Getting Started with ABM for B2B Technical Industries
You’ve likely read a lot about ABM in the past few years. And if you’re like many B2B marketing leaders who look closer at account-based marketing, it’s sometimes easy to get overwhelmed by the topic.
But, if you’re a midsize manufacturer that’s been relying on trade shows and outbound sales, or you’re just getting started in marketing, launching a comprehensive ABM program may be too big of a first step. However, you can still reap ABM’s benefits by applying its fundamental principles, without the associated expensive software platform and long setup times.
Chances are, you’re marketing to a specific niche, and typically know who the major players are in the buying cycle. You can apply ABM’s principles to your inbound marketing, outbound initiatives, and overall marketing strategy, using automation and analytics to increase sales and marketing effectiveness over time.
In this article on how ABM can benefit B2B companies—including manufacturing and industrial businesses—we breakdown what it is and leave you with enough information to decide if ABM is right for your company.
What is ABM
Account-based marketing, or ABM, is a B2B strategy for targeting specific customer accounts—usually those that offer the highest revenue and profit potential. ABM requires your sales and marketing teams to work closely to engage and influence decision-makers within your target accounts. ABM teams create and use personalized campaigns that are often tracked through sophisticated data platforms. The secret to successful ABM practices is knowing and addressing your customer’s pain points with compelling digital marketing tactics.
A 2018 survey of B2B marketers revealed the respondents experienced a 45% higher ROI with ABM compared to traditional marketing techniques.
ABM also isn’t a recent idea—it’s been around since the 60s. However, what’s new is the technology you can use to automate and manage your tailored campaigns.
Why ABM for B2B and Industrial Manufacturing?
If you’re a marketing leader at a B2B or industrial manufacturing business, ABM is designed to benefit you the most. That’s because B2B purchase decisions are made by teams of at least five or more people, who can take months to reach a consensus. Additionally, your customers will have unique pain points, which prevent you from using the same messaging to everyone. By tailoring messaging and tactics on a per-account basis, you’ll experience significant improvements in campaign effectiveness and marketing results. At the same time, you’ll do a better job of managing your marketing funds.
And when you consider that the average B2B buyer will consume 13 pieces of content (Martech) before choosing a supplier, getting your messaging right is critical.
The Key Principles of ABM From Our Viewpoint
In our experience working with industrial, manufacturing, and B2B companies, we recommend beginning any ABM effort by first identifying the most likely firms to buy from you. Instead of the equivalent of calling everyone in the phone book or casting a wide net with your SEO approach, focus on a smaller, but highly engaged audience.
Using both inbound and outbound tactics, market to prospects that show the most interest and intent in your products and services. Personalized messages will help move your prospects through their customer journey. The most important principles you can glean from ABM are:
- Build additional awareness and increase the size of the MQL/email/retargeting list with qualified accounts/contacts.
- Segment your total addressable market.
- Market to the people most likely to buy (inbound and outbound).
- Market more heavily and with more personalization to those who show interest and intent.
- Focus your sales efforts on the most engaged prospects.
- Land and expand.
Inbound vs. Inbound + ABM
What is the difference between inbound marketing, vs. inbound marketing with ABM principles? If you’re creating inbound marketing without the ABM lens and marketing specifically to those most likely to buy, you might be focusing on raw traffic numbers, organic ranking factors, or form submissions. While this is where many people start, you’ll be more successful generating quality leads by focusing on content and keywords that attract the type of traffic that’s most engaged and most likely to buy from you. It also helps to continuously optimize your website toward not just conversions, but higher lead quality.
Outbound vs. Outbound + ABM
Outbound marketing without ABM looks like the dreaded smile-and-dial approach. While once effective, prospects are much less likely to pick up the phone for unknown numbers these days, and engineers are even less likely to engage this way. With ABM principles in place, a phone call would only occur after the prospect knows your company and demonstrates some engagement. You could leave a voicemail, and they just might call you back. At the least, the voicemail reiterates your company name and serves as a reminder to revisit your company’s website. In the same vein, sending out standardized cold emails to a wide net won’t do you any good, and could get you blacklisted. Carefully crafting your list and personalizing your message is much more likely to get your prospect to visit your website, and maybe even fill out a form to set up a phone call.
Steps to Get Started With ABM:
Your first step to get started with ABM is to use our principles of ABM and apply them to your marketing plan. Steer both inbound and outbound activities toward the prospects most likely to buy, then doubling down on nurturing those who begin to engage with you. This is a long list—but you don’t have to start with everything. And your start doesn’t have to be perfect; just get started. Identify your ICP (Ideal customer profile), create a list or segment, move into action and pay attention to the results, adding more precision and pieces to the plan over time.
Identify those most likely to buy
This starts by thinking about your ICP and a few job titles or high-level personas within them.
Identify where you can source a list
Tools like ZoomInfo, Growbots, and LinkedIn as well as others, can access at your local library, allow you to identify companies that fit your target industry NAICS or SIC codes, company size (headcount on LinkedIn, revenue in ZoomInfo), geographic targets, and other key terms. You may want to start with all three, to see where you find the best data, but purchasing a sales navigator license for LinkedIn is the most budget-friendly (aside from library database tools).
Identify methods to which you want to market to your list for outbound activities
While direct mail and moderate to expensive gifts to your most important target accounts have often been a key part of ABM strategies in the past, with many people working from home during COVID, you’ll have to sideline those tactics for now. Additionally, many companies don’t allow their employees to accept gifts from vendors. Likewise, any strategies that rely on targeting via company IP address are only useful for people either in the office or browsing the web via their company’s VPN. Typical methods to reach a new audience for awareness include:
This can be targeted via LinkedIn audiences or based on custom audiences within Google Ads. If you think of other websites that your most valuable prospects might view, you can start to build audiences based on that past browsing history, and show display ads to those audiences as they browse the web. You can upload email addresses and company URLs into platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook to build an audience of target prospects and similar audiences.
Cold email outreach
Tools like Growbots allow you to create a series of outreach emails that are timed to automatically send follow-ups in the same thread, in a new thread, and use personalization tokens for information like first name, company name, etc. While you’ll be starting from a general script and the personalization tokens are a help, take the time to personalize each email as much as possible. The more targeted the email to the customer’s pain points, the more likely you’ll get a warm response. It’s advisable to send cold email from a different URL than your primary domain name, just in case, and be sure to follow all CAN-SPAM rules. You can integrate engaged prospects from your cold email system into your marketing automation tool (such as HubSpot) for lead scoring and further nurturing, and send to anyone who’s ready to talk to your sales team.
Through a done-for-you service like Lead Cookie or on your own, you (or more likely your sales reps) can send connection requests to identified prospects within a saved LinkedIn list, sending them a series of helpful and conversational messages, with the intent of creating awareness, building a list for viewing future content that you publish on the platform, and getting any interested parties who are ready to buy into your sales funnel.
You’ll need to be generating good, engaging and informational content to reference in those cold email and/or LinkedIn outreach messages, in order to catch the interest of people who don’t already know you and aren’t ready to buy (which may be quite a few, when you’re thinking about outbound vs. inbound). Get onto a pace of writing valuable content articles and case studies at least once a quarter, and ideally once every two weeks — depending on how fast you want to gain traction on both inbound and outbound activities. Distribute this content on your social channels and LinkedIn profiles of anyone doing outreach activities, to stay top of mind and provide valuable information to your prospects. Write for your target audience and personas.
Develop a high-quality gated content piece at the outset of your work, and generate a new piece regularly. If you’re doing articles/case studies every two weeks, aim for one per quarter. This gated content piece should be prominently highlighted on your website, and allow people to have a preview of the content and get invested in it enough that they see that there will be value in exchanging their email address in exchange for access.
Use marketing automation intro-level tools to set up exit intent or toast popups offering access to relevant gated content as they browse your website, turning anonymous browsers into known prospects. These prospects then enter your email nurturing list, and you can begin progressive profiling (asking for another small bit of information, such as job title or industry) with each piece of gated content they consume. You can also begin lead scoring by assigning a numeric value to key engagement activities like viewing a pricing page, contact page, or other pages that show a high ready-to-buy signal. Moreover, you can set alerts to your sales & marketing team when a prospect crosses your threshold and seems ready for contact from sales.
Use automated emails and/or drip campaigns to engage people who’ve just interacted with your gated content, and send out emails every two weeks (ideally) to your marketing list, with valuable, helpful content. Use your marketing automation tools to increase the lead score of those most engaged with your content, and to A/B test different subject lines.
If your ICP favors a specific geography, you can change bid levels, or the keywords, ads and landing pages shown to specific geographic areas. This can be general (U.S.), regional (select the states in your target), or even as hyper-specific as selecting Zip codes or even smaller targets where key accounts have their corporate headquarters (and where you assume most employees work).
If prospects visit your website (when prompted by cold email, LinkedIn outreach, display advertising, PPC, or other channels) and aren’t ready to engage yet, this is how you can stay top-of-mind. Remarketing can be done via Google Ads or social media (LinkedIn and Facebook are most relevant for most B2B technical companies), and different content can be shown to different audiences or engagement levels.
If your website setup allows for it, an easy way to personalize your web content is to modify content or messages based on geography (re-ordering case studies to prominently show the most geographically relevant to a prospect, for industries that value this, as one example). Numerous tools and add-ons exist to put these and other personalization strategies in place; in the absence of software, creating custom landing pages for industry or individual prospect companies can create further engagement. You want your prospect to feel as though they’re having a 1:1 interaction with you, and your message is tailored directly to their needs.
Most ABM playbooks and strategies call for moving your prospect companies into tiers. Tier 1 gets a phone call, handwritten note, and much more high- touch engagement from the sales team, while Tier 2 may get more automated emails, a postcard, and other more scalable touches. Tier setup and identification is what we see as step 2 in launching an ABM strategy, if you’re getting started quickly. Unless you can name your top 10 dream accounts right now, rather than painstakingly selecting your Tier 1 companies with what may seem like arbitrary targeting, we believe it’s better to get going with a more general approach, and then after a quarter of running your campaigns, review engagement from those you’ve targeted, and define your Tier 1 based on who’s shown the most engagement over the past quarter AND matches your ICP. Give these people who’ve already shown some interest the most attention from your sales team.
Land and expand
One of the key principles of ABM is to land the account and then expand it. With this in mind, consider how you can tailor your offerings to be easy to buy, easy to sell—a get-to-know-you engagement that builds trust and rapport. If all goes well, this can lead to a high-value business deal while shortening a long sales cycle. These get-to-know-you engagements can earn you a permanent position on your prospect’s “recommended vendor list.”
Yes, these are a lot of items to consider when setting up your ABM program. But to help you get started, below is the prioritized task list we recommend you follow. Start at the top and work your way down.
ABM Implementation Task List
- ICP & persona definitions
- Software/Tool identification
- List building
- Display advertising
- Content marketing – content generation
- Marketing automation setup
- Email and phone script generation
- LinkedIn or cold email outreach
- Lead scoring and sales reach out to most engaged prospects
Platforms for getting started with ABM for B2B
If you’re just getting started, start simply. Here are the basic tools that we recommend using if you’re not ready for enterprise-level software and the investment that comes along with it.
- Google Ads
Platforms for advanced ABM users
Many of the platforms in this category are very expensive and aimed at large organizations. We recommend getting a rhythm and familiarity with the basic principles of ABM in place before investing in these tools, but they do offer robust functionality.
- Marketo ABM
- Many others
Time to Try ABM at Your B2B Company?
For most B2B technical industries, adopting an ABM approach with your marketing offers a major upside with few risks. And with some marketing leaders reporting nearly 50% increases in marketing ROI when using ABM practices compared to traditional marketing programs, the payoff is substantial. We encourage most of our clients to at least give ABM a try. But don’t invest a ton of money into a platform right away; instead, start by experimenting with a few of the key principles we cited earlier.
You’ll have very little to lose, but lots to gain: new customers, more orders and sales.