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Making ABM Real: 5 Lessons Every Marketer Should Know

  • Written by Jamie Hardin, ON24
  • Published in Demanding Views

Jamie Hardin ON24The verdict is in: for B2B companies, having an account-based marketing (ABM) program is no longer a question, it’s an essential part of their strategy. In fact, SiriusDecisions recently unveiled a new Demand Unit Waterfall due to the ubiquity of ABM and all the complications that come with it. In addition to giving us a new methodology to consider, it demonstrates ABM’s shift from marketing’s latest shiny object to status quo.

So, now that ABM is a given, how do we make it a sustainable, healthy arm of the marketing organization? Changing your demand gen methodology and adopting new technologies are important initial steps, but after that, it all comes down to the right execution.

At ON24, we took the tried-and-true approach of any new marketing initiative — experiment, measure and modify. Our biggest takeaway is that a successful ABM strategy is not built overnight; you need to start small and test often. After beginning our ABM journey a year ago, here are the five most important lessons I’ve learned along the way:

1. Marketer’s Choice

I won’t bore you with the “marketing vs. sales” stereotype. The reality is that we’re partners dedicated toward one common goal: revenue. Allowing the sales team to select the accounts for the ABM program may seem like being a good partner, but the reality is that you’re setting yourself up to fail. Sales reps want to provide a list of their problem accounts, in the hope that marketing will pick up the slack on companies they’ve been unsuccessful in penetrating. But ABM should be viewed as augmenting the current strategy, not a “Hail Mary” initiative on an inactive account.

Marketing needs to own account selection. Deciding who should be in or out of the campaign needs to be based on how the account aligns with the ideal customer profile. This means selecting accounts based on where you already win, or using your predictive tool to identify accounts with the most potential for engagement. By aligning with what you already do best, you’ll set your program up to increase revenue and have a strong return on investment.

2. Could Vs. Should

Just because you have the tools and tactics to scale doesn’t mean that you should enable everything to start. At ON24, we launched with a simple ABM strategy of company-specific landing pages, emails, paid media and a sales enablement package for each target account. The more complex the marketing campaign, the slower the go-to-market.

An ABM strategy means constant communication with sales reps. Be clear about what you will and won’t do and when. You’ll want to show victories early on, so start with something simple, like customized emails distilled from the ABM company’s messaging document, where you can easily measure the results. Make sure your audience responds well to the tactic and, once you see your ROI, you can scale up from there.

3. {{Company Name}}: Buy Our Product

A logo does not make an ABM program. It’s vitally important to show that you know the company’s unique business needs and can address them. Know your buyer, and know how they differ based on industry, company priorities and their organizational vernacular. 

The key to successful ABM outreach is to focus on the language of the target audience rather than trying to fit your unique selling proposition into their needs. At ON24, we dug deep to discover language nuances by organization because it wasn’t enough to know the jargon of an industry vertical. We adopted the terminology that specific companies were using to describe their marketing tactics and found that their response rate significantly improved.

4. Be Cool: Don’t Geek Out Too Soon

For years, marketing technology has allowed us to make our day more efficient by producing customization at scale. ABM technologies, like Demandbase, Optimizely or Terminus, are exciting, and even more tools are flooding the marketing tech stack every day. These tools add complexity and cost to your marketing stack, so you want to be sure that you will truly benefit before you add additional costs.

The key to a successful ABM campaign is finding the right balance between scale and your ROI. ABM might not yield a high ROI for your company and that’s okay. But wouldn’t you rather know before signing a year agreement for an ABM marketing technology? Test your strategy first before investing.

5. Don’t Rely On Standard Data

You must get your hands dirty when it comes to data. Especially for ABM, it’s important to focus on quality over quantity. Keeping the database clean is a challenge for any organization, but checking and double-checking your data is necessary to ensure you’re delivering the right message to the right person.

Industry vertical campaigns are an example of why you can’t accept data at face value. Many databases categorize companies using outdated and inaccurate classifications that would throw off an entire vertical-focused campaign. For example, ON24 is described as a “Wired Telecommunications Carrier” by a commonly used national data source. This description is far off from the marketing technology space we occupy today.

Be sure to manually examine your data for accuracy. If the data is wrong, chances are the messaging will be wrong, too. And the wrong message may cost you. Be sure your data is clean before you start any campaign.

Every ABM plan is different because each company is different. Starting small and testing often will allow you to grow the program over time and make the adjustments you need for success.


Jamie Hardin is the senior marketing manager of demand generation at ON24, the webinar marketing platform empowering businesses to engage their prospects and customers at scale. She leads the company’s account-based marketing program, defining the go-to-market strategy including company-specific research, key messaging, collateral, data augmentation, field events and sales enablement for 60 named enterprise level accounts.