The adoption of account-based marketing (ABM) has skyrocketed in recent years, representing a significant step forward in the way B2B marketers identify and communicate with their prospects. However, adoption of the next level of ABM’s evolution – the account-based experience (ABX) – is still in its infancy. Indeed, many marketers are still struggling to integrate their account-based targeting best practices and believe that mastering this discipline is a prerequisite for approaching a broader ABX approach. But this is simply not true.
Today’s B2B marketers are clinging to their inability to execute truly personalized marketing on accounts based on a construction that progresses from one to many to one to few and finally one to a. This is because most marketers operate under significant resource constraints that make the desired level of personalization quite difficult. That is why we must reverse the trend.
B2B marketers can be effective today by leveraging the toolkits and resources available to design campaign and marketing plans aligned with propensity to buy. This effectively distracts marketing from thinking about quantity accounts instead of thinking about the account experience over time.
This is a subtle but important change in mindset. While the volume of accounts is likely to increase from many to a few to one as engagement with your brand moves from awareness to conversion, this should be seen as a natural by-product of a strategic plan. which is based on the propensity to buy. By shifting their focus in this way, organizations will naturally broaden their B2B perspectives beyond activating account-wide targeting campaigns through paid media to thinking ABX on a more holistic level.
Go beyond account targeting
Account targeting tactics for pay media have evolved dramatically in recent years, especially in the APAC region. Paid media mechanisms today allow us to hyper-target accounts through proprietary data, third-party data, IP addresses, IDs, locations, etc., and connect them to content, a capability that represents an important triumph for B2B marketing. However, to make these paid media executions worthwhile, we need to make sure to log into these accounts in context. This is where ABX comes in.
Paid media, even when designed with account targeting best practices, is not the silver bullet for ABX. To be truly effective, content, systems and organizational roles and responsibilities must be aligned. However, to take this holistic ABX approach, we also need to address some of the challenges that today’s B2B organizations face in their current ABM programs. For example:
Many ABM campaigns are currently designed through static quarterly planning, whereas an effective ABX approach must be designed through the lens of the purchasing lifecycle (s) and plans fluidly architectured over time accordingly.
Many ABM campaigns fall victim to internal cooperation where the same accounts are targeted to multiple business units in isolation. An effective ABX strategy puts the account at the center, where behaviors, characteristics, and triggers dictate the account’s experience and engagement across all relevant products and solutions.
Many ABM campaigns simply target an account rather than engaging the buying team within it. In ABX, account triggers dictate position throughout the buying cycle, while the buying team dictates content and engagement strategy at every stage.
When it comes to designing an ABX plan, in order to effectively connect with the audience in a context based on an account’s propensity to buy, the resulting blueprint needs to be built around the following five-layer framework, the all through an account-based lens.
Layer 1: data
Data hygiene around accounts is probably the biggest challenge between businesses and an effective ABX strategy. The proliferation of ad tech and martech solutions has become a double-edged sword; advancements allow us to gain richer account information, but that information is often siled and disconnected between platforms. Investing in a strategy or solution that unifies these data sources is essential for the success of ABX
Layer 2: Insights
Once the data is unified, companies must then query it to extract tangible information. Internal and third-party sources can help determine the current propensity to buy for a given account; however, the validity of “intention” must be drawn from the context of the market, the audience and the brand. Further interrogation of the data will allow companies to determine who they should target on the account buying committee.
Layer 3: orchestration
Once you know an account’s buying propensity and who to target within that account, you need to determine which message, content, and format will be most effective. Often it’s not paid media, but rather sales or some other form of contact. This is where a plan around agreed roles and responsibilities of the team becomes most important.
Layer 4: Activation
Then we get down to tactics and execution – whether it’s paid search, display ads, social media, email, personal LinkedIn outreach, or even a good old-fashioned phone call.
Layer 5: brand
Finally, a strong ABX program will ensure that every touchpoint on this plan uses and is supported by a strong brand platform that tells a higher level story about why your business and its products and services exist.
Designing the above plans is an invaluable process when it comes to identifying gaps and areas of interest for the future. In fact, if there’s one thing B2B organizations should understand about building an ABX strategy, it’s this: Progress doesn’t require perfection. Better to start than to stand still. Your data and information don’t have to be flawless before you can start realigning your account strategy around propensity to buy. If you start there and start thinking holistically, the results will follow and the momentum will take you forward.
Sam Cunliffe is the Managing Director of ANZ at Merkle-affiliated media agency DWA.