How to Do ABM Without Selling Your Soul

How to Do ABM Without Selling Your Soul

At HubSpot, people ask us all the time: "Will social media work for my business?" We see examples of soul-less ABM emails all the time. There are a few things wrong with this type of ABM email from a recipient experience standpoint. Who do you want to market and sell to? Created content and put it in front of the right people at the right companies. And actually generated interest and engagement from companies that fit your target persona. Explore both demographics, the job titles and other traits of the people in your database, and firmographics, the characteristics of their companies (size, industry, location, etc.). Use account scoring to determine which accounts are actually engaged with your company, and how many contacts at each one have interacted with you. A filterable database of companies and an integrated company profile --- where you can see all associated contacts, create custom properties, communicate with your contacts at the company, and view all past and future engagements --- are two absolute musts. It’s designed to help a marketing manager make the case for inbound to his or her management team, and has helped our marketing and sales teams to bring the decision-makers into the conversation.

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Mayo on a sandwich. Hot sauce on a taco. Hot fudge on a sundae. All things that — when used correctly — make the thing they complement way better.

But If you use too much of any of them, or use them in the wrong context (hot sauce on a sundae? No thanks.), or simply use them wrong (gobs of mayo, instead of a thin layer), you’ve ruined a perfectly tasty snack.

As a marketer, the same concept applies to everything you do. If used correctly, every technology and tactic has the power to create better connections with your potential customers. If done without care, it can drive a wedge between you and your buyers.

Take social media. At HubSpot, people ask us all the time: “Will social media work for my business?” The answer? Yes, absolutely! But only if you do it in a way that fits in with the way your buyer wants to interact with you.

On social, people feel interrupted if you’re just sending spammy mass messages. If you’re not providing them with quality content that their mom, friend, or coworker could have sent them, you’re just another brand in the crowd. Or worse, a brand annoying them in their personal space, where they don’t expect to see brands interrupting. When you’re cold, interruptive, and irrelevant, nobody wins.

It’s not just social. It’s virtually every tactic in today’s marketing playbook. Email, ads, popup forms, video, and all the rest. Do it in a human-friendly way, and everybody wins. Do it in a permissionless, cold, disruptive way, and you’re in trouble.

Account Based Marketing fits squarely into this thread. Done right — in a customer-centric and human-friendly way — it can play an impactful role in an effective marketing strategy. Put simply, a company-centric B2B approach doesn’t have to be spammy.

What is ABM, Anyway?

Account-based marketing looks slightly different depending on who you ask. But at its core is one central theme: the idea of company-centricity.

If you’re B2B, you’re selling to businesses. Generating five thousand leads doesn’t matter much if those leads aren’t within the businesses you want to sell to. This idea of company-centricity applies to everything in ABM. You generate accounts (rather than leads). You engage with all the key stakeholders within those accounts. You close accounts. And you measure account engagement and growth.

What is ABM Not?

More often than not, the concept of ABM is associated with targeted outbound. It looks like this: choose a set of companies you’d like to market and sell to. Use online databases to build an org chart for those companies. Use tactics like cold email and calls, direct mail, and live events to engage the key stakeholders at those accounts that you found in your research. Close deals with those accounts. Then “land and expand” into other parts of the business using similar tactics.

This outbound-heavy interpretation of account-based marketing is misguided and miserable.

We see examples of soul-less ABM emails all the time. I’m sure you do too. Rather than call any one company out — here’s a compiled fictional example of the types of targeted outbound emails we get.

abm email.png

Now, technically this is an account-based email. It reflects a unique data-point on my company: The Business Insider article. It demonstrates the land and expand practice of branching off of a colleague of mine’s interest. But it still feels cold, right? There are a few things wrong with this type of ABM email from a recipient experience standpoint.

First, even though my colleague had an interest — there’s no consideration as to whether I even know that colleague or a demonstrated understanding of how or if we work together.

Second, while I appreciate the mention of the recent article on us, it has nothing to do with the purpose of the email. It almost feels as though it’s in there just to prove that the sender took the time to Google us. Crummy experience for the recipient. Poor results for the sender. Nobody wins.

So, even though the email is personalized to my context — It still feels like cold outbound and odds are, I’m not going to bite.

My email inbox is littered with emails like these. So is my voicemail. What about yours?

The good news: ABM doesn’t have to look like this. There’s a better way. One that’s warmer, more human, and a whole lot more buyer-friendly.

How to do ABM the Right Way

What does ABM done right look like? In this section, we’ll walk you through it, step by step.

Get specific about your target.

Who do you want to market and sell to? Imagine your ideal customer were to walk through the door. What would they look like? What would they sound like? What would they talk about? We call these ideal customer profiles buyer personas.

A few important best practices to remember when creating your buyer personas, as it relates to an account-based strategy:

If you’re B2B, your personas should include insights about the person’s company. What size is it? What role do they play? Who do they report to? Are they a decision-maker or an influencer? What’s their budget and what other things are they spending it on? What industry are they in? Where are they located? What other tools do they use? While, in the end, it’s the people that make the buying decisions, their company dynamics play a big role in the purchasing process.

It’s perfectly okay — and, often, necessary — to have more than one persona in the same company. At HubSpot, we sell both marketing and sales software, so it’s vital that we understand the core characteristics and motivations of both marketing and sales leaders. Sometimes, the same person plays both roles. More often than not, we’re marketing to the two separately. To do so effectively, we need to understand not only the nuances of marketers and salespeople individually, but also the way they interact in the workplace.

Marketing and sales should be tightly aligned in the creation of personas. Personas aren’t an arts-and-crafts project undertaken by the marketing team on a rainy day. They’re the glue that holds every function at your company together. If you’re a marketer, take into consideration your sales team’s feedback on the types of accounts they’re interacting with most.

What generalizations can they make about the different types of customers you serve best? If you’re a salesperson, what lessons can you pass along to your marketing counterparts from the front lines? What’s driving conversations forward? Sales and marketing should be in lockstep throughout the inbound process; that’s especially important in the creation of personas.

A common question that often comes up around personas and ABM: if you’re B2B, should you select one specific set of a few companies to target? The simple answer: in general, no. Even if your target “universe” of potential customers is small — big banks, universities, etc. — think about what your target persona has in common.

Let’s say your primary decision-making persona is the VP of risk management at a big bank. Do the VPs of risk management at Wells Fargo and CitiBank have vastly differents sets of motivations and priorities? Do they hang out on different social networks? Are they concerned about different changes in the market? Probably not.

The personas you create should be very specific to your best customer fit, but broad enough to be applicable beyond a single person at a single company.

Create valuable content for those personas.

Next up: creating content. ABM and Inbound are in lockstep here. Once you’ve gotten clear on your target, it’s all about creating content that’s personalized, relevant, helpful, and valuable for your potential buyers.

The bitter truth: today’s buyer doesn’t care about your company. They don’t care about how you’ve just launched the coolest widget since sliced bread. They don’t want to book a 15 minute meeting with you, if they’ve never heard of your company. They want things that’ll make them better at what they do, or teach them something they don’t know, or fill in a blind spot in their day. Even better if it makes them look good to their colleagues and managers.

How do…