For B2B companies, account-based marketing (ABM) represents a major shift in the traditional marketing focus from pure lead generation across all companies to lead generation and ongoing nurturing specifically to a named set of accounts that the sales team is also targeting.
ABM is essential to strategic marketing because it helps marketers identify who the people are within an account and then provide them with high-quality content and opportunities for appropriate interactions at each stage of their journey. To effectively serve buyers, marketing needs to know more than just the names and titles of those in an account. That’s why marketing must work hand-in-glove with sales to develop persona-based buyer’s journey maps and choreograph their actions to the buyer’s journey.
The buyer’s journey is the centerpiece of ABM and without the strategic insights it brings, ABM becomes just another lead-generation tactic, minimizing marketing’s ability to support the sales process.
Understand How Buyers Buy
ABM tools that help sales and marketing better identifying targets do currently exist. But ABM must be thought of as more than just retargeted advertising. Identifying groups and targeting ads are only the initial steps. From there, marketing, in conjunction with sales, needs to implement targeted, effective relationship building with those audiences.
For an ABM approach to be successful, marketers need to have a deep understanding of the identified targets — how they buy, how they interact with each other, their individual challenges, pain points, buying criteria, participation levels, needs and content preferences at every stage of the buying process. Persona-based buyer’s journey maps are the key to unlocking this critical information into your buyers and how they buy.
What Is A Buyer’s Journey Map?
A journey map is a framework that describes, in detail, the steps that each buyer persona executes from initial consideration of a solution to its purchase, implementation, and use.
Journey maps are not just vendor checklists detailing what sales has to say or provide and when they have to do it. Journey maps must be from the buyer’s point of view and detail the collective path that each buyer persona — and all personas together as a group — go through to solve their business challenges.
Today’s B2B marketplace is crowded and highly competitive. Potential buyers are barraged with information, promotions, and content, making it increasingly difficult to capture their attention. On top of this information overload, B2B buying processes are complex and include multiple people – all with different roles and needs — influencing decisions at every step.
Successful companies will differentiate themselves to buyers through a unified buying experience that provides relevant, engaging content and messaging at the most appropriate and opportune times. This requires marketing and sales to align around the interests and outcomes important to the buyer. While ABM initiatives may help you find the right people to target, buyer’s journey maps are going to provide the knowledge required to effectively nurture and engage each member of the buying group.
How Do Marketers Create Buyer’s Journey Maps?
The first step in creating buyer’s journey maps is to develop buyer personas. This includes defining individual challenges, goals, concerns and buying criteria.
The second step is defining the stages of the buying journey. Stages typically include:
- Discovering and learning — the point when buyers seek education on an issue and learn about various solution options. These stages require vendor marketing initiatives to engage buyers, although there may be some sales engagement involved.
- Choosing and purchasing — the stage where buyers cut their long list of solution options into a short list, make a selection, and prepare for owning and deploying a solution. These stages require active sales engagement supported by marketing activities and content.
- Implementing, proving, and owning — the stage buyers own and employ a solution. These stages require assistance from product and services.
The final stage in journey map creation is uncovering the valuable buyer persona insights at each stage. This is information that will tell you how they buy and how you, as a marketer, can move them through the purchasing funnel with engaging content that addresses their needs.
The best way to gain these insights is through interviews with your existing customers and Sales. It is critical to capture information on four core dimensions at each buying stage and for each persona:
- Participation Level: Capture the participation level of each persona within the buying group at each stage, including drivers, participants, gatekeepers and those not involved at a certain time.
- Needs: Identify what each buyer within the group needs in order to go through their buying process at each stage, including information like product capabilities, process requirements, budget approval or internal alignment.
- Activities: Define what each buyer within the group is actually doing at each stage to fulfill his/her needs, including group actions like budget meetings or individual actions like online research.
- Content Preferences: Determine what type of content each persona requires at each stage.
Defining these dimensions for each persona at each stage of the journey gives you insights on how to inform and influence buyers, tailor messages for the right person at the right stage, and target relevant content at the moment it will have the most impact.
Align Marketing And Sales On The Journey
For an ABM initiative to be successful, the marketing and sales teams need to align on who the target audience is, how they buy and how/when each team engages with buyers throughout the journey. Buyer’s journey maps are the pathway for making this happen.
By marketing refocusing its efforts on accounts vs. individuals and collaborating with sales to build buyer’s journey maps, it ensures alignment on account audiences and its own level of interactions with leads at each stage of the buying journey.
Jeff Freund is CEO and Founder of Akoonu, a buyer-centric marketing platform. He is a veteran entrepreneur and CEO, with more than15 years in the content industry and deep experience in executive roles covering a broad range of areas.