The Expert’s Guide to Launching an Account-based Marketing Pilot

Most B2B marketers agree that an account-based marketing program generates far and away a higher ROI than traditional inbound marketing.

But...only 2 out of 5 companies move beyond an account-based marketing pilot.

Why do those 3 companies drop out of the ABM game?

Well, there are a variety of pitfalls when it comes to launching an account-based marketing pilot, but they can be overcome if you take the time to really plan for success.

Below we’ll cover the 9 steps to launching an account based marketing pilot and highlight the various pitfalls in each stage so you can avoid them and have a successful account based marketing pilot.

We’ll also feature some PRO TIPS from Matt Senatore, the Service Director, Account-Based Marketing at SiriusDecisions. He helps companies design, operationalize and optimize their ABM efforts so he’s an ABM expert if we’ve ever seen one.

1. Get buy-in

The first step in launching an account-based marketing pilot is getting buy-in from those around you. We suggest first pairing up with a buddy, maybe someone in sales, who can help you block and tackle the initial presentations and pitches to get your ABM pilot off the ground.

Having a clear pilot plan researched and outline is going to be key for getting buy-in beyond your buddy.

After you get a buddy, it’s your job to convince leadership why piloting account based marketing is a ROI-driving venture. This is where having your pilot plan will come in because you can pitch them on a presentation and preemptively answer their questions.

Once you have initial leadership buy-in, it’s about getting the team members who will be involved hyped on the idea of launching an ABM pilot. We’ll tackle more of how to do that later.

PRO TIP: “Make sure everyone involve understands a pilot is intended to be used as a learning opportunity and should not be seen that you are going to have everything perfect. Determine key learnings that are critical to assess during the pilot (e.g., marketing and sales alignment during key processes, content availability, bandwidth constraints, campaign effectiveness, etc.).”

2. Develop program scope

This is first point where your ABM pilot can go wildly off-track. We recommend the initial ABM proponent (and maybe their buddy) develop the initial program scope.

They will be deemed the program manager of the ABM pilot and responsible for outlining the scope, conducting weekly meetings, and keeping the pilot on track throughout the entire duration of the program. Think about having this person go through formal ABM training if they haven’t launched an ABM pilot previously.

The ABM pilot program scope should include:

  • Duration
  • Team
  • Roles
  • Goals
  • KPIs


This program scope may adapt as you pitch leadership and gain the trust of your marketing and sales team members who are participating in the pilot. Be adaptable but make sure you walk away with a real documented outline of your ABM pilot that everyone can refer back to.

PRO TIP: “A common pitfall of pilot programs is the tendency to run the program indefinitely. A typical ABM pilot should last approximately three to six months, long enough to determine if the ABM strategy is capable of producing the desired results. From there, consider extending the pilot and increase your scope, building off of initial learnings.”

3. Assess your launch point

Account based marketing has different levels of personalization. There are three types of ABM as defined by ITSMA as seen in the image below.



The three levels to ABM.

  • One-to-many (programmatic ABM)
  • One-to-few (ABM lite)
  • One-to-one (strategic ABM)

Not only are there different levels to personalization within ABM, there are other decisions you need to make when assessing your launch point for your ABM pilot.

Other launchpoint decisions:

  • the total number of accounts you’ll be targeting
  • whether those accounts are net new or current opportunities
  • tiering you will use within your pilot


4. Define ideal customer profile & create list of accounts

Identifying your ideal customer profile and list of accounts is often the first point an ABM pilot can derail. That’s why it is crucial to have marketing and sales come together to develop your ideal customer profile and to create your list of accounts.

Marketing and sales will each have foundational knowledge on what an ideal customer looks like. You should supplement this internal knowledge with external data around spend and usage on technology, firmographic data like industry and revenue, and behavioral data.

To develop your ideal customer profile look at:


You should walk away from this sales and marketing gathering with a document that clearly outlines what your ideal customer looks like.

From there, it is both sales and marketing’s job to create a list of accounts that resembles their ideal customer profile. There are tools that can do this like our Smart Lists along with perusing your own database for matching accounts.

To develop your ultimate list of target accounts:

  • Go beyond accounts in your current database or knowledge
  • Utilize free and paid tools that cater to understanding your target audience
  • Use firmographic, technographic, behavioral, and spend intelligence


You can learn more about creating your target list of accounts here.

5. Gain insights into accounts

Once you have your list of accounts who match your ideal customer profile, it’s all about gaining a deeper understanding of the target individuals within that account.

You’re looking to gain insights that will help you create and distribute the content your target accounts are looking for.

The insights you’re looking to gain include:

  • What are the account’s priorities?
  • What are the target individuals’ priorities?
  • Where do these people consume content?
  • What trends are similar between the accounts?
  • What are similar problems the accounts have?

You goal is to both understand each account individually and do uncover trends between companies so you can create scalable playbooks.

6. Analyze your technology stack

While we are staunch believers that purchasing ABM-specific technology is an overkill, especially for your pilot, you will need certain technology to develop and execute your ABM pilot program.

Technology to execute your ABM pilot includes:

  • CRM
  • Marketing Automation Platform (MAP)
  • Analytics (could be as simple as a spreadsheet)

PRO TIP: “Don’t get caught up in the cool gadgets/shiny toy syndrome. Start by identifying your business objectives and requirements for your ABM pilot (and beyond); assess what you currently have in-house that can be leveraged and then identify critical gaps that need to be filled - and then reach out to vendors for a focused conversation.”


7. Create your playbooks

Once you know your list of accounts inside and out and understand the technology available at your hands, you can begin crafting your pilot ABM playbooks.

A playbook is defined as the distribution of content across sales and marketing channels targeted towards specific accounts. In an account based marketing pilot, you may have a few to a handful of playbooks based on how you bucket accounts and the people within them.

Your ABM pilot playbooks might feature the following tactics:

  • Case studies based around discovered problems between majority of accounts
  • Tailored email nurture campaigns
  • Webinars-for-five (creating hyper-targeted webinars where it is about quality rather than quantity of attendees)
  • Personalized offers
  • Social selling tactics

8. Execute the plan of attack

After you’ve strategized and developed the content for your playbooks, it’s time to execute.

Your pilot team should be in constant close huddles leading up to the launch of your ABM pilot. Daily meetings are not an extreme when you think of all the moving pieces contained even within a simple ABM pilot.

When you publish your first piece of ABM content and send that first tailored email, the races are off and you should be analyzing and ensuring your success.

Make sure you allow for full transparency when launching your ABM pilot. Mistakes will happen (emails didn’t go out on the right day, a blog wasn’t ready in time, etc) but it is about knowing these hurdles will happen and overcoming them when they do.


9. Analyze your results

As we said in the beginning of this article, 3 out of 5 companies don’t go beyond their ABM pilot program...even though ABM is proven do drive more revenue than traditional inbound methods.

Why?

Well, no one said ABM was easy. But your hard work should pay off when you analyze the results based on the KPIs you set earlier.

And don’t cheat — this could be from exaggerating numbers or simply continually extending your program to get the results you want. This is one of the biggest pitfalls seen in ABM pilot programs.

The KPIs of an ABM pilot can include:

  • Engagement rate
  • Internal & external account dynamics
  • Reach within accounts (account penetration)
  • Pipeline velocity
  • ROI

While you should measure your KPIs against your initial projections, don’t let this tell the whole story.

PRO TIP: “Consider building an ABM pilot checklist scorecard that evaluates a pilots’ success against many different important criteria across internal and external factors.  For example, for internal team dynamics, we’d work with our clients to assess how involved key team pilot members were and how likely sales would be to want to extend the pilot to other accounts, for example.  

For external account dynamics, we’d want the client to measure how effective we were in gathering more critical intel about the key accounts, how effective we were in driving engagement and has anything translated into new or accelerated pipeline opportunities as a result. These are just a couple KPIs that are must-haves on your pilot scorecard.”  

You don’t have to go big or go home

At the end of your account based marketing pilot, you shouldn’t feel like you have to either launch ABM across the entire organization or kill it all together. Instead of thinking of account based marketing as a full-on program (like you did for you pilot) you can take your learnings and create a beautiful blend of inbound and account based philosophy into your bigger organization.


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