After a few years of positive momentum, account-based marketing (ABM) has become an undeniable reality for B2B marketers. In fact, a recent Forrester blog calls for B2B marketers to broadly accept the philosophies, strategies, technologies and tactics bundled under the ABM umbrella.
The reason is simple –– ABM is moving marketing forward. ABM strategies have pushed marketers to evolve by recognizing their future customers as accounts rather than individual leads and taking their accounts’ overall journeys into consideration before taking action.
With this new approach to B2B marketing, a central truth has emerged: ABM is a lifecycle marketing strategy. Let’s take this opportunity to explore the ABM lifecycle, the ways in which accounts progress through that lifecycle and what this means for your ABM strategies.
Understanding the distinct phases of an account lifecycle
ABM is a highly effective approach for marketing initiatives across the entire buyer and customer journey. To deploy successful ABM strategies at scale, marketers need to think deeply about the many ways in which accounts interact with their organizations.
To start, the account lifecycle comprises seven distinct stages and as accounts move through these stages, the TEAM Framework –– Target, Engage, Activate and Measure –– can be applied to pivot efforts and positively impact revenue along the way. Think of this as a feedback loop to gauge your effectiveness during each stage of the account lifecycle.
The seven stages of the account lifecycle roll up into three overarching phases: Acquisition, Acceleration and Expansion. Let’s look at the goals, segments, strategies and KPIs of each.
The Acquisition Phase
The acquisition phase, which is generally the most common phase for most organizations, encompasses the efforts made to bring net-new accounts into the pipeline with the goal of driving meaningful engagement. Thus, it’s not about generating as many marketing qualified leads as possible, rather the KPI that matters is the number of engaged accounts in your pipeline –– or the accounts that are ready for sales outreach. This is further broken into two key stages:
1 – Pre-targeting
In the pre-targeting stage, the goal is to create awareness and engagement to get net-new accounts into the pipeline. During this stage, you’ll engage and activate through strategies like digital advertising, inbound and outbound, leveraging channels like search, social media, your website, and events. Typically, your content will be ungated to deepen engagement, and might include ebooks, whitepapers, infographics, blog posts and webinars. Digital advertising is often deployed as a means to reach this audience and introduce your brand.
2 – Account nurture
A step beyond pre-targeting, the account nurture is more focused on driving meaningful engagement from an account’s buying committee. At this point, you’ve identified the engaged accounts and have an idea of their department personas. With this insight, you can begin to customize to a certain extent your marketing and sales efforts to their interests. This could include video testimonials, email nurtures and sales outreach.
The Acceleration Phase
As the name implies, this phase is about accelerating the engaged accounts in your pipeline or re-engaging cold opportunities to bring them back to life and ultimately close deals. This phase addresses the biggest challenge most companies face –– pipeline conversion. When the pipeline is frozen, leads are stuck and risk falling out of the process. But why? Often it has to do with a misalignment among marketing and sales teams, and engagement efforts that fell flat and didn’t reach the right decision-makers.
3 – Pipeline acceleration
In this stage, you have open opportunities in your pipeline. Now the goal is to move top-priority accounts, or stalled accounts, through the sales pipeline. This is where personalization is kicked into a higher gear. Depending on the account, you might take a one-to-few or one-to-one approach, utilizing direct outreach, retargeting ads, and proactive advertising to reach more stakeholders in the buying committee. KPIs in this stage include pipeline created, won target accounts, and revenue per account.
4 – Dead opportunity win-back
Inevitably, even the most engaged accounts can go cold for a number of reasons. Strategies to engage and reactivate will look very similar to those in the pipeline acceleration stage. The key is continued personalized efforts to drive engagement, including retargeted ads, demand generation and direct outreach –– each of which will be tailored to account’s interests, needs and pain points. KPIs in this stage generally include pipeline created, revival rate, average deal size, and average deal cycle.
The Expansion Phase
Once an account has been acquired, begin directing resources toward increasing customer retention rates, expanding opportunities with those customers and exploring cross-selling and upselling opportunities when it’s time for them to renew. Don’t be afraid to divert resources from acquisition and acceleration toward expansion, because this phase delivers significant ROI by keeping customers happy and engaged for the long-term.
5 – Retention
Boosting retention and decreasing churn in your customer base is an integral part of ABM. In terms of investment, keeping current customers satisfied will deliver a far bigger return than constantly trying to acquire net new. At this point, your focus is on ensuring they are having success with your product or service. This will be highly personalized and one-to-one based on the unique needs of each account. This might include workshops or in-person trainings, product webinars, implementation guides, how-to resources, or even gifts to show your appreciation. But primarily, these efforts revolve around ensuring the customer’s continued success. Key KPIs here include retention rate, revenue retention rate and NPS.
6 – Cross-sell and upsell
Customers never remain static. Needs change and grow, and often during the quarterly business review, you’ll uncover opportunities to deepen your relationship with them. Being able to identify and act on these opportunities is a key way to drive revenue. Again, it’s all about personalization and addressing your customer’s specific needs to deepen their trust with you. At this point, you might leverage helpful case studies, success stories, educational ebooks, and new feature webinars to illustrate how your new offering will benefit them. Generally, KPIs will be similar to the retention stage, but you’ll also want to measure average deal size and average sales cycle.
7 – Land and expand
Your existing enterprise customer accounts likely have additional business units that could benefit from your solution, which is why this stage represents expanding within those accounts. This is especially relevant to those enterprise companies with distributed buying centers. Leverage your strong relationships within the company to create brand evangelists, and share useful content to help communicate how your solution will help in these other unique areas. In this stage, measure expansion revenue, net new pipeline opportunities, and average sales cycle.
Looking at your ABM program through the lens of these seven stages, consider whether any of these lifecycle stages need more attention from your team. Do any obstacles come to mind that need to be overcome? Review these phases and pinpoint the areas that need improving. Adjust your resources to strengthen those areas, and utilize the TEAM Framework to manage your efforts.
Find an ABM Account Lifecycle Chart here.