For some time now, modern marketers have been trying to humanize marketing. That might sound redundant at first; marketing is already about people, right? What could be more human?
Yet the truth is that while marketing should be personal, it isn’t always. Look at the generic campaigns with cardboard-thin buyer personas that still dominate many programs and you’ll see why some marketing is more robotic than human — and why those programs usually fail.
Savvy marketers are aware of this; they’re finding new strategies to customize their demand gen efforts. And that’s where account-based marketing (ABM) is reforming the marketing approach. ABM delivers a customized experience for a particular set of high value targets, addressing their challenges and needs from a personalized, company- and persona-specific standpoint. While traditional marketing might take a more scaled approach to accounts, ABM takes a targeted, holistic approach that focuses on the company, the industry and, most importantly, the different players involved and understanding the relationships between them. You can’t get more human than that.
Marketers have always chased after insights into what motivates and challenges their audience. ABM is powerful precisely because it recognizes that there’s rarely just one answer to those questions. Instead, there are likely to be multiple buying influences at hand. By learning and addressing those influences, teams can approach, nurture and close that much more effectively.
Of course, developing this focus requires organized strategies. Most organizations need a combination of traditional marketing and ABM. But with traditional marketing tactics, you’re not going to be able to cultivate ongoing relationships that grow revenue and share of wallet. For a solid ABM approach, marketers must implement a three-step cycle.
1) Identify Compatible Accounts
The foundation of successful ABM begins with targeting the right accounts. That means turning your data into a useful map that goes beyond simple engagement numbers. Which kind of organizations have the most potential for prospecting, upselling or cross-selling? In addition to evaluating current customers, you’ll need to develop selection criteria based on several factors, such as industry, competitor presence, buying scenarios, the purchase process and other traits.
Looking at the numbers, your company’s priorities and input from your sales and marketing team will help you develop a specific idea of who’s right for you. This might sound like a lot of work upfront — and it can be — but it offers a more efficient way of pursuing your best opportunities. You likely won’t spend as much time on the wrong accounts and you’ll understand at a much deeper level what motivates people to buy from you. You’ll also tighten your sales and marketing alignment as the teams work together to evaluate data and define ideal opportunities.
Which brings us to another point: the number of accounts you want to manage. The idea here is quality over quantity, so be careful not to wind up with too many accounts. To dedicate your attention, you’ll optimally keep your number of ABM accounts at 25 or less. This lets your team focus on all the details that will make the relationship a success.
2) Customize Campaigns
Let’s just say it; all marketers these days claim to develop customized campaigns. Marketing automation has certainly enabled a more customized approach to personas, industries and segments. But ABM marketers take it much further by drilling deeper into account needs and developing truly tailored programs. ABM content strategy is built around the top targeted personas inside the account, as well as the audience of the account.
This is where some of the research in the first step can pay off in developing targeted messaging. By outlining every stage of the purchasing process in terms of the people behind it, you can align your content with key buyer influences across email, nurture, social, digital, retargeting and more.
The end result is that your ABM clients receive compelling content that treats them like people and puts you a notch above your competitors. There are no mass emails or one-size-fits-all campaigns. Imagine, for instance, your buyer visits your website. Instead of your branded site, they encounter their own dynamic page with their logo and materials relevant to their industry or mission. When everything from reporting to events to newsletters is tailored at that level, the business relationship goes to a new level of growth and possibility.
One note here on marketing automation strategy. While marketing technology is an important aspect of scaling your ABM programs, it can’t be put on auto-pilot. Again, it takes a human touch to offer up the right perspective in turning data into insight and deciding on valuable metrics.
3) Choose The Right Team
Your marketing is as good as the people behind it. For some teams, that means hiring clever and creative staff. But ABM demands something more — starting with a dedicated team that understands how to have insightful, relevant conversations. Your team must know how to develop, nurture and convert leads, but they must be inquisitive and curious in order to identify valuable opportunities and create a customized relationship.An ABM approach is a significant investment in time and money, so you can’t afford churn when you’re focusing on such a small number of accounts. Strong communication between marketing, sales and your account management is vital. Be sure that your customers feel supported at every turn, with an attentive success manager and any needed supplemental online assistance through email and live chat.
Another great quality in your team is understanding how to keep an ear to the ground. Part of sustaining profitable relationships is knowing what’s happening inside the account, as well as in the industry. Anyone who’s worked in marketing or sales long enough knows that a buyer’s decision-making process can get complicated. It takes skill and research to work with customers throughout the relationship, so your team needs to stay current with ongoing developments. You won’t just create an initial tailored marketing experience and expect it to stay relevant; you’ll need to adapt that experience to the customer’s changing needs.
As you practice ABM, you may notice it redefining the way you build and sustain all of your business relationships. That’s a good thing. By basing your strategies on the humans behind the buying process, you’ll inject your programs with a new energy and insight that sets the stage for long-term success.
Ray Kemper is the CMO of Televerde, providers of demand generation solutions, marketing technology services, engagement strategy content and planning, and data consulting services. Follow Ray on Twitter and LinkedIn.