Few trends in B2B marketing have generated as much breathless excitement as account-based marketing, or ABM. In only a couple of years it’s shot from nerdy specialty practice right to the peak of the hype cycle. But in spite of the hype, not all marketers are achieving stellar results. Forrester Research has reported that four in five marketers believe ABM effectiveness falls short of expectations.1 Could it be that they (and you) are missing a critical ingredient?
Unlike traditional demand generation, ABM is often a ‘hearts and minds’ exercise that requires a different, more intentional approach to creative. This is the hardest part – and it can make or break the success of your ABM programme.
In this guide you’ll see how creative purpose-built for ABM makes it possible to change perceptions, earn customer confidence and drive revenue.
1 Account-Based Marketing (ABM): Let’s Move From Cacophony To Euphony, Peter O’Neill, Forrester Research Blog
Custom relevance to company / individuals
Hand-selected / researched / distributed
Bespoke content and engagement, personalised to an individual and customised to company / industry
Dave Fischer at Tri-met Transport, who uses competitive product X, just went through a merger and is struggling to get product X to integrate their systems
Custom relevance to situation / industry / role
80% hand-selected / distributed
Content customised by industry / role
CIO at Tri-met Transport who uses competitive product X
Generic relevance to situation/industry/role
Selected and distributed via ABM technologies
Broader targeting, basic customisation at scale enabled by technology
Someone in a senior technology role at Tri-met Transport
We’ve mentioned earlier the need for a more intentional approach to creative. It’s a quality game, and every decision in the planning and creative process comes back to the audience. It’s about building new relationships and trust based on a deep understanding of their mindset, aspirations and relationships. All the right targeting, alignment and automation in the world is meaningless if you aren’t telling human stories that drive persuasive conversations.
To understand what that story is or should be, you have to truly understand and empathise with the people you want to reach on a one-to-one level. This is the foundation of your creative strategy for ABM, which in turn informs the creative execution. Together, they enable you to engage customers with relevance, resonance and value:.
alignment of their business need to your offering
to the individual and what they deal with every day
informed by insights and connecting on both an emotional and rational level
The most brilliant examples of creative purpose-built for ABM will feel irrelevant to traditional marketers. As they should. They are not about the brand, or the product or service – or the persona poster on the wall. They are about showing the customer what is possible if she looks a bit differently at the challenges and opportunities that are in front of her. By definition, every ABM program is unique, but all will be more successful when you follow three fundamental steps.
Understand the challenges and opportunities for each individual in the decision cycle.
Give prospects a new vision of the future that they can believe in.
Based on the perspective, create points of conversation that tie your value propositions to real value for the customer.
Seeing the World Through a Different Lens
It’s not unusual to begin your marketing strategy by gathering insights about your customers, competitors and industry. But too often marketers approach this from the inside out – it’s all about you, instead of your prospects and customers. Looking at the world through the wrong lens is always a mistake; for ABM it can be crushing.
In his book 'All Marketers
Are Liars Tell Stories', Seth Godin says everyone has a different set of biases and values and assumptions – what he calls their worldview. When you frame your story around your audience’s
existing worldview, they’re more likely to believe it’s both relevant and true.
Understanding this worldview and how it influences purchase decisions is critical to your ABM creative strategy. And there’s only one way to get this level of insight — dig in and get smart about each account you plan to target.
Your sales team can be an absolute goldmine when it comes to understanding how your existing customers are aligned and make decisions. Interview them and ask questions that get them talking about customers as if they were the product you are selling. You can use this as a guide when you are mapping target/like companies.
Lots of things influence B2B decision-making – research, peer opinion, case stories, past failures, politics. To properly inform personalised messaging and targeted propositions, account insight must encompass all of these facets, in the context of your audience’s business relationships and day-to-day experience.
What challenges and opportunities are shaping the targeted account’s vertical – and how can you help them address them?
How are their expectations changing based on evolving technology and disruptive new competitors? What current solution would your product or service replace, augment or enhance?
How do decisions get made around the kind of product or service you offer? What departments are involved?
Which roles within the appropriate departments are decision-making versus influencing? Who within your own company serves at a peer-level with those roles?
Who are the individuals in those roles? What is their contact info? How active are they on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook? Do they have a blog? Who in your organisation has existing relationships?
Imagining What Is Possible
Most marketers know they need to gather insights. It’s what they do with these insights that often falls short. Once you understand your audience in the context of their own experience, paint a picture of how that experience could be better. And open their eyes to a new way forward. That is creating value.
Use Design Thinking to Develop a Unique Point of View
Gleaning vision from insight is not easy, and it is not a solitary art. Design thinking is a strategic approach that incorporates multiple dimensions and points of view to solve problems and generate innovative new ideas. It provides a structured framework for asking (and answering), ‘What if’? And it’s not just for designers.
Draw on expertise from across your organisation.
Great minds don’t just think alike; they think better together. Gather internal stakeholders from sales, marketing, product development and your innovation team (if you have one) for a design thinking workshop.
Create a vision for the future.
With the collective wisdom of your subject matter experts, think about how your products and services could improve your customers’ business, career or daily life.
Aligning Your Value Proposition to Real Value
A Conversation Map documents the insights you have gathered about your prospects and articulates how to frame your story around their worldview. By aligning your value proposition to real value and mapping it to relevant messages, content and offers, the Conversation Map serves as a blueprint for persuasive conversations.
This approach works for 1-1 and 1-few ABM but also is designed to support a 1-many strategy.
Part 1: Identify your conversation topics
An easy example for demonstration purposes: say you are marketing a martech product. Your topics of discussion (must be timely, based on your audience research and relate to subjects you can own) could be:
Ease of Use
Sales & Marketing Integration
Part 2: Identify your conversation themes for each topic
For instance: Transformative Marketing
Real-time customer data
Becoming a digital deity
Data that influences the business
Low risk, high return
Part 3: Craft the narratives for each theme (where is the tension around each theme, based on your audience research)
For instance: Sales alignment
Marketing carries 2/3 of the process of sales.
Change management is the biggest killer of transforming the sales and marketing relationship.
What it looks like when sales and marketing close down the holiday party.
Part 4: Align narratives to your audience profiles
Based on what you know of each company/contact, start by aligning topics. Then move into themes, and finally narratives.
While this is a simple example of topics, themes and narratives, the framework easily scales for complex B2B sales. Click the button below to see an example of an enterprise technology company helping organisations to digitally transform their business processes through smart process applications that simplify information-intensive customer interactions.
You also can download your own conversation map template here.
The result are conversation maps that become the basis of all ABM communications—ensuring consistency but also relevance and value across disciplines, allowing for scale across accounts.
The final step, to add resonance to your story, is in the creative itself -- ask yourself, what is the tension with each narrative as it relates to each account/each contact and write to that.
Tension’s role in today’s marketing
The buyer journey is still alive and well, and how we treat it in ABM has everything to do with what becomes of our creative use of story and content.
This is where tension comes in with how you write to each narrative. Once your conversation maps are established and before you start to craft content, have a look back at your buyer journey. Your ABM creative should wrap your narratives around the journey and amplify the tension. For instance:
Why does mapping conversations matter? It’s a distinct way of processing a traditional messaging framework to be buyer-centric, to work across disciplines whilst staying consistent with your stories. Because it starts and ends with your audience.
And with ABM, it’s best to create a list that you work over time, with various campaigns. Marketers will not be able to resist the campaign mentality for a while. Conversation maps create a methodology for going after every account at various points in time. It gives an ABM strategy longevity as the accounts within it progress, evolve or change.
Armed with great insight and a creative idea targeting very specific business outcomes, the ABM creative strategy for CSC (now DXC Technology) and Oracle enabled them to capture the attention of CIOs, a target audience notoriously skeptical of anything with even a whiff of marketing.
Customer A is still running a host of legacy IT and is actively losing ground to disruptive competitors X and Y. The cross-discipline team is fragmented as there is no CDO and no one has stepped up to unify the groups.
CIOs have a unique opportunity, but you must transform your information, technology, value and people leadership practices to deliver on the digital promise. Assume the role of Chief Digital Officer and get on the road to digital. Here’s what it looks like for you:
Gritty, practical methods for moving yourself and your organisation to the forefront of the the digital enterprise, delivered with credibility by CIOs for CIOs.
Bringing insight, perspective and conversations to life through an unexpected creative strategy.
Peer-to-peer roundtables, hosted by CIOs, for CIOs
Business Case for Hybrid Cloud Services with CSC
Digital or in-person ‘lunch and learn’ workshop
IT Leader’s Handbook to Hybrid Cloud
Dimensional postcard embedded with centrepiece video, personalised to each recipient
Letter, customised by role and personalised to individual
Direct phone call
CIO.com targeted email and retargeting ads (for CIO audience)
“As a CIO I am on the receiving end of a huge amount of marketing material and events which, if I read them all, would mean I’d have time to do little else! CSC’s marketing has been much more personal in the way it has approached me and thus has caught my attention. The result is that I have engaged with many of the opportunities presented to me which have helped inform our strategy and subsequent solutions design.”
CIO, Largest UK Health Service Organisation
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When done well, ABM delivers deeper engagement, faster close rates, bigger deal sizes and greater customer confidence and trust. (No wonder there’s so much hype.) But if everyone is doing it, ABM becomes just another source of noise. Defense barriers go up and success rates go down.
If your ABM programme is not yet delivering the results you anticipated, ALIAS Partners can provide practical guidance for connecting value propositions to real customer value. Our two-hour ABM workshop brings deep expertise and tools directly to your team.
Learn more at aliaspartners.com/abm-workshop
Get in touch.
There’s nothing like a complex B2B sales process to make agencies panic. At ALIAS, we appreciate the challenge — and thrive on the results as much as the practice of getting there. We are a B2B demand creation agency obsessed with what it takes to be persuasive today, which is why our credo is all about Intentional Creative.
The ABM conversation is often focussed on organisational alignment (we consult in this space) and the technical/tactical aspects of ABM (we execute in that space). But our craft lies in the ability to connect the two with creative purpose-built for ABM. And we successfully do so for some of the most influential technology companies on the planet.
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