The 5 Rules of Account-Based Marketing for Small Businesses
In our November 2020 webinar with Ceres Talent on “The 5 Marketing Skills You Should Hire For Today,” one part of our discussion focused on account-based marketing (ABM) approaches, one of the hottest areas of B2B sales. While ABM itself is nothing new, recent advances in technology have made more automation and personalization possible, particularly for larger companies with bigger sales teams focused on big accounts. But what does this mean for small business? In this post, we’ll cover the 5 rules of account-based marketing for small business, including some activities and tips you can engage in no matter if you have a single sales person or many. But first, let’s cover the basics upfront.
What Is Account-Based Marketing?
If you think about a traditional marketing funnel, most team’s activities are focused from the top-down – in other words, keying on volume at the top and getting more people to each stage of the buyer journey. You want, after all, to make the most people aware of your brand and product and services (top of the funnel). From there, a marketer’s goal is traditionally to get as many of those individuals who are aware of you to engage with you (middle of the funnel), subscribing to your list or interested in certain topical content. Finally, of those you’ve engaged, you want to convert (bottom of the funnel) as many of those as possible.
Account-based marketing works differently. Its focus is almost the inverse – you start out by keying on certain accounts and identifying which ones have the biggest potential. Instead of working from a high-volume of leads and then qualifying them, ABM pushes the sales team to identify and prioritize prospect organizations upfront, either through a lead score method or some other measure of revenue potential. After the potential prospects are identified, marketing works hand in hand with the sales team to build the profile of those target accounts, personalizing messages to that organization and even different levels of that organization. (One of the hallmarks of ABM is that belief that organizations decide collectively on a solution rather than as individuals, hence the need to focus messaging at various levels within an organization.) ABM approaches can include a mix of marketing activities – emails / marketing automation, paid ads on Google or another social network, outreach on LinkedIn (popular for various ABM approaches), or other channels such as building unique website landing pages.
Three Types of ABM Approaches
As with any “now” topic, the definition of ABM can be rather broad and has been stretched to mean a lot of different things. But generally, you have three “flavors” of it.
- One-to-one. In this case, your ABM approach is super-personalized. Your sales team has identified your biggest prospects and you take on those individually in terms of outreach. For example, if you know the CEO of a particular company loves technology, maybe you send him or her the latest VR headset. Similarly, you might provide the CTO with a martini kit if you know they like to imbibe occasionally. And on down the line with customized messaging or outreach for different sets of decision-makers. One-to-one can certainly be costly in terms of time and investment so it’s important to make sure the payoff is there.
- One-to-few. This approach might involve customizing your marketing message to a specific cluster of the identified companies/prospects. Maybe the commonality is an industry vertical where you could, say, develop a landing page for those companies specifically aimed at their needs or challenges. Or, rather than verticals, you can also approach similar companies that are in a particular buying cycle or stage with a message that resonates at the right moment for them to kick off a potential sales call.
- One-to-many. Typically, this approach involves technology and aligning ad campaigns to target multiple decision makers across multiple prospect accounts at scale. For example, perhaps you can identify commonalities in terms of challenges at many of your prospect organizations. Maybe you see half the companies on your target list have similar challenges based on your company profiles. Hence, you can use an ad platform, in combination with your marketing automation system or even a social network like LinkedIn to target those companies with messaging. How does this differ from regular “marketing”? That’s where there’s no clear line except for the fact that you’ve done the work upfront to identify particular accounts.
The 5 Rules of ABM for Small Businesses
OK, so with the definitions out of the way, let’s dive into the 5 rules for small businesses. Many small organizations don’t have either a large sales team or access to the data and technologies that larger companies do. In the beginning, the data, in particular, can be critical in helping to uncover potential prospects accounts. And the one-to-many approach described above may actually be more relevant for larger businesses that have the budget, means, resources, and technologies to run, for example, a targeted programmatic ad campaign or a more complex and personalized automated email outreach. Finally, small companies, by definition, may not have the brand name and recognition of larger counterparts so their implementation of ABM will often have to be much different. That said, ABM can still be super effective for smaller companies, but make sure to follow our 5 rules.
Rule No. 1: Make sure to select accounts that are worth it.
Perhaps it goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway. Regardless of the approach you take above, account-based marketing takes a lot of resources to do well. For small businesses, you can tie up a lot of time, energy and money into just a handful of accounts – or a single account. At the end of the day, as much as you can, make sure the prospects you’ve identified are worth that kind of time investment either from an immediate-term ROI or lifetime value perspective. Also, if you don’t have a lot of time to close particular deals, identify and focus on those that are currently in need of a solution.
Rule No. 2: Get real alignment with sales.
Although much is often made with marketing operating in a different silo than sales, in this case, the relationship between the two groups has to be super tight. A few things to think about here before you begin an ABM-type initiative:
- When does sales follow up versus marketing? How do you ensure you’re not mixing messages when they’re automated? Oftentimes, if you’ve automated processes (for example, email), you have to figure out how to make sure your cadence and outreach to your same individuals aligns, especially with messaging that comes upfront or as a follow up to a prospect’s engagement with something like an ad or a piece of content. Working that out ahead of time and on what types of messaging can help ease any friction.
- How does customer engagement activity affect what each group does? Similar to the above, let’s say you have a webinar that is part of a purposeful outreach to a particular client company you’ve identified and multiple customers from that company attend. Does the sales team send the follow-up “thank you for attending” message? Is it marketing? Does the sales team only focus when the executive decision-makers engage?
- Where in the buyer journey is each group (sales or marketing) engaging? A good question to ask: What is the sales team’s existing relationship with this particular prospective client? In some cases, sales may want to have marketing just create, say, the sales collateral while they do all the outreach and engagement since they might have an established relationship with the prospect. In other cases, sales may want marketing more involved in the awareness and engagement parts of the journey, especially if the sales cycle is longer. But each approach will depend on marketing’s relationship with the sales team and how to best divvy up the work.
Rule No. 3: Personalize, personalize, personalize.
The whole point of account-based marketing campaign is to get really targeted to that particular prospective client or group of clients’ needs. That means creating messaging (and assets) that are focused on that company and its challenges. It also means developing, if you can, a customized landing page for that client (or a group of similar prospective customers whose traits are similar). And remember, if you believe the mantra that decisions are made by groups of individuals at a particular company, it pays to go beyond the decision-makers too. In many cases, you’ll also want to focus on the actual users of your product or service as well. We’ve seen lots of examples where the managers and specialists who use a product at a company rave about that particular product, influencing the decisions of those who control the purse strings. In particular, if it’s a one-to-one approach as outlined above, focusing at different levels of the organization, including messaging are critical.
Rule No. 4: Use content strategically.
Just like the other forms of channel marketing, content can play a key role at different parts of the buyer journey. And with ABM, it’s no different. The difference here is the level of customization and messaging about it. For example, it’s not unheard of to create a webinar or a research paper containing specific data just for one client. That’s the whole point of ABM, after all – to get really targeted with solutions to that particular company’s challenge. As mentioned above, take the time to connect with the sales team on where content development can be useful – and in what format. Maybe it’s a personal invitation to a webinar on a particular topic. Maybe it’s a research that can grab a potential client’s interest. Maybe it’s creating case studies and testimonials to help convince one of your prospective companies that they should take the plunge with you. As always, make sure it’s customized as much as possible on that particular company’s issues.
Rule No. 5: Know the prospect’s decision timeframe and buyer journey phase and your own sales horizon.
Account-based marketing can be used at any point in that particular buyer’s journey from awareness to the lower-funnel conversion stage. After all, just because prospects are identified by sales, doesn’t mean they “necessarily” know your brand, products or services. That said, ABM is often used with prospective customers who already are aware of the company brand, but may not be aware of a particular product or service offered or may not know how a company’s solution fits their needs. That’s where a targeted, personalized campaign aimed at those challenges can make a big difference.
It brings up a key point: Knowing and understanding what part of the buyer journey your prospect is in is critical in that upfront identification process. Making a strategic call to include a prospective company, say, that you want to take your time with, who may or may not be in the market for a solution immediately, is perfectly fine. And it’s great if you can dedicate the time and the resources, as well as the patience to close that company. But that’s why many companies will choose prospects on their ABM list that need solutions right away and the marketing will be focused more on that mid-to-lower funnel personalization. If you don’t know what part of the journey the buyer is in, you can waste a lot of resources producing content that goes for not, or producing sales collateral when they might just need a sales meeting as the best first step.
We hope this has been a helpful guide to account-based marketing techniques. ABM can be a powerful tool in your marketing arsenal and help you focus activities where you can potentially get the most reward, both now and in the future. If you remember the rules above, you should be able to create a solid account-based marketing approach that works for you.
As always, if you need help, our mission at Marketing Nice Guys is to help you excel at digital marketing. We can help you create strategies for account-based marketing, as well as help you operationalize the marketing automation, content and ad implementations you need to be successful. Give us a call at 703-609-7091 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Note: Lead scoring can be notoriously difficult, even for large businesses. Often the best way to determine a good prospect can be based on an existing relationship (previous purchase) or simply talking with your sales team about target accounts. If you do have a CRM which has stored your engagement data, you can certainly analyze those accounts as well. But many small businesses don’t possess that level of sophistication or technology.