“Account-based marketing is not a one-size-fits-all program.” 

That may be the most important takeaway from Gina Miller’s presentation at a Leadtail Spirited Conversation event. 

Gina is Vice President for Client Experience at Unreal Digital. Her 20 years of experience have spanned both client- and agency-side roles, primarily working in the B2B space and specializing in lead generation. Gina spoke to Leadtail’s guests about launching an account-based marketing program.

Account-based marketing, or ABM, is a focused approach to marketing that targets best-fit accounts to turn them into customers. ABM requires cooperation between sales and marketing teams to create strategies for identifying, engaging, and closing high-value accounts. 

Gina recommends starting with seven questions to gauge readiness for companies that want to explore an ABM program. She calls these “the tried and true questions of ABM.”

“I did an ABM presentation in 2016—these are still the same questions,” she says. “Nothing has changed in the last five years in terms of what you need to have a successful ABM program.”

The Tried and True Questions of ABM

While some of the questions may seem a little basic at first, understanding these fundamentals will set up any ABM program for success.

  • Do you have executive buy-in? Leadership needs to be on board with the strategy and devote the necessary resources to make it successful.
  • Is your sales team on board? Are sales and marketing aligned on the goals and strategy? An ABM program requires excellent cooperation between sales and marketing teams.
  • Have you identified your ideal customer profile? There’s a difference between a wish list of accounts and deep research identifying particular accounts or types of accounts to target for an ABM program.
  • Do you have a team identified for ABM motions? ABM is not a one-person job, Gina says. It requires a team working together with tight collaboration and mutual accountability.
  • Do you have good buyer and account insights? This question goes hand in hand with the next one. Solid insights into your target accounts and buyers are essential for ABM success.
  • How’s your data? A company that wants to launch an ABM program needs to take a good look at its data, Gina says. Good, clean, reliable information is fundamental.
  • What does your content look like? Content is a critical component of any ABM program. Before launching a significant initiative, companies need to, at minimum, do a gap analysis on content, Gina says.
Not Either/Or … Both/And

Account-based marketing will not supplant “traditional” marketing and sales efforts for a business. This means the sales funnel needs to accommodate multiple methodologies for moving opportunities along from stage to stage. Lead based and account based marketing need to coexist in all of a company’s systems.

The key, Gina says, is “making sure you have a way to say ‘Here’s how we’re going to set up our stages; and we’re going to be able to make that work for both our account based program as well as our lead based program.’”

Because ABM is a team approach to marketing that merges expertise from both the sales team and the marketing team, it’s important to optimize data and communication across teams. Lead based marketing, ABM, and sales can all thrive as part of a holistic marketing strategy.

Pain Points

Since ABM is a different approach to marketing, launching a new program can bring a unique set of challenges. Gina says these pain points have remained fairly consistent over the years, and from client to client. “These are things we heard in 2016, and I literally heard them on a kick-off call this week.”

It’s important to consider each of these challenges from multiple perspectives before jumping into an account based marketing program.

  • “I don’t have the budget for ABM martech.” Budget is always part of the conversation when launching something new, but purchasing a lot of new technology may not be necessary for a successful ABM program.
  • “My executive team still wants to see leads delivered.” Sometimes there is a disconnect about what the outcome of an ABM program should be. The goal isn’t simply to produce more marketing qualified leads. Leadership needs to understand and support the goals of ABM.
  • “I have all these tools I don’t know how to use.” Technology is excellent, but when you don’t know how to use all the bells and whistles, it may be better to launch an ABM with a core set of tools, then build as you develop the program, Gina says.
  • “I don’t know where to start.” An excellent first step for developing an ABM program is to start with a pilot. Identify a targeted group of accounts and create a scalable strategy, Gina says. As the program develops, you can begin to target more accounts.
  • “My selling cycle is unique.” Every sales cycle is unique. Account-based marketing may not be the best solution for a shorter sales cycle. Identifying the best strategy for the type of business and sales cycle in play is an essential step toward developing the right ABM strategy.
Tailor the Program to Your Needs

Account-based marketing is not one-size-fits-all. Companies need to ask deep questions about their processes, sales cycle, and goals as part of planning for an ABM launch. 

A full-blown ABM program may not be a good fit for some businesses. “It takes too long to be able to get to all those process changes, so a targeted demand gen is a great way to start as ‘ABM lite,’” Gina says. The most important thing is to be realistic as you evaluate your options and decide whether ABM is the right approach for your organization and your goals.

Gina says a pilot program can be a great way to dip your toe in the ABM water. A pilot program can help you lab test some strategies and determine how they might scale. It also allows you to have important conversations with stakeholders and executive leadership to set expectations about KPIs and timelines.

It’s also important to walk and chew gum at the same time as you explore and eventually implement an ABM program. Ensure your “traditional” demand gen and lead-based marketing programs are still fully supported as you build and launch new account-based marketing initiatives.

You can watch Gina’s full presentation on Leadtail TV.