The ABCs Of ABM: How We Built A Successful Foundation For Account-Based Marketing

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: ABM ain’t easy.

It’s been a long, winding road since rolling out LookBookHQ’s first-generation ABM program just over a year ago. We’ve learned many lessons along the way. The most important being: ABM can be powerful…when executed the right way. Yet, of those who have ventured into the realm of ABM, only 42% said they found it effective, according to DemandWave. Why is that?

Many B2B marketing teams are putting the cart before the horse. They focus on the ‘M’ in ABM without fully developing the target account strategy or underlying operational process to support an account based marketing model.

To ensure the success of your ABM efforts in 2018, it’s important to get back to basics and build a really solid foundation–focus on the ‘AB’ first. As marketers, we can’t take a backseat to planning the process and operations of our ABM strategy. It is really an interconnected discipline that requires super tight alignment between (you guessed it) marketing and sales.

Are you planning to launch or optimize ABM in 2018? If so, my best advice is to slow down and take a step back. Before you proceed, consider the ABCs of ABM first.

Actively involve yourself in target account selection

Many marketing teams have hopped aboard the ABM train, but they are feeling disillusioned by the results. Almost 60% ABM users either don’t find it effective or are unsure of its effectiveness. But there’s no need to give up hope!

Many marketing teams jump straight to the execution phase; maybe they purchase ABM technology or run display ads to a few top accounts. However, this is the last piece of the puzzle. Before any of that happens, marketing needs to actively participate or even take the lead in target account selection. The ‘Account-Based’ part of ABM is about doubling down on your best revenue opportunities and that requires a very data-centric targeting process. If marketing is simply taking a target account list from sales and assuming it’s been heavily vetted, this could be part of the problem.

When we first launched LookBookHQ’s ABM strategy, our account executives were picking their own target accounts. We very quickly noticed that sales and marketing were not always aligned on the criteria being used. This ignited a long (and ongoing) process of creating our Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). Running regression on past opportunities and closed deals, we identified a set of very specific firmographic and technographic trends that we then used to develop look alikes for targeting. We were able to completely redefine what it meant to be a target account and saw immediate impact in funnel conversion when we were smarter about who we targeted.

Be present at all stages of the operations planning

The success of any ABM program is firmly rooted in process. Before launching your ABM initiative, be sure to carefully map out the entire program from end to end. Ask yourself questions like:

  • Operationally, how is this different than other demand gen efforts?
  • How will you measure ABM success?
  • Whose responsibility is it to engage which target accounts?
  • What does the outbound cadence look like?

Once we built out our ICP, the LookBookHQ marketing team worked closely with sales to create an operational framework so that every target account was engaged the same way over the same timeframe. In order to understand if our target account cohort was correct and if our efforts were successful, we needed to ensure that all accounts were getting the same treatment.

For example, at the beginning of the month, each BDR is assigned the same number of target accounts. They then source the best contacts at each account based on agreed upon criteria, such as job title, and add them to Salesforce. Once that happens, the BDR initiates an 8-step cadence that must be completed by the end of the month. All of this happens in concert with a series of marketing aircover programs designed to heat up and engage the contacts at these accounts. This way, measuring the success of the program is more accurate and straightforward. Everyone knows what their next step is.

(over)Communicate with all stakeholders

You can meticulously plan every aspect of your ABM program, but if you don’t have cross-departmental buy-in and alignment, it will never get off the ground. Alignment with sales isn’t a one-and-done job. Not everyone will ‘get it’ right away. If you think of sales as your internal customer, you need to ensure you’re always working to educate, excite, and drive deeper alignment with them.

I learned this first hand. Last year, our marketing team developed this incredible, creative, and innovative direct mail program for our target accounts. We left no stone unturned when it came to planning, execution, and sales enablement. If sales wanted to send a direct mail touch, all they had to do was select their contact, personalize the note, click a button, and Salesforce would take care of the rest.

We sat with bated breath to see the results. But after a whole quarter came and went, we were pretty disheartened to learn that sales wasn’t taking advantage of the programs to the extent we had hoped. Even though we had onboarded sales at the beginning of the program, it took a lot of repetition and over-communication before the whole team bought in and adopted the direct mailer as part of their day-to-day operations. Today, it’s one of the most popular parts of our ABM program and is responsible for helping our BDRs to book lots of great meetings, but it took a lot of internal selling to get everyone to understand the value.

Going beyond the ABCs: Are you ready?

ABM makes the most sense when you’ve exhausted wide top-of-funnel demand gen strategies and this is no longer efficient or scalable. For us, it was about getting really smart about what our best and most successful customers look like, and not wanting or needing to take bad meetings anymore.

Sure, lots of people are interested in your tech, but there is only a small subset that will actually buy it and be successful with it. Only once you’re very clear on what that subset (the ‘A’) looks like can move on to the marketing piece (the ‘M’). When it comes to the ‘M’, make sure the process you’re using to activate and engage those target accounts is super specific.

What this looks like at LookBookHQ: We have divided our targets into 5 segments and are currently building out very specific “plays” that will speak directly to each of them. This way, we can be much more relevant and specific in how we communicate, and it will resonate more strongly. This is the evolution from one-to-many to one-to-one. We have also evolved our operational model for how we handle target accounts and still manage a wider top of funnel process that favors ICP accounts.

While ABM isn’t as easy as ABC, it can be a really powerful marketing strategy–as long as a solid operational foundation is built first. Make 2018 the year you put the ‘A’ back in ABM!