Having a solid system in place for inbound marketing will keep leads continuously coming through the door, but in order to grow your business and find new segments, you might need to be sourcing leads that you think will grow or fit your business as well.
Account-based marketing (ABM) is essentially flipping the inbound methodology that we all know and love on its head.
Instead of starting with prospects who have demonstrated interest in your company and then determining fit, with ABM, you identify a list of companies that fit your ideal customer profile, work with marketing to attract them to your site, get them to convert and then give them a very personalized sales process to move them through the funnel and generate interest.
But, there is a lot of preparation that needs to be done before you actually connect with someone at a target account. Making sure you have everything set up in terms of research and resources to handle that interaction is the key to success with ABM.
Setting the Foundation
Ideal customer profile
In order to decide what accounts you will go after, you need to first establish your ideal customer profile (ICP). An ICP is a hypothetical description of the type of company that would reap the most benefit from your product or solution.
Your ICP will be broader than your target accounts, but you will never be sourcing a targeted account that falls outside of your ICP. You may also have multiple ICP’s at your company.
Before starting ABM, it's crucial that both sales and marketing have a full understanding of both your ICP and target account criteria, as well as the different buyer roles that could exist within a target account.
Platforms and technology
Your CRM and marketing automation software will be great starting points to engage with contacts and companies in your target account list that already exist in your database. But you should also have a sales intelligence tool in place for the reps who are hunting for target accounts that are absent from your existing database.
Once identified, you can attract these new target accounts to your website with ad platforms like Terminus, Engagio or Demandbase and engage with them through a tailored online experience by using tools like Drift ABM or the HubSpot CMS.
Set your goals
Setting goals for how many targeted accounts you will be sourcing company-wide and by individual reps is an important decision to make before you can set up your teams and process. The number of accounts you will be targeting will dictate the number of team members you will need and the amount of time they will be spending on ABM versus working the inbound lead flow they already have.
The number of accounts you are going after will differ depending on your total addressable market, average deal value, sales cycle and close rates as well.
Setting Up Your Sales Team for ABM
Before you can execute an ABM strategy, you are going to need to make sure that your teams are structured correctly in terms of roles and responsibilities.
You have some flexibility as to whether you dedicate certain reps to doing ABM or make it a part of each Inbound rep’s daily process.
“Companies at most any size can benefit from the addition of an ABM approach if they're careful about how thin they spread their internal resources” says Inside Sales Manager Beth Abbott. “Each rep has multiple ways they can source their book of business, some of it’s account-based and some of it is inbound, but it doesn’t always make sense to dedicate reps to one or the other.”
You may eventually find yourself at a point where you can dedicate an entire team to account-based marketing, but a blend of the two approaches is often the right place to start, especially for SMBs.
The deals that come from an ABM strategy are complex and you will have invested a lot of time into them. You don’t want to risk losing out on one by having an inexperienced rep manage the account.
“Another thing to think about is maybe putting your more seasoned or experienced reps on those targeted accounts when they do come through and engage, rather than a rep who just started,” says Head of Demand Generation Guido Bartolacci.
Your sales team will be balancing their time between inbound leads and their ABM efforts, but interacting with those targeted leads once they come into the funnel is all about timing.
When one of your target accounts engages with your content or comes to your site, the sales process needs to be both immediate and personalized.
“Since you have identified this company as one you want to reach out to that already fits your ICP, when you do make that first connection, you should already be armed with a ton of information about them and specific sales enablement content created that you can hand to them right away,” says Guido.
Marketing’s Role in ABM
Your marketing team should be supplementing sales’ efforts in targeting accounts that are not in your database by using paid advertising. This can be done through the form of paid search, paid social, display campaigns and targeted tools.
It is also marketing’s role to create sales enablement content for the reps to use once a targeted lead is in the funnel.
As a rule of thumb for marketing, there is no such thing as “general messaging” when it comes to ABM.
“Every single touchpoint, from marketing or sales, has to be customized,” says Beth. “You can put some guardrails around that for the initial outreach, but once that account is in the funnel, you have to be ready with a specific step-by-step plan.”
While most of ABM is spent going after the target accounts and companies that you have on your list, there are still going to be contacts and companies that come into your system in an inbound fashion that fit your ICP and would be considered target accounts.
“Those leads need to be identified as soon as possible so that they have the best experience possible,” says Guido. “Make sure the website is tailored to them, and if you are using conversational marketing, they should be welcomed to the site in a more personalized way.”
When it comes to your email nurture campaigns for a target account they should be similar to your typical inbound campaign.
Just like with inbound best practices, you don’t want to overwhelm someone at a target account with emails or calls. It should still feel natural and not forced, or you risk losing the account all together.
Your automation and cadences should be the same for both approaches, but the actual emails and language you use may differ to accommodate the level of information you already have on the account as well as the content you are sending along.
When it comes to automation, you never want to just “set it and forget it”, but you’ll veer much further from this approach with ABM compared to inbound. With ABM, you want to make sure that each of those emails are tailored to the person who will be receiving it. You should also align the content you are offering to that person’s role at the company, as well as anyone else there that you hope they share it with to help progress that account through the funnel.
ABM requires more effort and time than most people realize. It is a hyper-personalized approach. Success using ABM requires thorough preparation and research, and above all else timing.
“I talk to my reps about the impact versus effort matrix,” says Beth. “Generally the inbound methodology is something I consider to be low effort and low to high impact, but I would consider ABM to be high effort and high impact.”
While ABM requires more effort initially, it can result in growth into new markets, larger deal sizes, better lifetime customers and major success for your company when done correctly.
Weslee Clyde is an inbound marketing strategist at New Breed. She is focused on generating results using inbound methods and is driven by the customer experience. When not at the office, you can find her binging a docu-series on true crime or perfecting her gluten-free baking skills.