Today’s B2B buying personas have changed – they are millennials Gen X, Y and even Z! What worked today, may not work tomorrow – and the traditional marketing approach of appealing to broad groups has come under increasing scrutiny from salespeople keen to close key targeted prospects and their executives – some are influencers, some ratifiers and some decision makers. All three are essential on the B2B purchasing journey. These individuals respond to different pieces of content and assets depending on their buying persona and position in the decision-making journey.

Business growth and retention need a more targeted approach, and it’s put account-based marketing (ABM) in the spotlight.

What is account-based marketing?

ABM is a B2B focused growth strategy in which marketing, PR, and sales teams collaborate to create personalized buying experiences for a mutually identified set of high-value accounts. These might be a particular target competitor’s clients, a target industry, a target size of company. Each will come with internal company influencer, ratifier and decision maker executives to target, and each will come with external influencers such as industry analysts, accountancy practice gurus, and Opinion Leading Journalists.

Essentially, ABM flips the “normal” sales funnel on its head. Rather than targeting a mass audience, ABM pins the focus on a smaller and targeted group of accounts as if they were individual markets themselves.

ABM is not a brand-new phenomenon, but appetite for the strategy has significantly grown in the past five years. Hubspot reports that 70% of marketers now use ABM in some form. The potential to greatly improve marketing and sales alignment, brings with it return on investment (ROI), account value, revenue, growth, and the ability to deliver exceptional experiences to clients – there’s a wealth of opportunity surrounding ABM. However, challenges still remain, at least 40% say they struggle to find the right content to compliment ABM goals and 41% find it difficult to identify the right targets.

So where do marketers begin? A successful ABM strategy will rely on data analysis to identify target accounts and the correct contacts to reach out to – and all information should be shared between marketing, sales, and PR to ensure activities are aligned. Influencer marketing and executive profiling may be a fairly new practice in the B2B space but together they have been effective methods for driving credible thought leadership, loyalty, and brand awareness and a key part of any ABM strategy.

1. ABM Content: Marketing & PR – a match made in B2B heaven

Although a strategy in its own right, ABM is not always best used alone – in fact, marketing and PR provide the perfect tonic. While its remit is generally much broader than ABM, inbound marketing and PR can be used very effectively to target prospects with relevant, and tailored content. It’s then over to ABM to use this content to move these prospects through the sales journey, with exceptional and personalized experiences.

At IBA, we’re firm believers that “content is king” and its essential partner neatly defined as “publishing is queen”! In the B2B space, high-quality and engaging content is key for attracting and retaining customers. In fact, 67% of B2B marketers state that content helps generate leads and demand, while another 63% claim it helps build loyalty with existing clients.

The mix of content is again important – a recent whitepaper demonstrating a product or service, a blog, thought leadership article, or social media post – together the mix reinforces the credibility of the content. The same message delivered from more than one source makes it more readily believed – it’s part of the IBA PR Best Practice bible.

2. Influencers? What influencers? Their role in B2B

In one of our recent blogs, we highlighted research that found a third of respondents claim that influencer marketing directly contributes to sales and revenue, and over half found it enhanced brand recognition, awareness, and lead gen.

PR-driven assets can be hugely influential in the B2B buying process and every piece of coverage in relevant, and credible publications by an industry thought leader can be used to reach target accounts. Remember, it’s all about placing content where you’re targeted accounts are going to see it!

But there’s more ways to leverage content beyond media placements. The next step is to encourage these thought leaders to promote these assets on social media. LinkedIn groups can be a great way to start – these are industry-specific and will ensure connections with people that have a genuine interest in that area. Not only can this help build authority in the industry, but it can be a great method for enhancing human-to-human engagement and ensuing trust.

Here, analyst and other key influencer relations also feed into the process – this can mean proactively pushing content to the analysts and consultants that guide large organizations making their purchasing decisions, or engaging with a practice to influence reports towards a specific client need that you are targeting with your ABM.

3. We’re in this together: Keep sales and marketing aligned – and comms constant

Too often marketing and sales teams act as separate siloes, and this can have a damaging effect on the customers’ end goals. How can both teams work together to achieve sought-after targets if communication is at a loss? As with many strategies, bulldozing headfirst without effective research and communication between marketing, PR, or sales teams alike won’t get you anywhere – and it’s imperative organizations are targeting the correct accounts, with the correct information.

By its very nature, ABM brings marketing and sales teams together and helps build meaningful relationships, but it’s how teams keep activities aligned, that will ensure seamless buying experiences, and a smooth transition down the sales funnel. Content and targeting are just the beginning as sales and marketing activities from there on must coordinate – from how teams cultivate comms and outreach plans to how they monitor campaign success.  

There’s real value in a well-executed ABM plan – don’t miss out

Clearly there are many advantages to a well-oiled ABM strategy. The ripple effects of ABM can be felt by many stakeholders – marketing, PR, sales, and the client or prospect in question. It requires some “thinking outside the box” but as more marketers realize the benefits, the higher the risk for those yet to implement such strategies – so, don’t get left behind!

Georgia Harris is a PR Account Executive at IBA International.

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