This article is based on a discussion between Rob Elbaz, strategist at Bloom, specializing in lead generation for both B2B and e-commerce businesses and Alex Brustowicz, Senior Customer Success Manager at Hubspot.
Alex, why don’t you start off by telling us a bit about your history and how you came to love Account-Based Marketing?
I am a Senior Customer Success Manager at Hubspot. I’ve been at Hubspot for over five years now. Prior to that, I worked on getting my MBA. Previous to that, I worked as a market researcher.
In terms of ABM, funny enough, it kind of fell on my radar when a customer of mine decided that they wanted to cancel Hubspot because they didn’t think that Hubspot could do Account-Based Marketing. This was right when I was first starting at Hubspot, in 2016. The tools came a long way since then, but I was caught off guard because truthfully, I didn’t know what ABM was at the time. I figured I needed to learn right away because I didn’t want to lose any other customers to that. It’s something I’m self-taught in, but I’ve spent a lot of time on. I also helped the product manager who ended up developing the ABM tool offerings within Hubspot, I’ve been kind of a sounding board to help with that. I’ve learned over the years with my customers who have stayed with Hubspot and have excelled in ABM that there’s a lot to learn and the tool can help. That’s kind of how it came on my radar.
Can you give us a brief description of what ABM is and what types of companies can benefit from it?
It’s a very focused, very personalized, very proactive B2B marketing and sales strategy. It’s really about taking the time to identify what your best fit prospects would be and then creating very customized content for them and proactively reaching out to them.
That’s kind of the difference between inbound marketing and ABM is that with inbound you’re presenting or creating material for people finding you and then they raise their hand when they’re interested. With ABM, you’re the one who’s doing the research, identifying who you think would be the best fit for you and then going out and having a marketing/sales strategy against that company to hopefully win them as a customer.
It’s really about marketing and sales coming together. The companies that try to go about it with only buy-in from the marketing department or the sales department, they’re really not going to see the same level of success as a group that’s united and working together.
What are the companies that should be doing ABM? A good criteria would be a company that has buy-in from both departments and has the resources available to really commit on the marketing and the sales side to create a dedicated ABM team.
Can you give us an example of what an ABM campaign might look like from start to finish?
There is no one-size-fits-all approach for running ABM campaigns. There are so many different industries, so many different targets, and the reason why a company would be running an ABM campaign can differ too. There’s some companies that are doing it specifically to generate new customers while there are others who use an ABM strategy for upsell and expansion type goals. The latter are already working with a customer and they want to increase the business.
There are still some standard tactical steps that most businesses who are running ABM would take. If you look at it from a high lens, you would see that it really fits into like three distinct categories.
- Define stage
- Identify stage
- Engage stage
In the define stage, you are taking the time to do the research and come up with a clear definition of what an ideal customer would look like.
Once that upfront work is done you move to the identify stage. Now that you have the definition in place you’re looking to say “okay what are the companies out there that aren’t current customers of ours that are a good fit for the definition we’ve created”. And, then taking that a layer below, identify the companies but also the contacts within the companies that would be on your engage list.
Once that identification is done, then you move to the engage stage, where you come together as a team and develop a target account plan. You start to build the content that you would use and define how you’re going to get that in front of the people you identified. And, then you know you continue to refine over time until hopefully you close the deal.
What are some of the channels that might be used during an ABM campaign?
That’s one of the fun things about Account-Based Marketing: there are so many channels that you can take to engage with people. To be successful, you should be leveraging a number of channels at the same time. It’s to vary in terms of touch points depending on who you’re targeting, but you need to target individuals in a channel that actually fits them. It could be email, it could be cold calls, it could be targeted ads, display ads, it could be direct mailers, it could be like in-person meetups. Any way you can get in front of them, you should.
If you are starting off with ABM, a lot of times these companies have never heard of you, they don’t know why they should work with you. You’re being proactive, so you need to make sure you’re getting in front of them and that’s going to take more upfront effort to do so.
How would you go about judging the success of your ABM campaign?
There are common metrics that are looked at to measure success over time. ABM campaigns tend to take a longer period to close a deal than a standard sales cycle, just because you’re putting in all this effort up front with the research, the content, and the outreach.
It’s going to take a lot of time and you do want to continue to monitor and measure the results to make refinements over time.
In terms of specific metrics that people use, one would be the engagement rate that you’re seeing. The idea here is you have identified companies that are perfect fit for your product and you’ve done all this research to create something customized for that person. Based on that logic, they should be engaging with your outreach. If you see that the engagement rates are equal to or lower than your standard sales and marketing that could be a red flag. It’s an opportunity to reassess and determine if the target account list that you’ve created is actually a good fit for your company. Ask yourself:
- Have we identified the right people?
- Should we expand this to someone else?
- Is the messaging off?
- Did we create something that resonates?
With engagement rate, you also want to monitor win rate. All the effort that you’re putting into your ABM campaign should lead to results that have a higher success rate than your standard sales operations would. You’re not going to win every single account that’s on your target account list but you should be doing better than if you weren’t creating something very personalized for a specific company.
Another good metric to monitor is the deal size of the deals that are closing. People show engagement and turn into customers, that’s great. But, if you see that the actual dollars coming in through ABM efforts aren’t that much higher than what you’re seeing with your standard sales, then there might be a problem. Your ABM efforts should be towards really high-value companies that are going to bring value and ROI.
With ABM, not only will you get more deals, you’ll get deals from customers who are a better fit for your company. They should have a higher lifetime value, bigger deal sizes and they’re people that you could even continue this relationship after the first closed deal to keep that account growing.
That’s why after sales services are crucial. Make sure your ABM deals are getting that white glove treatment. That’s really important to remember. ABM marketing doesn’t just stop when the deal is closed, it keeps going until your customer is an evangelist. At the end of the day, if a company is included on your target account list for ABM, it’s because they’re such a high value business they’re such a good fit for what you do that you don’t want to lose them.
Let’s change gears now and take a look into the crystal ball: where do you see ABM going in the next three to five years?
It’s going to continue to increase in popularity. Even Hubspot, which is all about inbound marketing, recognizes the importance of ABM and they realize that inbound and ABM can work in conjunction with one another. Hubspot wants to be able to help provide people the opportunity to run ABM through their platform, so I think we’ll just continue to see more and more software’s embrace this methodology.
Making ABM more accessible to companies is going to be a trend. If you look at where ABM was 10 years ago, it was pretty limited. Once businesses had identified their contacts it was hard for them to engage with hundreds of people without a software available to automate that process. ABM wasn’t feasible for the average company.
This democratization of the tools are letting more and more people go into this methodology.
The other thing that I’m interested in monitoring is the increased regulations that we’ve seen in things like GDPR and CCPA. I don’t have an answer as to how it will impact Account-Based Marketing, but I think that’s something that is definitely going to be top of mind for sales and marketing.
Permission-based marketing is one of the terms that we hear now getting thrown around. Having an ABM strategy that personalizes messages and that gives your target contacts valuable resources is the best way to get around new privacy regulations and new privacy implementations by companies like Apple. Give your prospects what they want and then they’ll be happy to hear from you.
Some channels like email marketing are more regulated now, which is a good thing for the customer. And, ultimately if the customer is happier, it’s going to be a better experience when they do communicate with you. It’s just about finding a way to navigate those changes, get out in front of them in a way that is in compliance with regulation and with something that provides value. Then, they’re going to want to opt-in and want to continue that conversation.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marie-Joelle works at Bloom, a digital marketing agency, as the Marketing Manager. She's passionate about digital marketing tactics (from social media to web design) for B2B businesses looking to grow online.