Sam Cunliffe
Jun 1, 2021

How account-based marketing is moving beyond targeting to focus on experience

Don’t let ABM perfection get in the way of progress towards better B2B account-based experience says DWA’s managing director for ANZ.

How account-based marketing is moving beyond targeting to focus on experience

Adoption of account-based marketing (ABM) has soared in recent years, representing a significant step forward in terms of how B2B marketers identify and communicate with their prospects. However, the adoption of the next level of ABM’s evolution—account-based experience (ABX)—is still very much in its infancy. That’s because many marketers today are still struggling to dial-in their account-based targeting best practices and think that mastery of this discipline is a prerequisite of tackling a broader ABX approach. But that’s simply not true.

Today’s B2B marketers are getting hung up on their inability to execute truly personalized marketing to accounts based on a construct that progresses from one-to-many to one-to-few to, at last, one-to-one. Indeed, most marketers are operating under significant resource constraints that make the desired level of personalization quite difficult. That’s why we need to flip the focus.

B2B marketers can be effective, today, by leveraging existing toolkits and resources available to design campaign and marketing blueprints that are aligned to propensity to purchase. This effectively shifts marketing focus away from thinking about accounts in quantity to instead thinking about account experience against time.

This is a subtle but important mindset shift. Whilst the volume of accounts is likely to scale down from many to few to one as engagement with your brand moves from awareness to conversion, this should be viewed as a natural by-product of a strategic blueprint that builds around propensity to purchase. By shifting focus in this way, organizations will naturally broaden their B2B purviews beyond activating scaled account targeting campaigns via paid media to think about ABX at a more holistic level.

Moving beyond account targeting

Account targeting tactics for paid media have matured significantly in recent years, especially in the APAC region. The mechanics of paid media today enable us to hyper-target accounts via first-party data, third-party data, IP, ID, location, and more, and connect them to content—a capability that represents a significant triumph for B2B marketing. However, in order to make these paid media executions worthwhile, we need to ensure we connect with those accounts in context. That’s where ABX comes in.

Paid media—even when built on account targeting best practices—is not the silver bullet for ABX. To be truly effective, content, systems, and organizational roles and responsibilities must be aligned. However in order to adopt this holistic ABX approach, we also need to address some of the challenges that today’s B2B organizations encounter in their current ABM programs. For example:

  • Many ABM campaigns are currently designed via static quarterly planning, whereas an effective ABX approach should be designed through the lens of purchase lifecycle(s) and plans architected fluidly against time accordingly.
  • Many ABM campaigns fall victim to internal co-opetition where the same accounts are targeted across multiple business units in isolation. An effective ABX strategy puts the account at the centre, where behaviours, characteristics and triggers dictate the account’s experience and engagement across all relevant products and solutions.
  • Many ABM campaigns stop at targeting an account as opposed to engaging the buying team within. In ABX, the account triggers dictate the position along the purchase cycle, while the buying team dictates the content and engagement strategy at each stage.

When it comes to designing an ABX blueprint, in order to effectively connect with audiences in context based on an account’s propensity to purchase, the resulting blueprint should be built around the following five-layer framework, all through an account-based lens. 

Layer 1: Data

Data hygiene around accounts is probably the single biggest challenge that’s standing between businesses and an effective ABX strategy. The proliferation of ad tech and martech solutions has become a double-edged sword; advancements enable us to get richer information around accounts, but this info is often siloed and disconnected across platforms. Investing in a strategy or solution that unifies these data sources is paramount to ABX success

Layer 2: Insights

Once data is unified, businesses then need to interrogate it to extract tangible insights. First-party and third-party sources can help determine the current propensity to purchase for a given account; however, validity of “intent” must be garnered from market, audience and brand context. Further data interrogation will enable businesses to determine who they need to target within the account’s buying committee.

Layer 3: Orchestration

Once you know an account’s propensity to purchase and who to target within that account, you need to determine the message, content and format that’s going to be most effective. Often, that might not be paid media, but rather sales outreach or another form of contact. This is where a plan around agreed team roles and responsibilities becomes most important.

Layer 4: Activation

Then, we move into tactics and execution—be it paid search, display ads, social, email, personal LinkedIn outreach or even a good old-fashioned phone call.

Layer 5: Brand

And lastly, a strong ABX program will ensure that every touchpoint across this blueprint is using, and building off of, a strong brand platform that tells a higher-level story about why your company and its products and services exist. 

Designing the above blueprints is an invaluable process when it comes to identifying gaps and focus areas for the future. In fact, if there’s one thing that B2B organizations should understand about building an ABX strategy, it’s this: Progress doesn’t require perfection. Starting is better than standing still. Your data and insights don’t need to be flawless for you to begin realigning your account strategy around propensity to purchase. If you start there and begin thinking holistically, results will follow—and the momentum will carry you forward.

Sam Cunliffe is ANZ managing director at Merkle-affiliated media agency DWA . 

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