Account Based Marketing (ABM) offers several promises around customer acquisition, growth, and retention. Both, new marketing tools and data-driven marketing approaches are not new concepts but have given ABM resurgence of late, making it a practical tactic for companies of all sizes. To be effective, ABM strategy requires data-driven planning, execution, and monitoring. And all these require a solid data foundation for optimal success through a close focus on the right accounts.
Research reveals that the needed data foundation is not in place with B2B marketers universally, creating challenges. Data quality and access are integral impediments to getting ABM programs started; in reality, absence of data or the ability to leverage it was pointed as the top roadblock. While planning ABM strategies, B2B marketers are also challenged in identifying accounts that match identifying relevant contacts and target segment attributes within target accounts. It is essential once a program is started that market and account news and events be monitored to ensure they stay relevant. And it is also identified as another area of challenge.
With the majority of marketers seeing ABM as important to driving growth, it is critical for an organization to put a strong data foundation in place to provide themselves the best starting point for their ABM journey as well as the best chance of program success- choosing the right target accounts. And it is without any doubt that the road to successful ABM starts with data and the right tools to deliver that data in a more meaningful way. While having the most relevant, best, and up-to-date data from which to make actionable decisions is also important throughout an ABM program.
According to a survey by a leading research firm;
- Top roadblock to an ABM start is the lack of access to the right data and the ability to leverage it
- 86% express confidence that ABM will drive growth
- 75% can’t find right contacts at companies matching their target profile
ABM has encountered a recent resurgence because of recent advancements in the data, technologies, and tools that enable companies to do it well and at scale. While its “flip the funnel” mindset also provides a good balance to less targeted demand generation programs, though both have a role in the marketing and sales mix. Earlier ABM was seen only as a tool for the enterprise; but now, it is accessible to marketers across the spectrum.
But first, let’s define ABM: it is the strategic approach that marketers use to support a defined universe of accounts. It includes support for the post-sale customer lifecycle using marketing’s toolkit to contribute to the overall customer experience. ABM greatly helps to evolve the role of marketing to reflect a stronger alignment with customer needs and sales objectives to deliver better execution and revenue outcomes.
ABM Requires Tools and Process
ABM programs are developed including a series of steps that require alignment between sales and marketing. And for the best success, each of these steps must be supported by the right data. This is especially true for the steps involving research on the selected target accounts and candidate target identification.
Selection of target accounts should be meaningful and thoughtful, not based on wishful or random thinking. Knowing your market at a detailed segment level is a necessary step in that selection. And once you know the attributes of your weak and strong segments, you can start to create data-backed business decisions as to where to focus your ABM efforts. Once the accounts are selected, gaining as deep an understanding about selected accounts- and the key contacts within them- is critical to making your program account based and not just another general campaign. Of-course key contacts can include decision makers as well as influencers; most programs need to cast a wide net across the target account.
One of the key reasons ABM is now gaining momentum is because there are many new technologies available on the market that enable it. These new technologies include tools for customer and market identification of ‘look-alike prospects’, segmentation, campaign tools, and B2B data analytics tools. Meanwhile, tools that deliver deep account insight have been in the market for some time, they take on critical and new meaning in the context of account-based marketing and sales approaches. And collectively all of these tools have created a marketing and sales ecosystem that obviously works best when components are connected.
To better understand the current state of ABM- and the role of data within it- a leading research company spoke with a variety of B2B marketing leaders. While one of their surveys focused on challenges and successes and the role of data. Meanwhile, the other survey focused on the role of predictive indicators in ABM and marketing, in general.
The following was established based on those surveys;
Steps to ABM Success
- Know Your Market: Add your customer data with trusted market data; Segment along multiple dimensions; build an ideal profile
- Identify & Validate Targets: Select target accounts for both business development and account management teams; map your contact coverage in target accounts
- Populate Account Map with Contacts and Insights: Identify relevant contacts and data; map decision makers and influencer. Connect account insights to marketing and sales strategy
- Create Account-Specific Offers, Messages, and Content: Using insights gathered above, modify or generate messages and content personalized for target accounts and contacts
- Execute Program: Create engagement plans; personalized marketing campaigns, sales direct touch
- Measure, Refine Strategy, Expand: Track results, refine as required. Consider any account or market changes
The State of ABM
The promise of ABM is all about getting more profitable and more loyal customers. The customers turn into advocates for your products or services, hence helping you to expand your market presence even more.
The ABM market survey shows a very strong feeling of ABM relevancy to the business and confidence that ABM will drive growth in the future as well as now. But, the survey also showed a phased adoption- below 40% reporting an ABM program in place and a further 15% piloting a program and 21% planning a program.
- More than 90% say ABM is relevant to their business
- 86% express confidence that ABM will drive growth
Data Quality and Access are Biggest Barriers to ABM Implementation
What’s holding back marketers from launching ABM? It turns out that it is all about the data and the ability of the marketer to leverage it. And it was also cited as the top challenge by the respondents. So, while data is necessary to the success of an ABM program, marketers are still challenged by data access and the ability to draw insights from the data.
Companies are struggling because they are hamstrung by a lack of access to the right data for their marketing and sales needs, including access to a single source of account truth. Almost 2/3 of the marketers feel that there is no single source of truth for company-wide customer data. And the majority of respondents cited not having the right data for either marketing or sales- instead they are “building towards” having the right data. These challenges with the data are obviously issues for an account based approach that relies on solid segment understanding, which in turn depends on solid customer data. Lacking the right data, how can you be sure that you are choosing the right accounts for your ABM program?
Without in-depth, useable and accurate market and account data, your ABM program will definitely stall. ABM success depends on very specific and targeted intelligence and the ability of the marketer to leverage that intelligence toward effective account selection, sales, and engagement. Lack of this intelligence will inhibit a program’s success and, as the data reveals, can also inhibit your ABM program getting started in the first place.
- Top roadblock to an ABM start: lack of access to the right data and the ability to leverage it
- Around two-third do not have a ‘single source of truth’ for customer data
Spotlight on Data Challenges
It is necessary that you start your ABM program by first getting a good grip on your data- depth, accuracy, usability, and relevance. However, the majority of companies are still developing these capabilities- less than one- a quarter of respondents identified themselves as leaders in using data as a strategic asset.
When these leaders were asked about the specific actions data can drive, leadership confidence wanes with just 14% of respondents feeling they have a solid grip on scoring, real-time monitoring of accounts and knowledge ramp-up, and even fewer respondents feeling confident about their ability to keep contact data up-to-date. There is no room for improvement in each dimension.
With the data being so essential to both a strong ABM start as well as ABM results, it seems that most B2B companies still have some distance to go in terms of having access to the right data, keeping it up-to-date and using it strategically. Obtaining real-time updates on prospect and customer actions, scoring opportunities that represent buying needs or quickly learning about new markets and prospects are all, key elements to the creation of a strategic account profile that is deep, broad and continuously updated. This profile is central to the ABM process.
Putting the Data to Work; Segmentation and Account Identification
Segmentation is the key to sales and marketing success, and this is especially true for ABM. The type of account data you will collect for segmentation is largely based on your business. Based on the collective wisdom of B2B respondents, length of relationship, annual spend, and account lifetime value should be the top criteria for defining best customers, which is one way to prioritize accounts for inclusion in an ABM program.
Segmentation will help you identify areas of weakness and strength across multiple dimensions- combinations of the criteria mentioned above, or your own relevant criteria. Once you have a solid grip on segments, you can easily decide how much your ABM program should target current customers to retain or expand/develop or net new customers to land or acquire. The decisions may vary based on sales channels, geography, or even by an individual sales representative. Of course, the calls you make should be guided by your organization’s overall strategy and overall business- and at the same time need to be monitored to calibrate for any account or market changes.
For ABM programs focused to gain net new customers, it makes more sense to target the prospects accounts that match the attributes of your identified target segments. This seems to be easier said than done, since around 70% of marketers responding to the above survey are not yet able to identify “look-alike” organization that match target segment attributes.
- ~70% are not able to identify ‘look-alike’ organizations that match target segments
- 75% can’t find right contacts at organizations matching the target profile
- More than 50% have limited or no ability to collect real-time intelligence on target accounts
Practical ABM Guideposts Marketing Leaders Advise
Most of the respondent agreed that segmentation and building out your target account list at an effective level is not executed overnight and the right tools are necessary. Placing the right overall infrastructure for ABM in position can take some time.
ABM Guidance from the Experts
The following is tested, practical ABM advice from the marketing leaders who contributed their insights:
On ABM Data
- The more data you have, the higher your ability to reduce costs and make those insights even more meaningful and scalable to a larger population.
- Expand beyond the notion of named accounts.
- Move beyond company size.
- Legacy data and legacy systems, especially in well-established companies, can be one of your biggest hurdles.
- Predictive intelligence is only as good as your foundational data sets.
On ABM Segmentation
- Land on your own segmentation approach by answering: ‘How will you align your resources to target them?’ ‘Where do you see your best opportunities?’
- Develop your RAD model and map accounts accordingly: Draw a 3×3 grid. On one of the axes put Retention, Acquisition, and Development; on the other – your industry segments.
- Start segmenting by looking at the entire universe of customers, and ruling out those that are very small or have outsourced to someone else; then looking at the net-available customers.
- Then identify your lookalikes—the next companies you would like to sell to. Treat them as a market of one; nurture them individually.
On ABM Targeting
- Narrow down your segments; apply thoughtful engineering to reach those segments. Develop robust content with the right messaging to convert.
- Invest in the right content to scale your ABM program.
On Sales & Marketing Collaboration
- Talk to sales and agree on the companies and segments to target, including those you should not be spending time on.
- Align on terminology—marketing and sales need to speak the same language. Rather than looking for leads, search for opportunities; instead of dealing with individuals, focus on accounts.
- Have ABM be shared sales and marketing responsibility.
ABM can lead to much better customer acquisition, growth and higher retention. ABM also offers the promise of more ‘share of wallet’ and customer advocacy. While not a new concept, and new marketing tools and data-driven marketing strategies have helped to make ABM a practical approach for B2B companies of all sizes. And like any other journey, ABM programs need careful monitoring and planning to be fruitful, which in turn needs a solid data foundation. And as the research have shown that data foundation is not in place universally, creating challenges to a successful ABM start and strong finish.