By now, many companies are incorporating content marketing into their marketing strategy and targeting their content to suit a specific audience. But you could do more: You could identify specific accounts you'd love to land, then develop content especially for them! This approach, known as account-based marketing, or ABM, can get better results for some types of companies.

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If you're in B2B and haven't considered ABM, you're missing out! Even if you're in a B2C marketing organization, ABM might be a good approach. 

To help you understand what ABM is, what it can do, and whether it's right for your company, I invited Samantha Stone, founder of The Marketing Advisory Network and author of the book Unleash Possible: A Marketing Playbook That Drives B2B Sales, to Marketing Smarts.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Account-based marketing involves more than just targeting (02:05): "ABM is largely misunderstood. A lot of people approach account-based marketing like any other targeted marketing program and say 'I'm going to use the same tactics and techniques that I've done before, I'm going to use the same lead scoring models I've used before, but I'm going to direct it to a list of accounts.'

"Targeted marketing is a good thing. People should be doing that, especially in B2B, but true account-based marketing really looks at and changes how we approach all aspects of marketing. It changes how we message. It changes our integration with the sales team. It changes our lead scoring models. It really is the combination of targeting a list of accounts with specific things, but doing it in a very, very different way."

ABM is not 'all or nothing' (04:07): "It may, in fact, turn out that for a division of your business or one of your products or something that you're launching or a segment of market you're going after, ABM is the right strategy, but you continue to run the rest of your marketing functions the way you always have. A lot of organizations do that quite successfully."

Forget 20 questions: To see if ABM could work for you, you just need 5 (04:40) "There are five characteristics you need to say 'ABM is right for our organization':

  1. Do you have a complex buying committee of people you need to sell to? Are there multiple people involved in that process?
  2. Does your buying process take an extended period of time? The nature of ABM is building a relationship over time across lots of interactions.
  3. Do you have messages, offers, and content that you can share with multiple different roles within a buying committee? You need to build the core infrastructure to be successful. You can't send the same content to everyone.
  4. Are you willing to change? You have to have the organization be willing to change. A lot of organizations still measure marketing success on leads generated. The idea of a lead is artificial, because the first place I met someone doesn't matter. What matters is whether this account is engaging with me over time.
  5. Do you have a clearly defined target market? If you can and want to serve everybody equally, there is not a lot of value in narrowing down your marketing to an account-specific approach."

Selling your company on ABM is easy; the hard part aligning Sales and Marketing (09:45): "What is difficult, culturally, is to say that 'I'm no longer going to say that marketing is responsible for X and sales is responsible for Y.' 'In fact, we're going to have shared accountability for how we go after the set of accounts we agree on.'

"That doesn't mean we don't have different tasks. Sales does different things than Marketing does, but how we measure ourselves has to be similar and together. That is remarkably difficult in a lot of organizations. Because Finance wants to say 'I want to know the return on my marketing dollars independent of the return on the salaries I'm paying to salespeople.'"

Before you jump into ABM, figure out what data you have and what data you still need (17:15): "The first thing we have to do is...look at the data we have and analyze it. So, what kind of customers come into the buying journey with us? Which ones come out the other side? And do a whole bunch of analysis on where they get stuck, who progresses, who pays the most, where our margins are best, what is repeatable and what isn't. We're often surprised by what we learn. There are more patterns there than we think.

"But we 100% cannot stop with only internal data. We have to augment the information we have with information from third parties. Sometimes, that augmentation is as simple as building out the account profiles to do the analysis. I might have an account in my system and a bunch of contacts, but I may not have the size business they are or the industry they're in. It may not tell us what kind of products they have installed. The kinds of things that might be important purchase indicators for us. So, at a minimum, you need to do that account-level, firmographic, basic augmentation."

To learn more, visit UnleashPossible.com, and follow Samantha on Twitter: @SamanthaStone. Also check out the MarketingProfs series of courses on account-based marketing to get started using ABM at your company!

Samantha and I talked about much more, including the biggest mistake companies make when first trying ABM, as well as the best metrics to use when measuring the success of your ABM efforts, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

May is ABM month at MarketingProfs! Get tips from GoToWebinar on how to make webinars the star of your account based marketing efforts.

This episode brought to you by GoToWebinar:

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Music credit: Noam Weinstein.