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How Do You Start an ABM Program?

This post is based on an interview by guest host Daniel Rodriguez with Lauren Vaccarello. If you’d like to listen to the full episode, you can check it out below.

When you start an ABM program, the hardest nuts to crack aren’t your target companies, it’s your internal sales team.

How do you start an ABM program that wins over sales skeptics?

On the latest FlipMyFunnel podcast, guest host Daniel Rodriguez, Head of Revenue at Alyce, asked Lauren Vaccarello, who is an award-winning revenue marketing executive, co-host of the Marketing Trends podcast, and currently VP of customer experience at Box.com, about how to start an ABM program.

How to Get Started with Your ABM Program

To start an account-based marketing (ABM) program at your company, the most important thing is to get buy-in from sales. The best way to do that is to pilot the ABM to show proof that it works.

When she first started at Box.com, Vaccarello asked the sales team for the accounts that the AEs were have trouble with. The marketing team got 35 accounts to pilot their ABM program.

They profiled the 35 accounts and started the standard ABM practices. They got new contact names at the target companies, did targeted ads, set up new meetings, invited the contacts to field events, sponsored third-party events the target accounts were attending, and created a regular cadence of communication from the marketing side.

This created traction for the AEs, and they got super excited. They’re starting to hit their numbers and they’re now telling their other sales peers, “marketing is doing this thing that’s pretty cool.”

Her ABM success (winning sales in a third of the trouble companies) bubbled up the food chain all the way to the global head of sales who wanted to expand the ABM program.

The next group was 150 accounts. Very quickly it grew to about 1,000 accounts in the second year.  

By then, those accounts were planned hand-in-hand with sales and marketing. Sales submitted their list of accounts, then marketing used predictive analytics to read intent signals to refine the list.

This methodical approach has grown year after year.

What Should the ABM Program Mix Look Like?

The first step is to look at the companies you want to target and ask some basic questions.

  • What is the right stage to target?
  • Are we targeting unknowns?
  • Are we going to target companies where we have a low penetration but a large addressable market?
  • Are these existing customers that you want to upsell?

Once you create the list, you start to assess where you can go for account intelligence, profiling, and contact acquisition.

With ABM, you’re going to be selling to a large company with multiple buyers and multiple people you need to talk to. Finding those people is an early challenge.

Once the ABM campaign starts, marketing drives awareness and engagement and provides air coverage to soften the target for sales. They will do ads on LinkedIn, CRM retargeting, and custom nurture programs within the specific target accounts (one message to accounting, a different one to business affairs, another to sales, etc.).  

When you get engagement from a contact at the target company, you need to know how do retarget them afterward. You want to create a digital bubble around them.

Let’s Get Physical

After digital has started the engagement, you need to decide what are you doing with regard to corporate events and any in-person tactics.

When you’ve got corporate events, event sponsorships, and field marketing, how do you make sure they show up?

Trade shows create moments of opportunity for sellers to meet target accounts and contacts in real life. Having the third-party event is a really nice place to do that.

If you’re running field marketing events, think about the content.

  • Is it going to be relevant to your ABM accounts?  
  • Think about their whole experience. Whom are they sitting next to?
  • How do you make sure everything about their experience is completely tailored?
  • Once these contacts move through the funnel and they’re attending your events, how do you add value to keep moving them along?

Keeping Sales in the Loop

For ABM to work, sales needs to keep their finger on the pulse of what marketing is doing with the target companies.

During a regularly scheduled call with the sales team, Vaccarello tells them:

  • This is what’s going out
  • The campaigns that are being run
  • All the ways that we’re engaging with your accounts
  • How you can track this
  • The right content and materials for you
  • Raising awareness
  • Setting appointments

ABM vs. ABM Lite

Once the number of ABM accounts gets large, Vaccarello splits the target companies into the promising ones that will receive the full ABM treatment, and the more challenging ones that will get the less expensive “ABM lite” treatment.

The biggest accounts with the highest propensity to buy will get the full ABM with ads, social, tailored events, etc.

The ABM lite approach is really just driving awareness. You invite them to events to see if they engage. If they do, they can be upgraded later.

The ROI on the target will determine what ABM spending bucket they end up in.

Start with Expansion on Current Customers, Data with New

If you’re starting a new ABM program and you want to maximize returns, Vaccarello has two pieces of advice.

Start from an expansion perspective where you grow with existing customers where you have low penetration, so you can upsell.

For new customers, take the list of target accounts that sales suggests, and look hard at the data. Use predictive analytics and intent information, and then refine that list.

You can follow Lauren Vaccarello on LinkedIn and Twitter @laurenv