The Marketing Strategist:

Next Steps for Marketing: Doubling Down on ABM

April 27, 2020

  • Account-based marketing, Featured Article

Now that we’re past the initial reaction stage of the current crisis, marketers are starting to look more strategically at priorities and investments for the coming months and into 2021. In this context, shifting resources from broader marketing approaches to more targeted and personalized Account-Based Marketing (ABM) initiatives seems essential.

Most B2B firms were already investing in or planning ABM programs before the pandemic hit. Now, with massive disruption affecting clients and prospects for at least the next few years, it’s time to double down on ABM investments as a central pillar of marketing. Client-centric, insight-based, personalized marketing has long been an aspiration for B2B marketing; it’s now an absolute requirement.

Whether you’re just starting or well along with ABM, though, it’s important to take a hard look at adjusting your approach amid the pandemic.

Here are five issues to consider:

  1. Account coverage and prioritization
  2. Thought leadership and content
  3. Multichannel personalization
  4. Collaborative innovation
  5. Agility and resilience

Account coverage and prioritization

As we invest more in ABM we want to target and prioritize accounts even more carefully. We need to understand the different kinds of disruption that are happening across different industries and specific accounts within those industries, as well as the changes in our own business priorities, our own sales approach, and the push that we’re all making to develop new kinds of offerings and capabilities in response to the pandemic.

Most important for many of us will be going even deeper with our key accounts and our top prospects. We want to play to our strengths during this time of uncertainty and focus first on protecting existing revenue and relationships. Consider putting even more marketing investment into our best customers to reinforce those relationship and look for new opportunities to grow with them.
 

Thought leadership and content

Creating high quality, relevant, customized content for our ABM campaigns is always a tough challenge but the current crisis makes it even more important now. Clients are looking for new ideas to help them adjust or even just survive the upheaval but they’ll have even less tolerance than before for irrelevant or overly promotional content. This puts a huge burden on our content development approach:

  • How can we adapt existing research and content initiatives to make sure they’re still relevant?
  • How can we speak helpfully, appropriately, and effectively to the widely divergent circumstances across the industries we support?
  • Are we rolling out new offerings or capabilities around which we need to demonstrate expertise and credibility?
  • Where should we invest in new research and approaches to develop and deliver the next wave of thought leadership material?
     

Multichannel personalization

We’ve pivoted to digital-only by necessity (with perhaps a bit of direct mail) and the timeline for re-starting in-person events and briefings remains extremely unclear. The upsurge in online events that we’re all seeing, however, means that delivering personalized experiences across multiple channels is more important than ever.

Partly this means fine tuning the coordination of inbound and outbound programs for your most important accounts; partly it means working even more closely with sales. Both of these approaches are intrinsic to ABM yet far from optimal in most cases.

At the same time, we should be ramping up monitoring and insight on the people and accounts at the top of our lists – and sharing that data and insight widely and quickly. Whatever we knew a few months ago has changed dramatically and will continue to change at an accelerated pace. Account profiles, buyer personas, campaign tracking, individual monitoring, and more need both a rapid refresh and a stronger ongoing commitment to enable the depth and breadth of personalization we’ll need going forward.
 

Collaborative Innovation

B2B firms have already invested a lot in collaborative innovation programs with clients over the past few years and ABM programs have regularly taken advantage of these initiatives. But most of the activity takes place in person and is often driven by sales or consulting.

Now is the time for marketing to step up with expanded programs to co-create post-pandemic solutions with key accounts. This means ramping up new types of innovation workshops with virtual collaboration tools, new types of solution demos and reviews, and new ways to involve customers and prospects earlier in the development process.

It’s also time to review internal processes for collaboration with sales, R&D, delivery, customer success and other functions. The crisis has already inspired a new wave of creative collaboration internally; marketing should take at least some leadership in documenting and further developing the best of this new wave for more permanent approaches.
 

Agility and Resilience

Finally, we need to look at strengthening our own teams for the difficult times ahead. Remote work is a given for most of us for quite a while, but we’ve adapted to this pretty quickly. We’ve also made important strides in marketing agility in recent years. As the uncertainty continues, though, we’ll likely need to get even better about agile collaboration, creativity, and decision making to enable faster campaign adjustments, account refocusing, and customized solution development.

Meanwhile, it will be important to strengthen the resilience of our teams through the stressful times ahead. Providing the necessary personal, professional, and team support and encouragement will be critical to enabling ABM impact far beyond the immediate burst of adrenaline that we’re all leveraging right now. Crises tend to bring out both the best and worst in people; let’s do everything we can to make it our collective best.


*Thanks to Engagio for inviting me to consider the new requirements for ABM tactics and planning. You can see earlier versions of my musings for Engagio in the two short videos below.

For more on adjusting ABM amid the pandemic, check out our recent webcast with the ABM Leadership Alliance.
 

https://youtube.com/watch?v=mNFpCoqvGV4

https://youtube.com/watch?v=XLTXDEheGPc

 

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