While numerous marketing trends have come and gone throughout the years, one of the most significant shifts in how companies sell may be in account-based marketing (ABM) and content strategy. This variation in the way prospects are identified and nurtured may seem like more work than what teams are used to, but the rewards can be very sweet.
Here’s a rundown on why ABM is the smart choice for companies looking to bring their best talent teams together for a completely customized approach to content. Are you a good candidate? Learn more about the true ABM marketing meaning and decide for yourself.
What exactly is account-based marketing (ABM)?
Account-based marketing is an approach to marketing where the sales and marketing teams work together to define, identify, engage, and sell to a highly targeted set of client accounts. It harnesses the talent of both departments, aiming to get high-value accounts that add significantly more to the revenue stream.
In ABM, the sales team gives input on who they want to sell to, and the marketing team creates personalized assets that speak directly to this audience. Marketing can also give input into what they’ve seen from their research or data-collection efforts to help narrow down better prospects. It’s a mutual partnership that, when executed well, uses existing resources efficiently and fruitfully.
Because both departments often have to meet sales goals to retain budget and get additional compensation, employees of both teams have a shared interest in collaborating and getting ABM done right.
What are some of the top ABM benefits?
ABM is specifically designed to offer these perks:
Better informed strategies
With the combined data, knowledge, and leadership of the sales and marketing teams, strategies are generally more informed from the start. Going after the “big fish” — or major accounts — has everyone on board to waste no time and not begin prospecting until more is understood about the target demographic, its value, and how it can best be reached.
More targeted campaigns
ABM is the opposite of a sloppy direct mail campaign where anyone with a business address is sent a postcard. ABM uses the data, trends analysis, and a deeper understanding of the ideal customer to only devote resources to clients with an excellent ROI and a better chance of responding to marketing. ABM is not a “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” strategy.
Relevant content for today’s customers
On that note, because the message is directed at just the right audience, it can get very specific about what needs the pitched product or service will meet. Marketing assets come with the promise of meeting the customer just where they are at — bringing a freshness, relevance, and usefulness that older B2B marketing strategies can’t quite keep up with.
Able to evolve to meet new needs
ABM is very “rinse and repeat” and (hopefully) getting more targeted and refined with each iteration. As new data comes back to the marketing team, such as that gathered from a focus group or user survey, it gets incorporated into the strategy for further refinement. Sales also have its input; with their boots on the ground and an ear for what current clients have to say, they directly impact messaging with their understanding of pain points and what customers hope to see in the future.
Always active and ongoing
It doesn’t end, either. Forget campaign launch dates, seasonal ad bursts, and limited-time prospect engagement. ABM is a full life cycle. Teams invest in continuous branding and sales efforts as part of their day-to-day duties.
More adaptable to deal with change
Because marketing assets are created for a specific prospect or group of very similar accounts, when their pain points change, the marketing message changes with it. ABM is adaptable because the sales and marketing teams communicate regularly and respond as needed to keep the message on point for current needs.
This is important because, too often, companies suffer from shelves of expensive brochures and pages of web content that worked yesterday but is no longer relevant. With marketing on board for a more responsive approach, changes happen quickly and result in less waste.
Scalable at cost
Another perk is scalability. When something works — really works — it can be done over and over with minimal additional investment. Customized infographics, landing pages, and brochures were made with repeatable processes. If more accounts get added to the queue, boosting output happens faster than if entire new campaigns need creating from scratch.
While assets may need personalization to be truly effective, not all elements need revamping. Just those most personalized touches can be swapped out for each account, keeping the bulk of the work in place for maximum scalability.
Provides measurable outcomes and data
One of the more exciting pieces of ABM is the data. With more and more tools available to capture, process, and even learn from data, a data-driven campaign can get better over time. Add in the recent advancements in AI and machine learning, and there’s no limit to how sales and marketing can use data from prospects and clients to make their outreach efforts more effective with each attempt.
One important point to make about ABM is that it’s not entirely new. It still uses the same talent pools of your best salespeople and marketers, and it uses them in many of the same ways. What changes with ABM is how these talent pools overlap in their day-to-day workings.
Traditional models keep sales and marketing in silos, with sales managers creating their vision, prospect list, and sales goals, and marketing teams building from their own research and trend analysis. Collaboration may happen in passing or through meetings between department heads, but rarely are sales reps and marketing professionals in a room together working on individual accounts.
What their actions share in common likely comes from some higher-up mission statement, corporate culture training, or the larger body of organizational knowledge and development. This is good and necessary, but does it really address the very specific needs of those larger prospects where highly personalized content and outreach is the only true way to get their attention and nurture the sales journey?
Instead of a sales “funnel” that pitches hundreds or thousands of companies in an industry, then narrows down to the more qualified, then narrows down even more, ABM starts with a small, targeted, and profitable customer list, ensuring that outreach is highly relevant and informed.
There is a greater investment of resources per account, but when the sales happen, they happen in a big, big way.
What ABM services exist?
ABM services aren’t specific to ABM, and many of the traditional marketing solutions we’ve come to love are excellent candidates for use within an ABM campaign.
Here are just a few of the offerings that a content company may provide to help businesses take advantage of ABM.
These articles of 450 to 3,500 words live on websites, help boost SEO, and act as search result landing pages, shareable information pieces, and updates on how the company is doing. Blog posts may be one of the most popular content offerings due to how easy they are to update and integrate with other campaign elements.
You don’t need to write a true “book-sized” piece of content to have it qualify for ebook status. In fact, effective marketing happens from even short ebooks of 10 to 20 pages with strong branding, digestible info, and a clear call to action.
If you find case studies boring, you may not be doing it right. Today’s case studies combine customer testimonies with data proving ROI and wrap it all up in a compelling brand story.
Simply hearing about another company’s success may be enough to drive interest from a prospect within the same industry, and ABM’s strategy blends the best of sales and marketing to deliver one of the top content pieces today.
What’s a white paper? Opinions vary, but it’s typically defined as something more formal than a blog post or ebook that appeals to high-level B2B decision-makers. Taking white papers from dry and dusty to something that truly drives interest can be a challenge, but when executed well, this tool creates strong ROI for marketers.
It may not seem like websites can truly be ABM options, considering how much work goes into creating an overall brand experience through a website. With individual landing pages, many using the solutions above as lead magnets, you can craft a message for very specific buyers within an industry and give them the impression the website was made just for their individual needs.
Yes, people still read emails, and this may be just the place to speak to the heart of your ideal customer about needs identified by sales — crafted by the skilled marketing team. Email is also largely data-driven these days, with A/B testing, click tracking, and automation making it more effective and less hands-on than ever before.
We know that attention spans are becoming shorter than ever before, and a video is an excellent tool for capturing attention and telling stories. With one well-done short-form video, you can reach many audiences, including LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram Reels, YouTube, and your own web properties.
Longer videos can be turned into virtual event assets, training materials, or digital toolkit “solutions” aimed at helping prospects solve common problems and then seek you out for future support when they need it.
How to implement an ABM strategy
All of this may sound well and good, but what does it look like to get started? The following steps may vary, and you could have more or less. The beauty of ABM is that it is truly customizable. If a step doesn’t work for you, that’s OK.
A word of caution. If you’re committed to making the ABM strategy happen, you’ll need to spend considerable time with the prep work. Don’t rush the process. The first five steps are laying the groundwork for the sales and marketing execution.
It can be difficult to emphasize the importance of being careful and deliberate with these steps, especially when sales teams are used to selling — not strategizing. Teams may need reminders of ABM pros and what it takes to see it through.
1. Bring teams together
This could be one of the more difficult steps, simply because ABM is not like the traditional marketing established teams are used to. Getting salespeople to spend their time on marketing strategy or getting marketing people to accept feedback from sales may not always go as planned. The culture of the company plays a big role in how long this initial step takes.
Leaders need to model how to work together, showing the way it looks to work on accounts as a team. Over time, the ABM strategy will be second nature, but — until then — getting everyone on board is key. When planning with your teams, make it very clear who will be doing what on the team, what timelines will look like for each step, and where team members can go with questions or problems.
The more siloed your marketing and sales have been, the harder this first step can be. At a minimum, give the teams the same space in the building or create special remote communication hubs that keep distance workers “closer” to their teammates.
2. Research the market, customer, and needs
Depending on how much research you’ve done in the past and how recent that data is, this step could take the longest. You will want to look at what the market has been and what it will be. Consider how you’ve served the customer persona in the past.
What is effective? What could change? Finally, get real-life quotes and feedback from both marketing focus groups, and actual sales calls to see how your company has traditionally excelled and what it can do better. Even if you have missed the mark with clients in the past, it’s not an excuse to write off these concerns with future clients. Your plan to do better is a very marketable asset.
3. Vet the target market, adjust, and identify who you will be selling to
Do you think you know the ideal customer? Think again. You’ll want to look at actual companies using services like yours and see what they spend and what it takes to keep their business. Some prospects may be out of your range for resources you can provide.
Others may not make you enough money to justify the hands-on nature of an ABM model. When a prospect no longer meets the criteria for pursuit, take them off the list. Your curated prospect pool should consist of a few accounts to start that sales have vetted based on their field knowledge, then once again verified by marketing’s available data.
4. Create the account plan
You know who you are selling to and why they are an ideal client. Now comes the plan for creating content that will capture their attention. This includes not only thinking about what type of new content you’ll create but what existing content you already have that can simply be tweaked or updated. Account plans will be more about filling gaps than anything else, so do a full assessment of your current content library and go from there.
Account plans should include goals for each type of content, deadlines for delivery, and schedules for promotion and syndication. Don’t just send a great piece of content out once; integrate it into a rolling calendar so that it can be organically shared over and over — for maximum exposure and return on investment.
5. Assign point people
One of the more confusing aspects of ABM (and one of the reasons it can be resisted at first) is the question of “who handles this?” When going from a model where sales and marketing work completely independently to a plan where they share more of the legwork, missteps are likely to occur. Laying out clearly who is responsible for research, for example, makes it easier to both set expectations and follow up with the same contact when adjustments to the plan need to be made.
As with any assignment, look for those with natural talent, but don’t hesitate to bring in team members with a natural passion or interest in a client. If a sales rep has been hoping to land a particular pharma client, for example, bring them in to handle vetting or messaging strategy. Often, team members only need permission to drive accounts to their fullest potential, but they still need to know what tasks are their responsibility and what should be left to someone else.
One marketing person and one salesperson should be the owner of each account, as well, with an understanding of how decisions will be made between them.
6. Attract the right client
Now it’s time to send that message out into the world. With each sales or marketing person assigned their tasks, you can work on the marketing plan with certainty and focus only on those accounts that have been vetted and set up for success.
Yes, more time or resources will be invested in each client account, but with only the best accounts being pursued, the payoff will hopefully make it all count. You’ll also get better at it over time, become more efficient, and give your teams the confidence to aim higher with better, more profitable accounts in similar industries.
(Another major perk of ABM is that, when you do get a new client, they are typically big enough players in their markets to get the attention of other companies. Seeing that the XYZ soda brand uses your services may cause ABC chips to wonder, “how can we do something like that?”
A growing portfolio of accounts grows under its own momentum. Yes, you’ll still need to work hard, but having several clients signed with successful ABM models can result in referrals, word-of-mouth buzz, and overall trust in the industry.
7. Measure and optimize
Digital marketing creates data (and lots of it.) What are you doing with all of that information? Hopefully, you’ll take what you’re learning from campaigns and use it to make your efforts more efficient and fruitful. How many visitors requested the white paper from your landing page?
Of those, how many resulted in attending your webinar? As with any marketing plan, measuring matters. After that, however, creating insights to turn that data into useful information may require more work. Be sure your ABM plan includes a solution for data collection, analytics, and reporting and that you don’t forget to check in with your data often.
This is a living, breathing, ongoing strategy that can – and will – change as needed. From tweaking the target to conducting internal changes for who handles accounts, it’s expected that you will act, get data, learn from that data, and get better so you can scale!
Other ABM tools and tips
ABM takes talent, time, and continued refinement, and it may not all be so obvious in the very beginning. In addition to those steps above, companies frequently ask these questions:
How to create content for an ABM strategy
If you have a marketing department, you likely already make many of the content assets needed to attract clients and watch your portfolio grow. Winning strategies include:
Use their language
Future clients respond well when they feel they are heard, and one way to demonstrate you’re listening is by mirroring their language. Avoid stuffing blog posts or case studies with unnecessary jargon and instead ask sales teams what they are hearing when they are out in the field. Simply restating a common complaint in the way, they would make it, then answering how you would solve it can display empathy, industry knowledge, and a much-needed proactive approach toward getting the sale.
Start out slow
Decision-makers are busy these days and don’t have time to read pages of text-heavy materials upon their first interaction. Keep marketing assets breezy with summaries, infographics, and digestible blog posts. Then, when they’ve shown interest, hit them with the more detailed marketing assets that show you know the details of the business.
Remember, ABM is personal. Marketing assets should be created for the individual client, even if it’s updating the name on the marketing content to “XYZ company” from “ABC Corp.” Emails, brochures, and outbound materials should address the prospect by name. Inbound assets, like custom branded web pages or microsites, should speak to specific types of companies within specific industries. The prospect should feel that the site was created just for them — even if it never mentions them by name.
Your marketing team may already be at full capacity. So, how does an ABM strategy fit into their routine? If creating these materials stretches them too thin, consider teaming up with a content agency well-versed in ABM best practices. They not only have the existing processes in place to quickly create those unique assets, but they can give you strategic guidance and help you select the right materials for the job.
Whether you take your time with internal teams or jump-start your efforts with an agency at your side, creating content for ABM only differs from traditional marketing in that it’s tailored to that target client. They should feel that you spent your resources wooing them, specifically, and that they will continue to see a high level of attention after coming on board. Delight them with your marketing, and they’ll look forward to being delighted with your service, as well.
How does ABM content syndication work?
Content syndication is the reprinting of some or all of your content on other sites across the internet. This can be done on news sites, influencer sites, or partner networks where thought leaders and experts are frequently given the opportunity to guest post or write a column.
Syndication is another way to grow reach, boost SEO, and gain industry recognition. When a prospective client sees an article your company wrote on a third-party site that they trust, that trust transfers to you. They may be more likely to consider your brand for their future needs based on this association alone.
ABM is an ideal strategy to push content through syndication networks because it’s high-quality, solution-driven, and created with decision-makers in mind. Since this type of content is the most likely to earn a spot on a syndication platform, you are poised to get more from each piece of content.
By writing your content once, then placing it on authority platforms across your industry, you get a better return on your time and resources. Plus, syndicated content can live on those sites for a long time, putting it among the most favored ABM tactics. The footprint is significant as you continue to build your library over the years.
ABM is a marriage of two company departments that already have common interests and goals. Where they differ is in talent and approach. By melding them through a well-executed marketing plan that’s targeted and personalized, you can achieve more intentional and effective outreach.
Not sure how to make an account-based marketing content strategy fit into your day? Partnering with a content partner like ClearVoice may be the next best step forward for you, especially if you’re short on time and want help with strategy. ClearVoice’s network of freelance talent is well-versed in creating the right type of content for all industries, while still managing to make your client feel like the only one in theirs. Talk to a content specialist today to learn more.