Account-based marketing (ABM) is a strategic, cross-functional initiative to develop and expand within high potential accounts.
One of the defining characteristics of #ABM is the use of account insight to craft relevant and valuable messaging to those accounts targeted.
Buyers want their needs to be understood and marketing personalization is proof positive. The importance of customer-centricity and personalization is well-researched:
- The buyer’s top requirement of sales people is to understand the buyer and their business (CSO Insights)
- 98% of marketers surveyed agree that personalization advances customer relationships (Evergage)
- 80% of marketers surveyed rate personalized content as more effective or much more effective than unpersonalized content (Seismic)
Challenges with Personalization
Yet the top two challenges in executing ABM pertain to 1:1 personalization. ABM marketers are struggling with developing scalable assets and personalizing marketing to each member of the buying team (ITSMA). The top obstacles in deploying personalization are a lack of budget, people, technology and data (Evergage).
1:1 Account-based Personalization
The core of 1:1 account-based personalization should address one critical question from the buyer:
How does your solution uniquely solve our problem?
Once a sales rep identifies the buying team’s overlooked or under-valued problems and the organizational priorities, initiatives and obstacles, the onus is on marketing to hyper-personalize to this account-specific insight.
Marketing personalization transitions from data generated from machine learning such as firmographic, technographic, intent and behavioral data to human learning data gathered from sales conversations.
The more that technology and automation is applied to 1:1 account-based personalization, the greater the risk of diminishing the authenticity, value and relevance of that personalization.
To address challenges with 1:1 account-based personalization, marketers are developing solutions that involve message strategy, orchestration and enablement.
A common approach is for marketers to leverage vertical or segment-specific content and personalize it to individual accounts.
Targeting the account, rather than individual buying team member, creates alignment amongst the buying team members, rather than accentuating differences and fostering conflict. This approach accelerates account development (Gartner).
Other enterprise marketers create or co-create thought leadership assets on a 1:1 basis (ITSMA).
Interestingly, Terminus, which offers an ABM tech platform, turns to process re-engineering to identify opportunities to improve efficiency while maintaining or improving personalization.
There is a complementary approach to 1:1 account-based personalization to consider.
Two types of accounts can be targeted. First, those accounts that out-of-the-gate justify 1:1 personalization. Second, a lower tier of accounts, that are close to justifying the investment, but not quite.
The top tier of accounts receive 1:1 personalization. Commonly referred to as 1:1 ABM, these accounts are strategic and large. However, a lack of marketing resources may delay the use of 1:1 marketing personalization.
Other accounts may not warrant an investment in 1:1 personalization until a certain threshold or sales stage is reached. As an account progresses through the sales funnel, at some point the confidence level that the deal will close will justify the investment in 1:1 marketing personalization. Second, the level of sales insight on the account will enable deep personalization on solving business problems.
I call this Progressive Personalization, where deal potential, resources and data are gating factors to ratchet up marketing investment:
Progressive Personalization targets high potential accounts that do not justify 1:1 personalization by marketing or when the capability to personalize is constrained by a lack of marketing resources.
1to1 personalization is deployed when an account exceeds a threshold in deal potential (deal size * probability of close) and second, when insight is created from an in-depth understanding of customer pain and priorities by the sales team.
Progressive Personalization ensures that when there is a lack of resources, marketing and sales can prioritize those accounts who are to be targeted with 1:1 personalization and that the personalization is enabled by deep insight on the target account.
For example, an account could be initially targeted with industry, segment or persona-based personalization and then migrate to 1:1 account-based personalization once a threshold is reached.
Ongoing Marketing Personalization
Why should marketing invest after sales engages the customer and creates a opportunity?
This objection is voiced by organizations that draw a clear line in the sand between sales and marketing efforts at the point of lead handoff and as part of a demand generation model. It’s also common with the lone wolf sales rep who owns the account and prefers to close the opportunity without the help of marketing. This type of sales rep frets about marketing delaying or derailing the sales cycle.
In contrast, when organizations run ABM initiatives, marketing and sales are collaboratively developing accounts from the start of the buying journey to the end. It’s a recognition that marketing can provide value to sales and the buyer throughout the journey.
There are two major reasons for marketing to work with sales:
- Sales needs help from marketing to improve its rate of success. Just over 50% of sales people are meeting or exceeding their quotas, the first straight year of decline (CSO Insights). As buyer teams increase in size and complexity, sales should be looking to boost the strength of their team.
- Marketing has proven its value to sales. The average contract value (ACV) is 171%+ higher with ABM (ABM Leadership Alliance)
Then why should marketing increase their personalization efforts after sales engages?
- When sales and marketing are personalizing at different levels customers get distracted or confused, slowing sales cycles. Sales reps personalize to individual accounts while marketing typically personalizes at a higher level (e.g. the website) such as industry or segment level. This personalization gap creates friction and prompts sales to shut marketing out of engaged accounts.
- Marketing can help sale reps solve their number one problem: how to identify and influence the members of a buying team, including invisible stakeholders. By amplifying 1:1 account-based personalization with multi-channel and high impact programs, marketing can reach members of the buying team with account-based aircover.
- Marketing is doubling down on winners by increasing investment in an account as the probability of closing this opportunity and the potential rate of return increases.
While 1:1 account-based personalization is the standard approach for sales engagement, due to constraints, marketing should be judicious in deploying 1:1 account-based initiatives but also recognize the significant rewards in personalizing to high potential accounts.
For 1:1 account-based personalization to succeed, marketing will need to ensure that marketing resources are sufficient, that sales will share insight on target accounts and collaborate on marketing outreach, that execution is efficient and that accounts are prioritized for immediate 1:1 personalization or Progressive Personalization.