how to build an ABM workflow

How to Deliver an ABM Strategy

Kirsty Daniel 1 week ago

While both email marketing and subscriber growth have both been hindered by the outbreak of GDPR, there are ways for brands to utilise their email channels to aid growth in their contactable database. A perfect example of combining these elements would be to use an Account Based Marketing (ABM) strategy to assist you in your marketing flywheel.

So, you’ve turned strangers into prospects in your database - you might even have turned them into clients - but now you need to keep them engaged and coming back; you need to delight them. Now, we don’t mean buying them treats and throw a party - but delivering relevant and useful content direct to their inbox is an ideal way to keep them interested. And an ABM strategy is just another version of contact nurture, which your sales team may already be covering.

In the State of Content Marketing 2019, we saw many marketers value subscriber growth over more traditional goals, such as raising brand awareness.

This increase is also accompanied by 40% of marketers identifying email marketing as a main focus. And so here is our take on how to use ABM as a channel for value.

What is ABM?

Account based marketing is a process of engaging the most valuable contacts (or accounts) in your database.

Instead of speaking to your whole database, your brand cultivates a small group of valuable contacts and individuals. Then, by delivering content to this group in a way they will engage with, you will nurture them through the funnel quicker. Basically, instead of casting a wide net and then identifying preferred companies, you are reverse engineering the process - by identifying the companies first and then creating personalised email campaigns (this doesn’t necessarily have to be through email channels, but this is what we’ll be focused on in this blog), and then nurture those relationships.

Inbound marketing and ABM can co-exist, supporting one another in a wider marketing strategy.

So, to create an ABM strategy, you need to take the following steps:

Choose target audience/group

Using your CRM (customer relationship management) system, you can separate out the brands you want to target in your chosen sector. Many CRM systems may already be able to label your contacts within an industry. Hubspot, for example, does this automatically. You could also use a form field on your website to get this information and by using a text box or a set drop down list of fields you can manage your data quite effectively. When you look at the sectors, don’t just look at the number of contacts in those groups - who are the individuals? These are the people you will be directly engaging with, so check job titles or level of seniority, to make sure they are the most valuable to you.

Now, choose carefully, don’t just target the biggest brands. ABM is about providing value to receive value in return. Be sure to investigate any smaller brands that may be worthwhile to your company, or if you are a smaller organisation in a saturated market, these smaller individual brands may be more within your reach.

Make the pot small. Don’t create a list of individuals and send your emails out to hundreds of people, that defeats the purpose of ABM. Always pick the most worthwhile accounts and focus on what value you can provide. You can always go back to try again on another pot of similar people, once you have some learnings from your initial attempts.

Get content together

Now you’ve identified your valuable subscribers, you’ll need to create the personalised campaigns to reach them. Gather the bits of content you’re going to need to attract the attention of those brands.

Is content creation a bit of a roadblock? A good place to start would be to ask yourself ‘What are my consumers micro-moments?’ These are the ‘what/where/why/how’ questions we all have at work. Then create content to solve that issue, whether it be a video, a blog post, or a podcast. It is best to get all the content finished first, so you don’t create any issues/delays for yourself.

Something else to consider is your funnel process. What pieces of content are designed/useful to push someone down the funnel or round the flywheel? Think about how you want to deliver this to your selected individuals and in what order. Here are some examples of what content might look like at different stages of the traditional funnel:

  1. Awareness: Broad piece about your services/industry and important news. This introduces the user to your brand - especially if they haven’t engaged with you in a while, remind them why you are so important.
  2. Interest: A piece that will pique the interest of your users. This could be something that sets you apart from your competitors or shows your expertise as a thought leader - such as an example of a new way of doing things or an engaging video perhaps.
  3. Decision: A piece that shows how ‘helpful’ your brand can be to the user. By explaining a process or creating actionable takeaways for the consumer, you are aiding them in deciding whether they need support in the area.
  4. Action: And to create action on the consumer’s part, you need to provide convincing material on how you will make a difference to them. This is where case studies can come into the funnel, by showing the user what you can achieve for them.

So what does this look like for your industry? Here are some real world examples of how this could be executed.

Fashion/Retail

Awareness: Newsletter with 'new/latest' products. If you were considering putting budget behind your ABM strategy this could also take the form of targeted display ads or social ads, displaying products directly to a user, on a platform they engage on.

Interest: A blog on trends.

Decision: Potentially could be a video, showing different ways an item of clothing can be styled. Informational content such as product descriptions are important here too, as is ‘about this product’ information, which may be a deciding factor for consumers.

Action: Reviews can be a determining factor in any retail/eCommerce conversions and also utilising user generated content to show real-life images of the clothing/product, creating a ‘this could be you’ feeling for the user (brands such as Glossier and ASOS do this particularly well).

Banking/Lending example

Awareness: A press release on new offers, to create PR buzz. Or a useful informational blog on the basics of loans.

Interest: A wider campaign about how to save money - this could take the form of long form guides, or a short ‘quick tips’ blog.

Decision: A tool on how to calculate the lowest loan rate, which promotes your service offering at the end.

Action: Real-life examples of where your brand has helped individuals with loans and the uplifting stories behind them.

It is important to remember this will look different across many industries and each piece of content can be a different type (ie, long form content, images, video, category content, comments, reviews etc). Here’s 101 types of digital content to get you started with some different formats, but always try to back up your choice with some data and research, so you know each piece will be best for your target audience.

Segmentation

Something else that is important to consider is, do you want to segment your audience?

If you have a good idea of what content is aligned with your funnel stages, then it might be worth splitting your audience by how much they have engaged with you before. You really can get as granular as you like with this, especially if you are using an ABM strategy as your primary marketing channel.

High engagement, medium engagement and low engagement could be a good way to ensure the right content is reaching the right people in your email database and really making the most of your contacts. This can be a strong option if you have the facilities via a CRM to do this. Other ways to segment may be job title, country, specific services they have engaged with, if you have this information available to you.

Designing the delivery of the content

Now that you have your content prepared, you want to then place it directly in front of your target consumer. This is the goal.

Here’s a breakdown of what you need to consider:

How will the content be delivered?
We will be covering how to do this via email, but you could also use other methods to reach those valuable people. ABM could also be achieved through granular paid social posts - LinkedIn for example allows you to choose an audience and filter by company name. This will be paid obviously, so ensure you are using budget wisely here.

But back to email - think about the capabilities of your CRM. Should you eliminate people based on their engagement with the ABM emails? Or would you rather send all the emails in the workflow to all the target contacts? Testing is key here, so try different ways of delivering the content, and switch up the order, to see what works best.

Think about the order of the content
We would recommend using content to start the workflow that has high actionable value. This way you’ll be positioning your brand as a useful resource to this contact.

Then choose some content for the next email that shows your capabilities or answers some interesting pain points for the consumer. Depending on what you want to achieve, you will need to consider the image and tone you want to give off, as you may be re-introducing your brand to someone who has been un-engaged for a while - so be sure the content reflects that.

Get granular with every element
Start your ABM workflow with Email 1 - If a contact does not open Email 1, send them Email 2, with a more intriguing subject line. You want them to see the content, so ensure each email evolves to optimise this. And so on and so forth, if a contact opens Email 1, but doesn’t click, then send them a second email, but create a version where the copy is more enticing. Ensure you name these emails in a clear way so you can learn from the stats - Email 2 (Open, no click) and Email 2 (No open) would be a simple way to do it.

This approach may be more time consuming depending on the capabilities of your CRM, but worthwhile as it will be more optimised for conversion, and you’ll be able to see clear learnings out the back of it.

Always remember the audience - think about audience fatigue
You’re emailing them nonstop with your content, and eventually they’ll get sick of it. So consider the time between your emails. Is a week enough? Or is 10 days too long? Also take into consideration any regular email activity you have - you don't want your contacts to receive your monthly newsletter and your ABM content on the same day. This is important as your contacts need to see you as useful, not a hindrance! Marketing Automation is something a lot of CRM systems have built in, so you may be able to exclude contacts based on what else they have received, to avoid fatigue!

Filter, or not to filter?
Though filtering out contacts based on engagement might improve your CTR or open rate on individual emails, you might consider sending all the emails in the chain to all the contacts. Just because the first email in the chain wasn’t relevant, doesn’t mean they won’t find Email 2 or Email 3 useful! Each engagement is positive, so monitor the open and click rates of each email to see which is most engaging for your pot of people.

Timing is everything
When are your audience likely to engage with the content? If you are a B2B business, you might consider planning around office hours - perhaps delivering an email before 9am, so that your consumer has time to read it. Likewise, at lunch times, between 12pm and 2pm. Or are your valuable contacts most likely to engage in the evening when they have time to read personal emails? Testing might be the only way to answer this for definite, but it is a worthwhile exercise and you can use the learnings across all other email activity.

Putting it all together

Using these tips, your workflow may look like this (we use Hubspot, but other CRM systems should have similar workflow building tools):

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If you want to go down the route of optimising every single step, it might look more like this

And so on and so forth, as each email will be personalised and optimised for each action the contact takes.

Conclusion

Account based marketing (and its success) is the manifestation of balance between marketing and sales - they should be in lockstep for this process.

Basically, high-value accounts or prospects are identified first - then by using content you need to appeal to their specific personas and needs. Account based marketing is basically a hyper-personalised route of marketing. Every aspect of your process should be personalised to the individuals or accounts, and though we were specifically talking about email channels here, this extends out to targeted social, targeted paid ads, and other channels.

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