How to Identify Audiences Effectively and Execute ABM Strategies in the Digital Marketplace
This Playbook is designed to help B2B marketers understand the necessity of having a digital approach in order to jump start and optimize ABM, understand how to identify audiences effectively and execute ABM in the digital marketplace with the goal of continued adoption. With the right information and appropriate tools, ABM can be effective for B2B marketers looking to gain quality leads, loyal customers and growth their businesses.
Mission and Contributors
The mission of the IAB Account-Based Marketing Working Group is to educate the marketplace and address challenges B2B marketers and their agencies face when adopting Account-Based Marketing as a strategic approach. This working group will provide guidance that can be universally adopted despite the varying platforms and tools companies utilize including:
- ABM key considerations
- Structural needs
- How to identify audiences effectively
- How to execute ABM strategies
- Privacy compliance to successfully implement ABM as an effective part of the B2B marketing mix.
This Playbook was developed by the IAB Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence in partnership with the IAB B2B Committee’s Account-Based Marketing Working Group. The working group was led by Amanda Baldwin, Manager, Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence, IAB with co-chairs from MeritDirect, LLC and Rollworks.
IAB acknowledges and thanks the Account-Based Marketing Working Group members for their contributions:
Account-Based Marketing (ABM) Overview
Over the past few years there has been increasing interest from B2B marketers in adopting ABM or optimizing their existing ABM strategies. B2B marketers who use ABM as a strategy reached 61% as of December 2018. What is causing this trend?
In B2B marketing, the combination of a longer sales cycle, the need to engage with specific companies and the multitude of decision-makers creates a challenging environment where a lead generation approach may not prove effective in finding the “right” leads who will turn into customers… and ultimately loyal advocates. There is an increased need for focus and marketing efficiency, and B2B is catching up where marketers are now pushing for quality leads over a volume of leads.
The industry needed to adapt, and the idea of picking accounts upfront started to become popular, bringing ABM into the forefront. Using data-driven marketing as well as new MarTech/AdTech solutions, ABM has resurged as a strategy to attain ideal customers and/or increase revenue with top accounts.
*Account-Based Marketing, Account-Based Advertising, Account-Based Selling, Account-Based Engagement or, simply, Account-Based are terms used throughout the marketplace. Account-Based Marketing (ABM) is how it will be referred to it within this document as well as the perspective we are providing.
Focusing on specific accounts instead of lead generation “flips” the traditional marketing funnel upside down. Sangram Vajre, Co-founder and Chief Evangelist at Terminus started the #FlipMyFunnel movement in 2015 which created an ABM funnel that outlines an adjusted order of operations marketers using an ABM strategy need to abide: identify, expand, engage and then advocate.
An important note: This new funnel adjusts the business approach marketers take when adopting ABM. Consumers, however, still follow the standard buyer’s journey from awareness to purchase during the decision-making process.
In December 2018, IAB Data Center of Excellence published Defining the Data Stack, a baseline guide on how “different types of data can enhance business performance for brands when used properly.” For the purposes of this Playbook, the following terms are highlighted:
Deterministic data is obtained from a direct input, it is not modeled data. For example, a user’s name and address, email or phone number collected through an online registration form or offline from mailing lists.
Firmographics are descriptive attributes of firms that can be used to aggregate individual firms into meaningful market segments. Firmographics are to businesses and organizations what demographics are to people. This dataset is typically used for B2B marketing. It can be collected from both online and offline sources and segmented into categories such as job function, company size, revenue, and decision-makers.
Information that you own and collect directly from your own customer base; i.e., data from your own CRM.
Probabilistic data in an audience group with a high probability to have been accurately profiled. Probabilistic data is created from a subset of deterministic data from which a model is built to identify a larger targeted audience.
First-party data that is owned by someone else and obtained directly from the original data owner.
Data that is collected without having a direct relationship with the user from which the data is obtained.
Review IAB’s Defining the Data Stack for additional information on assessing your current data needs, understanding additional resources you could benefit from and what to look out for and identifying the right mix of first-, second- and third-party data to drive your specific business objectives.
When executed correctly, the benefits of Account-Based Marketing are far-reaching. These include:
In their “The State of ABM 2019” study, SiriusDecisions found that 89% of organizations able to report on ABM ROI indicated that ABM accounts achieved a higher ROI compared to a control group that did not receive ABM support. 30% of the organizations found ROI to be higher by at least 21%.
Increased Share of Wallet
91% of B2B marketers activating ABM campaigns say deal size is larger for ABM accounts and 25% of them say it is over 50% larger, according to SiriusDecisions.
Higher Win Rates
86% of B2B organizations said ABM improves win rates, according to TOPO.
Companies using ABM for at least one year have seen a 10% increase in revenue while 19% of those companies have seen over 30% increase in revenue, according to a report by Demandbase and Demand Metric.
84% of B2B marketers using ABM said it provided significant benefits to retaining and expanding existing client relationships, according to Alterra Group.
Enhanced Customer Lifetime Value
80% of B2B organizations said ABM improves the customer lifetime value, according to TOPO.
Stronger Alignment Between Sales and Marketing
67% of businesses are better at closing deals when sales and marketing are aligned, according to joint Marketo and Reachforce research.
Keys to Success
Account-Based Marketing is about genuinely understanding each identified account to communicate custom messages to move buyer committees at the account through the customer’s journey. As a foundational element, it represents inherent challenges with ABM and how to scale it. Some keys to success include:
Marketing Sales Alignment and Orchestration
This is a cultural shift that must be embraced for true ABM to thrive – it’s not just about marketing! ABM is a cross-functional strategy that encompasses the full journey from marketing to sales to operations to customer success for each specific account. It does not end with the first purchase. It spans into post-sale, Customer Lifecycle Marketing and the shift from a customer to an advocate. Open communication and joint goal planning are essential for ABM success.
ABM as a Complementary Strategy
ABM represents a significant shift in thinking and an alteration of resource allocation. It does not have to be, and should not necessarily be, an all or nothing approach.
Adopt ABM Gradually
B2B sales cycles are typically longer than B2C, and patience and discipline are needed when adopting ABM. It should be a gradual process, starting with a discrete number of accounts and moderately increasing the amount being targeted each year, building upon successes. It can take time to see initial results, and it is essential to plan for the long term and iterate regularly to measure the success of each program.
Define the ABM Strategy Upfront
All parties must understand what is trying to be accomplished, agree on the goals and objectives and know how they should be measured. Clarity on these three fundamentals will lead to success. Some examples of goals include:
- Expand into a new market
- Increase share of wallet within existing accounts
- Grow new accounts in existing market
Identify Audiences Effectively
ABM targets a significantly smaller pool of accounts compared to a lead-based strategy. The first step of ABM is to identify optimal accounts to drive results.
Customization is Key
Each account, and each member within those accounts’ buying committees, has different needs and it is critical to:
- Identify the problem/objective the specific account is trying to achieve
- Identify the solution/s to help the account achieve success
- Communicate tailored messages to each decision-maker
Use Multiple Channels and Execution Means for “Always On” Demand Generation
There are numerous options available to reach decision-makers wherever they are. It’s best to use a combination to tap target audiences at key moments in the buyer’s journey. Options include email marketing, social media, and programmatic.
Measurement needs to be considered differently in an ABM program compared to a lead-based strategy. IAB will be publishing a whitepaper focused specifically on ABM measurement in 2020.
Every company utilizes varying platforms and tools, and this Playbook focuses on practical information that can be universally adopted to successfully implement ABM as an effective part of the B2B marketing mix. Topics to be discussed include how to identify audiences effectively and how to execute digital ABM strategies.
Identifying Audiences Effectively
It’s essential to align on the objectives of the ABM strategy in order to identify the most optimal accounts to target: Is it growth? Increased share of wallet? Higher close rates? Something else?
Knowing this information will define who the audience should be. This section outlines the five components to identifying audiences effectively.
1. The Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)
Understand the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). An ICP is a description of the type of company that would reap the most benefit from a particular product or solution. There are a number of ways to identify the types of companies that should be in an ICP, but there are two important ones to consider; Closed-Won and Closed-Loss Analyses.
A Closed-Won Analysis should be conducted using firmographic and technographic data to better understand the types of customers who close. Often, companies market to broad audiences, but after completing the analysis, it is common for them to understand that the majority of their business comes from a relatively narrow segment. An example of this analysis could show that software companies with greater than $100M in annual revenue using a particular marketing automation solution are far more likely to close than other segments.
A Closed-Loss Analysis reviews the same data points as a Closed-Won Analysis, but instead assesses prospects that do not convert to customers.
Having both of these perspectives helps to get a full picture to create the ICP. This invaluable information can be used to validate propensity models, which predict behavior and can identify potential customers (accounts to target).
2. First- and Third-party Data
Use a combination of available first- and third-party data to ensure audience accuracy. This is done concurrently with developing the Ideal Customer Profile. To identify audiences effectively there must be access to reliable deterministic and probabilistic data to ensure targeting of the right set of prospects. Quality data provides the insights needed to choose the right target accounts, identify the buying committee within the target accounts, reach more contacts and ultimately, win more deals.
It is key to assess first-party data and then look to third-party data for scale. First-party data is usually the most useful and valuable, but third-party data is critical when trying to reach a new audience. It is commonly used in ABM strategies when seeking to understand firmographic and technographic information about potential audiences. It can help identify new companies to engage with.
An important note: If you do not have access to first-party data (e.g., only an email, cookie, mobile ID, etc. with no additional data), you can combine the data you have with second-party data and third-party data to create personas and scale from there. It is less commonly used, but it should be considered if necessary.
3. The Buying Committee
Once the accounts have been narrowed down, the next step is to understand who is in the buying committee for each of these accounts. In the B2B buying process, decisions are very rarely made by a single decision-maker. Rather, the decision is influenced by several members from varying functions and seniorities of the organization.
The ICP and Closed-Won Analysis can be used to identify the personas (individuals) for each account who played roles in the decision-making process. Personas can then be aligned to their role in the buying decision-making process which is typically Economic Buyer, Champion, User, etc.
An important note: “Influencers” are big here. It may be difficult to reach individuals at high levels and so the influencer aspect needs to be honed in on. Harvard Business Review has identified an average of 6.8 individuals make up a standard buying committee, and LinkedIn research has found an average of 3.1 to 4.6 different groups inside an organization influence the purchase decision-making process. For example, if a CMO is the ultimate decision-maker for a specific account, individuals on the business intelligence team may be key influencers.
4. Sales Team Validation
A feedback loop is essential between sales and marketing. Once marketing has identified an audience, it should be shared with the sales team for validation and to secure their buy-in before moving forward.
For example, if targeting a software company with greater than $100M in annual revenue, 99% of its employees likely don’t influence buying decisions. Internally, you should know who sales has been communicating with to understand the personas who influence buying decisions. Technology can then be used to build an audience of specific personas within your target audience; e.g., those in finance and the C-suite.
This limits the roles who need to be influenced, which will drive the personalization strategy for the ABM program.
5. Account Scoring
Account Scoring is essential for prioritizing audiences and to develop an engagement strategy. It helps to determine which accounts are most likely to close and be of the highest value for your business. ABM or ad platforms can seek to match the target audiences identified in components 1-4 to cookies or IP addresses. The audience size, however, may outweigh the budget, resources and/or time allotted for the program. After this final step, it is time to execute the Account-Based Marketing strategy.
Key Elements to Executing an ABM Strategy
After target accounts are identified and there is internal alignment and commitment to proceed, it is time to plan the ABM tactics. It’s essential to know the fundamentals of B2B marketing before implementing a strategy.
Time, resources and budget need to be gauged. Assess teams and their ability and capacity to execute the program and establish a budget that can support the strategy. It’s important to know what can reasonably be accomplished in order to map goals accordingly.
Content should engage with relevance, provide solutions, be compelling, align to the role the individual plays and map to the specific place in the buyer’s journey. It should inspire individuals to take the next step and make a decision.
Consider the following when establishing appropriate content for each ABM campaign:
- The core audience/buying center and their specific needs
- The buyer’s journey from awareness through retention and advocacy
- All available content assets; company website, whitepapers, ebooks, guides, videos, webinars, research, case studies, infographics, etc.
- Mapping existing content to the buyer’s journey
Content should align with and help propel consumers through the buyer’s journey. At the beginning, content should focus on branding or general topics potential customers would find interesting. As consumers move from awareness to purchase, content becomes more specific for sales to leverage once the lead is submitted.
Questions to consider: Do the right assets exist to address the needs you’re solving for? Will any be engaging with the “right” individual in the buying center? Is there coverage for all of the various stages of the buyer’s journey?
- Any assets that can be adapted or segmented for specific types of decision-makers or if any assets need to be created
For example, a whitepaper can be sectioned into multiple pieces of content to be spread across the buyer’s journey
- The level of customization to support this program
As marketing and sales alignment is critical to successful Account-Based Marketing, it is also essential to identify appropriate content the sales team can use when communicating with leads. They should be provided with content to use as talking points as well as content to give leads to progress them down the buyer’s journey.
ABM stands out as a strategy because of the level of customization and personalization of the content and message that enhance its ability to drive action from leads.
There are varying levels of customization that can be implemented including:
- person specific (1:1)
- company specific (1: many)
- industry specific (1: thousands)
This level has more scale but less personalization than the others.
The strategy of the ABM program should dictate the level used. For example, an ABM strategy focusing on a solution set, on use cases, or on the industry requires different levels of personalization.
Customization is key, and sales and marketing must work in conjunction to understand the objective each specific account is trying to achieve and ensure tailored messages are being communicated to individuals at the operational and strategic level who make decisions or influence decision-making at the account. Each of these individuals require different information to help them make a decision based on their specific functional needs.
The biggest challenge with customization/personalization is scalability, which depends on how customer-focused the business is. Understanding resources, having collaborative discussions across all functions (marketing, sales, creative, content marketing, product marketing) and planning appropriately help to overcome this challenge.
Once content has been identified, mapped and created to touch along the buyer’s journey, Account-Based Marketing tactics can be activated. Pending the resources, time, budget and goals of the program, there are numerous digital and non-digital (events, direct mail, etc.) options available. This Playbook focuses on executing ABM in the digital marketplace, and some of the common digital activations to consider are outlined below; email marketing, social media, programmatic and the role of mobile.
Compared to other activations, email marketing is 1:1 communication where you can have an account-specific conversation directly with the individuals trying to be reached. This is the perfect opportunity for personalization, and emails should be heavily customized.
Key considerations when using email marketing for ABM:
- Message Alignment
Ensure the message aligns to the role of the individual.
- Use Sequential Messaging
To move along the buyer’s journey.
- Frequency of Exposure
Do not over deliver or spam target accounts.
Think about the reach within the account from a measurement perspective. Ask the questions: Am I adding contacts in the accounts in the roles im looking to engage with? Are they engaging with the content?
Social Media Marketing
B2B marketers should leverage their networks when setting up ABM campaigns. Social media provides a unique way to directly have a conversation with target accounts, whether it’s paid or organic. Engage the buying committee and promote content that will help with interaction.
Key consideration when using social media for ABM:
- Leveraging Uniqueness of Social Media Measurement
Effective measurement can be a challenge with walled gardens, so it is important to be deliberate about what to measure, how to measure and consistently measure over time. There are unique metrics to social media, such as engagement and sentiment, that can be a benefit to tracking target accounts. ‘Virality’ and community discussions can be leveraged in creative ways using relevant content, as well.
As mentioned earlier, Account-Based Marketing can be used as a complementary strategy with standard B2B marketing campaigns, and programmatic is a great tool to use for this. It is usually used to cast a wide net, but since ABM targets a specific set of accounts, a strategy should be in place before implementation. As programmatic reaches a broad audience, it collects data that can be used to enhance other channels.
Here is an example of how programmatic can be utilized for ABM. If a company is programmatically targeting 1000 accounts within a specific industry, ideally the ABM accounts will be a part of this list. When ABM accounts engage with content, data is collected that can help to personalize their experience and determine the next step to move them further down the funnel.
Programmatic Tactics to Consider for ABM
- Retargeting provides the opportunity to personalize messaging and target with greater relevance. ItÕs important to note that since retargeting is typically used for lead generation, there needs to be specific data points attached to the campaign for the correct accounts and members of the buying committee to be targeted and for the offers to match the goals of the ABM program.
- Programmatic native can be used effectively for ABM by having cross-channel targeting capabilities while also displaying content intrinsically on site/in-app so it is more likely to be viewed. Consumers look at native ads 53% more frequently than display ads, according to Sharethrough and IPG Media Labs research.
- OTT (Over the Top)/Connected TV (CTV) is a premium option mostly used by B2C marketers, but B2B is starting to embrace this channel, and it can be especially effective for ABM programs. Sixty-four million homes in the United States now have connected TVs, according Comscore. Cross-device targeting is essential for effective ABM, and OTT/CTV adds an additional layer. It can come at a premium cost, but OTT/CTV has the ability to reach members of the buying committee uniquely on a large screen where ads are typically not skippable.
Key Considerations when Using Programmatic for ABM
- Data Accuracy (with deterministic/probabilistic data)
Correct first- and third-party data must be used for effective targeting. (Discussed in How to Identify Audiences Effectively on p.?)
Cost for Performance
The most cost-effective target audience may not be the most effective. Specificity is the most important criteria.
Brand Safety and Viewability
These are concerns with programmatic, but many IAB technical standards have been implemented to address these concerns including; Ads.txt, OpenData, OpenRTB (Real-time Bidding), Open Measurement SDK, VAST 4.x.
Frequency of Exposure
Limit retargeting efforts to prevent over exposure and banner blindness. This issue is industry-wide.
The Role of Mobile
According to the “IAB Internet Advertising Revenue Report 2018 Half-Year Results,” 71% of time spent on the Internet in 2018 was on mobile. For 2019, the B2B industry is only estimated to spend 37.3% of digital ad dollars on mobile, compared to the overall marketplace which is estimated to spend 70%.
Mobile can be used for optimization and scale throughout the ABM journey. Mobile has its challenges (for example, mobile web/in-app differences and lack of cookies) but this is a growth opportunity the B2B industry, specifically those using ABM, should be taking advantage of. It is essential to reach the buying committee where they spend most of their time and optimize creative and personalization accordingly. If the buying committee is not being targeted via mobile, there is lost opportunity.
Tools and Techniques
Time, resources and budget also influence the tools and techniques that can be used to activate the Account-Based Marketing program. There are various tech options available to choose from to view and track engagement as well as deploy ABM activations.
To activate ABM to unique individuals at appropriate times in the buyer’s journey, there needs to be visibility into account engagement and data collection to uncover where the person is in the buyer’s journey. Full-service ABM MarTech and AdTech solutions exist to simplify and automate many of the processes, but if there isnÕt a budget or access to these platforms there are self-service tech platforms that need to be used for effective ABM.
Note: If using a self-service solution, extra consideration must be taken when picking the tools to be used. Sales and marketing need to have access to the same software so there is accurate tracking of account engagement and access to data to prevent data errors and missed opportunities, which are common issues if sales and marketing are not aligned with the technologies they are using. Correct data is essential for effective ABM.
If using a self-service solution, a combination of MarTech and AdTech are needed. MarTech platforms such as Marketing Automation, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Email Marketing, as well as Analytics platforms are a must when starting any marketing campaign, including ABM. AdTech solutions are also essential to activating ABM programs. The following chart from Defining the Data Stack showcases three tech bundle options available; Heavy, Medium and Skinny.
In the “Skinny” bundle, data will not be linked across channels which can result in duplication in messaging across channels and loss of personalization.
The “Heavy” bundle can help create synergy across channels by tracking users both on- and off-line, with one identity. An “Identity solution” must be leveraged to effectively measure anonymous online users. To combine first- and third-party data, a DMP plays a critical role in properly identifying the attributes of the online customer base as well as potential online prospects. Controlling all or most digital marketing channels under one platform ensures that each member of a buying committee receives relevant, personalized messaging throughout their journey.
The “Medium” bundle provides a level of personalization in between the two.
All three options can be used for ABM, but the ability to personalize needs to be considered during every step of the buyer’s journey. As mentioned in the Content section, it’s necessary to determine the level of customization for the particular ABM strategy, which will help determine the appropriate tech bundle to use.
Account-Based Marketing requires large amounts of data collection to be effective. Data privacy laws such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) have made it a requirement for any company collecting and/or using data to be mindful of consumer privacy.
Defining the Data Stack has a valuable note on privacy that applies to any company using a data-driven approach, which includes Account-Based Marketing:
“Privacy Compliance: no matter what type of data you use and whether you collect it directly or leverage 2nd or 3rd party providers, it is paramount to ensure that your organization’s data practices respect consumer privacy and are compliant with all applicable laws. Key considerations include:
- Consent: ensuring that the user provided consent to collect and use their information wherever applicable.
- Transparency: ensuring that the user is clear on what information is collected, its uses, and what options consumers have in this regard.
- Control: ensuring that the consumers have clear options to manage opting out of data collection and use.”
IAB’s Public Policy Office has additional resources regarding privacy concerns, CCPA and GDPR.
Account-Based Marketing is a strategic approach where sales and marketing align to focus their time and resources on an agreed upon set of target accounts with which they want to do business. It is a complex strategy that requires marketing and sales alignment, key technology and access to quality data, and as B2B marketers continue to focus on quality leads and loyal customers over a quantity of leads, ABM will continue to trend as an effective strategy.
B2B marketing, including ABM, requires both digital and non-digital touch points in order to grow business. Our hope is that this playbook will help B2B marketers understand the necessity of having a digital approach in order to jump start and optimize ABM, understand how to identify audiences effectively and execute ABM in the digital marketplace.
This playbook tackles many of the issues with how to start and execute a successful ABM program, but the work does not end here. Being able to properly measure is essential to effective ABM. IAB will be continuing the conversation and releasing a whitepaper focused specifically on ABM measurement in 2020.
About the IAB
The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) empowers the media and marketing industries to thrive in the digital economy. Its membership is comprised of more than 650 leading media companies, brands, and the technology firms responsible for selling, delivering, and optimizing digital ad marketing campaigns. The trade group fields critical research on interactive advertising, while also educating brands, agencies, and the wider business community on the importance of digital marketing. In affiliation with the IAB Tech Lab, IAB develops technical standards and solutions. IAB is committed to professional development and elevating the knowledge, skills, expertise, and diversity of the workforce across the industry. Through the work of its public policy office in Washington, D.C., the trade association advocates for its members and promotes the value of the interactive advertising industry to legislators and policymakers. Founded in 1996, IAB is headquartered in New York City.
IAB Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence helps drive the industry forward through the efforts of committees and councils. Comprised of some of the brightest minds in their space, these groups work together to develop solutions that improve the interactive advertising and marketing ecosystem.
Charged with empowering the media and marketing industries to thrive in a mobile-always world and in an increasingly direct brand economy where user experience and customer relations are at the heart of modern-day marketing and a significant driver of publisher transformation. For more information on how to get involved, please contact [email protected].