Account-based marketing (ABM) addresses the biggest problem faced by B2B marketers in the last decade: Traditional strategies focus on high-velocity, low-value deals, and not enough on the major accounts.

ABM is built on six processes that flip the focus from generating leads to courting the companies you want to do business with.

ABM isn't a quick fix: It takes patience and a long-term commitment. But you can drive real results by effectively using the six processes:

  1. Selecting accounts
  2. Discovering contacts
  3. Developing insights
  4. Generating account-relevant content
  5. Delivering account-specific interactions
  6. Orchestrating account-focused plays

1. Select accounts: Get Sales and Marketing Together from the start

Selecting your target accounts is the most important step in any ABM program. An effective plan will focus on a limited number of accounts; if you choose unwisely, you'll be wasting time and resources on accounts that don't amount to anything.

How to do it

Start by creating a profile of your ideal client, based on past business experiences, business compatibility, a growing market, and committed account managers. You can use a combination of analytics—such as firmographics, technographics, and intent data—and old-fashioned gut instinct to make your selections.

Depending on the number of accounts you want to target, prioritize them into tiers that range from one-to-one campaigns to industry-specific campaigns. This process is as much an art as it is a science.

How it aligns Sales and Marketing

Account selection as a first step brings your marketing and sales teams together from the start, because both have valuable insights about accounts and communications.

Marketing will have a lot of data available. Sales has the direct experience with clients to know what makes a good target account, and where your company already has relationships within the target account.

The process of agreeing on the target accounts will necessitate alignment.

2. Discover contacts: Pool resources for greater wins

After Sales and Marketing generate a list of target accounts, the team will need a list of actual people at those companies. Discovering contacts is a process of finding the right people for each key persona at each target account.

How to do it

Start by researching your existing data to identify ideal buyer profiles, followed by an investigation of information sources, such as...

  • LinkedIn and other social media channels
  • Company websites
  • Industry forums

Other methods include setting up a call program that has sales reps call the accounts directly, purchasing contact data from reputable data providers, using predictive data sources, establishing list-building partners, and using a company's email format to figure out email addresses based on names.

Scores of great brands provide software and service platforms for all those tasks, and more.

How it aligns Sales and Marketing

To discover the most contacts, Sales and Marketing will need to pool their resources. Sales has data from past sales calls and networking; Marketing has data from previous lead generation efforts. Both are valuable sources for identifying ideal buyer profiles.

3. Develop insights: Two heads are better than one

Accounts are more likely to respond to marketing that is customized to their specific needs. Once a list of contacts at each target account is established, the team will need details about their industries, business models, buying centers, relationships within their companies, needs and pain points, and how they take their coffee (wouldn't hurt to know).

Every detail will help the team develop highly personalized content that will stand out from the noise.

How to do it

The information needed to develop insights can come from direct conversations with members of the buying team, social media, blog posts, company materials, market data, existing CRM notes, and the content visitors consume when visiting your website.

If you still need insights, run a survey that directly asks the questions you want to ask, or work with a third-party vendor who can help you develop the unique insights your brand needs.

How it aligns Sales and Marketing

Good salespeople learn and remember as much as they can about their clients—from their business needs to their favorite sports teams. ABM brings Sales and Marketing together in a disciplined focus to gather and maintain those insights for maximum impact.

4. Generate account-relevant content

Relevant, personalized content is where ABM shines. It's the payoff to Step 1 through 3, and the huge advantage that ABM has over other demand-gen strategies.

With detailed insights into each contact at each target account, the team can weave various levels of personalization (greater personalization for C-suite contacts and Tier 1 accounts, and less personalization for lower-level managers and Tier 3 accounts, for example) into content strategies.

The resulting highly relevant content or messaging is what gets your brand noticed above the noise of the competition. It communicates greater care, and it is a much stronger introduction to a new contact or account: 75% of executives will read unsolicited marketing materials that contain ideas that might be relevant to their business, according to ITSMA.

How to do it

Most content should fall between personalized and industry-targeted. Start with the insights you've gathered and use them to create topics that will be of interest to the key personas within your accounts.

Create hyper-personalized content for Tier 1 accounts that uses their specific business model, data, industry trends, challenges, etc. (Use "door openers" such as their favorite sports team or vacation spots, as appropriate.)

How it aligns Sales and Marketing

Since both Sales and Marketing have had a hand in developing and creating the content, both have a stake in it. That means both will promote and share it, eventually leading to more relevant leads for Sales.

5. Deliver account-specific interactions

ABM is an active strategy; once you've completed the previous four processes, you shouldn't sit back and wait. Go out and get in front of your most valued contacts.

How to do it

The staple Marketing tactics for delivering account-specific interactions include live events, webinars, Web personalization, online advertising, and direct mail. For Sales, the core interactions include human email, phone and voicemail, and personalized social outreach.

Live, human interaction is the most valuable: Use live events and direct sales touches whenever possible.

How it aligns Sales and Marketing

Without proper orchestration (see process No. 6), this is where functions start to split a little bit. But when the interactions are coordinated across channels, alignment is the result.

6. Orchestrate account-focused plays

Orchestration takes all the first five processes and brings them together into highly specified plays that take your ABM to the next level.

How to do it

Start by identifying your own challenges with a specific account, and customize your playbook based on those difficulties. An example might be to post a wave of targeted ads, followed by a second wave of direct mail, and then a series of human touches from sales development reps across email, phone, and social channels.

How it aligns Sales and Marketing

Orchestration is all about Sales and Marketing working together in coordinated, account-focused plays. It's not a linear process of handoffs from one department to the next; it's a synchronized set of interactions across departments and channels.

Work together for real results

Sales and Marketing alignment might not be the number one reason to adopt an ABM strategy (higher close rates, greater efficiency, and bigger contracts, however, might be), but it is a serious bonus. Greater alignment in any part of your organization improves performance overall.

If you're interested in seeing it in action, start with the process of selecting accounts and see how your teams do. Get everyone in a room, explain the process, and start brainstorming which accounts are worth targeting. When you combine that with the core infrastructure you need to be account-centric (i.e., lead to account matching), you'll be surprised by how quickly you can get an account-based strategy off the ground.

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How to Use the Six ABM Processes to Align Sales and Marketing and Drive Real Results

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Jon Miller is the CEO and a co-founder of Engagio, a leading platform for account-based marketing automation. Before that was a co-founder at Marketo. He is a speaker and the author of multiple marketing books, including the Clear and Complete Guide to Account Based Marketing.

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Twitter: @jonmiller