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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue ScientistWed, Feb 1, 2017 11 min read

What Is Account-Based Marketing (ABM) For Inbound Marketing Programs?

Inbound Marketing And Account-Based Marketing Work Perfectly Together

Account Based Marketing and Inbound MarketingI was talking to a client the other day and he said, “We want to focus on account-based marketing, not inbound marketing.” It took me a second to recover, but I wanted him to know that these are not mutually exclusive concepts. Theyre complementary concepts that when paired together produce dramatically better results than if they’re applied separately.

Perhaps it makes sense to clearly define what account-based marketing (ABM) is and what it’s not. ABM is an approach to B2B marketing that targets specific buyer profiles (the company) and buyer personas (the people); directs helpful messages in the form of educational content to help each prospect; and then continues the conversation with nurturing activities that shape the prospect’s buyer journey.

To simplify it even a little more, while people are out there searching for what you do, the products you sell and the services you offer, there are also people who need what you do but are not yet searching. ABM offers a targeting strategy and an outreach methodology that applies the principles of inbound marketing to those people who have not yet started their buyer journey.  

The bottom line is these are all ways to get your message out to the people who might need what you do. The reality is you want to be deploying all these tactics in an orchestrated way. In our opinion, inbound marketing is an overarching methodology that helps you handle the deployment, track the results and improve business performance.

In the case of account-based marketing, inbound marketing provides some enhancements that you might miss without thinking about ABM in an inbound way.

Start With Strategy

I know, no one wants to work on planning. Everyone wants to jump right in, but don’t do it. You’ll get much better results if you put your strategy before your tactics. In the case of ABM, this means identifying exactly who you want to go after. What businesses, what roles and what types of people are you targeting? Spend as much time in the targeting and selection phase of your ABM project as you will in the execution phase.

The result will be better targeting, better profiles, better understanding of their issues and challenges, better messaging, better tool development and much better results. You can use the sections of this article as a schematic for your strategy and planning work.

Who are your target prospects, what do you need to say to them to disrupt their status quo, how do you continue to educate them and what should you expect from the effort? Once you get these basic strategy building blocks in place, your execution will be much easier.

You Need A Great Story

ABM Needs A Great StoryI’m going to suggest this is the most important aspect of an ABM program. First, since you’re reaching out to people who have not yet started their buyer journey, they are unaware of you, your solutions and your company. They may even be unaware as to their own challenges. You should be able to disrupt their status quo enough to get their attention.

If you think about the funnel, the first stage is awareness. These people are actually pre-awareness. You have to get their attention with insight. You have to shake up their world, or as I said, disrupt their status quo, and you have to do it with stories.

People can relate to stories, connect with stories and share stories. Part of your strategy work is to craft a story that grabs them, pulls them in and gets their attention. For example, we use the data from a Harvard Business Review study that found 90% of C-level executives don’t respond to any form of cold outreach. It’s a trusted source, it’s a startling data point and if I’m spending a lot of money making cold calls in an attempt to get to C-level execs, I might pause to wonder if I’m doing my job properly.

If that happens, mission accomplished. You need a similar story.

You Need The Right Tools

OK, I’m listening. Now that you have their attention, what’s next? You need a clear, coherent and perfectly mapped-out experience that kicks in immediately. Remember, external factors are in play here to push your newfound interested prospect back into their comfort zone. You moved them out and others are working to move them back in. Your marketing has to be perfectly planned to keep moving them out.

What emails do your salespeople send? What blog articles do they provide? What e-books, whitepapers or videos are included? What external articles or research do they include? How do they customize the communication to be aligned with the comments or feedback the prospect is providing your team? All of these questions need to be asked and answered. You might be able to use some of your existing marketing materials, but you may also need some new stuff created or curated from other places.

Support ABM With Proper Air Cover

There are a ton of military references when it comes to marketing. Campaign, launch, attack, targeting — all military terms. I’ve always considered the sales effort as the ground attack and the marketing as the air cover that makes the ground attack more successful. If your salesperson reaches out and your prospect already has some idea of who you are and what you do, it’s an easier conversation. The air cover was effective, so mission accomplished.

Make sure that whatever your ABM approach is, you’re supporting this effort with ongoing marketing. This typically takes the form of email or blogging. If you can get these people on your email list or as subscribers to your blog, the rest of your inbound marketing strategically supports your ABM effort.

Test And Track Everything

Regardless, this experience needs to be built, deployed, tested and optimized (with live data) over time to make sure it gets better and better. Remember, sales is a science, so you’ll know how these assets are performing and how effective your overall process is at turning these pre-awareness prospects into clients or customers.

You’ll have access to conversion rates at all stages of the funnel. Monitor these and work to make improvements. Typically, changing messages, using different tools or adjusting your process can have a big impact on a small number. Improving your proposals/agreements/contracts has the potential to improve the close rate and drive more new business with the same number of prospects or leads. Opportunities like this exist up and down your current funnel. Take a look.

You’re going to want to start thinking about moving some of your investment in cold calling or executive appointment setting toward account-based marketing. Both old-school tactics are going to continue to drop in their ability to produce results and return on the investment. The sooner you start to migrate your sales teams time from these interruptive tactics toward more engaging and educational tactics like ABM, the faster you’ll see improvements in revenue and new client signings.

The challenge is that like anything new, this will take time. It’s a change in philosophy, in behavior and in the application of sales tactics. Learning to do something that has been ingrained in your DNA for years represents a difficult challenge for you, your management team and your sales team. It’s going to be like learning a new language.

To learn more about how ABM and inbound marketing work closely together, download our newest tip guide below.

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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist

Mike is the CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist at Square 2. He is passionate about helping people turn their ordinary businesses into businesses people talk about. For more than 25 years, Mike has been working hand-in-hand with CEOs and marketing and sales executives to help them create strategic revenue growth plans, compelling marketing strategies and remarkable sales processes that shorten the sales cycle and increase close rates.