How to start an ABM program that scales | Turtl
A four-phased approach to take your account-based marketing from zero to hero. Learn how to scale across people, accounts, content, and data.
How to start a scalable ABM program
A four-phased approach to take your account-based marketing from zero to hero
*Introduction:* Why ABM is taking over
67% of brands are leveraging account-based marketing in 2020
The new kid on the B2B block
If you're reading this guide, we're guessing you're not completely new to ABM. You might be testing the waters right now or you might have a fully functioning ABM program up and running. But either way, you've probably not been doing this for long. Don't worry, you're not alone.
Account-based marketing has undoubtedly taken the B2B world by storm. 67 percent of brands are currently doing it and 40 percent of the average marketing team is entirely dedicated to ABM.
This collaborative targeted approach has been described as the "natural evolution of B2B marketing". But despite its widespread adoption, only 23 percent of ABM teams have been implementing account-based strategies for more than two years. It might be popular, but the relative novelty of it all has left some businesses struggling to execute ABM effectively or at scale. Take a look at how ABM maturity breaks down here:
"How long has your ABM team been practicing account-based strategies?"
Source: TOPO's 2019 Account-Based Benchmark Report
What's standing in the way of success?
ABM is known as being this ultimate cure for the aches and pains of inbound marketing, but it's not without its own set of challenges.
"What are the biggest challenges to starting, continuing, or scaling your account-based initiatives?"
% of respondents who identified this as a top 3 challenge
Source: TOPO's 2019 Account-Based Benchmark Report
Learn how to do ABM at scale
Account-based marketing in itself has been proven to be very successful. This is reported pretty much across the board, despite the limited number of years it's been practiced:
- 87% of account-based marketers say that ABM initiatives outperform other marketing investments
- 80% of marketers say ABM improves customer lifetime value
- 86% of marketers say it improves win rates
But, as we've seen, the biggest challenge facing ABMers is taking those results seen from individual cases and scaling them across a broad range of accounts. Without being able to do that, ABM's ability to consistently drive revenue remains stunted.
This guide will take you through the four phases of ABM that must be managed correctly to allow you to scale your account-based program, including aligning people internally, choosing accounts with high growth potential, personalizing content en masse, and measuring and actioning your account engagement data to refine your activities and prove ABM's value.
B2B marketers who successfully launch and sustain formal ABM programs can improve their firms’ revenue growth and profit margins, strengthen connections between marketing and sales colleagues, and enhance interactions with customers and prospects
Account-Based Marketing Brings Marketing And Sales Into The
Same Orbit, Forrester, 2016
*Phase 1:* People
How to achieve the alignment you need to expand your ABM program
Who needs to be won over?
Despite its name, ABM is more than a marketing activity. Without cross-functional support, getting buy-in to scale will be extremely difficult.
You need to have champions at the executive level. Think C-suite, Directors, and Senior Managers. They'll offer support and guidance at a top-level while backing you in conversations about the future.
The importance of marketing and sales alignment cannot be exaggerated enough. If your sales development reps and account executives don't play ball with your ABM, it's not going anywhere. This relationship is the foundation of ABM. Customer Success (CS) will also likely play a role.
Marketing is the glue that holds an ABM program together. HubSpot recommends an ABM team of one marketer and a maximum of ten salespeople. If that marketer doesn't see the value in ABM, the whole team falls apart.
Depending on the size of your business, there could be varying levels of operations needed to support your activities. Marketing/sales operations, customer support, etc. all play a vital role, especially when you scale to multiple accounts.
of companies that miss ABM objectives don't have dedicated leadership supporting them
Orchestration is not a buzz word – it’s table stakes. ABM requires that each function focus on how their activities support and interact with each other in service of the shared outcome.
Patrice Greene, President, Inverta
Roles & responsibilities checklist ✅
When involving multiple functions in your ABM strategy, especially when those functions are new to ABM, clarity in who does what helps instill an ABM mindset throughout the customer lifecycle. Here's an example checklist:
|Document the company wide ABM strategy
||Jointly develop sales and marketing playbooks by account. Execute sales plays.
||Collect customer testimonials and case studies
||Watch support tickets to monitor issues from key customers
||Create personalized UX experiences for target accounts
|Schedule and lead cross-team meetings on a regular basis
||Execute social selling and relationship building with ABM accounts
||Encourage customer referrals, broker conversations between accounts
||Provide high touch service to certain identified customers
||Product roadmap briefings with best/potential customers
|Create customer-focused content aligned with strategy
||Sales prospecting within ABM accounts
||Listen for buy signals, provide feedback to account management teams
||Provide feedback on common issues to help the product team resolve before they become an issue for key accounts
||Invite best and potential customers to join customer advisory board/voice of the customer meetings
|Identify, measure, and communicate key metrics
||Share relevant content with target contacts
||Help close ICP deals - discuss how they've helped similar accounts
3 ways to align sales and marketing
Friction between sales and marketing exists in a traditional funnel because of the abrupt handover of leads between the two teams. In theory, ABM solves this by bringing in sales earlier while extending marketing involvement. But to put that into practice, there are three things you can try:
With typical demand generation, marketing teams are often given specific KPIs around lead generation rather than revenue. ABM should address this by aligning marketing's KPIs with sales' direct revenue-focused goals - you'll learn more about these in phase 4. This ensures the entire ABM team is single-minded in their objectives.
ABM typically extends marketing's role in the sales cycle. This might cause friction with your sales team who are used to working on their own. By structuring compensation similarly between sales and marketing and tying it to their shared KPIs, you increase sales' trust as marketing then have the same reward at stake.
3. Joint Activities
Traditionally, marketing loses sight of a lead once they enter conversations with sales, losing out on valuable insights. In ABM, you should encourage marketing to attend sales meetings and sit in on sales calls to get both functions on the same page with the health of their accounts. Involving sales in early strategy sessions also helps improve sales' visibility into the marketing activities that have influenced an account.
Organizational misalignment is solved by aligning goals and incentives
Dave Rigotti, Head of Enterprise Demand Generation & ABM, Marketo
Your communication timeline ⏰
If you want your ABM to expand, you need to be boosting its profile internally. This means regular, open channels of communication that keep everyone in the loop. How you do that exactly will depend on your business, but here's a good timeline for communication to get you started:
This only needs to happen between your core ABM team of sales and marketing. You should check in on progress and share any early-stage updates.
Bring in the wider team and any available executive sponsors. Discuss progress in target accounts, bring up any issues that have arisen, and look at early data.
This is where you involve the entire stakeholder group to look over successes and overall account strategies. Use this time to broach further investment and ABM expansion.
Like any new business process, it can take time to build adoption. As you get wins, share them in weekly updates and quarterly presentations. It is crucial to stay consistent and drive the momentum of the ABM mindset until it snowballs to full adoption
Jeff Coveney, Executive Vice President, Digital Pi
*Phase 2:* Accounts
How to choose target accounts that have the highest growth potential
With our goal to scale our ABM program, we first need to prove that it works.
You need to carefully select your accounts while your resources are small so that you can definitively prove ROI to justify expansion. Here are four types of accounts that do just that:
The big fish. These are the companies that would give you a bigger deal than you'd normally aim for. Bagging one of these would offer substantial revenue in the long term.
Companies that are similar to your "best buyers". You can also look to existing customers with lots of upsell potential. These are likely to have the highest lifetime value.
Businesses with needs that clearly match your product's benefits. These deals should be easier to close as it should take less convincing of product relevancy.
These accounts typically have a short sale cycle because of their size or structure. They likely won't have the same revenue impact but they'll provide positive stories to tide stakeholders over for the bigger wins. Just verify they really are coming from ABM.
Beware of the quick win. You might be labeling things ABM when they're not. When you get a quick win, make sure it's part of your strategy.
Ross O'Neill, Senior Account-Based Marketing Manager, EMEA, Cloudera
How to find these accounts
Once you've defined what type of account will help you scale, you need to start drawing up a list of businesses that match that criteria. There are a few ways to do this:
This is one of the best ways to find accounts that are looking for a solution right now. Every opened email and downloaded thought leadership piece is a sign pointing you towards their problem. Tools like Bombora help you set up triggers to instantly notify you of intent signals.
A well-maintained CRM is vital to this method. Dig up your data to find lapsed customers, early-stage pipeline deals, names that stand out in light of your account criteria, and later-stage pipeline deals you don't want to lose.
MAS (Marketing Automation System)
Check out leads who have engaged with your content in the past, especially if there are multiple leads from the same company. That's a good indicator of ABM potential. The same goes for IP visitors who frequent your site a lot but rarely or never convert.
Your coworkers (especially sales and marketing) are likely full of anecdotal evidence that points towards ideal target accounts. If a salesperson has a strong gut feeling about a specific account, it could be worth researching further.
Social listening tools can be used to look for keywords related to your product or the pain points it solves. You're unlikely to select an account purely on these results but they can help identify companies that are good product fits before researching further to see if they're worth your time.
As you dig through your CRM and talk with your sales team, you'll probably find that there are more accounts than you could possibly give your full attention to. This is where you need to start prioritizing.
When your ABM program is small, the margin for error is really tight. Go after the wrong accounts and your ROI is going to be poor, making it impossible to attract further investment. This is why you have to focus your efforts on the most viable accounts while still making some effort towards the others.
You can tier your target accounts so they get the right level of attention and resources. Tier one would get the most dedicated marketing and sales attention to get them to close while tier two would likely contain a larger list but will receive less investment.
To help tier your accounts, you'll need a scoring system that can be made up of firmographics, cumulative behaviors, and intent data. Then you can assign specific activities to each tier. Here's an example of this from Marketo:
After you've identified your target accounts and sorted them into tiers, you need to do an account 360, also known as account mapping. This is where you delve inside your accounts and look at the individuals (absolutely vital before you move onto content creation).
Who are the decision-makers?
Find out which people in your account have the weight to make purchasing decisions. According to Gartner, a company of 100 people will have seven decision-makers with different levels of influence.
How do they make decisions?
Once you have the decision-makers' names, you need to group them based on their roles in the buying process and how much impact they have on a decision. The simplest way to categorize is by influencer, buyer, and gatekeeper, but you can label however you see fit.
What are their aches and pains?
In order to serve up personalized targeting, you'll need to find out which challenges resonate the most with which personas. This lets you deliver specific solutions to their problems. Learnings from previous content engagement data come in really handy here if available to you.
Where can you reach them?
Identify where your decision-makers spend most of their time. Collect social media profiles, email addresses, and phone numbers so you're equipped to target them from multiple relevant angles.
*Phase 3:* Content
How to create personalized content for a wide portfolio of accounts
Personalization is (of course) your go-to strategy for content in account-based marketing. However, many ABM teams struggle to scale custom content when their account lists grow. First, let's look at the different levels we can personalize to in ABM:
Level 1: Account
You have to start off by looking at your account and the interests, context, and needs the organization has. The longer your lists, the more intensive this is. But ABM isn't always one-to-one, you can also adopt a one-to-few strategy if you have groups of accounts that share similar contexts and challenges. This will cut down on workload but to the end-user will seem just as effective (if you group them accurately).
Level 2: Persona
Your account 360 should have revealed common roles that appear across multiple accounts. You can flesh those roles out into personas through user research and by looking at trends in data on what content different roles interact with. For example, the CFO is almost always a gatekeeper, regardless of industry or account type. Messaging and content for that persona will simply need a little industry context to personalize it.
Level 3: Buyer journey
When you're targeting a persona, you can get even more specific by personalizing content based on which stage they're at in the buyer journey. Contextual data, like which types of pages on your website a person has read, can give you the insight you need to understand where they are and what their intent is. You can then send or surface the content that best serves that person's indicated needs to encourage them to progress to the next stage in their journey.
Level 4: Individual
Individual content personalization is the most granular way to tailor your output. You create and build custom content specific to one particular person’s unique context, interests, and pain points. Your output is as relevant to them as it can be and as such far more difficult for them to ignore. It can be incredibly time-intensive and costly to do personalization at this level beyond personalized emails and offers, but new technology is helping to close this gap and allow small ABM teams to scale effectively.
How to map out an ABM content plan
Once you've decided how deeply you're going to personalize your content, you should get into the habit of mapping out your plan for each account.
This might not seem necessary when you're only working with a handful of accounts, but as those companies, personas, and individuals rack up, you'll be thankful to have it all mapped out. Here's an example:
You'll need to define rules and criteria at each stage, and create the appropriate workflows within your automation platforms and content management systems. In the early stages, it's perfectly okay to hypothesize this for personas and accounts you're less familiar with. As you progress with your ABM program, you can return to and refine based on performance data.
The best technique for scalable content creation
The key to scalable personalization in ABM is to recycle and reproduce new content based on the content you already have available to you.
Modular content - where you create something that's designed to be broken down and rearranged to suit the end reader- is becoming increasingly popular. The benefits of this approach include:
- Less time spent recreating documents
- With the modules already signed off, the content created from them doesn't need to be
- The ability to deliver personalized content quickly and easily
- Avoidance of version control problems
Modular content strategies allow ABM teams to update and manage content centrally so that the marketing and sales members can quickly pull together "new" content without any additional creative involvement. There are three steps to this:
1. Define what modules look like
A module should be something self-contained, so it makes sense out of context, but small enough in scope to be applicable to a variety of channels, accounts, and contexts. Like a product description, or an industry-specific chapter of a report. Set requirements for modules so content creators are aligned on what they need to do. Once you have a definition of what a module is for your particular strategy, you can begin to either produce content by building it up from smaller modules, or by breaking up and adapting existing resources into independent components ready to use elsewhere.
2. Create a user-based tagging system
One thing to do before you start creating and publishing anything is to establish a taxonomy for how modules are going to be tagged within your library of content. This is absolutely necessary for the creation of any kind of automation but also helps your ABM team locate and use what they need.
3. Create your core content
You can take a modular approach to any format, so long as you bake it into the entire planning and production process - particularly for more costly formats, like video ads. This goes back to how you've defined your modules. Within each one, you can also determine whether certain elements can be personalized at the point of distribution - such as dynamically adding in the recipient's name or company, a custom note or video, an image of their website, or references to their key competitors.
Pack a powerful personalized punch
For long-form written content, especially key documents like product overviews and thought leadership reports, you can build out the core material as a single project. Write each chapter to work independently, and then tag each module to link it up to your decisioning mechanism or make it available to anyone building content from your module library.
A practical example
Say you’ve created a report on the marketing-finance rift. It's great for the key contacts in your account who want an in-depth guide, but other personas just want a very specific bit of analysis. Because you've created the report with a modular content approach, you can break out and tag each chapter to stand on its own:
- ‘Improve transparency with better data tracking’
- ‘Involve finance in strategic decision-making’
- ‘Less emotion, more behavioral economics’
These shorter pieces can then be targeted and personalized for subsets of your audience. You can also equip the content with dynamic fields to allow for personalization within the body copy. Say your ABM team is pulling together a resource for a target who is particularly interested in data tracking. Without having to edit a thing, they can pull in the relevant chapter from your report into their custom resource, and adapt the title to reference the client: "How [client] can improve transparency with better data tracking."
This all packs a powerful personalized punch without turning into a huge resource drain as you scale.
*Phase 4:* Data
How to measure account engagement that helps you scale
As we established earlier, your operational ability to scale depends on getting senior leadership to see the value in ABM. This means proving definitively that account-based tactics drive revenue.
Revenue metrics take a while to mature - ABM is not a quick strategy. So while you wait for your big target accounts to close, you need to focus on the performance data of your ABM itself. Luckily, learning from ABM is much easier than traditional demand generation as each account serves as a small group you can study right off the bat.
You need to return to your analytics often to check on campaigns and how they're working within specific accounts. This allows you to quickly answer several questions:
- Are these actually the best accounts for us to target?
- Are they engaging with the content we hypothesized would be of most relevance to them?
- Does the actual buyer journey reflect the one we've laid out?
- Is our team working well together to maximize results?
As this data trickles in, you can apply it across every phase of your ABM program, making incremental improvements that will ultimately be seen in your revenue metrics. These early results also serve as positive indicators to senior leadership that your ABM is working.
ABM is not about just getting quick results. It's a transformational program
Robert Hollier, Momentum ABM
Measuring by funnel stage
Data you measure at the very early stages of ABM can be very telling of how that account is going to progress through the rest of the funnel. It helps establish a baseline and gives sales something to work with in their outreach. If you're getting zero engagement, you may need to rethink your account list or content strategy. If you are getting engagement through things like ad views and web traffic, dig further to find out what's working and do more of that.
Your middle funnel data should be the meaty chunk of your analytics. Sales inputs information into your CRM which helps add context to your engagement data, and feedback from sales gives crucial anecdotal clues to the health of your accounts. This information helps you improve your ABM strategy for similar accounts in the future.
This data takes the longest to emerge but it's the most crucial in scaling your ABM. Look at the opportunities in your pipeline and any new buyers to see whether your campaign really did achieve ROI, and (if yes) use it to secure larger budgets for future campaigns.
While funnel engagement data is useful to help you improve your ABM, it's revenue-tied metrics that will impress stakeholders and allow you to scale. Here's a brief explanation of the account-specific metrics you should be reporting on:
An aggregate total of how an account has engaged with content as a whole
The number of key people (identified in your account 360) who are in your database and opted in
Average Selling Price (ASP)
The deal size of closed-won opportunities from target accounts
Average Rate of Return (ARR)
The average revenue generated each year
The number of closed-won opportunities as a percentage of total number of opportunities closed
The number of days it takes for an account with an open opportunity to become a buyer.
How do I know if it's working?
Simply speaking, if your ASP and win rate is higher for your target accounts than your non-ABM accounts, but your velocity is lower, you can definitively say that ABM is more effective than classic demand generation and therefore justify expansion.
Want to learn more about ABM but don't know where to get started?
How to personalize ABM at scale, with Punch ABM (Watch)
The power of ABM personalization: Why and how to personalize at scale (Watch)