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Categories: Marketing,

Account-based marketing. ABM. Account-based everything. It’s been blogged, tweeted, studied and generally written to death in 2016.

And as anyone familiar with the Gartner Hype Cycle knows, that means 2017 will likely be the year in which (at least some) marketers hit the “Trough of Disillusionment” (I didn’t make that term up, blame Gartner), as they realize ABM can’t carry out lead generation for them, do the laundry, and bring world peace – all at the same time.

Don’t get me wrong – ABM is very effective. The stats all back up that assertion. A recent study by TOPO for the ABM Leadership Alliance, for example, found that “companies that have implemented ABM have seen a substantial lift in average contract value of 171%(!)” [emphasis added].

No wonder, then, that a Sirius Decisions survey earlier this year found that “more than 70 percent of B2B companies have staff that are fully or partially dedicated to driving ABM-specific programs.”

The problem is that amid all the hype and general advice about ABM, it can be easy to miss out some basic steps — some simple, others more sophisticated — which constitute the difference between ABM success and failure.

Now is the time to make or break your account-based marketing in the coming year. Be prepared.

Before anything, prepare your databases for ABM

It sounds obvious, and it is, but you can’t pursue ABM with bad data.

In fact, you can’t really market at all with bad data.

So why are so many marketers still working with data that is so far past its use-by date?

Consider: What percentage of the emails sent from your marketing automation system (or CRM) bounces in a typical campaign? More than you’d like, no doubt.

Many marketers just accept all this as part of the territory — after all, for every email which bounces at least one other goes through. Anyway, your database is such a mess, where would you even begin? And besides, your next inbound marketing campaign will inevitably bring with it more incomplete or false data, and eventually you’ll be back to square one.

The thing is, correcting your data and keeping it fresh doesn’t need to be a complicated process.

Related: How to Prepare for an Email Nurture Campaign

Find a solution which offers you the most quality, granular, insightful and actionable data possible. Don’t make do with superficial insights like job title (which very often won’t tell you much about a lead’s authority or precise responsibilities). Look for job functions, seniority, technologies they’re familiar with, and other actionable insights which can inform your marketing and sales in a practical way.

Just as importantly, make sure that whatever data management solution you choose allows you to refresh data on demand — or at least regularly enough to prevent the inevitable, rapid degeneration which all B2B databases experience. If your contacts or leads have changed their contact details, position, or company, you need to know about it ASAP.

Every element of your campaign relies on the quality of your data.

Know your named accounts

Named accounts is another very basic element of account-based marketing, but one which requires a change of focus for sales and marketing reps more used to concentrating on leads.

It’s not that you’ll no longer be targeting leads, of course. Each named account will contain several leads, which you’ll be targeting in practice to close the deal. But it’s about a change of mentality.

Before you start looking at those leads, you’ll need to research their accounts to understand what the company’s key pain points are, its size, and the buying motivations of the people within.

You then need to pinpoint the key decision-makers or influencers within that account (there could a handful, or just one), and market/pitch to them.

One practical way of pivoting to a named account approach is to work backwards, via lead-to-account matching. If a sales or marketing rep identifies a good lead, assign their entire account to them, and take it from there.

Related: How Marketo aced their own account-based marketing strategy

Ideally, your data solution should also offer lead-to-account matching facilities integrated into your CRM or marketing automation system, to save you the trouble of doing it manually.

One of the great things about a named account approach is that it increases efficiency, by eliminating the possibility of different sales and/or marketing reps unwittingly — and unnecessarily — working different leads within the same company, resulting in a wasteful duplication of efforts.

Don’t forget site-level matching

Site-level matching is the next logical step from lead-to-account matching. It’s more advanced, and performing it requires more sophisticated technology, but it can and should be implemented by any company pursuing ABM.

We’ve covered site-level matching in detail in a previous blog post. But in a nutshell: site-level matching maps out your accounts’ entire hierarchies, highlighting which companies are in fact subsidiaries of larger, parent accounts.

The purpose is the same as lead-to-account matching, but taking it to another level of accuracy. Site-level matching provides a full, comprehensive picture of your named accounts and the leads within them, empowering you with the knowledge of who among the often myriad options are the very best leads to target.

And just like lead-to-account matching, it prevents duplication of effort by ensuring one rep is assigned the correct parent account (or relevant branch therein), as opposed to unnecessarily scattering its various subsidiaries across several reps.

This can be more of a problem than might at first be apparent. Just consider how many subsidiary companies’ names are totally different to those of their parent company or other subsidiaries. It isn’t uncommon under such circumstances for sales and marketing reps to end up targeting multiple elements of the same account, when simply finding the right person in the right site within that account would include all of them.

Plug into Artificial Intelligence

As noted by Engagio and Marketo Founder and ABM thought-leader Jon Miller, AI-powered solutions like predictive analytics aren’t just a useful add-on for account-based everything: they’re a necessity.

The truth is, AI is fast emerging as one of those technologies every marketer (and increasingly salesperson too) wants to have. And it’s not hard to see why; it makes our lives infinitely easier. Instead of spending time sifting through leads — much of it wasted on leads which turn out to be unqualified — you can know precisely which leads are most likely to buy, and focus your limited resources on converting them. Unsurprisingly, companies who use AI tend to see significant ROI very quickly.

AI predictive modeling can be applied to accounts as well, so you use it to find your named accounts, as well as the best leads within them.

A predictive model uses your historical data to isolate the behavioral traits and characteristics of your ideal customers, to create an Ideal Customer Profile. Once you have that, you can score and segment new prospects or existing leads/accounts against that Ideal Customer (or Company) Profile. Just make sure you’re fully in control, and not relying blindly on a “black box” algorithm.

Watch: How predictive scoring helps you find the best leads

When you’re juggling accounts and leads, and trying to assess who precisely to target, there couldn’t be a more ideal solution to point you in the right direction.

Content marketing: Surprisingly crucial to ABM success

Apologies in advance for the cliche, but content is still king.

Content marketing as a fad may have long been eclipsed by ABM, AI and other more current trends, and it is certainly harder to achieve clear ROI from content marketing these days than in those early, golden years — but it’s still a crucial necessity for any marketing strategy.

And while you may be forgiven for thinking that marketing to accounts makes content marketing less relevant, that could not be further from the truth.

Related: Learn 5 key tips for boosting ABM with content marketing

Since ABM boils down to a handful or less of key influencers within each named account, it requires a particularly personalized approach to content marketing.

Once you’ve identified your target accounts and leads, you should be writing customized content for each profile — perhaps even for each individual, depending on scale and your own capacity.

Before you start panicking, remember one of the golden rules of content marketing: don’t reinvent the wheel every time. More often than not, your company will already possess content which, with some fine-tuning, can be tailored into a more customized piece of material for specific prospects.

For more practical tips to ABM success, download our free ebook with Oracle Marketing Cloud:

The Modern Marketer's Guide to Account-Based Marketing

Picture credit: iStock

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