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If you work at a B2B company with an average deal size of $25k or more, you probably heard the phrase Account-Based Marketing (ABM) a lot.
Now it’s on you to wave a magic wand and build an ABM program that gives each of your target accounts a personalized experience and brings marketing and sales closer together.
Don’t panic. If you’re getting started or just in the early stages of building an ABM program, you are not alone. Less than 5% of companies have a program that’s at least two years old. I personally speak to a dozen ABM marketers every week and I can confirm that most of them are still figuring it out.
Still, they’re seeing clear results. 97 percent of marketers who have done ABM saw a higher ROI from it than any other marketing campaigns. That means there is an opportunity to get ahead of your competition by really diving into ABM.
In this article, I’m going to show you how to launch an ABM program. Plus, give a glimpse of what your ABM program will look like when it’s all grown up in a few years.
First, though, let’s quickly look at what an ABM program actually entails.
ABM is about focusing your marketing and sales resources on a highly researched, well-defined set of target accounts — accounts that your data shows will massively benefit from your products and services.
Once you’ve created an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and identified key prospects, you reach out to them with a highly customized message across multiple channels such as email, web, events, ads, direct mail, and more.
Creating an ABM program starts with three core steps:
Building your account list
Creating targeted content
Nurturing and driving conversions with a personalized outreach
Analytics could be considered a fourth component. But for today, I’ll just touch on metrics when relevant.
There are two ways to build your target list.
If you are getting started, you should work with your sales team to pick your first 10-20 accounts. Ask them questions like:
What accounts are you looking to close in the next 6-12 months?
What types of accounts are easiest to close?
Which types of accounts have a high deal size?
The more advanced strategy for selecting accounts involves defining your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). Here you look at the customers you already have to find the ‘good ones’, which usually means the ones that result in more revenue, were easier to close or are easier to retain.
I like using a 2x2 framework:
The y-axis represents low and high Average Contract Value (ACV). This helps me prioritize higher revenue verticals. You can also use Lifetime Value (LTV) if churn is a big issue.
The x-axis represents low and high deal conversion rate. This is my measure for a customer we serve well. You can also use Net Performer Score (NPS) or retention rate if you have a large enough data set.
Most ABM programs have 3 tiers of accounts. Like the matrices above, Tier 1 tends to be the big accounts that you really want to close. With this example, your Tier 1 target accounts are the companies where ACV and conversion are both really high.
Companies in Tier 2 and Tier 3 generate less revenue than Tier 1, but are still worth prioritizing relative to the rest of the market.
Now it’s time to map company characteristics to tiers. If you don’t have enough historical data, fill in the 2x2 by consulting your sales team. Otherwise, do a CSV data pull of your CRM transactions in the past 6 months. Your data set should include ACV, won/lost status and other important account characteristics such as:
Industry: What is the industry or vertical?
Company size: How many employees does the company have?
Use case: What problems are they solving?
Tech stack: What technologies are they using?
Product usage: What product plan were they on and how much did they engage (useful for freemium or upsell models)?
Location: What is their primary geographical location?
If you don’t have this data, use a service like Clearbit Enrichment, 6sense, or DiscoverOrg to enrich your CSV data. It’ll cost less than $1 per lead and will give you a much stronger data set for regression analysis.
Do the analysis in Google sheets using functions like vlookup and correl or use a more robust regression engine such as R to do your cluster analysis.
However you get to your ICP, run it by sales and make sure it passes their gut check.
Remember that less is more. Use as few characteristics as possible to define your ICP.
Usually no more than four.
For illustration, here are Mutiny’s top tiers based on our segmentation framework:
At Mutiny, we target 100 Tier 1 accounts that are in a hyper-growth state and have 500-2,000 employees each. We also look at quality — Tier 1 accounts we see as leaders in their industry with reference cache.
Tier 2 accounts are as large as Tier 1 companies, but are not necessarily growing as quickly or as modern. However, they still have a big need for personalization. It just takes longer to close them.
For us, bad fits are companies based in non-target geographic markets or companies wanting to do personalization purely for social ads.
The final step is to build your contact list and upload it in your CRM. With your ICP clearly defined, you can use a data service to find the right contacts at each account. Here are a few good ones:
UpWork contractors (you can get manual research done with less than $1 per lead and get much more accurate and hard to get details)
Get as much data as you can on your target accounts. This data will help you create personalized content to ultimately reach each buyer.
If your target account list is dynamically generated based on account activity or a scoring model, then you should use an enrichment API that automatically enriches your CRM vs. relying on quarterly uploads. At Mutiny our account list is static, but we still use an enrichment API to ensure our data is always up to date.
Skipping this step is the single biggest mistake ABM marketers make.
Most ABM marketers build their list and then move straight to outreach, bombarding their precious target accounts with generic messages. This is a huge mistake that leads to a ton of wasted time and money, and ultimately little engagement from the target accounts.
Now that you have your ideal customers in mind, take 3-4 weeks to learn what’s important to them.
We use the Jobs to Be Done framework by Clay Christensen at Mutiny. With this, you don’t bring up the nuts and bolts of your product. Instead, try to talk about what the user is hiring your product to do.
For example, a skateboard is made up of swiss bearings, hollow trucks, and many other parts. But at the end of the day, someone is buying a skateboard to play with their friends, or to get to work faster. When you focus on the problem your customers are trying to solve, your narrative changes dramatically. They understand you much more easily.
Customer interviews are how you quickly discover what’s important to your target buyers. I recommend half-hour interviews distributed across your ideal customer profiles:
3-5 accounts per vertical
2-3 stakeholders per account (each stakeholder will have different needs)
Over a three week period, you can conduct 20-30 interviews. Then aggregate the data based on your interview questions so you can fully understand what they care about.
Keep questions open-ended so you can get an unbiased answer.
Avoid questions like “what are the KPIs they track at work?” Reposition the question to “how do you know that you are doing a great job? How is your performance evaluated?”
If you want to know the stakeholders in their buying process, don’t ask who are the stakeholders. They likely won’t remember. Instead, pick a product similar to yours. Then ask, “when did you buy this? Did you look at other solutions? Who was involved in the buying process? Why didn’t you buy it?” That’s how you find who is involved, who blocks purchases, and who has veto power.
Other questions might include:
Day in life: Can you walk me through your calendar this week?
Functional/emotional needs: What’s top of mind? What’s in your way? Can you recall a really low moment at work?
Job to be done: Why did you start looking for [product]?
Alternatives: How would you accomplish that without [product]? What are you doing today?
Blockers: Was this the first time you looked for a solution to this problem? If not, what got in the way of implementing something before?
Differentiators: Why did you choose [product]?
Buying Process / Stakeholders: Walk me through when you bought [product] (or the last time you bought a similar product) -- what was the process? Who was involved? How long did it take?
As you talk to these 20-30 customers, their similarities will become clear. You can then synthesize the learnings across each profile, and build out a content map for yourself covering each stage of your content funnel.
Now it’s time to turn the customer interview insights into target content. The 3 most common dimensions for personalizing content include:
It’s always the case that companies have different use cases and needs based on their size or industry.
Companies are also compelled by social proof such as case studies from others in their industry. For example, a healthcare company will be intrigued to know you work with other leading healthcare organizations and hospitals, not media or tech startups.
6sense used industry-specific content to help them begin selling to manufacturing companies – an industry they hadn't targeted before. In doing so, 6sense saw a 442% lift in conversions before the landing page was even fully completed.
At the awareness stage, your goal is to introduce how you can help, and pique their interest by showing empathy for the problem they are solving. After they’ve taken the first sales call or started engaging with your content, they are beginning to evaluate your product. This is when you can cover product comparisons or ROI.
Brex did this by sending target accounts specific offers once they'd already made contact and knew they were interested in buying.
These landing pages called out specific value propositions relevant to the account and presented an offer that matched their buying stage. This led to a 60% lift in responses from target contacts.
Different buyers tend to care about different KPIs or aspects of your product. An executive buyer cares more about business value and innovation, whereas a more technical buyer wants to know how to implement and use your product.
All that said, don’t try to boil the ocean. Pick one dimension to start personalization with, such as industry. Then add additional layers based on their stage or job function as your ABM program matures.
Across Mutiny customers such as Brex, Segment or Amplitude, we have seen that even one well-executed personalization component has a significant impact.
That’s because few companies are personalizing at all. This is your opportunity to stand out.
McKinsey research found B2B customers will regularly use six different interaction channels throughout their decision journey.
The six most valuable channels for reaching targeted accounts are:
1. Email 2. Inbound (your website) 3. LinkedIn 4. Ads 5. Direct mail 6. Events
When we started our ABM program at Mutiny, we wanted an easy and cheap platform to get started with outreach. Therefore, we exclusively used email in the beginning while we tested different messaging and iterated our target accounts. Then we began using LinkedIn. And finally social ads.
We started with a five-touch sequence of emails over twelve days using Apollo. We then picked two contacts in each target account and sent those contacts a 1:1 personalized page that we created with Mutiny.
The following is an example of an email that we sent when getting our ABM program off the ground.
Your website is just as important as any other channel. Targeted accounts (regardless of where they initially hear about you) will end up on your website at some point before they convert.
We use our software to create personalized landing pages. You’ll see Mutiny uses a wide range of data points and information to help customize our outreach.
The one below went to Jason, the Marketing Manager at Mode via LinkedIn:
You’ll likely notice that the page focuses on their role and industry-specific challenges. Once they reach this page, there are no other external links. Prospects can book an initial call with us right on the landing page via Calendly with the rep that owns the account.
Since we were clear about how our product can solve specific problems he’s already experiencing, he responded back within minutes.
This outreach is quite impactful for us.
7-8% of our target accounts book a demo with our cold (but personalized) outreach. That’s 3x the industry standard.
Here are Mutiny’s conversion rates for each channel:
Once our target buyers engage with Mutiny’s sales team, they own the account and all conversations from that point forward. The only exception being that our marketing team continues to send them advice and suggestions on how to improve their marketing personalization — like this article! 😉
Our team is currently in the process of optimizing social ads for target accounts. In the next few months, we are also looking to implement direct mail and events.
Here are a few technology providers that support the most commonly used ABM channels:
Now that may have felt like a lot if you’re just getting your feet wet with an ABM program. So let’s do a quick recap:
An optimized ABM program includes a well-researched list of accounts and contacts, personalized content for each account, and a multi-channel outreach.
However, do not cave into pressure to get a fully optimized ABM machine up and running with all sorts of shiny tech. Start small to see what works — ideally doing things that don’t scale. Get started by selecting 10-20 accounts, test your messaging, and then add one channel at a time.
Once you have a strong conviction about one layer (e.g. one dimension of personalization or channel), add the second layer of maturity to your program.
Learn more about how companies like 6sense, Snowflake, and Qualtrics are scaling their ABM programs using Mutiny.
Learn how top B2B marketers are using conversion to grow and apply it yourself.