Account-based marketing is here to stay

  • Posted on December 4, 2020
  • Estimated reading time 4 minutes
The benefits of ABM and how marketing and sales teams need to work together.

This article was originally written by Avanade alum Mishel Justesen.

I remember when account-based marketing (ABM) was a trendy new term floating around in the digital marketing world. At the time, it felt like an impossible trend to tackle. The concept was great, but the reality of implementation gave digital marketers a headache. However, as B2B marketing teams ramped up ABM programs, magic began to happen. Marketing and sales teams found common ground and were able to align. Marketing teams started to see significantly higher ROI on ABM campaigns compared to other marketing initiatives. This was also paired with a higher close rate on sales opportunities. When digital marketers realized that ABM was here to stay, they rolled up their sleeves and got to work. 

If you’re unfamiliar, ABM is a strategy that requires marketing and sales alignment on a targeted list of accounts. ABM is not about high-volume lead generation. The goal of this collaboration is to generate more revenue from a smaller group of high-value prospects or customers. 

Decide if ABM is right for your organization
The first thing to decide is whether or not you need ABM. Just because it’s a “thing” doesn’t mean it’s the right “thing” for your business. In general, ABM is best suited for enterprise-sized organizations (more than 1,000 employees) who sell to other businesses. If you are a B2B mid-market organization (less than 1,000 employees) it doesn’t mean that ABM is not the right fit for you. It will just become very important to understand if your IT, marketing and sales teams are ready to make this shift and that your organizations is willing to invest the right amount of time and resources to ensure they are successful.

Consider how ABM benefits your team
The Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) may want to consider ABM because it allows the marketing team to focus on the top revenue generating accounts within their organization and align marketing efforts to sales success. There is less friction with Sales because leads are generated with highly engaged stakeholders who are ready to have a conversation. Tracking marketing campaign ROI to sales revenue also becomes much easier. 

For the Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) and their sales team, ABM may be attractive because it eliminates the concept of “dialing for dollars.” Instead, the call that sellers make to the interested stakeholder is expected and welcomed. Higher value opportunities fill the pipeline, customers feel like they have been heard and account management has a higher level of success. And, since marketing stays engaged with sales to continue supporting the plan for the account, the sales team views marketing as supportive rather than a friction point. 

Put strategy first, then support it with technology
One of the biggest mistakes I see large marketing teams make is to throw one piece of technology at a problem they are trying to solve. Technology won’t fix a bad process, nor will it come with a magical set of best practices to follow. Without a strategy and plan in place, that shiny new technology will add more tech debt and complexity to your daily life. Nobody wants that. Life is complicated enough, right? With strategy in place, here are some steps to get you started.

Five steps to get started with a strategic ABM program 

1) Define your strategic accounts. This is not done in a silo by sales. Nor is it an Excel file that marketing pulls from CRM to start building campaigns. It's a shared effort that both teams contribute to with agreement on the industries you have expertise in. Then, you’ll start building a target list. Some key metrics to consider include company size and revenue, geographic location, product/service fit and quick wins (like winning over customers of your competitors, or businesses with a shorter sales cycle). 

2) Understand the anatomy of these accounts. This is when your marketers and sales team members meet in the same (virtual) meeting room with an agreed-upon list of key accounts and dig into the details for known accounts. The sales team will explain what they know about the accounts and who their key contacts are. An important part of this process is to define who the key stakeholders are within the accounts. For example, you may divide the people within your accounts into roles like decision-maker, influencer or practitioner. From here, marketing will use this information to build targeted campaigns. 

TIP: Since your accounts will most likely include current customers, consider adding your customer service team to this effort. Your customer service team members will be able to provide valuable “boots on the ground” insights into what your customers are calling in about. This is valuable information that should be added to your account research efforts.

3) Communicate when and where customers will be most engaged. This is when your marketing automation and CRM technology platforms become important. The marketing team will create personalized messaging based on the insights they have learned from the account research. Email campaigns, customer success stories on a website, targeted educational content, webinars, and events are some common ways marketing will start communicating with the different personas on the accounts. Marketing automation technology can automate when and where these personas receive this content. When a certain level of engagement has been achieved, marketing automation can pass this highly engaged individual over to CRM, where the sales team takes over.

4) Acknowledge the complexity of the technology and overall MarTech stack. Without marketing and sales collaboration, and a true understanding of the people associated with your accounts, any sort of technology you throw at this tactic will fail. Technology needs process, organization and a team of people to use it properly. As a CMO, Marketing Director or Marketing Technologist, understanding and following the advice in this article will set your foundation for ABM.

Most enterprise-sized marketing teams have a very complex MarTech stack that they are fighting to keep up to date, integrated and (hopefully) pull insights from. The good news is that companies like Microsoft and Adobe are tackling this challenge together. At Avanade, we’ve seen a shift start to take place in the way that marketing, sales and IT teams are collaborating to reduce the complexity of these platforms to a level that is more supportable. And with access to shared customer data across systems, marketing and sales teams are equipped with insights that can help them deliver more relevance at every touchpoint in the customer experience. 

5) Share, optimize and do it again. Marketing efforts don’t stop when the lead goes into CRM. Ideally, this is just the start of a beautiful relationship with the sales team and the customer. Marketing should set up a regular meeting cadence with sales to share results and accept feedback on what worked and what didn’t work. If your technology is aligned, all of your team members will already know what to expect in these meetings and be prepared to discuss how to adjust strategy based on the story the data is telling them and cash in the bank.

Are you ready for ABM? 
If you have reached the end of this article and feel like you have to learn how to walk again, you are not alone. You can use these concepts as your guide to get the right conversations started within your organization.

Find out how you can transform your digital marketing during these disruptive times.


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