This blog was adapted from a recent webinar with Kula Partners, “The B2B Manufacturer’s Guide to ABM.” Check out the full webinar here.
B2B manufacturers face some difficult market challenges:
- Long, complex sales cycles
- Finite number of potential customers
- Growing buying committees
- Limited market data
Each of these challenges is hard enough on their own – trying to solve them all at once is a daunting feat.
When you’re selling a niche product to a finite number of customers, every single company carries significant revenue potential. Your funnel is not infinite. Unlike Mary Poppins’ magic bag, it is quite possible to scrape the bottom.
This is especially true when, like many manufacturing marketers, you’re relying on outdated or ineffective strategies to acquire and retain new customers.
A traditional lead-based approach isn’t the best go-to-market strategy when you have a limited number of companies that could potentially become customers.
When you consider that, alongside with Forrester research indicating that the average end-to-end conversion ratio (initial lead to closed deal) for B2B marketers is less than 1%, it’s no wonder B2B manufacturers are flocking to ABM as a more effective and efficient way to generate qualified leads within niche markets.
Account-based marketing is an end-to-end go-to-market strategy that focuses a majority of marketing, sales, and customer success efforts on accounts with the highest likelihood of closing, through data-driven targeting and personalization programs at scale. In a nutshell: a way of focusing your marketing energy and resources on the people that can actually buy what you sell.
The transition makes sense: account-based marketing allows B2B manufacturers to implement targeted campaigns to reach the decision-makers in only the companies that would be a good-fit for their product (even those with large, ever-changing buying committees).
In turn, ABM benefits manufacturers in a few key ways:
Create more high-quality opportunities
One could argue that generating higher-quality opportunities is a foundational ABM use case. And accomplishing that goal is really quite simple: it all starts with a list.
Building out an account-based strategy starts by identifying your Total Addressable Market (TAM) and ideal customer profile (ICP). Your TAM is made up of all the companies you could possibly ever sell to. Your ICP takes things one step further — it’s a description of the company that’s the best fit for your product.
Your ICP should focus on relevant characteristics of your target accounts, such as:
- Employee headcount — companywide
- Technology, tools, or machines they use and within key departments
- Size of their customer base
- Annual revenue
- Level of organizational or technological maturity
Agreeing on a pre-defined list of accounts means that you’re focusing your resources on companies that actually have a chance of becoming customers – so your sales team won’t have to deal with poor-quality leads. Instead, you’re taking steps to ensure every MQL is a viable SQL.
If you’re selling a complex product to a small, finite list of accounts, you may be able to run personalized campaigns to your entire TAM all at once. That isn’t a realistic option for most marketers, so we recommend using an account tiering strategy to prioritize and personalize your account-based efforts. Account tiering refers to using technology, data points, and good old-fashioned research to prioritize your dream accounts.
Here’s a basic framework:
- Tier 1 accounts are perfect Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) fits, similar to your highest value customers.
- Tier 2 accounts are strong ICP fits but have a lower lifetime value.
- Tier 3 accounts fit most, but not all, ICP criteria. They’re worth pursuing but typically not worth investing significant resources to win their business.
Once marketing and sales have both agreed on these lists, you can start delivering hyper-targeted, personalized campaigns to the decision-makers within those accounts. What happens then? You’re able to collect more data, spend less on advertising, increase conversion rates, and generate higher-quality opportunities.
Drive engagement & awareness to help sales open the door
ABMers tend to rely less on traditional inbound metrics and focus instead on a more relevant metric for their business: engagement.
Instead of tracking raw leads or MQLs, you pay more attention to opportunity conversion and the rate at which you’re engaging pre-qualified accounts.
But how do you engage those accounts?
While it’s true that account-based marketers focus less on inbound metrics like leads, it’s a common misconception that ABM requires different marketing tactics than inbound methods.
You’ll likely be using a lot of the same methods: ads, emails, webinars, eBooks, paid social advertising.
The difference is that you’re building and executing all of your content with a targeted list in mind while using each channel to directly target that list of accounts.
With Gartner’s research indicating there’s anywhere from 6 to 10 people involved in purchase decisions, it can be incredibly difficult to make a cold call to a target account and get the right person on the phone. This is especially true in manufacturing organizations where you’re often going after a buying committee that’s hard to pin down (or hard to identify in the first place).
With ABM, marketing helps sales get their foot in the door by surrounding those accounts, driving engagement with key decision makers, and increasing the propensity that nameless prospects will identify themselves and lean into the sales process.
It’s much easier to convince your sales team to make a call to someone in an account that’s been showing increased web engagement than to someone who has never interacted with your content and may not even be the decision maker.
Get more out of trade shows
We’ve found that many manufacturing organizations we’ve worked with allocate upwards of 70% of their marketing budget to trade shows annually.
But it’s been notoriously difficult to track the ROI from trade show attendance.
For manufacturers who’ve struggled to track the return from trade shows, ABM is an efficient, effective way to make the most of your trade show attendance by:
- Providing deeper analytics and attribution to report on trade show success (so you know which ones are worth coming back to)
- Better engaging target accounts before, during, and after the show
- Driving more people to your booth
Example: Exportant is a plastics manufacturer that signed up for a platinum sponsorship at an annual industry conference. They received a list of attendees in advance of the show. After identifying which companies they’ve already had conversations with and which they’d like to engage at the event, they kick off a number of initiatives to drive pre-show engagement. They run a targeted display ad to the attendees promoting their new Nylon 66 thermoplastics product that’s approved for automobile use. They invite attendees to visit their booth at the event to explore their extensive portfolio of high-quality thermoplastics. The ad includes a picture of the sales rep that will be in attendance in an attempt to spark an awareness or their brand and their team onsite. Their sales reps send individual emails to key companies inviting them to an onsite lunch during the show. They also mail out physical invitations to that smaller list of accounts. In a broader awareness campaign, they mail out brochures highlighting their top thermoplastics products to the full attendee list. After the event, they create a new ad campaign that’s targeted just to the companies who spoke with them at the trade show. The ad includes a CTA to book a call to learn more about how Exportant’s thermoplastics are the perfect fit for their commercial plastic needs. Their marketing team sends an email with links to relevant content and the sales team follows up with 1:1 emails to the contacts they personally interacted with at the event.
Progress opportunities faster through the sales cycle
So you’ve implemented ABM and the SQLs are pouring in. Now, you’re faced with the task of moving those accounts through the sales cycle and converting them into customers.
Manufacturing deals are known for two things: large deal sizes and notoriously long sales cycles.
According to SiriusDecisions, the average sales cycle length has increased 22% over the past five years due to more decision-makers involved in the B2B buying process.
To combat this, you can take an account-based approach and unite marketing and sales efforts to progress opportunities through the sales cycle faster.
Unlike inbound marketing, ABM is not a linear process. Marketing’s involvement doesn’t end when an opportunity has been created. Rather, it’s like marketing is riding shotgun in the sales process by finding ways to continually engage and collect valuable information on the accounts your sales team is pursuing.
What used to be a very cut and dry handoff (marketing delivers leads to sales, sales works the leads and marketing is uninvolved after the opportunity creation) is now a collaborative process where marketing and sales work together to find new, better ways to nurture accounts in active buying cycles.
Marketing can run campaigns to reinforce the message sales is sending, achieve deeper account penetration, and educate key accounts on your product or service. This can help unblock bottlenecks in the sales cycle, increase efficiency, and speed up the sales process.
Sell more to current customers
Increasing consolidation in the manufacturing industry has led to a steady increase in organizational mergers & acquisitions.
As B2B manufacturers find themselves having to realign their marketing and sales teams each time they acquire (or are acquired by) a new company, they must also enable their sales team to sell new product lines.
This is an area where marketing can step in and support sales using ABM. Marketing can help to identify current customers who are a good fit for the new product, gather intel on which of those customers may already be in-market for those products, and then help drive awareness of the new offerings with targeted ad campaigns.
In the interim, your sales team can use the account intelligence marketing provided to initiate conversations in customer accounts — either in new departments or to the people they already have relationships with.
These efforts go beyond the standard press release announcement to ensure there’s a broad awareness of the merger/acquisition to generate demand for any new product lines your sales team will be tasked with selling.
ABM + B2B Manufacturing: Building Growth in 2020
Account-based marketing strategies are helping B2B manufacturers with finite addressable markets take a hyper-personalized approach to targeting, acquiring, and retaining their best-fit accounts.
In a time where manufacturing marketing and sales teams are hard-pressed to find ways to speed up sales cycles, penetrate growing buying committees, and drive efficient growth, ABM could be the perfect approach to address those challenges.