing technology solutions are innovative, efficient, and highly effective problem-solving tools. Many others turn out to be dead weight bolted onto increasingly unwieldy marketing tech stacks. A useful way to assess a solution is to remember that, in essence, technology amplifies any existing process. If your process is good, the right technology will make it better. If your process is bad —technology will not save it.

In the final analysis, B2B companies market to, sell to, and service, accounts – not leads.

That’s why account-based marketing works. With the right strategy and the right technology to carry it out, ABM will support you in all aspects as you balance your strategy among brand awareness, demand generation, and customer retention and expansion.

Want to learn more about ABM? Watch the Inside Look: A True Story of Account-Based Everything

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