There’s a new marketing buzzword floating around: Account-Based Marketing (ABM). While this concept is not new, this new moniker reinforces and reminds marketers of 3 critical factors required for marketing success.
Twenty years ago “Account-based Marketing” was “Account-based Selling” or “Target Account Marketing” — a process for building account plans and engaging specific individuals within an account with relevant, meaningful, and timely content and interaction. What is new and exciting today is that we now have tools and access to a lot of new information that can inform marketers on how individuals within an account are behaving.
An early ABM example
One of my most favorite lead gen programs I worked on was in 2001 when I was a young VP of marketing for a knowledge management start-up. This was during the early days of online search. Using today’s terms, we offered a software-as-a-service (SaaS) product/service that allowed users to get immediate answers to their questions. What was unique at the time was that our engine was very advanced and offered up relevant and comprehensive answers as opposed to a laundry list of links.
Since we were a start-up, we had no money. Our objective was to win some enterprise customers quickly. But they needed to be strategic wins — not just any wins. Because the sales cycle was long, each account needed to be picked carefully. Each account win would help us build credibility by showing how we could help solve specific and important customer support problems. And through these wins, we could inform the public with important business stories relevant for the industry. Carpet bombing random lists of names would not work for communicating these important stories. We needed the dialog to be personal, leader-to-leader, not marketer-to-random prospect. So, we got creative.
I worked in partnership with the VP of Sales and his leadership team. Rather than buy a list of names, we built our own list of 500 target companies. We carefully matched our product strategy with a prioritized set of target accounts. With laser-focused ambition we set our sights and did not waiver from them.
We knew we needed to sell high into the organization. We were bold and decided that for each company on our list of 500, the CEO would be our first target. Our objective was to get the CEO to respond by expressing interest, thereby (hopefully) granting us an introduction to the appropriate person on his staff for follow-up. We confirmed the name of their CEO and obtained his office phone number. We also canvased industry magazines and tech journals to be sure we identified an issue they were facing that was relevant to our product. How did we do this? Through teamwork and a positive attitude. We were blessed to have one of the most savvy executive admins around. She called into each company and navigated to her counterpart – the CEO’s executive admin. Calling on behalf of our CEO, she explained that we wanted to share some information that her CEO would find interesting, based on an issue his/her company was wresting with, as noted in the news, their website, etc. She asked for his direct email address so she could send them information on behalf of our CEO. This approached worked exceptionally well for two key reasons:
- This was not a telemarketing call — it was executive admin to executive admin.
- We were not selling anything; we were honest, forthright, and polite. It was about information sharing and engaging in a dialog.
To our delight, we captured and verified 80% of the CEO email addresses this way.
ABM is Integrated Marketing
Nobody wants to be sold to! The dialog with each of these enterprise accounts required careful personalization. We created a standard email for this program, then tailored it for each CEO. Our email (ghost written for our CEO) was one paragraph in length and included a mocked-up screen shot of how our product would look on the target account’s website, using their brand. So, while the data in the screen shot was bogus, their company logo, brand, and homepage design was personalized for them. Several energetic souls in our support team built these screen shots for us. (Again, teamwork was key!)
The call to action was intimate, individual, and personalized by our CEO. It may seem ironic, but our goal was not to sell our product. At least not at first. Instead, the text of the email illustrated a relevant business problem and opportunity for the target account. The CEO shared, “I have a crazy idea and would like your feedback — CEO to CEO.” The email conveyed regular language — no technical jargon; no sales-speak. In closing, we asked them to share a short reply and provide us with some feedback. The telephone number we provided was to a new line that that marketing team would answer as if we were the CEO’s office.
We created a separate email mailbox for our CEO and distributed these emails from that account. Twenty emails were developed and dropped each week. Remember, each email required careful personalization, and we had no budget to outsource any of this work. We didn’t want to wait for all 500 to be ready. Also, by staggering the drop, we could learn how effective we were by watching our response rates.
ABM for enterprise key accounts = victory!
We successfully ran the program for 6 weeks. We received a 12% response rate and won audiences with a number of brand-name customers including AT&T, UPS, and FedEx. My personal favorite was an email response from Michael Eisner (then the head of Disney) who directed us to follow-up with his VPs of marketing and support. Everyone was copied on his response; the skids had been greased; we were in business!
3 Critical Success Factors
ABM is a very powerful concept, especially for figuring out how to establish a meaningful dialog with key target enterprise accounts. Whether you call it ABM or something else, here are 3 of the most important keys to success:
- You need a persona to be your guide. ABM is a concept that reinforces a central notion: Whoever understands the customer best wins! The better you understand your target customer (or account), the better and more relevant your story and messages will become. This understanding will inform your marketing strategy. Without it, your messaging will appear random – just noise in the marketplace.
- ABM requires integrated marketing. ABM is not about executing a webinar or defining a media strategy for an ad. It’s about building a marketing blueprint — a flowchart of activities, messaging, and offers that are relevant, meaningful, and timely. It’s about engaging specific individuals in a specific account in dialog they value. To do that, you’ll need an entire mix of marketing tools and tactics.
- Integration requires a Campaign Manager. It’s hard to be “integrated” when all of the pieces of your marketing plan are created in silos. That leads to “marketing popcorn”. Savvy companies have created the role of a Campaign Manager to work cross-functionally to synchronize the plan and its execution.
This approach worked wonderfully for us 20 years ago. Now, think what we can do today with new ABM tools and the magic of big data at our fingertips!