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As one of the latest trends in the world of digital marketing, ABM is triggering a lot of confusion and even controversy among experts and stakeholders. This technique is already proven to be highly beneficial for enterprises and large corporations, and now we are witnessing an increase in demand for this particular method of marketing even among mid-sized enterprises and moderately smaller businesses.

While agencies worldwide are remaining reluctant in offering ABM as a part of their service, some pioneering companies are seeing this trend as their best chance to keep a competitive edge on the market.

ABM is rumored to be the best form of marketing in terms of ROI. While it’s not unreasonable to expect impressive results when you are investing time and effort on one account alone, one company or even on one prospect individually – getting from point A to point B (and M) is still a challenging mission.

Adapting your content marketing strategy to this new environment can also be an intimidating operation. While it is relatively easy to comprehend the system behind this setup, implementation of the actual strategy can be quite difficult due to several obstacles.

Account Based Marketing Basics and Main Challenges (The Oversimplified Explanation)

When thinking about marketing strategies and campaigns, the great majority of B2B marketing  companies follow this train of thought:

1. What message are we trying to send?
2. How do we plan on distributing it?
3. Who will respond to our message?

The ABM approach is completely different however.The process of production and implementation of content is reversed completely. Therefore, your strategy for development needs to match not just the needs of an account that you are targeting, but also the content consumption cycle of the members of one particular account.

So, you want to start rethinking your strategy and tailor your research-production-distribution process so that it fits the needs of just one (or few at most) accounts individually. Just flip the buying cycle, and provide answers to the following questions:

1. Who are we trying to reach?
2. How do they consume content?
3. What is the message that we want them to receive?

With this process in mind, you are certainly saving a lot of time and resources when establishing a connection with your desired clients. By measuring engagement across your marketing channels, you can pinpoint your targets and contact the right person with a clearly defined goal and minimal investment.

Now, doesn’t that sound wonderful?

In theory – of course. But in reality – Responding to inquiries and interests that require immediate attention can be extremely demanding.

For example, let’s say that you have a client who is manufacturing furniture.

Now let’s say that there is a certain fast food franchise that is looking for a company that will supply dozens, or hundreds of their facilities with a completely new set of chairs.

This account could bring your client a six-figure profit, and, naturally, your client wants to have a go and is willing to invest in an ABM campaign that will target this prospect particularly.

How does that affect your content marketing strategy?

Content production, without a community, is a waste of resources. This is a painful fact that we are all aware of – a great deal of content that is shared online will never be read. While B2B marketing is more focused on the pull instead of push marketing techniques in general, inciting that initial spark of interest still has a lot to do with how you are delivering your content, and via whom.

The impact of the content delivered highly depends on the person and resource that is delivering the content. So how quickly can you recruit and educate the right influencer, whom you can rely on to boost the efforts of your push strategy? Or, once you spot a distribution channel used by the members of the target account, how fast can you make sure that your investment will inspire the right action?

A CEO of a fast food franchise company won’t go shopping for chairs, naturally. They will just sign the contract once they are provided with the key turn solution by their Heads of Departments, or Senior Managers.

You want to target someone who matters, and go further down the decision pyramid. On the example presented here, that would be a project leader, or someone who oversees the obtaining of offers and performs the primary evaluation.

Of course, the tricky part of ABM is the fact that you cannot utilize a package or just one principle procedure that will be adapted to all accounts. On the contrary!

Each account that you are targeting will have a different hierarchy that you have to analyze and penetrate in order to get your content noticed by your target. You should address the individual organization, consider trends of that industry, follow the best practices based on the location, and their digital behavior. Knowing which CRM system they use can be quite helpful as well.

Some companies believe that they’ve already successfully utilized this form of marketing before, and that the only thing that’s changed in the meantime is the name of the actual practice. In all honesty, here in Four Dots, we also develop individual account based campaigns sometimes, but we do not claim that we are providing specifically ABM marketing services. At least not yet.

In terms of organization, management, and, what concerns us the most, content marketing – ABM is a game changer. So before you start considering adapting to the model, you have to be sure that you are actually ready for any challenge in this field, and you have to start with your working force.

ABM is a Talent Acquisition Nightmare

Inability to find an experienced ABM marketing coordinator is just the tip of the iceberg. But when it comes to inbound marketing tactics in general and how they can be translated to this model, my recommendation would be to either focus your team on a few branches of industry, or acquire talent once the client is already onboard and strategy determined.

In my humble opinion, these are the skills and practices that you need to have at your disposal, to be prepared to provide actual results in the ABM marketing industry and justify your client’s investment:

Competition analysis (including SEO, SMM & Content Marketing research + comparative research)
Lead generation (including creating buyer personas, target market analysis, ideal customer profile development etc.)
Marketing strategy development (setting up campaigns for each channel, determining deliverables, establishing a system of content performance analysis)
Content development (basic design, copywriting skills, landing pages)
Content distribution (thorough knowledge of social media platforms, PPC, off site SEO techniques, content promotion, email marketing)
SEO, CRO & Sales funnel optimization (including on site SEO, CRO monitoring, knowledge of Google Analytics, search console)

In short – you don’t need a content manager that will handle and direct your ABM content marketing clients. You need a team of experienced employees to handle the integration of this size. The harsh reality is – organizing a team, and making sure that they can deliver direct ABM solutions in a record amount of time is… well, let’s say that it’s quite daunting Because once your client reaches out to you and outlines that they want to target one account especially, you will rarely have the time to test the best practices and establish what works and what doesn’t.

The main challenge of Content x ABM integration is urgency. Being prepared to deliver custom built marketing solutions in a record amount of time is sometimes difficult even for big agencies.

In terms of resources, we are all aware that 80% B2B decision makers prefer to learn about companies and opportunities through intelligent content marketing, and through series of articles and similar assets. Everything that usually works in B2B marketing will fly in ABM as well – white papers, emails, webinars, blog posts, presentations, infographics, eBooks, podcasts, surveys, interactive content and so on.

So it’s not the question of what should be produced, that’s not the issue. The mindset of how we are approaching production of this content is the thing you want to change.

Content x Decision Making Process – The Actual Difference

While your options remain the same, the purpose of ABM content is somewhat different from traditional B2B marketing content. Whereas with the latter, you target as many potential leads as possible, with ABM content, you are looking to influence only a handful of important people that decide on the actions within a company (or a few of them).

At the core of account-based marketing is the fact that you are targeting only a small number of potential or existing accounts. The logical result is that such focused content will be far more personalized than your traditional B2B content. Remember that personalized methods are often not reusable.

But that’s not the only thing you should worry about.

Content mapping process needs to take all the aforementioned into account. This means that you should have a resource ready for each step of the decision hierarchy of the company at hand.

Sometimes, you will be creating content for a single person, a single decision-maker in a single organization. At other times, it will be content tailored to the CIO’s of five different organizations in a certain industry you are targeting. Sometimes it will be aimed at all of the decision-makers in the key accounts in a certain industry.

Depending on how many people you are targeting, the level of personalization will vary. As the experts from Engagio point out, personalization is a spectrum in account-based marketing, not a binary issue. In any case, it will still be far more personalized than with other types of B2B marketing.

Content x Research

All successful ABM campaigns have one thing in common – they have been backed by a lot of research of key accounts, i.e. the organizations and the decision-makers within those organizations. When it comes to creating ABM content, knowing the target content consumer is more important than with any other type of content creation.

Who is this person? Where did they go to school? What did they major in? Do they have an opinion on the type of service/product you provide? What would be their major need considering their position (CEO, CFO, CIO, CMO)?

Even if content is not personalized as much as it sometimes is in ABM, there will still exist a need for increased amount of research into potential accounts and content consumers.

Where Content Meets Sales

Usually, sales experts are happy to leave it to marketing people to come up with marketing content. Likewise, marketing people will usually be quite content working in isolation, crafting their content without too much outside influence. Then, once their content gives birth to leads, sales can move in and close the deal.

In account-based marketing, this is not how things work.

In ABM, sales and marketing work together for a number of reasons. For one, sales are very likely to know the account and the decision-makers. Also, they will be more knowledgeable about what certain accounts need and how certain decision-makers can be better influenced. They will also have a better grasp of the customer journey, which will enable them to provide invaluable input for the marketing team.

Contrariwise, marketing people can give their opinion on the traditional sales content which gets sent to existing and potential accounts as part of the sales process. With their input, such content and messages can become much more creatively put-together, enticing and effective.

It should be pointed out that the sales department is not the only one that can get involved in ABM campaigns and efforts. For instance, if marketing people are crafting content for a CIO of a certain company, they will probably benefit from expert input of their own developers (in case they are selling software of some kind, for example). The same is true for every other department whose account counterpart might be one of the decision-makers targeted by ABM practices.

The Closing Word

Account-based marketing content is heavily personalized, well-researched and it often requires input from additional departments. As such, it is also more difficult and time-consuming to create, which is a nightmare when you know you need it as soon as possible.

That being said, the numbers are clearly in favor of ABM and it will pay off to put one’s money into creating great content that will support a superbly crafted and executed ABM strategy.

We are interested in hearing your opinion as well. Let us know what do you think what is the main challenge of content marketing and account-based marketing integration :)

author avatar
Nataša Bajić

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