Now that account based management has begun its migration from a methodology used only by very large organizations to reach their largest potential customers to a way for brands of all sizes to rise above the content noise on the internet, content marketing departments are going through a mindset shift to adopt the best practices associated with ABM.
In the last two years, the buzz around ABM has piqued the interest of content marketing and sales teams from a variety of companies of various sizes across the B2B marketing and sales space. The emerging technologies for marketing and sales are part of the reason that more brands are considering launching an account based marketing program. Other influences include the crowded search and social spaces where getting noticed is getting harder all the time.
The challenges for content marketers and the smaller brands include rethinking content creation and measurement to target a single person or organization, changing the relationship between marketing and sales, and creating a manageable and effective workflow.
Steve Farnsworth, CMO The Steveology Group, joined Erin Robbins, President GinzaMetrics to discuss the current state of ABM and content marketing.

Rethinking content creation and measurement

For the last several years, marketers have been measuring their effectiveness by the number of followers, the increase in traffic, the volume of engagements, and the amount of conversions that develop from inbound efforts. ABM requires a complete shift in how we measure our success. Instead of measuring more traffic, ABM practices measure increased engagement by specific people in identified organizations and focuses on moving highly targeted leads through the buyer journey.
The combination of account based marketing and content marketing is creating a shift in both methodologies. While account based marketing may have included tactics such as personalized emails, targeted offers, and social outreach; the influence of content marketing tactics has expanded ABM efforts to include such things as:

  • Webinars or videos produced for a single account
  • Ebooks with specific account information, including a title or cover with the account name and logo
  • Blogs written to include account information
  • Micro sites within websites that address the needs of a specific account
  • White papers written specifically about challenges faced by a single account
  • Infographics containing account name and statistics

Account based marketing efforts aren’t confined to any specific type of content. Once a budget is set, based on the potential size of a closed sale, marketing and sales teams can decide on the most appropriate medium to carry the messages to account targets. While Ebooks, videos, infographics and typical digital content assets are common; some ABM efforts have reverted to direct mail to avoid the noise of the digital space.
Steve told the story of a consultant who would read the Wall Street Journal to find CEOs of companies that were under attack for failed earnings or other corporate scandal and he would send them each a $1,000 handmade sword in a beautiful box with a note to the person about fighting dragons or being a warrior and something like, “I understand what it’s like to be in the trenches and I’d love to have the chance to chat with you about your challenges”.
According to Steve, “He had 100% success rate in terms of meetings and a huge close rate. Obviously, $1,000 is a lot of money per account, but this guy was willing to do it. When you’re closing most of your business, $10,000 worth of swords would close hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of business. That’s the simplest example of account based marketing. It was one thing to one person.”
As our digital lives become more and more crowded and organizations are looking for ways to engage their audiences in new and unique ways, marketers and brands will need to step out of their comfort zones to deliver truly individualized messages to their targeted prospects.
“Spending the extra money and the extra efforts to find the right message for the right person shows that person you think they’re worth it and immediately makes them more willing to talk to you. Agencies have been doing this forever. The agency model of pitching business has been to fly their people out to meet face to face, take prospects to lunch or dinner, send swag through the mail, anything to make the potential client feel special,” notes Erin.

ABM sales and marketing collaboration

The cornerstone of successful ABM efforts is the collaboration between the sales and marketing teams. To create a successful program, marketing must work collaboratively with sales in a way that is much more interdependent than has been typical for most content marketing programs.
Typically, content marketers may stay in contact with sales to share customer stories, get ideas of customer pain points, and share conversion data. In an ABM model, the conversation starts with sales. They decide what accounts are worth spending the extra money and resources necessary to run a successful ABM campaign.
One of the ways ABM can go wrong is when marketing and sales departments don’t change the ways they’ve worked together in the past. It’s not enough to modify the MQL and SQL hand-off processes that are already in place. Instead, marketing and sales need to eliminate the traditional workflow and create a new process where marketing and sales are part of the same unified process from the beginning.
Although sales may take the lead in determining the best targets and marketing may take the lead in deciding on the messaging and delivery, the hand-off from marketing to sales or visa versa has been eliminated in the ABM model.
“You need to have a marketing and sales team that’s truly connected and make sure everybody has a role,” Steve explains. He recommends you define roles and create a workflow that includes inside sales, outside sales, and marketing. The conversation between these roles might include what it looks like to close a lead. Instead of closing for a straight lead, the goal could be to close for a meeting. That meeting could be a sales call or it could be a live presentation or a special webinar created for a specific account.
Steve compares this strategy to the old practice of high-value giveaways without expectation. “You do have an expectation, but you’re in front of them. You’re talking to them and this is literally worth tens of thoughts of dollars to sit in a room with the people you want to close. They’re the prettiest girl at the dance and you want to come and talk to them about their business and give them some great information.”
Working together, marketing and sales can change how prospects are identified, how they are nurtured, and ultimately how they are closed.
“A lot of organizations are not currently set up to work this way and a lot of marketing and sales organizations are kind of set up to be at odds with each other with each function trying to take credit for close, for lead generation, and for other goal related activities. These dynamics will certainly impede anyone trying to successfully establish ABM,” notes Erin.

When is personalization too personal?

When we’re talking about personalization, there is some hesitation among marketers to create touch points or content that would make someone feel like you know too much about them and risk turning them off.
“I was having this conversation with somebody who is in digital marketing. They were talking about doing a targeted campaign and they were saying that they were going to do a Google Adwords buy and it would only show up to specific people at a selected company. At what point is it awesome that you’ve done your homework and you’re delivering something tailored to your prospect and at what point does that feel a little big brother-y?” wonders Erin.
The key to successfully engaging prospects in an ABM model follow some of the same rules of engagement as content marketing. Content created to educate and inform your audiences or provide helpful advice to help them meet their greatest challenges will not have a “buy now” call to action in the middle of the content.  Similarly, ABM programs need to begin with authentic engagement that builds trust.
Steve gives this example, “Engagement could start with something as small as retweeting something on the prospect’s channel or re-sharing something on LinkedIn and then asking to connect. Maybe that’s followed-up by an e-mail that mentions something the prospect has been involved in or a talk that he/she gave and relating that to your solution. Creating a level of connection, familiarity, and awareness of who the person is and what’s important to her/him will make it more likely that they’ll start engaging with you.”
Like content marketing, ABM requires researching and understanding your target audience. Unlike traditional content marketing, ABM needs that research to be highly targeted to the people within a specific organization. A common analogy is the difference between fishing with a net and hoping to keep a few of the fish you catch, and fishing with a spear where you get fewer fish, but the ones you get are larger and more valuable.
To hear more about the evolution of ABM and content marketing, watch the full Found Friday episode, here.