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SMEs, it’s time to start thinking about account-based marketing

As a marketer, I often find myself having conversations with sales or managing directors about how they want to improve their marketing. Most will give some boilerplate about how they need to ‘activate content’, ‘increase their social presence’ and ‘develop omnichannel campaigns’.

All of these buzzwords are great, and they get executives thinking about all the various assets a marketing team will need to deliver in order to cut-through a highly saturated marketplace. What’s missing, however, is a clearly defined audience.

What you say means nothing if nobody is there to listen to you. With marketing, who you’re talking to is just as important as what you’re talking about. This might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised the amount of times sales directors and high-level executives forget about the ‘target audience’ when it comes to rolling out a campaign.

Over the years, I’ve come to realise that this intentional ignoring of the audience is often done on purpose; sales directors don’t want to commit to one audience for fear they’ll alienate all their audiences. This is a losing strategy. A general message to a general audience leaves your business looking like it’s scared of commitment and insecure about its product/offering.

Be specific

It’s easy to see why some sales directors go with this approach, they don’t want to say no to any potential business, but strategic no’s lead to valuable yes’s and one great customer is worth a hundred bad ones.

The best way to find success with your marketing is to ingrain your ideal customer into your business strategy and let them be your guiding light. B2C businesses are quick to create specific customer personas because they understand the value of specificity and customer targeting, when it comes to B2B firms, however, customer personas are severely lacking.

SMEs, you have to start asking yourselves: if my business could have any customer, whom would that customer be?

Unlike a B2C business where you’re working in the aggregate, B2B firms have the advantage of clearly seeing, tracking and mapping their ideal customer. Want to go after a bank? Figure out what makes Barclays tick. Is it Law firms that you’re after? How could your business perfectly tailor its services to Slaughter and May?

Start small, go big

Barclays and Slaughter and May might be out of your reach, after all, you're a small firm with limited resources and you first need to establish credibility before you take on Everest. So, start training.

If your ideal customer is out of reach, build a business and marketing strategy that works towards bringing you closer to them. What would Barclays look for in a partner? What would get them to start taking your firm seriously? It depends on what your firm does, of course, but developing a strategy that’s got a specific end goal allows you to start incorporating clear signposts into your campaigns.

Think: If I know what my ideal customer is looking for, I know where to be so they’ll find me.

More than just a vertical

What I’ve discussed so far is more a vertical marketing strategy than an account-based marketing plan, however, the two go hand in hand. Once you have your dream customer in a clearly defined vertical, you’re able to start marketing to accounts that help you get there.

Account-based marketing focuses your marketing and sales teams by giving them clearly defined accounts to work towards. Rather than building a marketing and sales strategy focused around banking, you're building it with the objective of winning a specific bank.

The specificity brought about by account-based marketing means your small firm can consolidate resources and work towards a clearly defined goal, rather than wasting time and money finding any old finance director that will listen. With account-based marketing, you’re targeting their finance director with a campaign that speaks to his/her specific concerns, issues, challenges and opportunities. This is a market of one and you’re putting everything you’ve got into getting them.

Eggs in one basket

Firms are often fearful of going with account-based marketing because they think it means all other marketing collateral/campaigns will be ignored. This isn’t the case. Firms can still maintain a healthy pipeline of hygiene content and marketing collateral while aggressively going after their Moby Dick. It’s all about planning and balancing.

Dig Deep

In order for you to succeed with account-based marketing, you're going to have to do your homework. You need to make sure your firm knows your prospects’ business better than they do. That means account managers and marketing executives need to work together to build a campaign that answers any questions a customer might have, as well as those they didn’t know they had. Start by thinking about these four questions:

  • What does their corporate map look like? Map your accounts and build an org chart full of targets. Whom do you need to convince in the business to get your message across? Who's the decision maker, the influencer, the user and most importantly the nay-sayer? Once you know whom you need to convince, dig deeper and find out everything you can about them professionally. What might they know about you and what's missing? What's holding them back? What would make their 9-5 easier?
  • Am I part of their media mix? Once you've identified these clients, you need to understand their media consumption patterns. Are they on LinkedIn? Are they friendly to emails? Would a direct mailer to their office work best? You're never going to land your dream business if they never see your work.
  • Am I solving a problem? You know whom you need to talk to and where their most likely to see your message, but unless you're saying something that resonates with them you're going to get nowhere. Find out everything you can about your target customer's business, their industry, their pain points. Think outside the box – what are some potential opportunities they’re not aware of? What are some threats they might not know?
  • Am I meeting my goals? Only that which can be measured can be improved. Set yourself achievable yet aspirational targets. What does success look like? What’s working, what isn’t? If you’re not measuring your failures, you’re never going to find success.

Account-based marketing is difficult and it can often feel scary, but in a world overflowing with distractions, it’s the only way small firms can make a big noise.

Words by Camilo Lascano Tribin

To read how Microsoft Dynamics 365 can help your business with account-based marketing, click here.

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