When executed properly, ABM can help you engage with your target audiences, deliver personalized content, and drive meaningful results, writes Katy Sanchez of Firewood Marketing.

KatySanchez-FirewoodMarketing

Katy Sanchez

Business-to-business (B2B) selling is tough. But the truth is that as tough as it is for B2B sellers to sell, it’s grown increasingly more complicated for B2B buyers to buy. Understanding the complexities and challenges your buyers face is a good start to smoothing out the selling process, but it’s just the beginning. How can you go a step beyond understanding toward winning that conversion? One way is through account-based marketing (ABM).

ABM has long been held as the gold-standard sales approach for identifying and engaging large, high-value enterprise accounts through the use of highly targeted, account-level personalization. But a survey of B2B sales and marketing professionals released by ABM technology provider Terminus in February 2020 found that although 67% of the companies surveyed had ABM programs in place, only 17% considered their programs advanced and garnering measurable results.

When executed properly, ABM can help you engage with your target audiences, deliver personalized content, and drive meaningful results. Not old-school ABM, but today’s ABM that’s done intelligently, efficiently, and effectively. Here’s how to get there.

Create an organization-wide culture of collaboration

There’s no doubt B2B sellers face a number of challenges in crafting and executing ABM strategies—identifying accounts ready to buy, developing relevant content, and personalizing at scale, to name a few. But nearly one-half of B2B marketing executives surveyed in this 2019 DemandGen survey reported that their biggest ABM-related challenge is the alignment of sales and marketing.

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That’s one reason why an effective ABM strategy requires expansion beyond just sales and marketing teams. Successful ABM requires a cultural shift—one of accountability, cooperation, and communication across the entire organization—so that all marketing functions collaborate and non-marketing groups participate in the selling effort. Here’s how:

  • CMO-led change. Sitting at the center of the proverbial table, the CMO can work end to end with sales business leaders to align marketing strategies with business goals, create content and meaningful experiences with industry experts and, along with the CIO/CTO, drive a digital transformation.
  • Departmental buy-in. The way marketing and cross-functional teams collaborate will likely need to change. The CMO should work closely with department heads and team leads to ensure everyone is on board.
  • Streamlined and regular communication. Departments and teams across the enterprise should be structurally aligned, continuously updated, and equipped to respond quickly to deliver exceptional experiences for prospects and customers.
  • Alignment of goals. For the CMO to effectively rally departments not traditionally linked to the marketing effort, alignment of performance goals and accountability across the organization is a must so that everyone is rowing in the same direction.
  • Integrated data initiatives. Creating a dashboard that has built-in capabilities to link all of your sources of information—like social media platforms, email platforms, events, and websites—allows you to make accurate and actionable insights available to all business roles (marketing campaign head, manager, client, sales head, and C-suite).

Harness the power of artificial intelligence 

With the CMO leading the charge, your cross-organizational ABM team is off and running. But what happens once you’ve identified 500 or 1,000 or 5,000 targets to track? Delivering an experience that is memorable (and sets your company apart) for that many people requires in-depth, account-based knowledge that isn’t possible to dig through even with a team of qualified individuals working alongside you. So, do you limit your accounts or hire more personnel?

The answer is: neither. What your organization needs is intuitive data processing on a grand scale through artificial intelligence (AI). AI can help set up and execute the ABM engine, cutting down time-consuming manual input and transforming the way marketers and their teams execute marketing programs. Here’s where AI can help:

  • Better buyer profiling and targeting, and more personalized recommendations. AI can provide useful customer insights and predictive analytics and shape personalization to place customer data at the center of marketing strategies. While AI shouldn’t replace research and analysis that can help marketers connect with buyers and stakeholders in target accounts, it can help enhance understanding.
  • Enablement of existing technology. Companies have been investing more and more into data analytics and third-party data technologies for better customer insights, lead generation, and scoring. AI can help identify B2B look-alike audiences with high buying propensity. And advanced AI technologies can create complex predictive models to anticipate the next step along your customer’s buying journey. AI-empowered data platforms can even create hyper-personalized experiences that offer full content recommendations.
  • Enhanced customer service. AI technology—such as chatbots on website landing pages—can help generate new leads across the full customer journey as buyers engage with your company, helping you respond more quickly to customer needs and further your prospects along in the buying process.

Deliver personalization buyers have come to expect as consumers

Business buyers—particularly millennial business buyers, who comprise a growing segment of all B2B buyers—have high expectations for personalization. Is it any wonder why? The business-to-consumer (B2C) platforms we all use every day—like Netflix, Uber, and Amazon—are highly personalized. And it’s this speed, convenience, and relevance that keeps us going back for more.

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As in B2C, B2B marketing is all about delivering the right content, via the right channel, at the right time so that your buyers come back for more. Digital channels and personalized content are of supreme importance in the B2B selling process. So, how do you drive digital engagement with personalization in your ABM strategy?

  • Programmatic advertising. Leverage customer data to execute highly targeted online ad campaigns.
  • Website personalization. Deliver a custom, personalized experience and content for individual personas after form fills, also taking into consideration customer data like firmographics (company name, industry, company size) or where they are in the customer journey (awareness, education, evaluation).
  • Interactive content. Invest in highly consumed channels like long and short videos, livestreamed events, and live webinars.
  • Social influencers. Map your buyers and buying committees to social influencers. Who do they pay attention to, trust, and follow on social media?
  • Direct access to sales. Provide buyers and stakeholders with direct lines of communication to your sales organization via the channels they frequently use—social platforms, text messaging, DMs, and chat, among others—so they can get questions and concerns resolved quickly via human touch.

Closing the deal

In a world with ever-increasing complexities around business solutions, your job as a marketer is to apply the knowledge and the tools available to make the life of your buyer—and the decisions they need to make—simpler. And success starts with you. Your organization’s ability to work together as a cohesive unit is the way forward in enabling a more intimate relationship with your buyer and will help to simplify the traditionally complex B2B buying process, turning your complex buyer into a confident decision-maker.

Katy Sanchez is senior director, strategy at digital marketing agency Firewood, part of the S4 Capital (SFOR.L) group of companies. 

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