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How to Use ABM for Customer Acquisition

ABM is generally applied to a B2B organization’s most strategic accounts.  This is partly because those accounts usually lend themselves best to ABM, partly because those accounts generally have the highest ROI, and partly because of the relatively large amount of resources necessary to sustain an ABM initiative.  

Accordingly, marketers have to be judiciously selective about those accounts that they bring under the ABM umbrella – even if applying a more watered-down form of ABM (i.e., ABM Lite or Programmatic ABM).

But what if you have your eyes on bringing in a new strategic account?  If you’re clever enough, patient enough, and dedicated enough, you can apply the traditional, highly targeted, highly personalized ABM methodologies to bring in that new prospect.

ABM and the “Whale Account”

“It’s definitely a great thing to do, if you have that kind of ‘whale account’ that you want,” says Lisa Dennis, a senior associate and resident ABM subject matter expert at the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA), when asked if and how ABM could be used to make an approach to a brand new prospect.  “The thing you have to have is patience.”

This is the nature of the beast.  ABM employs a “one-to-one” strategy – and that kind of personalization takes time, money, and other resources.

“Strategic ABM only makes sense in accounts with large budgets because it is so resource-intensive, with marketers looking after between three and five accounts, or sometimes a single, large account,” writes Bev Burgess and Dave Munn in their recently released book, A Practitioner’s Guide to Account-Based Marketing.

“[I]t takes time for ABM-ers to get up to speed on new accounts,” says Andrea Clatworthy, a client marketing head at Fujitsu who successfully piloted an ABM program at her company and then expanded it, in an interview for the same book.  “If you think about it, for the first two to three months as an ABM-er you’re learning about your customer and you’re doing your planning.”

Dennis went on to explain to me that, in the context of an entirely new account, the timeline expectations are different.

“It takes a year to really show movement [with ABM] unless you have a home run,” says Dennis, speaking of ABM use with existing accounts.  “So with a brand new account, that’s much longer because it takes longer for you to get a footprint if it’s brand-spanking new.”

Indeed, adoption of ABM for this purpose is reportedly low.  According to a recent industry survey, only 30 percent of B2B enterprises are using Strategic ABM to develop and bring in new accounts.

This data point aligns with Dennis’s own experience.

“I find a lot of organizations don’t have the patience” for developing new accounts with ABM, says Dennis.  “However, if you do, and you really focus on it and really look at it as a specialty account, then I think it’s really doable.”

Sometime lite is right

Still, in A Practitioner’s Guide to Account-Based Marketing, Burgess and Munn state that one of the things ABM is “usually used to support” is new account development – “creating an integrated approach with sales to penetrate new accounts. For companies looking to grow market share rapidly, ABM can be used to target attractive new blue-chip clients,” write the authors. “ABM can [also] support accounts based on requests for proposals (RFPs) or identified major sales opportunities.  Marketing’s link with sales is more tactical and short-term here and can be the result of an established central ‘tiger team’.”

ABM’s “lighter” incarnations, too, can be leveraged for penetrating new accounts.

“[A] classic use of ABM Lite is to break into new accounts,” Burgess told me in an interview.  “One leading IT company used ABM Lite to break into four new publishing companies – based on its initial success with another publisher who had common issues around digitizing content and delivery of its publications.”

To achieve this kind of success, Burgess and Munn share the following recommendations:

  • Know thy prospect.  While collecting, analyzing, and interpreting as much information as you can on your ABM target (including profiles of key stakeholders) is part of any ABM campaign, it is especially important in the new-account context.
  • Hold innovation workshops.  “For new accounts in particular, ABM is a powerful way to get prospects to the point of engaging in one of these workshops,” write Burgess and Munn.  From there, sales opportunities can be more easily driven.
  • Develop an ABM knowledge-management system.  Having a litany of ABM training materials, best-practice documentation, and other records of your organization’s shared experience and expertise on ABM methodology is essential to driving efficiencies (and, as a result, shortening the timeline) in applying ABM to new accounts.
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