How Inbound Fits Into A Successful ABM Strategy

October 12, 2017 Jennifer Wyne

In the B2B marketing arena, Account Based Marketing (ABM) is on fire these days, and it isn’t showing signs of cooling off anytime soon. This practice of focusing on a smaller, albeit more lucrative, set of best-fit accounts and measuring success based on revenue generated, is quite the pivot from how many B2B marketing teams used to measure success. But, it’s a big change that nets even bigger results.

Organizations are ditching quantity for quality when it comes to leads and they’re enjoying the real and measurable benefits of ABM. A 2016 Bizible and TOPO report featuring ABM Insights and Recommendations confirmed that, “ABM outperforms a traditional marketing approach across a number of categories, including sales and marketing alignment, overall customer LTV, contract value, close rate, and ROI.”

But here’s the thing to remember: there are multiple ways of doing ABM. The strategies and solutions that work for one organization may fall flat for yours. How can you tell what is really going to work? You can achieve a higher close rate with an ABM strategy if 1) you’re focused on best-fit accounts, and 2) your sales and marketing teams are aligned. To get there, you’ll need a smart mix of marketing and sales strategies. Just because metrics shift from demand generation to revenue doesn’t mean inbound strategies should be abandoned — they just need to be tweaked.

While outbound is an essential component of ABM for initial contacts and engaging with existing accounts, inbound is still a solid strategy for capturing leads and nurturing them over time. Let’s look at what a modern inbound strategy looks like when used within an ABM model.

The Evolution Of Inbound To Support ABM

An inbound marketing approach means customers are finding you through various channels, such as blogs and content syndication, social media, and search engines. They’re already looking for a solution like yours, and you have an opportunity to draw them in with relevant content and nurture them through your sales funnel. A common challenge with inbound is that, while it may net a lot of top-of-funnel leads, they’re not always truly qualified. It may be that out of a thousand new leads in a month, only a handful are Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs). In fact, less than 1% of top-of-funnel leads convert to closed-won deals.

Inbound as it is today can be the source of a lot of noise. If all you’re doing is scoring leads based on how many times they hit your site, the number of items they download, the number of videos they watch, etc., then you’re cheating yourself. That scoring model is problematic for ABM because it has no context for focusing on best-fit accounts. While quantity of leads is an inherent property of inbound marketing, the challenge is that you don’t know if you are attracting the right people.

It goes back to Jon Miller’s analogy of ABM being like “fishing with a spear” versus inbound “casting a wide net”. With a spear, you can choose to go after the best-fit fish without all the noise of the little fish clogging your net; because in an ABM model, it’s simply not practical to take and nurture every lead that comes in. However, it’s also not practical to expend the energy and resources fishing exclusively with a spear! That’s why many organizations choose a mix of spear and net fishing to create a balanced lead engine for ABM.

Using a net like inbound with the right bait (i.e. the right content, on the right channels, at the right time) is naturally going to attract the best-fit fish you want. The key to success, however, is having a process in place for using an ABM “lens” to look down into the net, spear the target fish, and toss the rest back overboard.

Let’s look at a simple categorization process to help you manage inbound leads in an ABM strategy:

3 Categories For Managing Inbound Leads

You’ve created the right content, put it in the right place, and now you’re waiting for the right leads to find you. When leads start coming in, it’s important to have a process for categorizing and managing them. This process should be part of your unified sales and marketing plan to optimize productivity.

For inbound leads in an ABM strategy, I recommend having three main categories:

  1. Already in one of your target accounts — act immediately. These are the most important leads to sales.
  2. Matches your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), but not currently in a target account — nurture them. They aren’t hot now, but you want to keep them warm.
  3. Don’t fit into either category — delete them.  Resources are precious and these leads will only serve to distract your team.
Aligning Sales & Marketing For ABM Success

Of course, none of this means a thing if your marketing and sales teams aren’t on the same page. Alignment is critical for ABM success. And I’ve created a simple formula to help you achieve this success: Ideal Customer Profile = Ideal Account Profile + Ideal Buyer Profile (ICP = IAP + IBP).  By defining and agreeing on these profiles, and putting them together in the specific account-first-buyer-second order, sales and marketing can effectively optimize productivity and focus on the only goal that really matters: growing revenue.

Sales and marketing alignment is the driving force behind organizations that succeed with ABM. In fact, a 2016 survey from Bizible about The State of Pipeline Marketing found that “marketers doing ABM are about 40% more likely to report alignment with their sales team compared to marketers not doing ABM.”

And here’s the thing: Yes, ABM takes work. It’s a significant shift from the traditional marketing funnel and demand generation strategies a lot of marketers are used to. Yes, alignment takes work. It can be hard to check egos, merge resources, and change the way things have always been done. But at the end of the day, alignment increases productivity.

The benefits are not specific to marketing or to sales, but rather help to unify these teams. A well-aligned team is one where the lines between sales and marketing are blurred, and where everyone is working together toward a common goal. When your goal becomes less about individual departments meeting quotas and more about driving revenue as an organization, everyone wins.

Today’s post is by guest author, Matt Benati, CEO & Co-Founder of LeadGnome, a software that mines emails to generate new contacts, enhance existing leads, and provide actionable intelligence that fuels sales acceleration.

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