Alphabet soup: Know the ABCs of ABM for B2B

ABM—account-based marketing—puts a new twist on reaching and keeping B2B customers. Here’s how to make it work for you.

The language of B2B communications is often awash in alphabet soup. Lately, three letters have been turning up repeatedly: ABM.

Short for “account-based marketing,” ABM is the practice of aligning sales and content strategies around your ideal customer. The point is to shorten the sales cycle with personalized storytelling and precise media targeting.

For many B2B marketers, the approach isn’t new. Some called it “key account management” until the discipline was rechristened in 2004.

What’s behind the latest surge in ABM? Tougher B2B market conditions.

In a post-M&A haze, many customers are wielding new buying power, calling for reviews to consolidate vendors and trim costs.

Just in time, legions of marketing technologies have come to the rescue. Check out this view of the teeming Martech ecosystem from HubSpot vice president Scott Brinker. Because Martech solutions link disparate tasks, marketers are becoming more efficient in the quest for their next customer.

As you begin organizing—and optimizing—marketing resources for the upcoming year, you’ll need to mind the ABCs of ABM for B2B buyers.

“A is for Audience,” whose unmet needs you must solve

A Challenger study reported that there are now about 10.2 decision makers involved in each B2B purchase, up from 5.4 in 2015. Earning trust and building consensus will take more time, so invest in learning more about how customers make choices.

Start with your customer personas, or fictional representations of your buyers. Personas should describe essential demographics and, more importantly, help you uncover each customer’s emotions, motivations and behaviors in their purchase journey.

Collect insights along your B2B supply chain by including customers, distributors, sales agents and others who may affect your retention efforts. You can then use these models in planning your new customer acquisitions.

“B is for Benchmark,” to set goals that matter

Martech platforms now support many levers for customer engagement, including journey mapping, audience segmentation, list management, email campaigns, paid social, social listening and plenty more.

Resist the urge to select one winner from among these diverse sources of data. Instead, keep your eyes on the prize: the healthy relationship between your customer and business.

Two examples of powerful benchmarks:

  • Customer lifetime value (CLV). In simple terms, CLV calculates the profit or gross margins expected from each customer over their lifespan with you (SailThru has detailed formulas here). Compared to the vast consumer market, there is often a smaller pool of B2B buyers. However, what B2B sales may lack in volume is offset by individual spend and loyalty.
  • Churn rate. Churn refers to customers lost within a set period. Though they unleash a torrent of B2B woes, churn rates often get little attention, according to Abhijit Nagendranath, associate vice president at business transformation firm Genpact. “There are several effects of customer churn: reduction in price premiums, decrease in profit levels, loss of referrals and a rise in the cost of acquiring new customers,” explained Nagendranath.

 “C is for Curated Content,” which must achieve peak form and timing

 Have you produced B2B content that is visually memorable, emotes shared values and offers a compelling call to action? Get ready to repeat that many times over.

ABM fans value Martech features that let them test content faster. They study granular data to determine which marketing assets should be deployed, to whom and at what time.

To reflect their development-intensive work, B2B marketing planners have adopted new titles of “growth hacker,” “full stack marketer” and other similar monikers borrowed from the tech industry.

“Smart marketers expect the costs of acquisition and service to decline over time as customer familiarity and trust grow,” said Mike Samec, director of digital marketing for Kemper, a diversified insurance holding company. “However, hidden issues related to poor customer service or a bad business reputation can often sneak up to weaken marketing ROI. Without full integration across a company, account-based marketing can be easily defeated.”

Meet some secret saboteurs:

  • Service neglect. Account teams with poor customer relationships may rely too heavily on marketing resources to upsell.
  • Staff turnover. Frequent changes among service staff can put pressure on marketing to bridge gaps with extra customer outreach.
  • Bad news. A reputational crisis can crush business, forcing deep discounts to prevent customer attrition.

B2B marketers, dealing with slimmer budgets to woo customers, aim to find the right blend of content, channels and timing that will close sales.

As a new budget season begins, alphabet soup will be back on B2B menus—with ABM adding its distinct flavor.

Mary C. Buhay is founder and CEO of Buhay Advisors. You can follow her on Twitter @MaryBuhay.

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