Have you heard of the term ABM?

Isn’t it something Tech companies and big corporates talk about?

Does it have any relevance to agency new business?

Here’s our lowdown.

What is ABM

In short, it’s where sales teams and marketing teams work closely together to execute super targeted marketing activity.

In order to be highly targeted and personalised, ABM activity is focused on a low number of high value clients.

By ‘low number’ we mean anything as low as literally one individual, a single company, or a cluster of companies sharing common challenges or characteristics.

This is the opposite to sending a newsletter or mass email to a huge database.

Just like a newsletter however, ABM can be used to engage new prospects, convert leads, or retain existing clients. It’s not exclusively reserved for generating new leads.

Unlike most newsletter though, all ABM strategies start by identifying a) the specific target prospects and b) their pain points, and only after those two stages are complete is marketing created that responds very closely to their issues.

ABM can include anything from emails, adverts, events, podcasts, white papers and webinars. It’s the specificity that sets it apart from traditional marketing.

Why am I hearing about ABM all of a sudden?

Account Based Marketing is not a new concept, but it has recently experienced a bit of a resurgence, particularly in the B2B Tech sector, where companies are often in a race to hit revenue targets and steal market share.

For any business whose client base or projects are high-value (hello 90% of agencies) an ABM strategy will likely be more effective than casting a super broad net or mass email spamming. ABM is all about focusing on where the big money deals are.

Why ABM is great for agencies

1. It will help you to shape your agency proposition.

ABM forces you to take a good look at your customers and align your comms and messaging to their agenda. This can only be a positive and will strengthen your agency’s sales success rate, even if nothing else from ABM is applied.

2. It gets marketing teams more focused on ROI and conversion of leads.

Marketing and sales have to work together to agree on target prospects, their needs, and the agency messaging, before any tactical work can commence. Both sides then get cracking with a shared goal of bringing on-board an agreed pool of contacts. Success of the combined efforts is directly measurable.

3. No time & effort wasted

Rather than marketing far and wide, and then qualifying leads once they come in, ABM qualifies leads at the outset. By identifying the clients you would love to work with, and who also should also be very interested in your agency’s experience, size, mindset etc, you can feel confident that as opportunities come to the table, they’ll definitely excite the agency, and you’ll have a good chance at winning them!

Conversely, for the majority of agencies, there are just a few hundred highly relevant or desirable clients (who have sizeable budgets, fit into your specialism, don’t conflict with existing clients, delight your team, etc). Identifying them at the outset ensures that, whether it takes a long time or a short time, you know that pool of customers are the ones you want, and all activity focused on building relationships with them is a worthwhile investment.

When is ABM the wrong approach?

If you are selling low-value products or services to a volume market, then ABM should not be your go-to strategy. That’s exactly where a mass approach will be more effective.

Equally, if all of your clients have the same challenges, opportunities or needs, or the service you offer to all is the same regardless of who the customer is, then there’s no need to adapt your messaging on a case-by-case basis.

On the other hand, if your clients want to feel that their specific barriers to growth have been heard, and a bespoke solution is put in place for them, then a comms strategy that demonstrates specific, niche expertise will likely have better cut through, than a one-size fits all approach.

Where to start?

Without a doubt, the first step in executing a bit of ABM in your new business strategy, is identifying who it is your sales and marketing teams should be targeting.

Targeting

• Identify companies

• Identify decision makers (by name or job titles)

Research

• Gather as much insight on the prospects as possible. (Read interviews they’ve given, scour their LinkedIn activity for clues, and swat up on their company’s goals, competitors, new industry trends and disruptions.)

• What opportunities might they need help capitalising on? (Go as specific as possible! A challenge facing all FMCG brands is not specific enough!)

Next up, you’ll use these insights to align your proposition to their challenges.

Messaging

• Can you cherry pick aspects of your agency’s experience to position yourself as ‘the one’ to support them?

• Can you demonstrate that your agency is an expert in the required topics? That’s what you need to bring to the fore.

Work flow

• Marketing & sales need to work together to decide which activities will happen, in which order, and what triggers each stage, all the while ensuring they’re not crossing over.

• Whilst focused on the clear goals of winning business from the agreed target list, sales and marketing teams have flexibility to agree on how they’ll use their respective tools to build and convert relationships.

They’ll have to agree what goes first:

• Highly personalised email and calls?

• Or an event invite?

• Or delivery of highly relevant thought leadership? To be followed up with a sales call?

• Etc.

• If the prospect responds, does that relationship become the responsibility of sales, and they’re removed from all further marketing comms?

• Does marketing kick-in to nurture and help convert warm relationships when the sales cycle is long and drawn out?

• Which marketing tools can be used to re-engage a lead in a meaningful conversation if they start ignoring your emails?

What we’ve learnt from working in this way for 10 years

We didn’t know it was called ABM, but since day 1 we’ve taken the approach of cherry picking best-fit prospects for agencies, and undertaking highly tailored outreach. (Outsourcing lead generation doesn’t de facto mean forgetting everything you know about building long-term, high value relationships!)

We find that in many cases, an agency proposition tailored to the prospect, plus proven experience will open doors. We don’t rely on marketing to start reaching out to prospects. In fact we see our initial comms as the most tailored form of ABM any agency will do.

Later, as agencies attend meetings with new prospects and have one-on-one conversations, the information they gather should be fed into the marketing agenda, to develop super relevant, valuable and interesting marketing that responds to the challenges uncovered. That is then used to keep in touch, confirm expertise, and convert.

If an agency has limited relevant experience, that’s when we’d recommend marketing is first on to the stage to set the scene, and lead generation follows up once a case for the agency being considered has been established.

Whichever order you plot your ABM to play out, the best agencies don’t jump into it with both feet and tear up every alternative approach. There’s absolutely still a time and a place for mass emails (event invitations) and broad strokes PR (award wins and client wins)! And if you’re publishing ground-breaking research, by all means shout about it loud and proud, but just make sure you also take charge of personally delivering it to those individuals it speaks to most, and whom you’d love to be working with.

The power of ABM is in connecting with individual stakeholders on a human as well as business-need level. Make sure you factor in time and planning to at least apply ABM to your top tier prospects, if not all of your new business strategy.

Conclusion

Don’t assume that your newsletter can do a better job than you, at reaching out in a personalised and considerate manner, to build new relationships. That said, whilst it’s time to push automation aside as the primary route to generating and closing leads, a little bit of tech is still essential. A CRM is invaluable for tracking the comms that have gone to your top tier prospects over time. Conversion in the agency world can take a few years. Once you’ve identified your dream clients, don’t give up after the first email!

(Our advice on Which CRM System Is Best For Agency New Business might be worth a read if you’re yet to commit to a platform you like.)