The question of how B2B companies identify and address the right decision-makers has been driving marketers for years. The topic of account-based marketing has recently picked up speed and raised new questions in many companies. A detailed look shows the potential of the approach for B2B marketing.
The question of how B2B companies identify and address the right decision-makers among their target customers has been driving B2B marketers for years. For a long time, inbound marketing was considered the holy grail. The common inbound marketing strategies aim to address interested parties via digital marketing initiatives such as search engine marketing or social media marketing and to lure them to a landing page.
Mostly exciting content awaits here, such as a study or a whitepaper, which can be downloaded after registering and storing the contact details. What follows is processing the lead as part of a lead nurturing program. And when the lead is mature according to the scoring, it is passed on to the sales team.
But classic inbound marketing has one major weakness: A very large number of interested parties are addressed and lured through relevant topics and keywords. Whoever takes a bite is left to chance. The registered contacts can also include competitors, non business emails or generally interested parties who have no business relevance. A key feature of inbound marketing is that the leads generated are isolated individuals. Even if a colorful company is hiding behind the e-mail address, it is unclear what relevance the contact has in an investment decision.
In short : classic inbound marketing still resembles mass marketing with a lot of wastage in numerous B2B companies.
And this is exactly where Account-Based Marketing (ABM) comes into play, a new approach that takes B2B marketing to a new level. ABM is clearly different from classic inbound marketing:
Instead of spreading topics with a watering can, key account lists of companies are created, relevant decision-making groups within the organizations and their role within the decision-making process are analyzed and an individual approach is developed.
The target companies (named accounts) are selected according to strategic aspects such as sales volume or segmentation according to relevant industries such as automobile manufacturers. This is to ensure that only lucrative companies with a critical investment need are addressed.
ABM takes a holistic view of a target company and addresses several people within the organization who are relevant in the decision-making process. The relevant group is usually very heterogeneous (IT, purchasing, specialist department, HR department, development, production, management, management assistant).
The information generated is not isolated at the individual level, but brought together centrally for each account.
The approach and the content are highly individualized and tailored to the respective needs and interests.
In addition to new customers, existing customers who have great potential for cross-selling and upselling are also included in the program.
Sales and marketing work closely together within an integrated program from the start.
From a sales perspective, ABM is a logical and necessary evolution of inbound marketing. Because salespeople have been working with key account lists for decades and process the different decision-maker profiles at potential target companies with pinpoint accuracy. For most B2B marketers, the approach of setting up individual content and marketing strategies for a tightly targeted group of target companies is completely new.
The main driver of ABM is the changed decision-making landscape. Decision-making processes and responsibilities in companies have become significantly more complex in recent years. There is seldom a single decision maker on the corporate side who can and is allowed to make technical and commercial decisions at the same time. Especially with larger investments, several departments and hierarchical levels are directly or indirectly involved in the decision-making process. In addition, not only must the decision-makers themselves be identified and addressed, but their ecosystem must also be taken into account by influencers.
It is correspondingly challenging for B2B marketers to identify the right decision-makers and to recognize with which messages and through which channels they can be reached.
Structure of ABM programs
Step 1: Analysis and definition of the key list
A prerequisite for successful ABM is that the relevant accounts with the greatest sales potential are identified. Sales and marketing must already work closely together in this phase. Individual insights from the sales team into decision-making structures, budget size or the relevance of a topic at the target company are essential. In this phase, all relevant information about a target customer is collected and analyzed. The customer needs per account are defined and it is determined at which point in the decision-making process the company is or which strategic initiatives are already being planned. In addition, research is carried out into which departments and levels are involved in the decision and what role they play.
Step 2: Setting up the ABM program and the content strategy
Based on the analysis, an individual ABM program is ideally developed for each target company, which plays relevant content to the respective decision-maker and influencer profiles over several months, tracks the success of the channels and formats and the results centrally in CRM System or in the Marketing Automation platform. It is important here that all information about a company (account) is brought together and tracked centrally. This phase consists of two parts: on the one hand, the correct and suitable selection of channels and instruments (direct mail, newsletters, print mailings, social media marketing, SEM, display marketing, events, webinars, PR, dynamic web content). Based on the information behavior of the target companies and the groups of people to be addressed, an individualized customer journey is created that covers all touchpoints of the people to be addressed.
The second building block is the content strategy. The content must be specifically tailored to the needs and level of knowledge of the addressees. Every single activity must show the recipient that he is understood and receives relevant information to support him in the research and decision-making process. If the target company is in an early phase of the decision, the content must be informative, provide tips and assistance and help to take the first steps. If a company is already very far in the decision-making process, the advantages of its own solutions and products must be demonstrated. References from other companies that faced a similar challenge also play an important role. In this phase, the focus is not on the 'why', but rather the 'how'.
Step 3: activation and monitoring
Once our ABM and content strategy is in place, the content can now be targeted to the individual different decision-maker profiles in the target companies. In the phase, B2B marketers get precise insights into which channels and instruments which content is received and consumed in the truest sense of the word.
Now it becomes clear which departments are active, how intensively individual decision-makers deal with the topic and who is not yet actively addressing the topic. The data provide detailed insights about the respective decision-makers. The content and channel strategy can be adapted and revised accordingly. Because the information and interactions are brought together not per person but per company, B2B marketers receive reliable information about at which companies a decision-making process is already in progress. Once a target account has achieved a critical mass of interactions (score), the specific sales approach can begin - and the circle between sales and marketing closes.
Please read more on ABM here.