Sep 26, 2022 Paul Sullivan

The account based strategy playbook

Account-based strategy isn’t a new playbook. In fact, it’s been around in a recognised manner since 2004 or there about by the ITSMA ABM certification although many companies were executing ABM way before then.

Since its recognised inception, we have seen a plethora of marketing strategies and platforms come and go, and yet ABM or account-based marketing as its commonly known periodically rises to prominence. The only other widely adopted approach is inbound marketing which for me is now table stakes and decidedly, the two strategies when combined together can drive massively improved results.

For product-led marketing, I believe it's a perfect trifecta of ABM, inbound and the PLG experience that will be how B2B SaaS acquires customers moving forward. Sure opening the product up at the top of the funnel has its benefits, but many PLG companies still operate with some form of in-person sales model. 

This means an open-top model forms part of the marketing and sales mix, but alone won’t bring the traffic your platform needs once you equate continual freemium users and natural attrition in the sales funnel.

So why do we choose and then ignore a strategy that 87% of marketers reportedly state outperforms other marketing activities? When companies with mature ABM strategies credit 79% of opportunities and 73% of total revenue to ABM efforts?

My most commonly heard objection is that most people don’t know where to start, which is fine. Because the top three challenges of implementing ABM are delivering a personalized customer experience, knowing how to choose target accounts, and knowing what content to use.

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So let’s start there.

Personalisation strategy in ABM

Personalisation is the biggest challenge for any marketer, but for those practising account-based marketing strategy, personalisation is everything.

So what does personalisation look like and how can you deliver that?

Firstly, it’s more than the prospect's first name in an email, that’s super basic and the bare minimum in today's marketplace.

Think about the broader go-to-market strategy;

  • Customised landing pages branded for your target accounts
  • Sales enablement assets with the ability to customise per target account
  • Smart content*; only deliverable by HubSpot CMS at this time, but check on Mutiny if you use a WordPress CMS or similar.
  • Gifting, but please get beyond the standard swag and online options. Research each member of your target accounts buying committee and find out what’s important to them and use that to stand out from the crowd. Remember a lot of companies are moving to sustainability and a poor choice of gift could actually do more harm than you first think.
  • Webinars pre-recorded for target accounts
  • Branded infographics and much more

To land those whale accounts that you have been chasing requires a degree of understanding of the way today’s buyer buys. They are more educated than ever before, overwhelmed by the amount of solution-focused content available on the web. Less trusting than ever before and demanding to be in charge of the buying process.

That doesn’t make it easy for today's sales teams to crack the nut. This is why applying the nth degree of personalisation matters. You need to show today’s buyers that you understand their goals and challenges. 

  • That you want to build a relationship with them, not close their business. 
  • That you are laser-focused on making sure that your solution will genuinely solve their problems and finally you have to cater content for the whole of the buying committee.

Sounds like a lot? Well, it is. But don’t fret, with a clever combination of a dedicated marketing and sales team and the right technology, you can start to personalise at scale. So let’s look into some of the bullet points above.

Customised landing pages for ABM

Landing pages have been a part of the marketing mix for years, mainly because they allow you to define a single goal or outcome; usually to capture the details of the page visitor to enter into a nurturing sequence.

When using a tool that leverages the data in your CRM, like HubSpot CMS or the marketing automation tool, for example, you can create personalised or smart content experiences that can recognise your page visitor by business name, industry or even first name if need be. 

You can change the images in the background to suit the need of your prospect so if your customers are in multiple industry verticals, the imagery changes to match their industry type helping them recognise themselves on the landing page.

In addition to the imagery, you can also change the text. Using compelling and personalised messaging to enhance the customer experience. These are all top-of-funnel personalisation activities but as you move your prospect down the funnel, you can use more personalised messaging on pages designed for particular accounts.

Sales enablement in ABM

This one for me is just as important. When reading about ABM I rarely hear about this being touched upon. Maybe because ABM mark one was mainly focused on the marketing team doing the legwork and sales still looking to close. Whereas in today’s marketplace, with the relationship being the goal, aligning the two even closer is more important.

When I think about sales enablement in ABM, I’m really thinking about a few specific things;

    • Customisable assets for each stage of the buying process and for each member of the buying committee. Assets can include but are not limited to PDFs, white papers, case studies, competitor battlecards, testimonials, product-one pagers and even a “How [brand name] can be successful with [product name] deck. This isn’t exhaustive but can certainly help you map this to the buyer's journey for each persona or committee member.

Personalised webinars for target accounts

Webinars are a great way to provide your target accounts with customised content specific to their particular needs. By personalising your webinars to different buying committee members across the different stages of the sales journey, you can build rapid rapport and credibility with your prospects.

With OnDemand content being a typical behavioural request by your buyer, this content can be evergreen and ever useful as your messaging is shared and digested far beyond the live webinar.

Some of the methods I listed are commonplace in today’s marketing strategies so I don’t feel the need to highlight those. Customised and personalised materials like infographics are marketing 101.

How to choose your target accounts for your ABM strategy

The first thing you should do when identifying your target accounts is to look in your CRM. Assuming your sales team correctly use the software and keep it up to date, you know, moving deals along the pipeline correctly, annotating well and all of that good stuff.

You can utilise this to not only define what type of companies you are doing good business with but also learn a lot from the data in the deals about what you need to do to take that and apply that in your ABM.

One of my favourite tools for this as an additional bolt-on is Ocean.io. 

Ocean.io helps you build B2B business audiences, much like Facebook does with B2C lookalike audiences.

Effectively, you can connect the platform to your CRM, be that HubSpot, Salesforce or Pipedrive and it can analyse your deals, see which closed quickly and then use the URLs of those companies to find other companies that match with a focus on those with a short sales cycle. I mean, whether you use it in ABM or not, is up to you, but you’d be hard-pushed to find a tool that helps you focus on the absolute best opportunities you can possibly source.

For me, whether you are working in a market you are already doing business in or breaking into a new vertical, you can use the approaches shared here and build your own customisation.

What content do you use in account-based marketing?

ABM requires content as much as any other content strategy does, but many people feel like it's this overwhelming amount of work that instantly kicks in the lizard brain and people beat a hasty retreat when in fact it’s nothing like that.

You need a range of assets, highly customised, but these can be any of the following:

  • Whitepapers
  • Case studies
  • Social media ads
  • Product guides

But the truth here is that you need to do the research on your buying committee at your target account. You need to understand their goals and problems and create the content they need to further educate themselves and potentially sell your product internally. This of course at the right time.

I hear often that people want this how-to guide for ABM that tells them how to execute and unlike inbound marketing, ABM is not a broad sweeping approach to content tied to a particular persona.

To succeed at ABM you need the context and nuances that each target account has and you need to build content around those. Another great resource on this is our account-based marketing guide.

So we’ve talked about the key things most people struggle with and hopefully, I’ve alleviated some of your anxiety. So let’s now look at the top three topline account-based strategies:

  • One to many, or programmatic ABM
  • One to few, ABM Lite
  • One-to-one, strategic ABM

And whilst there are a number of individual plays that back these up, I’ll get to those later. First, let's define the strategies individually.

The one-to-many ABM strategy

The one-to-many account-based strategy is exactly that. It’s for a high number target account list or TAL. 

This particular approach requires the least amount of personalisation of the three strategies. You typically personalise at the persona level, much like inbound marketing, plus at the industry or pain point challenge. 

When it comes to personalization the main campaign assets won’t feature the target account name.

This is a great approach when you’re new to account-based marketing and you haven’t figured out how to streamline your marketing campaigns with your target audience.

The one-to-few account-based approach

The one-to-few approach to account-based marketing (ABM) requires a medium level of personalisation to deliver results from your marketing efforts.

This approach needs you to target your key accounts at the industry level with light touch personalisation.

Have your marketing team create your assets at the industry or industry/vertical levels.

Further personalise your messaging, to talk to how you specifically help industry/vertical or how your solution is ‘better’ than known competitors. Again, match this to the specific stage of the sales process.

The one-to-one account-based methodology

Save this approach for your high-value accounts as it's the most productive of the ABM programs.

It requires full personalisation at the account and personal level so extensive research on your target accounts and decision makers is required.

In addition to hyper-personalisation, your messaging needs to be relevant and action-oriented. Things to include are:

  • Customised Content: Pain-point-focused content that highlights an account’s specific struggles is an effective way to show your prospects you’ve done your research. 
  • Tailored Online Experience: Personalise the online experience with custom web pages—incorporate their company logo, name, and even job title. Use smart content to help serve content when your CRM recognises a contact or company.
  • Targeted Promotions and Deals: Work with your sales team to use targeted promotions offering a discounted solution to an immediate problem.

At this level of ABM, it’s all about the account and the unique challenges they face or what strategic objectives they are looking to achieve.  

Insights play a crucial role here in uncovering specific strategies to deploy in the personalization, e.g. competitor battle cards, unique hero assets or specific messaging that resonates with the buying committee.

That about wraps up my article for you today, as it reads longer than I first anticipated, I’m going to follow up with a more tactical article that looks at specific ABM plays depending on your goals or stage of the sales process.

Account-based strategy is a great go-to-market approach for B2B marketers and combines this with inbound marketing for a comprehensive strategy covering multiple marketing channels.

Published by Paul Sullivan September 26, 2022
Paul Sullivan