ABM can be a highly lucrative alternative to standard B2B sales strategies like inbound marketing.

B2B sales cycles are complex, lengthy and require a great deal of hard work to manage. That’s something we’re pretty sure is never going to change.

But B2B sales teams aren’t in this game for ease – they’re in it for the rewards. And a B2B customer relationship yields plenty of those: closer and longer-lasting relationships, larger customer lifetime value, higher propensity to upsell, growth opportunities, better business revenue…

The holy grail for B2B sales is to reap those benefits efficiently and repeatably – to deliver a fast, effective and highly-tailored sales experience for maximum impact with minimal complexity.

And that’s exactly what an account based marketing (ABM) B2B sales strategy can do.

In the typical B2B sales cycle, sales reps will speak to multiple stakeholders across multiple touch points before a purchasing decision is made.

An ABM strategy is built to make targeting and engaging with that many stakeholders easier through a different approach.

But like any sales strategy, your business needs to get it right for it to yield rewards. This article will give you 5 detailed insights into the frameworks and best practices you need to get it right.

Table of contents:

  1. What is ABM?
  2. Insight 1: Inbound marketing vs. ABM: What’s the difference?
  3. Insight 2: The ABM sales funnel turns the traditional funnel on its head
  4. Insight 3: How to create a winning ABM strategy
  5. Insight 4: 6 steps to ABM lead generation
  6. Insight 5: What should ABM software do and which one is right for you?

What is ABM?

ABM (account based marketing) is a joint process between B2B sales and marketing teams where a highly personalized approach targets key accounts within a specific market.

Instead of focusing on an individual buyer, persona, or entity, ABM maps multiple stakeholders within individual accounts and sells to them as one connected opportunity.

ABM can be a highly lucrative alternative to standard B2B sales strategies like inbound marketing. Where inbound attempts to attract individual prospects through the deployment of creative and SEO optimized content, ABM sales proactively creates personalized content that targets specific accounts. It’s the difference between waiting for ideal prospects to come to you, and actively seeking them out.

This proactive, personalized approach can yield big returns, as it:

  • Aligns sales and marketing teams
  • Relies on data-driven marketing so improves optimization
  • Narrows your focus on specific accounts, allowing for easier and better reporting
  • Increases efficiency through automation software and by targeting high-value accounts only
  • Leads to higher engagement due to personalization
  • Shortens the sales cycle by eliminating low-value prospects
  • Increases growth and revenue through higher contract values and ROI

In fact, 80% of B2B leaders planned to boost their spend on ABM sales and marketing techniques for 2021. In 2022, 94.2% said they had an effective ABM programme up and running.

This is more than a blind bet on relevancy. It’s a tectonic shift by B2B sales and marketing teams towards a highly personalized, targeted approach. And it’s working.

As of 2022, ABM delivers 97% higher ROI than other sales and marketing techniques, mature ABM programmes account for 79% of all sales opportunities and most organizations intentionally focus on only 38% of their target accounts.

But ABM isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Every sales and marketing team is set up differently inside businesses that have different needs, are different sizes and have different goals.

So with that in mind, let’s explore the 3 most common types of ABM marketing.

1:1 ABM (or one-to-one ABM)

Also called “strategic ABM”, this approach targets prospects one-to-one over a single or a few key accounts, personalizing all interactions for each.

This requires a deep understanding of about one to ten accounts and, although the net is small, a high level of interaction across multiple channels to engage effectively.

This approach is better suited for smaller businesses.

ABM Lite

This approach targets a wider group of strategic accounts and uses personalized messaging based on several groups of accounts.

Instead of a one-to-one approach, ABM Lite uses a one-to-few approach to target firms that have similar firmographics, challenges and needs. It’s the first step in scaling your ABM programme and test to see if your organization can handle larger scaling.

Programmatic ABM

This approach targets many identified accounts and uses personalization at scale in a one-to-many model.

It is highly scalable and can target over 100 accounts that share business needs at one given time. It’s almost impossible to adopt this approach unless you have the correct software in place.

This approach is more easily adopted by larger organizations.

Now we’re familiar with the intricacies of ABM, let’s explore 5 things every sales and marketing team needs to know.

Inbound marketing vs. ABM: What’s the difference?

It’s important to highlight the differences between standard inbound B2B sales and marketing and ABM. But, the idea that the two approaches can’t be used together is mistaken.

The key difference between these two approaches are the audiences they target.

Inbound marketing attempts to attract a broader audience of individual prospects based on their ideal customer profiles. ABM targets high-value accounts or groups of accounts based on data-driven research into their suitability.

ABM can also be used to upsell to current customers, using personalization to nurture them into making further purchases. Some examples of ABM sales and marketing techniques are:

  • Direct email outreach programmes
  • Virtual or hybrid events
  • Personalized social media ads
  • Direct messaging through social media (LinkedIn Mail campaigns)

Whereas inbound marketing focuses on generating new leads. Some examples of inbound sales and marketing techniques are:

  • Educational and SEO optimized blogs
  • Guest blogging on high-authority websites
  • Hosting webinars or creating Youtube videos
  • Sharing content or using paid advertising on social media sites

But how can you merge the focussed approach of ABM and the organic, broader approach of inbound marketing?

Well, at the heart of both strategies lies the need for a deep understanding of your target buyer to create and deploy relevant content.

If you already have an inbound marketing strategy in place before venturing into ABM, you can repurpose the content from this strategy to make it personalized towards the accounts you are targeting and use the same channels already put into place.

Both the strategies are focussed on creating a great buyer experience throughout the sales process. ABM can help speed this aim up once an inbound strategy is in place.

The ABM sales funnel turns the traditional funnel on its head

An ABM sales and marketing funnel compared to a B2B sales funnel can look very similar on paper. Both track the progression of identified prospects as they get closer to making a purchase.

However, the one key difference is that the ABM sales funnel is flipped around (looking more like a pyramid than a funnel). This is like fishing with spears, rather than fishing with nets.

The first step in creating an effective ABM funnel is to know the stages it follows.

Instead of the traditional Awareness, Interest, Decision, Action stages of a B2B sales funnel, the stages of an ABM sales funnel are:

  1. Identify
  2. Personalize
  3. Engage
  4. Measure and optimize

Next, let’s look at the strategies underpinning each stage of the ABM sales funnel.

ABM Strategy: How to create a winning business plan

Step 1: Identify

Align marketing and sales teams

Even more so than in standard B2B sales cycles, sales and marketing teams need to closely collaborate to succeed with an ABM strategy.

It’s crucial to identify and nurture the right accounts together. Marketing and sales need a shared picture of high-value targets based on an amalgamation of both teams’ expertise and data.

As marketing creates personalized content to attract target customers, the sales team attempts to engage those accounts in concert and start their journey down the funnel.

But to get both teams working together effectively, you need to break down the silos that often form between them.

Before you put your ABM strategy into action, it’s imperative to agree on a shared set of goals and targets that create a better sales cycle and aim for set lead generation and revenue targets. This way, both teams are measured and structurally incentivized to create value together.

Sales and marketing teams should also work together to create the ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) to aid this.

Even better, midsize to enterprise scale organizations can do this by changing the structure of their teams. You could try merging reporting lines by bringing sales and marketing under a new chief revenue officer (CRO) or chief growth officer (CGO) management role.

Even if you can’t restructure, communication is key. Bring sales and marketing teams in to work on the ideal customer profile so you can agree upfront who you’re targeting.

Prioritize key accounts

If one of the main purposes of an ABM strategy is to reduce the length of the sales cycle through narrowed and relevant targeting, you won’t get very far if this stage falls flat.

If you end up prioritizing accounts that won’t be interested in your offering, you’ll be throwing time, money and resources down the drain.

Here are some easy ways to make sure you’re prioritizing the right key accounts:

  • Align sales and marketing data – Even though sales teams often have the best data and common characteristics on priority accounts, you should collaborate with marketing teams to identify which accounts will be quickest and most valuable to convert. This also keeps you both aligned throughout the process.
  • Use LinkedIn’s account targeting – The hub of business professionals (and therefore your key accounts’ decision-makers) exists on LinkedIn. LinkedIn’s marketing solutions also help you identify target accounts based on your ideal customer profiles built by sales and marketing.
  • Conduct lookalike modeling – This strategy identifies common characteristics of your current customers or high-priority prospect accounts and helps you find new accounts who share those traits.

Step 2: Personalize

Create and deploy personalized content

Content for a successful ABM strategy needs to be personalized.

Marketers who create the content should use the data collected by sales and marketing teams to identify key business challenges faced by their target accounts, and tailor marketing content to show how your offering helps solve them.

Target accounts will likely have several different key decision makers across multiple departments, levels and locations. So, while this content still needs to be personalized, it also needs to be resonant with the majority of these decision makers to be convincing.

For sales teams who deploy the content, make sure you do plenty of research on where your key accounts like to hang out (email, social media, hybrid events) and focus the content on those channels.

Step 3: Engage

Build a relationship

ABM accounts are some of the most high-value customers your sales team will manage. They deserve the VIP treatment.

The best way to do this? Frequent, relevant communication and excellent customer service.

Sales and marketing teams should establish a productive and authentic back and forth with target accounts to address any questions, issues or demo requests. At the same time, your teams should monitor any patterns in the dialogue and work together to take the next best step forward. For instance: are they hesitant over a particular issue of your offering? Are you hearing the same objections from multiple sources?

Target accounts want to be sure they can actually reach you when they need help throughout the process, so establishing an open and honest communication will be a great way to build trust and act as a differentiator for your business.

Step 4: Measure and optimize

Track and monitor KPIs

Your ABM strategy will surely get you results, but it’s about knowing what results you are getting that matters.

When measuring your AMB strategy performance, the KPIs you should be looking at are similar to those your inbound marketing strategy uses.

But to make things easier for your team, there are some tools you can use to consolidate your real-time metrics from different platforms into easy-to-use dashboards that we’ll cover later on.

6 steps to ABM lead generation

Lead gen for ABM sales is the process of turning identified accounts into genuine leads with a credible and timely interest in your product or service. If your B2B ABM lead generation process is effective, it is a salesperson’s most effective tool to successfully identify, qualify and prioritize the most suitable candidates to nurture down the ABM sales funnel.

There are several ways to incorporate B2B lead generation into your ABM strategy.

1. Plan your content for maximum effect

ABM involves a lot of strategic outreach. And at the end of the day, if your content isn’t presented to target accounts at the right time in the right place, it’s very likely they’ll either miss it, or skim past it.

To make sure your content is always meeting target accounts in exactly the right way, build a shared content calendar that both sales and marketing teams can contribute towards.

Map out the best times to release content by analyzing when your account is most active on social media or most responsive to email interactions. Also determine what platforms your target accounts are most active on.

You can then plan a content calendar around that information and ensure your content is being seen at the perfect time, every time to peak target accounts’ interests.

2. Create audience-specific lead magnets

If your ABM strategy has been planned right for maximum personalization, then you should have a lot of data about your target account’s pain points and business challenges by now.

You can use this information to create highly relevant and personalized lead magnets that really highlights your expertise in solving their pain points.

When creating your lead magnets, try to dedicate at least 20% of it to personalized content specific to the target account you’re trying to reach.

3. Make use of your network

Working with what you already have can sometimes be an even more effective way to generate leads in an ABM strategy.

Referrals are a great and often used method of this. Whether they are from existing customers, long-time customers or contacts you’ve gathered through in-person or virtual events, they are a quick and easy way to identify potential accounts who would be interested in your offering.

4. Use software technologies

This can be very useful for large sales teams who are attempting to deploy a programmatic ABM campaign.

ABM is all about personalization, and personalization is all about gathering information about your account.

When you are trying to personalize at a large scale, the time it takes to efficiently and effectively gather the information needed manually begins to increase, and takes away time from other parts of the process.

Using smart and automated softwares to gather this information (whether it’s through engagement with your website or a social media ad) like Demandbase ABM/ABX Cloud or Hubspot, is a great way to win that time back and get more effective, real-time data.

ABM Software: What should it do?

In short, it’s hard for account-based teams to look for effective tools at the moment.

There are very few platforms and softwares out there that are specifically built for ABM purposes, meaning that ABM teams have had to piece together disparate tools to build an ABM martech stack. Meaning more manual work going between them for sales teams.

However, there are some basic and pretty useful functionalities you should be looking out for like:

  • Account targeting functionality
  • A centralized platform every team can view and use
  • Account-based advertising functionalities that can deploy and track multiple digital channels
  • Real-time engagement data
  • Full funnel ABM analytics
  • A focus on customer success

At Webhelp, our 20 years of experience has given us the tools to help the most exciting companies in the world sell more.

Our intelligent data and analytics software helps provide your company with the best leads for maximum value and growth. We’re really good at what we do.

If you’d like to know more about the intricacies of a successful ABM strategy, or hear about how we can help transform your B2B sales in general, read more about how Webhelp can boost your B2B Sales or have a chat with us.

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