Account-Based Marketing (ABM) is a topic that’s risen up often over the last couple of years, but 2017 has seen ABM become a major buzzword in all marketing circles.
When I first started looking at what account-based marketing is, I recognized almost everything about it. The activities of ABM mimic that of sales, so I got a little confused. Why were we now calling this thing account-based marketing, instead of just calling it sales integration or something?
I think, frankly, that there are too many buzzwords in our industries, in marketing and in sales, so it’s hard to keep track of these tactics.
So today I want to talk a little bit about what account-based marketing is, what it’s not, and how it might relate to inbound marketing.
The traditional inbound marketing funnel starts with creating a lot of content and putting it out online en masse, in the hopes and with the knowledge that people will find it. After all, you’re sharing it and it’s being optimized for search, so when people Google certain types of questions, you have a good chance of coming up.
They’ll take your bait, they’ll come in, and they’ll read your content. They’ll be enticed by it and want to dig deeper into all your stuff. Maybe there will be a white-paper or a webinar or something along those lines that people can fill out a form for and download to get into your e-mail funnel and start to receive e-mails. The process is a play that HubSpot has popularized.
A lot of these strategies and the names for them have been defined by software companies, so you have to look at what is and isn’t in their tool set as you consider these frameworks. What’s not in these companies’ tool sets may perhaps indicate why they didn’t include something you would otherwise find important.
Who are the purely top 200 or 50 accounts we want to go after? Here are the 50 accounts, so let’s go after them specifically. We don’t care about anybody else in the whole world.
What I like about account-based marketing is that it’s the opposite of this process. In fact, Terminus is a company that sells software that works towards what they call flipping the funnel. They actually started a whole movement called Flip My Funnel.
Instead of putting out a lot of bait in the hopes that somebody will find it, account-based marketers take a look at various companies to select, and decide who to go after. This is taking the opposite approach. In the Terminus #FlipMyFunnel model, the marketer/salesperson is asking, “Who are the purely top 200 or 50 accounts we want to go after? Here are the 50 accounts, so let’s go after them specifically. We don’t care about anybody else in the whole world.”
While we may create content, we are going to laser focus in on those accounts and really build a detailed blueprint of each organization. We are going to look at who the economic buyer is, who the people influencing the deal are, who our champion in that deal might be, and basically work towards a sort of courtship. We might court these people at this organization by inviting them to events. A lot of companies are doing 3D mailers, perhaps a branded gimme you might get at a tradeshow, or perhaps even something personalized.
Because you can spend a tremendous amount of money on the inbound side of doing Adwords or something like that, this approach is essentially taking that budget and applying it towards sending high-end gifts and things like that, inviting people who you know are on your prospect list to high-end events so you can stay on their radar.
Account-based marketing is that, and then beyond that, making sure that once you get into an account, you’re expanding it and really growing through the organization. A lot of folks forget that second-in-command champion once they get into an account, and I know that I’ve been guilty of this, too. When we bring on a customer, we have somebody who we interface with quite a bit and then, for some reason, they leave. Then all of a sudden, our champion is gone, there’s new management, and then we know change is going to come.
One of the things that I really like about the account-based Flip My Funnel model that Terminus defined is that they really put a focus on not just getting the account, but on expanding it, which is of course very important. It takes understanding who all is involved and continuing that relationship as time goes on.
So, that’s a little bit about what account-based marketing is. But how does it work, practically?
How does Account-Based Marketing Work?
Terminus, for example, is a piece of software that specifically allows you to show ads to people you’ve identified and at companies you’ve identified. Terminus’ database is rather complex, so you could specifically target people in, say, the Enterprise IT department at the Redmond facility at Microsoft. You could get down pretty close and show targeted ads to those people. These ads can help provide what’s known in the industry as “air cover,” while your sales team goes in and approaches those people and invites them to events and such. It’s like the billboard effect (“I’m seeing these guys everywhere!”), but that effect is only happening for the people who are in your subset, in your target account list.
The people who are on the other side are experiencing something in which they see your ads a lot, they’re getting invited to events, and so their perception of your company is much greater than it might be for a company just down the street.
That’s what Terminus does, and I know they probably do a lot more than that. I have spent some time with the folks there, and got a feel for how it all works. In short, ABM is really marketing and sales working together so that marketing can help deliver the events, the mailers, the one-to-one type marketing collateral, as well as ads and things along those lines. ABM is about getting these things to the right people who the sales team is approaching, and timing things right so that once someone gets an ad, we know how to move forward
Building an ABM Process
The process is essentially developing a systematic playbook so it’s not just guesswork as far as going about this. We have a play-by-play that we run towards a target account, and as we go forward, we start to sharpen the saw and get better and better as time goes on.
Tools like HubSpot that have not previously been purpose-built for this kind of process; the CRM component of that tool tends to squeeze people down the traditional funnel. So you have to shift your mindset as far as how you can make those tools—even Salesforce—work for you. You have to really define the lead versus the prospect, and there’s a concept of the marketing qualified account. One really important thing is to look at the account as something you track through different lifecycle stages. We have an account which is one of our targets on our prospect list, and then we might have marketing qualify that account at a certain time when they’ve taken some action.
I know a lot of companies are already doing all of this. You’re sending mailers, you’re inviting people to events, and you’re just looking for some sign of life, some reaction. “Did they click on this?” you ask yourself. “Did they go and engage with stuff?” At that point, you might send a sales rep in to go after them now and start a dialogue.
Overall, the outcome we’re looking for with account-based marketing is to get an appointment and to further the relationship, because it might be a two-year sales cycle. If you’re going after the top 50, it might be a five-year sales cycle.
If you’re selling into defense, you’re selling into Lockheed, for example. I’m sitting here in DFW and I know a lot of people who work over here at Lockheed Martin. If I’m selling to them, it may be a fifteen-year sales cycle, so we may not be focused on this quarter’s sales; we may be focused on ten years down the line. So, you have to figure out what’s right for your company as far as how the details are going to work, and then you have to decide how you might automate things.
Understanding the Funnel in Context
The important thing is understanding what the account is, whether or not it is on or off your target account list, and then where they fall in line. You really have two components here. You have the lifecycle stage where you ask questions like, “Are they an opportunity in our funnel? Are they a lead? Are they already a customer and we’re looking to expand?” And then you have to ask, “Are they active? Are we going after them yet or are we not going after them?” Because you can only go after a certain amount of these accounts at a time with your limited resources.
One thing about ABM you’ll find is that, as you start looking at some of these strategies, especially if you start looking around online, there’s a heavy emphasis on mailers. It seems that mailers may eventually play out too much, becoming noise to your prospective account, although I think we’re still early on that.
If you’re doing mailers for everybody who’s in your funnel, it could get expensive. You have to ask yourself, “How does my budget look compared to how many companies I can go after at any given time?” These are things that you want to look at and all the more reason to have a segmented database.
With almost every marketing strategy—whether or not you’re doing inbound marketing, doing account-based marketing, or better yet, integrating the best of all of those things in a way that’s right for your company—you have to have a target account list. Make sure the inbound list that you have is trend, up to date, well segmented, and that you choose the things you track about people wisely.
Choosing Your Metrics & Where to Go From Here
We’ve talked a lot before about choosing your metrics wisely, and this is no different. You want to make sure you’re tracking different qualities that different companies and different people have, because the humans at the company are going to have different qualities than the account and vice versa. You must consider what those differences might be, and what we must weigh in a weighted system. We could say, “The rank for this quality might be two for a weighted calculation, how we can score something, and then the rank for this calculation might be five,” so that we can multiply out and say, “This one really fits us better so we should go after them first,” because we always want to go after what’s going to do the best for our company at any given time.
There are a lot of different factors that this decision depends on, and account-based marketing is just one play in a variety of strategies. Recognize that a lot of it is not only sales, but it’s sales and marketing working together more in concert. Instead of just saying “Here’s what marketing is going to do and here’s what sales is going to do; when marketing generates a lead, sales will do this.,” remember that it’s really more of marketing and sales going in together, understanding that there are different pieces of the puzzle that need to be done in coordination. Then go on from there.
One thing I’ve seen, and this is the angle we come at this from, is that live messaging on websites has become an integral piece of folks’ account-based marketing programs. Just think about the things that you can do with live messaging. For example, we can feature it on certain pages, or only to certain people who we’ve identified, either because they’ve revealed themselves to us or by their IP address, where we know that it’s typically this company when they visit our website.
That’s really powerful information. We can decide to only show our live chat availability to the companies who are on our target list. The power there is that you can send people back to your site, give them the availability to talk to you, and make it a premium experience just for the people who are on your VIP list.
That’s really what account-based marketing is. It’s the VIP list. It’s asking, “How I can make sure that they know they’re getting a premium experience? How can I just roll out the red carpet for them whether or not they know it or not?”
These are things to think about when you’re looking at account-based marketing, and we’ll be talking more and more about that in the future, because we’re… I’m still learning a lot about how new things are playing into this.