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5 Steps to Winning at Account-Based Marketing

Account-based marketing (ABM) is gaining ground among B2B marketers. According to a recent study, 2017 B2B Programmatic Outlook, 73% of B2B marketers currently use or plan to adopt ABM in 2017. And it’s for good reason: ABM’s ROI can outperform all other B2B marketing investments.

ABM is hardly a new concept. In fact, some argue that ABM has been around for as long as marketing has. It’s a strategy that treats each account as a market one, allowing for total cohesion between sales and marketing.

Today, it’s being more readily employed by marketers due to the increased use of interconnected data and robust analytics within marketing. On top of that, data is becoming more real-time and scalable through Data-as-a-Service (DaaS) platforms. These insights help marketers better understand and identify their most lucrative accounts, which in turn equips them to prioritize resources when engaging those accounts through the sales funnel.

ABM has even become central to our own business development strategy here at Dun & Bradstreet. We use data, analytics and collaboration with sales to prioritize new opportunities.

Sounds easy enough, right? Not so fast. While it seems simple on the surface, ABM can be a complex process that demands smart execution and input from all members of your team.

Here are five steps that will help you develop a winning ABM strategy for your business.

Step 1: Develop Cross-Functional Teams

Before scaling ABM at Dun & Bradstreet, we focused on our culture, go-to-market strategy and messaging, which involved developing a renewed sense of purpose and updated set of values as part of our overall brand modernization.

We developed a messaging system around personas that linked this to the pain points we solve, which laid the foundation for our ABM strategy. No matter how good your digital machine is, if you don’t have something differentiated to say and a culture that supports it, you likely won’t break through the clutter.

From there, we developed cross-functional “Tiger Teams” made up of members from each of our marketing functions. These teams, which are organized by personas, are now able to break through traditional silos, encouraging comprehensive thinking and nimble actions to ensure projects are tackled with the full might of our creatives, analytics, technology, communications and digital teams to drive the experience by each persona.

Step 2: Identify Key Accounts

Your initiative should not move forward until both sales and marketing agree on the account selection criteria and, ultimately, your target businesses. What features or characteristics indicate a high-value account for you (and your boss)? It all depends on your company, your priorities, and what data and analytics models have demonstrated predictive value in the past.

We’re fortunate at Dun & Bradstreet to have access to the same data and analytics capabilities we develop for our customers. We use propensity and attrition analytic models to tell us who is most likely to grow their relationship with us, who we can potentially cross-sell to and who poses a potential risk of not renewing.

Demand estimation models based partly on lookalike modeling tell us which accounts and lines of business pose the best opportunity for us. For example, in our analysis of our own customer base, companies that were predicted to struggle with growth in the near future were actually more likely to be interested in our sales and marketing solutions. And demand estimation models move us beyond just what an account is likely to purchase—they help us predict what the deal size might be.

For segmentation, we look to match selling models based on how we have already been successful by vertical, size, purchase behavior and propensity to buy. Service analytics assess which post-sales efforts lead to renewal, which is key to focusing these limited resources toward high-risk and high-value customers. Sales and marketing prioritization informs key areas of focus for account-based go-to-market initiatives and persona-based messaging.

Step 3: Craft Your Persona-Based Messaging

B2B purchases involve multiple influencers and buyers, which means you still have to develop multiple personas that require specific messaging.

And hopefully, now that you’ve identified your most attractive customers, you should have a better understanding of how to talk to them. Not only will you be able to target their biggest challenges, pain points and goals, but you will also be able to identify the particular marketing channels they are most active on. This will help determine how you personalize your messaging.

Whether it’s through email or direct mail, or digital means, you will need to develop a smart content marketing strategy that speaks their language and helps them meet their goals. At the end of the day, it’s not about you; it’s about them. That’s the tone that will help open doors with even the most difficult accounts.

Step 4: It’s Time to Execute

As you execute the above tactics, it’s crucial to rely on KPIs to measure the impact of your campaigns and inform future optimization. A successful ABM strategy has its finger on the pulse of these four metrics:

  1. Engagement: In a business climate dominated by noise, the best way to drive engagement is by personalizing a customer’s digital experience. It is important to look at key metrics like clicks to important landing pages, time spent on-site and customer conversions to see how responsive these customers are to your message.
  2. Customer Satisfaction: Changes in customer satisfaction are tied to your future revenue growth. You can measure them through personal customer surveys, larger NetPromoter scores, business software review platforms and even social media discussions.
  3. Pipeline: This is straightforward, but feedback at each step of your sales pipeline will give you an indication of your customers’ commitment levels. The more engaged you are with your clients, the fatter your pipeline will be.
  4. Scale: This is the ultimate indicator of a successful ABM strategy—because at the end of the day, it’s not about leads generated, but accounts won. How much has your deal velocity increased? Has your average contract value grown?

Step 5: Don’t Forget to Measure Everything

ABM initiatives need time to grow and mature. Remember, you’ll need rich data and insights to personalize your interactions and fortify your account relationships. If improperly maintained, ABM opportunities can stall. And at the other extreme, account relationships may take off too quickly, suffocating the growth of other ABM-related steps you still need to take.

Making the shift to an ABM strategy can help you identify your biggest areas of growth and ultimately focus on winning new business. But it takes a deep understanding of your data and overall team cohesion. Otherwise, you might be missing out on key opportunities to drive new business from your most valuable customers.

Rishi Dave

Rishi Dave is the chief marketing officer for Dun & Bradstreet. Rishi joined Dun & Bradstreet in February 2014 from Dell where he was the executive director of digital marketing. Rishi holds degrees in chemical engineering and economics with honors from Stanford University and an MBA in marketing from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

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