Account-based marketing is, broadly speaking, marketing that is focused and targeted towards each lead or prospect. It is hard, because it requires sales and marketing to work closely together. But it is also more rewarding than traditional direct marketing, because it leads to closer, better engagement with leads, and more chance of turning a lead into a customer. In fact, it is widely recognised as offering the best return on investment in B2B marketing. But account based marketing practices vary greatly.

Account-based marketing is nothing new. The name may be new, but the idea of identifying good prospects by way of close working between marketing and sales, and then marketing to specific buying teams, addressing their needs, is not. Technology has made it easier, perhaps, but in its purest sense, targeted marketing is not news, and should not be a frightening prospect for any marketer.

Account-based marketing is about making personal connections across the account. An account is more than just the lead, or person who made the initial contact. Account-based marketing requires teams to make personal connections right across the buying team and decision-makers. This, in turn, requires content targeted to multiple teams and individuals within the customer company: users, influencers, decision-makers and internal authorities.

Think of it as serving ‘a market of one’. Each account should be treated as a ‘market of one’. You need to be totally focused on identifying and then addressing the needs of that particular account. It goes well beyond creating or using buyer personas, and focuses on the individuals concerned.

Account-based marketing is not just for existing leads, but also new business. You can use account-based marketing to generate new business, as well as for existing leads. Again, you need to be absolutely clear who you are targeting, and their pain points, but the approach has been used successfully to create dynamic web content focused on visitors’ needs.

The first step is to identify your target accounts. We know that buyer personas have matured to become more specific. But as well as your target customers within companies, account-based marketing requires you to think about your target accounts: the customers or offices with whom you want to do business. You can do this by working with the sales team, or using predictive analytics, or even looking at factors that are common to current customers, and identifying other companies that share those factors.

You should start account-based marketing on a small scale. A ‘big bang’ approach is not essential. You can start account-based marketing with just one key account, although a target segment is probably better. This enables you to test ideas and methods, to see which work best before scaling up as.

Close working is vital, which means that planning is also very important. To succeed with account-based marketing, it is vital that sales and marketing are closely aligned, with shared objectives and understanding. This means that teams really need to sit down together and talk about what they expect and what they want to achieve, to plan their work together. ‘Talking the talk’ is not enough: account-based marketing means ‘walking the walk’ of cooperation is also necessary.

Digital and social channels have made account-based marketing more effective. Account-based marketing tends to use a combination of IP-based identification, to link together individuals from the same location in the same company, and real-time ad-buying. The combination means that marketing can be both targeted and in real-time. This, in turn, means that you focus your spend on the people who matter, at the right time.

There are various tools available, including LinkedIn’s new tailored service. LinkedIn Account Targeting is a new service to support account-based marketing, which uses LinkedIn Company Pages to create target accounts. It enables marketers to target Sponsored Content or Sponsored Inmail campaigns to specific accounts, and is designed to support tailored marketing to influencers.

Whatever tool or method you use, you need to measure your results. Developing account-based marketing is an iterative process. You therefore need to know what is working so that you can expand that, and what is not working, so that you can adjust it or stop doing it. This is particularly important if you are starting small, as you cannot afford to waste resources.

And integrate with the rest of your marketing mix. This means understanding how  account-based marketing turns the B2B funnel upside-down, to create a pyramid. Instead of seeking leads, it helps companies to focus on revenue. Teams concentrate on their key customers, and treat each one individually, as an ‘account of one’. This reflects the fact that lead generation simply does not work. In other words, it does not result in increased sales revenues.

The pyramid starts with ‘Identify’ at the top: finding the right companies to target based on alignment. The next step is ‘Expand’, increasing the amount of information about key contacts in those companies, often by using buyer personas. Once you have this information, you can then ‘Engage’ with the right people and drive sales. Finally, even after the sale is made, you have to ‘Advocate’, remaining in contact and keeping customers happy.

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