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With many marketing teams reassessing strategies amid a disappearing event calendar, keeping the engagement engine running has become increasingly challenging. As B2B brands dialed in their focus on the needs of existing customers and top prospects, ABM programs are becoming an even bigger priority.

According to a 2019 ABM benchmark report conducted by ITSMA, a B2B marketing leadership community, numerous ABM programs have moved well beyond initial experimentation: 47% of companies are in the expanding phase, 30% are in the expanding phase and 17% are in the embedded stage of ABM, indicating a move to maturity. But as we transition to a new normal during and post-COVID-19, how will ABM priorities change and what strategies should businesses revisit given the current climate?

ITSMA recently partnered with the ABM Leadership Alliance, a national organization focused on educating B2B marketers about developing and deploying a successful ABM, to host a webinar called “Accelerating ABM impact: What’s Working, What’s Next.” Moderated by ITSMA’s Rob Leavitt, the panel featured leaders in the B2B marketing space, including:

  • Charm Bianchini, VP of Growth Marketing, LeanData;
  • Chad Blaise, Head of Channels and Growth, Bizzabo;
  • Tara Cabral, Director of Segment Marketing, Vidyard;
  • Christine Farrier, Sr. Director of Channel & Partner Marketing, Demandbase;
  • Megan Heuer, VP of Marketing, Engagio;
  • Cassandra Jowett, Sr. Director of Marketing, PathFactory;
  • Eric Martin, VP of Demand Generation, SalesLoft;
  • Jane Menyo, Sr Director of Solutions Marketing, ON24; and
  • Marne Reed, Chief Evangelist, PFL

During the presentation, the panel of experts discussed sales alignment, integrating ABM with demand generation, integrated campaigns and creating engaging ABM content.

Solidifying Sales & Marketing Alignment Amid Social Distancing

Sales and marketing alignment is critical to successful ABM and is even more important during our current climate. The panelists emphasized there are three important steps to take to deepen the functional relationship both side of the revenue team:

  • Focusing on reliable data,
  • Meeting with sales, and
  • Participating in sales enablement.

LeanData’s Bianchini advocated using this time of social distancing to shore up relationships with sales teams who are currently working from home and are unable to meet clients and prospects in-person. By doing so, she said marketers can get a better sense of what targets to segment and what accounts to pursue, which will create a more efficient ABM strategy as sales teams strive to close deals.

“Take this time right now to start building your relationships with sales,” she said. “The more that you understand what’s going on with sales, the more that ABM will work.”

Integrating ABM With Demand Generation

Many of the panelists stressed that they are emphasizing a shift to provide custom messaging to key accounts, with the need to still engage net-new leads.

“We marry our demand gen and ABM by having the demand gen bring in unknown ICPs and then use the ABM strategy to carry them through the nurture conversation,” said PFL’s Marne Reed. “We look at the digital intent signals and our ABM starts when the BDR handoff is ready to occur. Then, our multi-channel orchestrated campaigns begin.”  

Megan Heuer of Engagio agreed that an ABM and demand-gen hybrid is normal if it is appropriate to the level of engagement in an ABM strategy. “Having a blend of account-based focused and broad-based demand makes sense,” she said. “Match the way that you’re investing to the potential size of the account that you’re trying to win, and [with] what you’re willing to invest.”

Creating Engaging ABM Content As Companies Transition To A New Normal

The panelists also emphasized the importance of using content to engage with clients and prospects, even without the ability of in-person engagement. Heuer explained that ABM content is meant to be a conversation, with both prospect and business adding to the known data.

“What do people really miss about not being able to go to those in-person events right now?”  asked Heuer. “One of those things is just having those conversations with peers, meeting new people, expanding your network, finding new ideas in places you didn’t expect.”

This can play into an ABM strategy because it gives a target audience a sense of control, leading to further engagement or interest in a business.

“We knew it was still very important for our targeted accounts to hear about the items we were going to be sharing,” said Demandbase’s Farrier. “Turning our virtual keynote into that product announcement and making it available to people who registered — as well as wider audiences —was a big success for us. We had lots of engagement in terms of people wanting to get access to that content and it is going to be a great pipeline producer.”

Content tracks are an effective method of providing thought leadership that caters to target accounts and their specific needs. These customized tracks expose a business’ offerings to multiple channels, increasing the number of buyers a business can reach.

Personalization was also one of the largest themes of the panel, as it allows companies to further develop and maintain their ABM strategies. By personalizing the ABM experience with content, ads and even gifting programs tailored to the individual, businesses can offer customized engagement and stand out among competitors.

“People really pay attention when you personalize things for them,” said Jowett. “Sometimes just working directly with the sales team one-on-one and choosing the right content for that account is the key.”

Successfully Investing In ABM Strategies

When investing in any ABM strategy, managing the data gathered requires multiple pairs of eyes from one business to investigate.

All departments should work together to understand the ABM strategy, gather the market data, optimize demand generation and decide which prospects are worth investing in, according to the panelists.

The panelists suggested that a business’ marketing budget should devote 20% to 30% to ABM strategies, allowing sales and marketing teams to engage buyers across different channels.

But in order to do this, it’s important to have the right technology solutions in place. When it comes to picking an ABM platform, it’s not just about throwing pasta on a wall and hoping it sticks. With thousands of solutions out there, it’s important to know how to leverage the solution across different departments, particularly with sales.

“The two main components you want to focus on when you think about your tech stack and your efficiencies are: How does it help you automate your workflows?” said ON24’s Menyo. “ABM is how you effectively scale your programs in your business, so think about the ways it’s going to actually support your team in their day-to-day work. The second part is: How are you going to empower your team with intelligence to actually take smarter actions? In our world, data is gold, but we can often be swimming in data and not know what to do with it.”

Now more than ever, B2B marketers are in a unique position to make connections with key accounts. Whether it’s creating more personalized content, investing in better technology or spending more time with their sales teams, marketers must take the time to refine their ABM strategy so they won’t lose any ground and can come out the gate swinging when the social restrictions lift.

“On the B2B side, we are still seeing a high volume of people seeking that level of engagement that one would see at in-person events,” said Menyo. “People are still looking to get advice from your business and to be able to connect with you in a personal way.”

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