In a recent post, I provided an overview of Account-Based Marketing (ABM) as it relates to the education market. I discussed what it is and why ed marketers should consider adding this focused attribution marketing method to their strategy for reaching and engaging schools and districts. Now that you know more about ABM, I will drill down a bit deeper on the topic, specifically focusing on “how to implement.”
While Account-Based Marketing isn’t a new concept in our space (focusing on adoption states or the largest districts are examples of this strategy), it is the polar opposite of the demand-generation strategy favored by marketers who want to feed their sales teams a large stream of leads. In contrast to that “wide-net” approach, Account-Based Marketing focuses on a set of specific enterprise-level accounts for acquisition, conversion, or expansion.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that ABM should replace more traditional demand-gen efforts. Truthfully, it depends on your company and business model. If you are a small start-up, focusing on a regional approach to garnering sales may be a better strategy than going national. Or, if you have noticed an influx of a new type of teacher buying your product, maybe that title is your best new customer and you should re-focus efforts there. I do believe that many organizations can—and should—include both models. And, even if you are ready to transition to an ABM strategy from a traditional model, starting small to learn and scaling up is the best bet.
Though ABM focuses on a small number of highest-value-to-win and best-lifetime-value potential accounts, the rewards can be huge. According to the 2018 ABM Benchmark Study conducted by ITSMA and ABM Leadership Alliance, 77% of companies say ABM delivers higher ROI than other types of marketing. In this model, you are focusing on the “most right” prospects or customers—those that look like they have the potential to be your highest-spending, most loyal customers, or have the greatest need that you can solve. Your success will depend on a strong strategy, wise allocation of resources, and buy-in from your sales and marketing teams.
Here are six things to think about as you embark on an Account-Based Marketing approach for education accounts.
1. Start with clean data
Because, in theory, your target audience will be smaller, it’s important that your data is pristine and you have a well-rounded profile that includes many data attributes. Be sure that you are making decisions and deploying campaigns based on data that is reliable. Analyzing and profiling your school- and district-level data may make it easier to narrow down your prospects. And prior to campaigning, you may want to send your customer file through a data hygiene and enhancement process to correct errors and fill in any gaps.
2. Identify your target accounts
Which accounts will you go after? Review your largest accounts and/or existing relationships with other schools or districts to determine common characteristics. Examine account history for hints on hot button issues, information needs, and winning customer service strategies. Use this knowledge to create your key account list. Consider profiling and modeling tools to find other prospects that look like your best customers; this could include a common set of characteristics like size + location + funding availability.
3. Align marketing and sales
Traditional demand-gen marketing operates like a relay race: Marketing deploys campaigns to generate leads that are handed off to sales for further qualification and conversion. With ABM, the relationship between marketing and sales is more like a choreographed dance. Strategy is agreed upon, messaging is ongoing and focused, content and offers are account-specific, and follow-up is immediate. Information gained from client interactions is fed back to marketing to inform the next campaign and results from each campaign are fed back to sales to determine best contacts. For the plan to be successful, both teams must be in sync.
4. Set expectations
What does success look like? It seems fundamental, but this is a critical piece of the strategy that is so often overlooked. For your business to be successful, know how many accounts and at what dollar spend you need to convert and what you think your conversion rate may be so that you can back into a plan. Since marketing and sales work together as a team, it’s even more important that every department participates in goal-setting, lead definition, and process flow. Think about the KPIs that will help you determine whether the program was a success or not.
5. Create a personalized experience
Because ABM pares the audience down to a list of few, the focus turns to messaging. The content being created and shared must be specific to the account. The messaging is customized and the offer has value for the stakeholders, whether it’s classroom teachers, principals, or other district influencers. It is the highly personalized user experience that makes ABM unique and effective and makes tip number 1 even more important. The more you know about the customer, the better you can personalize. As a general rule, your top Account Based Marketing prospects should receive messages that are 80% customized.
6. Evaluate your results
Give some thought to how you will evaluate progress. Obviously, conversions and sales are the ultimate goal of any marketing campaign but a lengthy sales cycle means that other metrics must be considered as well. Review campaign opens, clicks, responses, and downloads, and apply your learnings to the next campaign. Measurement is key to retain buy-in and ensure this strategy works for your business. Most studies show that within just one year, you will realize an incremental ROI increase.
Account-Based Marketing isn’t a complicated concept, but it does represent a shift in thinking. The pre-planning, lock-step synchronization of marketing and sales, and dedicated resources and staff needed to create a highly customized user experience also require thought and investment. The rewards are worth the effort. Next time, we will talk more about the right tactics and metrics. Spoiler alert—you may already be implementing some.
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