Getting Started with Account-Based Marketing: Part Two – Harpooning

Getting Started with Account-Based Marketing: Part Two – Harpooning

Diving deeper.

The previous article discussed the first few steps of implementing an account-based marketing strategy. We discussed the steps to use ABM lite and learned to sort accounts into clusters. Let’s continue and talk about the seven-step process after an account is identified.  

Source: A Practitioner’s Guide to Account-Based Marketing

If you have landed on this article directly, I will highly recommend you go back and check out part one of this series to get a complete picture.

Let us start with step one. How would you ‘know what is driving the account’?

This is the heart of account-based marketing: account intelligence. You need to figure out the following six information points about your account:

  • Context
  • Challenges
  • Objectives
  • Strategy
  • Key initiatives
  • Stakeholders

To answer this, you need accurate data. It is in itself a huge challenge. Finding good data sources usually eats up a lot of time of the entire account-based marketing team.

This is where third-party sales intelligence services like Zoominfo, Lusha, and Clearbit act as deus ex machina. My personal preference here is Zoominfo. The platform is costlier than others, but it maintains a crazy good quality given its volume of data. I especially love how Zoominfo gives direct ‘scoops’ and ‘intent signals’. It is a (pricey) cheat code for account intelligence.

Let’s continue with the ‘XYZ’ example to demonstrate this step. We will assume that your fictional B2B IT services company, XYZ, is working on an account called ‘ABC’. Here’s an example of a Zoominfo scoop for ABC:

A front-line source in product development has indicated that the organization is in the midst of initiatives related to web development. ABC is currently evaluating vendors to support these efforts. The organization is interested in React.js development.

Let us use this scoop for the demonstration.

You now have the following pieces of ‘insider’ information about the company: 

  • The company is facing some challenges with web development.
  • The company is evaluating vendors and is open to outsourcing.
  • The company is looking for people who can help them with React.js.

Zoominfo also gives a background and hierarchy structure of the company, which you will see in a bit. Another cool element to their services is ‘intent data’, which looks like the following:

Last SignalTopicSignal Score
07/10/20XXReact Development90
11/10/20XXApplication Development75

An example of ‘intent data’ from Zoominfo

You can read more about what these signals mean on their website. But in a nutshell, they tell you what your accounts are actively researching. This is a critical piece of information because many buyers do online research whenever they face a problem.

Again, you could use any sales data service that you want. But Zoominfo is fantastic for account-based marketing – and the only ABM-specific tool I will recommend. The only downside is that their subscription plan is incredibly costly for small-to-mid-sized companies. But if you play your cards right (and enforce some sales discipline), it’s worth it.

Account-based marketing company

Second step?

‘Playing to the client’s needs’. For this step, you will define and select ‘plays’. A play is simply an offering that addresses your prospect’s challenges. To do this, you have to do is answer two questions:

One, what specific challenge does this account have?

Two, how can your company solve that challenge?

You have already answered a good part of (1) in the previous step, so you’re halfway there. You can derive some intelligent assumptions and inferences based on your information about the account. For ABC, you can derive the following:

(One) What specific challenge does ABC have?
  • ABC wishes to build a web portal using React.js (confirmed). 
  • React.js is new to them, and they don’t have in-house talent for that service. According to another third-party website, their current tech stack does not include that framework (inferred).
(Two) How can XYZ solve that challenge?

XYZ is a B2B IT services company that helps enterprises outsource their web application development. It will provide React expertise and build ABC’s app using a flexible engagement model.

This is an example to show how to start. There will be more plays. When executing real-world account-based marketing, you will have more information after researching the organization. An easy way of creating plays is to open a spreadsheet and set two columns:

  1. Prioritized business imperative/initiative of the account
  2. Features of your company’s plays.

Here’s an example:

Prioritized business imperative/initiative (ABC’s challenges)Play features (XYZ’s solution)
Web development using ReactTailored engagement model
Huge React workforce to scale up
(Play 3)
(Play 4)

Assuming we now have the play, what after that?

Step three is mapping and profiling stakeholders. I’ll be blunt: this step is a form of (ethical) stalking. I find that there’s nothing wrong with this, YMMV. It’s one of the fundamentals of sales: you need to know the person to sell to the person. If you walk in with nothing, you’ll walk out with nothing. 

The idea here is to figure out the key stakeholders and people indirectly or directly influencing the decision. An excellent way to do this is through Google and Linkedin searches. All you need to do is search for the company and see news articles and profiles. Then you let your prospecting brain work and find out the people who will have a say in the sales journey. You can then create a simple table to understand the roles.

Let’s take an example here. The following is a table of a few stakeholders of ABC.
NameDesignationWhy them?
Dwayne JohnsonSenior VP of TechnologyAs per their company PRs, he directly oversees all technology initiatives.
Brad PittChief Operating OfficerFrom articles on the web – he is their core guy. The man with the plan. He focuses on efficiency.
Julia RobertsVP of Application DevelopmentShe is in charge of app development, so she handles the resources.
Keanu ReevesCTOAll tech decisions usually need the stamp of the CTO, so he has the highest probability of being the final decision-maker.

I would encourage you to identify at least 6-7 stakeholders (assuming the account you’re targeting has at least 500 employees). Based on that, you will need to create an ‘illustrative decision-making unit’. It is a chart of people in your account who play a role in the business purchase decision-making. Please note that this is different from a hierarchy chart. This model is not based on hierarchy but on influence. 

If you’re selling financial services, there is a good chance that CFO would be your final sign-off. CFO would be below the CEO in the hierarchy chart – but above him in the DMU model. 

Based on our information, here’s the DMU for the above table.

Now that you have scoped out the stakeholders, it’s time to put your stalker glasses on and develop their proper profiles. Accenture UK’s Rhiannon Blackwell had an interesting approach when she talked about account-based marketing at a conference. She compared this practice to ‘online dating’ – and mentioned that you would need to figure out everything about your prospects to woo them. 

account-based marketing handshake

To woo them, you need to know:

  1. Job title, the scope of the current role, and time in the role;
  2. Previous positions held within the company and in other companies;
  3. Non-executive roles currently and previously held in other companies or charities
  4. Professional associations, accolades, contributions (speeches, articles, blogs);
  5. Personal demographics, hobbies, and interests

For this article, we’ll take one example: Mr. Brad Pitt. The following is a general information sketch about him that you can easily find out from his social media profiles and other channels.

Brad Pitt

  • Job Title: Chief Operating Officer
  • Scope of current role: Growth and efficiency
  • Time in the role: 22 years
  • Previous role held within the company: N/A
  • Roles held in other companies: President and CEO of Paper Street Company (before 1999). Various technical and management positions at IBM and Accenture.
  • Current or previous non-executive roles: N/A. 
  • Professional associations, accolades, contributions: Has helped establish a scholarship at the University of Missouri, his alma mater.
  • Hobbies: Riding Harley Davidson
  • Interests: Extreme sports – white-water rafting, horseback riding, paddleboarding, skydiving

What next?

Step four is developing targeted value propositions. We have three types of them here:

  1. Segment-based
  2. Role-based
  3. Client-specific

As we move from 1 to 3, these value propositions become more targeted and quantitative and less broad and qualitative.

Before developing them, you will need to define a general value proposition. According to The Practitioner’s Guide to Account-Based Marketing, ABM has six elements that it considers to be a must while doing so:

  1. Articulation of the needs/issues impacting them (the imperatives)
  2. What actions are they taking to address these issues? (the initiatives)
  3. Identification of the target. Who feels the pain?
  4. A description of the offering to address the problem(s)
  5. Benefits the buyer will receive by selecting you
  6. Needs to be equal or superior (key differentiator) to competitive offers
Here’s an example of a general value proposition for ABC.

It is based on the information we have so far. I have also cooked up a differentiator for XYZ. There could be many others, but when it comes to the B2B IT vendor selection process, many companies prefer to work with firms with experience and reach.

Value proposition elementDescription
Business imperativeYour customers can now use a new, state-of-the-art web portal.
Business initiativeRevamping web portal for excellent client service.
Target audienceAs IT leaders in your firm, you need to make the way your customers interact with you work more efficiently while improving profitability. But, you have an aging IT infrastructure that is no longer supporting the firm as the demands of the customers are changing.
XYZ’s play> Managed React team that gives you the necessary technical development for your web portal.
> No up-front cost, and you only pay for hours.
> We will provide you with estimates so you have the predictability of costs from the get-go.
The benefitsHire immediately and start executing React.js development plans. You don’t have to wait for the HR department to onboard and train people.
Differentiator(s)A talent pool with an average of 8 years of experience.Global footprint.

Based on this, we can create a summary of the general value proposition.

Summary Statement

Your customers can now use a revamped, state-of-the-art web portal. As IT leaders in your firm, you need to make the way your customers interact easily while improving profitability, but you have an aging IT infrastructure that is no longer supporting the firm as the demands of the customers are changing. What you need to execute this is XYZ’s managed React team service, which will:

> Give you the necessary technical development for your web portal.

> Have no up-front cost, and you only pay for hours.

> We will give you estimates so you have the predictability of the expenses from the get-go.

With this service, you can hire immediately and start executing development plans with an experienced talent pool.

This statement will form the core message of the value proposition you will forward to the customer. For ABC’s example, you can follow a role-based value proposition. You will need to address the needs of the executives based on the DMU model created in the previous step. Here’s a general idea about their needs that you have so far:

NameDesignationPossible needs
Dwayne JohnsonSenior VP of TechnologyLeading the initiative of switching to a new tech
Brad PittChief Operating OfficerSolution to increase efficiency or productivity
Julia RobertsVP of Application DevelopmentAccess to capabilities (staff augmentation)
Keanu ReevesCTOSimilar to SVP, technology: Being the flag-bearer of the initiative of switching to a new tech

You can now tailor the value proposition according to the persona.

What is step 5?

account-based marketing planning

‘Planning integrated sales and marketing campaigns’. This will be the most time-taking part of the entire ABM initiative: getting the targeted message across to potential buyers by creating relevant content.

Based on an ITSMA survey, the following is the content people prefer (in order of importance):

  1. Interactive visualizations (interactive maps, data explorers, timelines, scroll-triggered animations)
  2. Published presentations or slide sets (bullet points and visuals)
  3. Webinars (up to 1 hour)
  4. Virtual conferences/seminars (more than 1 hour)
  5. Videos
  6. Long-form reports, articles, surveys, case studies, etc. (three or more pages)
  7. Infographics
  8. Short-form web copy, blog posts, case studies, etc. (two pages or fewer)
  9. Audio podcasts

You will need to prepare the content using the value proposition in the previous step as a core message. Gary Vee can help you here. His content pyramid model is not just relevant for social channels – but for pretty much everything you are putting out. It will also speed up your content creation process and free up your marketing team’s time to take on more accounts.

By the way, the 18 usual tactics preferred in ABM lite are the following. Feel free to mix and match to create your own content strat.
  1. Webinars and virtual events (your own)
  2. Email marketing/e-newsletters (your own)
  3. Account-specific (custom) content and thought leadership
  4. Paid social media
  5. Executive-to-executive relationship programs
  6. Reverse IP/targeted digital ads/retargeting
  7. Content syndication
  8. Sponsored webinars and virtual events
  9. Website personalization
  10. Organic social media
  11. Microsites (dedicated client extranets)
  12. Direct mail
  13. Paid search
  14. Organic search
  15. Sponsored or paid email/e-newsletters
  16. In-person events (your own)
  17. Sponsored in-person events (third party)
  18. Joint corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs

Here’s an example of a content roundup for ABC:

  • A blog on React.js 
  • Webinar on the business impact of using React.js application
  • 4 personalized videos where you are talking directly to all four stakeholders
  • Email and Newsletter Campaigns based on the above
  • …so on.

Please note that these are examples of the content that you can produce. With more information about the accounts, you will be able to have a more comprehensive list of content pieces. The core idea is to use everything you have to get them on a sales call.

What we have just talked about here is preparing content for the account. This is just one-half of it. You are not just wooing the company – but also the stakeholders. So, your content will be planned on two levels:

  • Level One: Content for the company using the entire data you have gathered
  • Level Two: Personalized content and gifts for a stakeholder

How to execute level two?

Step six involves putting it all together: the execution of the entire campaign. For that, we have discussed level one. Let us start with level two (personalized content and gifts for a stakeholder).

If you have already read an article about account-based marketing before this one, you must be wondering where this step was. A lot of articles summarize ABM with this step: giving gifts to your prospects. But that’s not ABM – that’s just bribing. ABM is more than that. It is systematic bribing

Jokes apart, ABM is beyond just ‘giving gifts to your prospects and hoping they would respond’ – as you have seen so far. It involves in-depth research of your prospect on multiple levels and carefully arranging your message based on the same. Gifting is just one small aspect of it.

Take the example of ABM’s Brad Pitt – the COO. Someone like Brad will never respond to your emails or cold calling. He receives hundreds of those a day. You will need to capture his attention another way. You need to show him that you care about him. This is what makes ABM spicy.

Here’s one way of doing it.

1. From your research, you know that he likes to ride his Harley. 

2. You can buy unique biking gear (FYI: Harley riders like Gremlin bells) and send it over using snail (physical) mail to his office (to not appear too intrusive).

3. You can send a letter along with the gift, indicating how you (not your company, you – the salesperson) want to extend a hand. 

While sending snail mail sounds odd, it is 36 times more prone to get a response than an email. You are not supposed to stop here. You are supposed to keep sending him a relevant gift and a letter on every important date (his birthday, anniversary – anything that you can find on his socials).

As per the ABM law, he will respond. 

account-based marketing gift

This is just one idea: standing out of the crowd with personalized gifting and snail mail. With more research and creativity – you can identify more. Once you get a foot in the door, you can then nurture that relationship by sending personalized content that we discussed in earlier steps.

A note on gifting – whatever you decide to send, it should be:

1. Highly personalized. Sending just a wine bottle with a flower arrangement wouldn’t work as well.

2. Under the CAC your steering group has targeted. It’s easy to send an expensive gift but hard to send a heartfelt one.

By this time, if you have done everything the right way – you should get a response from your prospect. And since you’ve done it the right way, you will be able to get them on a sales call. Good luck, and I hope you will be able to onboard Mr. Brad Pitt as your client!

(the final step, step seven, is evaluating the metrics we discussed in the previous article

What are the risks and possible issues?

Two common risks are associated with account-based marketing:

Loss of capital: ABM is a considerable investment. A lack of strategizing and planning may lead to a substantial loss in revenue.

Team burnout: ABM will take a toll on your team members (sales and marketing). They will have to work and stay on top of things constantly.

I hope you enjoyed this two-parter on account-based marketing. Let me know if you would like me to dive deep into any aspect of it. This was a simple introduction to ABM – but I would be happy to help you with specific elements if you’re starting out. Please feel free to drop me a message on my Linkedin, and share this article if you liked it!

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