By Maria Geokezas, client services director for Heinz Marketing

As a B2B marketer in 2015, if you aren’t considering ABM for your business, you probably should be. Account-based marketing, named account strategies, it’s basically the same thing. The idea is that you know which companies would be a good fit for your business and your marketing and sales strategies are aligned to laser focus their resources on that particular group of companies.

In the not so distant past, this approach to marketing was not feasible, not cost-effective. There would be no way you could rationalize the spend, not to mention the ROI you’d get from a strategy like this. But now a number of market forces have aligned to make an account-based marketing strategy possible and profitable.

  1. Companies of all sizes make purchase decisions by committee. Sirius Decisions found that over a third of companies purchase by committee, while 53% take a consensus approach. Gone are the days of a single buyer. In smaller companies, the buying committee may be less formal than in large, enterprise organizations. But the types of participants and the need for buy-in are the same regardless of company size. Buying committees are not an enterprise-only phenomenon any more.
  2. It’s now common knowledge that buyers conduct most of their research independently, before interacting with a seller. In fact, in a recent study, Forrester Research found that 74% of business buyers conduct more than half of their research online before making an offline purchase. They want to remain anonymous until they’ve collected enough information they need to feel like they can make an informed decision.
  3. Sellers’ roles have become more consultative. Information about their products and services are so broadly available that sales people have to be prepared for a more value-driven conversation with these well-informed customers. Sellers have been forced out of their comfort zones of features and functionality conversations and now need to be knowledgeable about broader issues related to the industry, competitive forces and customers’ motivations and pain points in order to close the deal.
  4. Technology has made it easier for marketers and sellers to work together to identify buying behaviors and pinpoint potential buyers with very customized and relevant messaging and content. From top-of-the-funnel tools that collect and target the right prospects to bottom-of-the-funnel seller communication platforms, there are a myriad of tools to help companies more cost-effectively deliver their goods and services to market.

None of this matters, however, if you don’t have the right strategy in place. And that strategy begins with sales and marketing alignment. Account-based marketing absolutely relies on your sales and marketing departments working together in lock-step. No longer is marketing responsible for the top-of-the-funnel, and sales the bottom. Instead both sides of the organization need to share the buyer’s journey starting with a common definition of the target audience.

Both sales and marketing teams need to understand the buyers’ motivations and deliver a consistent message. Missteps are amplified in this microcosm, so it’s critical that sales and marketing work together.

Get aligned on your target audience
Instead of a geographic market or a demographic/firmographic targeting strategy, you have to treat each company as its own market. Conduct the research to understand how titles differ between your named accounts. Marketing can conduct the initial research to find the right companies and titles. But then sales will need to validate and add to the research by more specifically mapping the actual buying committee. The sales team can identify the stakeholders involved in the purchase decision, who the influencers are and who has the authority to approve the spend.

Get aligned on your messaging and content
Through the messaging and content that is created by marketing, you need to demonstrate that you understand your prospects’ pain points and their industry. Create a library of content that is specific to the target industry. Use white papers and shorter guides to demonstrate expertise. Create email templates that position each content piece for the specific company by using the correct nomenclature and speaking to specific roles.

Get aligned on your delivery
An account-based strategy isn’t just an email campaign. Nor is it a prospecting strategy. Instead, it is an integrated approach surrounding your target companies with information that demonstrates your company’s expertise, builds trust and opens doors for sales outreach. As marketing delivers the message via targeted web content, email and remarketing campaigns, the sales team conducts their targeted outreach via social channels listening for buying signals, identifying key players and participating in relevant groups.

Finally, as you launch your ABM strategy, it will be important to measure progress both from a quantitative and qualitative perspective. You will want to understand how well you’ve penetrated each organization by tracking statistics like number of contacts reached and confirmed within each organization.

More importantly, in the beginning you will want to gather input from the sales team regarding the type of conversations they are having with these prospects. What topics are most compelling? How do they talk about their issues? Specifically, what words do they use to describe the projects within their organization? What trends are they paying attention to? This intelligence can then be used to refine the content and messaging for the next wave of outreach.