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Drive growth with account-based marketing

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Drive growth with account-based marketing


E-commerce has been on the rise for years but has had explosive growth during the pandemic. Traditional B2B demand gen models are becoming outdated as privacy regulations are more stringent and fewer people are willing to give up their personal information.

Because of this it’s essential to have an Account-based marketing (ABM) strategy. This focuses on targeting top potential customers and uses both marketing and sales initiatives to capture the prospect’s interest and nurture them through the buying journey. Here’s a guide on how to do that.

As many e-commerce businesses experienced firsthand, COVID-19 caused a boom in online shopping. What was already a high-growth industry has catapulted into hyper-speed as the world adapted to changing regulations, societal norms and customer needs. While the rapid growth across global e-commerce markets and categories is projected to even out to pre-pandemic numbers, that time is still far off. We will continue to see large upticks in e-commerce growth worldwide in two to three years.

Most of the B2B buying journey is conducted anonymously until the buyer gets closer to the point of purchase, which is why a tech-driven “zero-touch” demand gen strategy is critical for growth. And with ABM tech platforms becoming mainstream, it is much easier to implement (think of platforms such as Marketo, Pardot, and HubSpot).

Pro tip: Before I go deeper, instead of looking at an ABM program as a lead scoring initiative, it’s best to shift to a mindset where you look at ABM as a sales intelligence initiative. It’s about uncovering prospect behavior and weighting sales intent/intel and brand engagement rather than “funnel lead scoring” (engagement is a better metric to forecast revenue).

The shift and the case for ABM: Anonymous buyer’s journey

In our always-on, buy anything anywhere world, customers want their buying experiences to be personalized, dynamic and convenient, and B2B buyers are no different. As a result, many businesses are trying to reinvent themselves, adapt to new business models and technologies, adhere to new consumer expectations, and keep pace with their competitors.

It’s a great time (and opportunity) for a B2B company to support those shifts — but it’s tough to get mindshare (let alone wallet-share). More and more, the buyer journey is conducted digitally:

  • Two-thirds of B2B buyers say they are now “self-serving” more information before contacting vendors.
  • 63% of purchases have more than four people involved in the buying group (up from 47% in 2017).
  • The number of buying interactions during the pandemic jumped from 17 to 27 (the number of buying interactions reflects one individual’s buying journey to obtain information about competing offerings or providers).
  • 74% of B2B marketers say they are seeing customers taking more control over the buying process.
  • 62% say they can now develop selection criteria or finalize a vendor list — based solely on digital content.
  • 70% of the buyer’s journey is complete before a buyer even reaches out to sales.

When you consider the above, you start to understand why a “zero-touch” approach is so important; it allows the prospect to buy the way they want to buy and not necessarily the way you want to sell. And that’s where ABM comes in. A zero-touch approach that still delivers the highly personalized and curated experiences B2B buyers want.

What to aim to achieve with ABM

Aim to identify a composite pattern of digital cross-channel account behavior that suggests interest and enables a very focused sales engagement into those targeted segments/accounts. Specifically:

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  • Translate ABM brand awareness from target accounts into website traffic.
    • Continue to hyper-segment accounts that demonstrate interest with a secondary tactic and messaging (e.g., a case study, additional zero-touch tactics/assets, etc.)
    • Implement funnel-based personalization through funnel/DRIP system.
    • Optimize ad spend and activity towards accounts showing website and ad engagement.
  • Evaluate the impact on traffic to points of conversation (such as the “Contact Us” button or a “zero-touch” contact form) and re-target accounts that don’t convert.
  • Meet pipeline objectives and key results (OKRs) for ABM campaigns.

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ABM program governance: Ground rules

It’s time to make friends! ABM requires rules of engagement between everyone involved (particularly marketing, sales and IT) to work as painlessly as possible and drive alignment throughout the organization. Misalignment is a problem because it affects every phase of ABM — planning, execution, and measurement. This can be solved by aligning on goals and incentives. Determine the ABM Team, and sit down to figure it out:

  • Cadence of team touchpoints: Weekly updates, monthly check-ins, quarterly reviews.
  • Updates: Audience and account data updated bi-weekly
  • Audience naming conventions: Vocabulary can vary from department to department; ensure consistency to keep the data clean.
  • Account grouping: Agree on classifying e-commerce companies (SMBs/SMEs, Enterprise, etc.) beforehand.
  • Hierarchical taxonomy: Ensure the prioritization of the audiences is clear and documented.
  • Opportunity weighting: Sales and Marketing need to align on sales intelligence weighting at the account level (company) and the contact level (individual).
  • Progression: Agree on how e-commerce audiences are operationally and philosophically tagged and moved through the buyer journey.

Ideal e-tailer profile

Defining your ideal customer profile (ICP) beforehand is critical. Meaning, what types of e-tailer buyers are present in the ecosystem, and which ones should you be focused on? How are you tiering targets? Some factors to consider:

Segmentation tips:

  • Hyper-personalize where possible (where people know you).
  • Segment where possible (where companies might not know you but have common attributes so that you can craft language around their e-commerce sector).
  • Create more mainstream messaging if you don’t know the sector and therefore need something a little more general.

Marketing and sales need to work together to identify, select, and prioritize target accounts. The buying group will also have to be identified; as an example, in a buying group of four, who is:

  • The user: Usually, the actual user of the product (focused on workflow).
  • The influencer: Researches the different options available through the buying process (focused on best practices and vendor comparisons).
  • The decision-maker: Usually the manager of the influencer (focused on ROI).
  • The IT subject matter expert: The person who must determine any impact on tech infrastructure (focused on seamless operations/integration).

Personas

Buyer personas are a semi-fictional representation of your ICP, based on market research and existing customer data. Why use them?

  • The information that goes into creating a buyer persona helps to personalize your target customer, building a clear picture of the real people who buy products or services
  • A company’s expertise touches a range of audiences with various needs. Audiences may not see the immediate value if content speaks to what the company does vs. what it does for its specific audiences

Targeting WITHOUT personas puts more onus on the prospect to decipher your offering and complicates the customer experience, eroding confidence and trust. Targeting WITH them improves the customer experience, shortens the decision cycle, and maximizes the impact with more targeted content.

There are many persona templates available online; here is an example of one HubSpot offers:

Content strategy

Inbound is guided by the philosophy that every customer is on a quest to accomplish something, and as marketers, our job is to act as trusted advisors to help them get where they need to go. The goal of inbound, then, is to create one-to-one relationships with customers (new and existing) that have a lasting impact on them and your brand. ​

​Inbound marketing is about building value and trust, NOT about selling.​

​Content delivers the message of your inbound marketing strategy; in other words, content acts as the voice of your brand while helping customers on their quest to solve a problem. The content strategy should empower your e-commerce customers to entertain and educate them, as it contributes to creating the long-lasting relationships that inbound marketing is focused on.​

Inbound marketing seeks to produce content that follows a three-step methodology: attract, engage and delight. When layered onto the steps in a typical buyer’s journey, the result shows the pathway for converting strangers to your brand into promoters of your brand. Consider deploying this framework:

But how to do that as effortlessly as possible? Automation.

Programmatic and tech

The power of ABM is due to the advantages of digital marketing; automating data collection and connection enables the customization of interactions with those customers. It also allows B2B marketers to reach large volumes of customers with greater precision and personalization.

Tech now makes it easier to identify the e-commerce customers most likely to spend and have a high spend. It isn’t about developing an extraordinary number of leads. It’s about sales intelligence that allows you to develop the leads that really matter.

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Crawl before you walk before you run. If you have a smaller contact list (e.g.,

  • CRM structure
  • Email system
  • Deal flow/lead platforms
  • Data modeling
  • Ad performance dashboard

However, once your target lists grow (100–1,000s contacts), you’ll want to look at platforms that can do programmatic ABM:

  • Marketing automation (e.g., HubSpot, Marketo, Pardot)
  • Predictive analytics (e.g., Bombora, 6Sense)
  • ABM ad-targeting platform (e.g., Terminus, Demandbase)

You’re not alone in figuring it out!

Roles and responsibilities: Friends, not foes

Marketing and Sales need to work differently if ABM is going to work and drive alignment (i.e., more collaboration and fewer silos). Marketing needs to develop personas for both a) individuals and b) buying groups and use those personas to engage with prospects deliberately and proactively. Sales should shift from a fragmented, manual process and lean into the automation made possible through tech. As stated earlier, the shift from being lead-centric to account-centric is key, and using combined sales and marketing data will yield better intel.

Measurement

Data is used to make decisions and help companies reach their goals — but data collection in 2022 has become drastically different with customers now aware of how much data they’re giving up and with the dramatic changes to data privacy initiated by the likes of Apple and Facebook. 

The rising importance of zero- and first-party data has changed how e-commerce businesses collect information from consumers. However, e-commerce companies must prioritize collecting this data to sustain the marketing efforts required to succeed.

It will also require marketers to shift and look at metrics differently. It is time to move away from tracking traditional (and at times, vanity) metrics like impressions, CPMs, click-through rates, web traffic, etc. and move towards tracking that speaks to revenue:

  • Program performance (target account activity, opportunities, pipeline)
  • Program strategy (revenue, win/loss rates, funnel velocity, cross-sell and up-sell, and retention)

In summary

E-commerce businesses face many trends and challenges when striving to succeed in this rapidly evolving marketplace.

Now you know how to use tech to identify cross-channel account behavior, translate Account-Based-Marketing brand awareness into website traffic and evaluate its impact on points of conversation that will drive growth. ABM is key to competing in today’s B2B world, and it works — because a more targeted, personalized, and exceptional customer experience always does.

Developing an ABM strategy that focuses on targeting top potential customers and uses both marketing and sales initiatives to capture the prospect’s interest and nurture them through the buying journey is now a foundational part of any go-to-market plan.

Account-based marketing: A snapshot

What it is. Account-based marketing, or ABM, is a B2B marketing strategy that aligns sales and marketing efforts to focus on high-value accounts. 

This customer acquisition strategy focuses on delivering promotions — advertising, direct mail, content syndication, etc. — to targeted accounts. Individuals who may be involved in the purchase decision are targeted in a variety of ways, in order to soften the earth for the sales organization. 

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Why it’s hot. Account-based marketing addresses changes in B2B buyer behavior. Buyers now do extensive online research before contacting sales, a trend that has accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of marketing’s tasks in an ABM strategy is to make certain its company’s message is reaching potential customers while they are doing their research. 

Why we care. Account engagement, win rate, average deal size, and ROI increase after implementing account-based marketing, according to a recent Forrester/SiriusDecisions survey. While B2B marketers benefit from that win rate, ABM vendors are also reaping the benefits as B2B marketers invest in these technologies and apply them to their channels.

Read next: What is ABM and why are B2B marketers so bullish on it?


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Theresa is the President of McMillan, an independent creative agency headquartered in Ottawa, Canada, with offices in NYC that specializes in the brand experience for a global clientele. She’s responsible for plotting the pragmatic course of action through business development, strategic services offerings and industry partnerships that define the agency’s growth and corporate strategies. Theresa’s been a B2C and B2B marketing professional for more than 25 years, honing her craft in the consumer-packaged goods, software and advocacy sectors and is a strategist-by-trade, which has amplified her life-long passion for pulling things apart to see how they work. She brought that insatiable curiosity to McMillan in 2007, building the agency’s strategic services practice from a one-woman operation into the guiding force behind successful projects for Intuit, LexisNexis and Trend Micro, and becoming President in 2018.



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MARKETING

8 major email marketing mistakes and how to avoid them

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8 major email marketing mistakes and how to avoid them

As email marketers, we know we need to personalize the messages we send to subscribers and customers. I can’t think of a single statistic, case study or survey claiming an email program of one-to-everyone campaigns outperforms personalization.

Instead, you’ll find statistics like these:

  • 72% of customers will engage only with personalized messages (Wunderkind Audiences, formerly SmarterHQ)
  • 70% of consumers say that how well a company understands their individual needs affects their loyalty (Salesforce)
  • 71% of customers are frustrated by impersonal shopping experiences (Segment)

But what marketers often don’t understand, especially if they’re new to personalization, is that personalization is not an end in itself. Your objective is not to personalize your email campaigns and lifecycle messages. 

Rather, your objective is to enhance your customer’s experience with your brand. Personalization is one method that can do that, but it’s more than just another tactic. 

It is both an art and a science. The science is having the data and automations to create personalized, one-to-one messages at scale. The art is knowing when and how to use it.

We run into trouble when we think of personalization as the goal instead of the means to achieve a goal. In my work consulting with marketers for both business and consumer brands, I find this misunderstanding leads to eight major marketing mistakes – any of which can prevent you from realizing the immense benefits of personalization.

Mistake #1. Operating without an overall personalization strategy

I see this all too often: marketers find themselves overwhelmed by all the choices they face: 

  • Which personalization technologies to use
  • What to do with all the data they have
  • How to use their data and technology effectively
  • Whether their personalization efforts are paying off

This stems from jumping headfirst into personalization without thinking about how to use it to meet customers’ needs or help them solve problems. 

To avoid being overwhelmed with the mechanics of personalization, follow this three-step process:

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  • Start small. If you aren’t using personalization now, don’t try to set up a full-fledged program right away. Instead, look for quick wins – small areas where you can use basic personalized data to begin creating one-to-one messages. That will get you into the swing of things quickly, without significant investment in time and money. Adding personal data to the body of an email is about as basic as you’ll get, but it can be a start.
  • Test each tactic. See whether that new tactic helps or hurts your work toward your goal. Does adding personal data to each message correlate with higher clicks to your landing page, more conversion or whatever success metric you have chosen?
  • Optimize and move on. Use your testing results to improve each tactic. Then, take what you learned to select and add another personalization tactic, such as adding a module of dynamic content to a broadcast (one to everyone) campaign. 

Mistake #2. Not using both overt and covert personalization

Up to now, you might have thought of in specific terms: personalized subject lines, data reflecting specific actions in the email copy, triggered messages that launch when a customer’s behavior matches your automation settings and other “overt” (or visible) personalization tactics.

“Covert” personalization also employs customer preference or behavior data but doesn’t draw attention to it. Instead of sending an abandoned-browse message that says “We noticed you were viewing this item on our website,” you could add a content module in your next campaign that features those browsed items as recommended purchases, without calling attention to their behavior. It’s a great tactic to use to avoid being seen as creepy.

Think back to my opening statement that personalization is both an art and a science. Here, the art of personalization is knowing when to use overt personalization – purchase and shipping confirmations come to mind – and when you want to take a more covert route. 

Mistake #3. Not maximizing lifecycle automations

Lifecycle automations such as onboarding/first-purchase programs, win-back and reactivation campaigns and other programs tied to the customer lifecycle are innately personalized. 

The copy will be highly personal and the timing spot-on because they are based on customer actions (opting in, purchases, downloads) or inactions (not opening emails, not buying for the first time or showing signs of lapsing after purchasing). 

Better yet, these emails launch automatically – you don’t have to create, schedule or send any of these emails because your marketing automation platform does that for you after you set it up. 

You squander these opportunities if you don’t do everything you can to understand your customer lifecycle and then create automated messaging that reaches out to your customers at these crucial points. This can cost you the customers you worked so hard to acquire, along with their revenue potential.

Mistake #4. Not testing effectively or for long-term gain

Testing helps you discover whether your personalization efforts are bearing fruit. But all too often, marketers test only individual elements of a specific campaign – subject lines, calls to action, images versus no images, personalization versus no personalization  – without looking at whether personalization enhances the customer experience in the long term.

How you measure success is a key part of this equation. The metrics you choose must line up with your objectives. That’s one reason I’ve warned marketers for years against relying on the open rate to measure campaign success. A 50% open rate might be fantastic, but if you didn’t make your goal for sales, revenue, downloads or other conversions, you can’t consider your campaign a success.

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As the objective of personalizing is to enhance the customer journey, it makes sense then that customer lifetime value is a valid metric to measure success on.  To measure how effective your personalization use is, use customer lifetime value over a long time period – months, even years – and compare the results with those from a control group, which receives no personalization. Don’t ignore campaign-level results, but log them and view them over time.

(For more detailed information on testing mistakes and how to avoid them, see my MarTech column 7 Common Problems that Derail A/B/N Email Testing Success.)

Mistake #5. Over-segmenting your customer base

Segmentation is a valuable form of personalization, but it’s easy to go too far with it. If you send only highly segmented campaigns, you could be exclude – and end up losing because of failure to contact – many customers who don’t fit your segmentation criteria. That costs you customers, their potential revenue and the data they would have generated to help you better understand your customer base.

You can avoid this problem with a data-guided segmentation plan that you review and test frequently, a set of automated triggers to enhance the customer’s lifecycle and a well-thought-out program of default or catch-all campaigns for subscribers who don’t meet your other criteria. 

Mistake #6. Not including dynamic content in general email campaigns

We usually think of personalized email as messages in which all the content lines up with customer behavior or preference data, whether overt, as in an abandoned-cart message, or covert, where the content is subtly relevant.

That’s one highly sophisticated approach. It incorporates real-time messaging driven by artificial intelligence and complex integrations with your ecommerce or CRM platforms. But a simple dynamic content module can help you achieve a similar result. I call that “serendipity.”  

When you weave this dynamic content into your general message, it can be a pleasant surprise for your customers and make your relevant content stand out even more. 

Let’s say your company is a cruise line. Customer A opens your emails from time to time but hasn’t booked a cruise yet or browsed different tours on your website. Your next email campaign to this customer – and to everyone else on whom you have little or no data – promotes discounted trips to Hawaii, Fiji and the Mediterranean.

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Customer B hasn’t booked a cruise either, but your data tells you she has browsed your Iceland-Denmark-Greenland cruise recently. With a dynamic content module, her email could show her your Hawaii and Mediterranean cruise offers – and a great price on a trip to Iceland, Denmark and Greenland. Fancy that! 

An email like this conveys the impression that your brand offers exactly what your customers are looking for (covert personalization) without the overt approach of an abandoned-browse email.

Mistake #7. Not using a personal tone in your copy

You can personalize your email copy without a single data point, simply by writing as if you were speaking to your customer face to face. Use a warm, human tone of voice, which ideally should reflect your brand voice. Write copy that sounds like a one-to-one conversation instead of a sales pitch. 

This is where my concept of “helpful marketing” comes into play. How does your brand help your customers achieve their own goals, solve their problems or make them understand you know them as people, not just data points?  

Mistake #8. Not personalizing the entire journey

Once again, this is a scenario in which you take a short-sighted view of personalization – “How do I add personalization to this email campaign?” – instead of looking at the long-term gain: “How can I use personalization to enhance my customer’s experience?”

Personalization doesn’t stop when your customer clicks on your email. It should continue on to your landing page and even be reflected in the website content your customer views. Remember, it’s all about enhancing your customer’s experience.

What happens when your customers click on a personalized offer? Does your landing page greet your customers by name? Show the items they clicked? Present copy that reflects their interests, their loyalty program standing or any other data that’s unique to them?  

Personalization is worth the effort

Yes, personalization takes both art and science into account. You need to handle it carefully so your messages come off as helpful and relevant without veering into creepy territory through data overreaches. But this strategic effort pays off when you can use the power of personalized email to reach out, connect with and retain customers – achieving your goal of enhancing the customer experience.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Kath Pay is CEO at Holistic Email Marketing and the author of the award-winning Amazon #1 best-seller “Holistic Email Marketing: A practical philosophy to revolutionise your business and delight your customers.”

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