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Graphic outlining marketing initiatives by tier for account based marketing strategies

By Kim Charlton

The concept of account-based marketing (ABM) seems obvious: prioritize and customize your marketing for the most promising potential customers. After all, what business to business (B2B) sales organization doesn’t have a list of whale accounts it would love to land? The challenge is getting decision makers to answer the phone.

Where ABM proves its value is in the execution — strategies that earn the admiration of people in a position to buy your product. This process is longer and more intricate than it might seem, but it pays off: 87% of marketers surveyed by ITSMA say ABM delivers better returns than any other approach.

Here are some of the most important lessons I’ve learned while helping clients pitch their way into the C-suite:

Credibility And Targeting: The Groundwork Of ABM

Graphic outlining marketing initiatives by tier for account based marketing strategiesDon’t approach high-value targets with the attitude of someone on the outside wanting in. Make yourself a part of their world. Take stock of your wider brand awareness strategy. The more recognizable your organization is within your market — and the more people associate you with leadership in your industry — the better the odds that decision makers will associate your solution with their business problem before you even introduce yourself.

Most of the investment in ABM happens at the bottom of the marketing funnel. But industry thought leadership, social media, paid campaigns, retargeting and content syndication can build the credibility you’ll need later when approaching individual stakeholders.

As you begin to pursue ABM-specific tactics, your efforts can become time and budget intensive. So it’s imperative to organize targeted accounts into tiers. Establish these in close coordination with your sales team and take into account each target’s revenue potential, difficulty to close, and how closely they align with your ideal customer profile. This profile should consider organizational size, customer base, financial health, operational pain points and industry vertical.

Prioritize which stakeholders will receive one-to-one outreach, personalized content on a one-to-few basis or more standard one-to-many messaging. Then lay out a detailed road map of campaign touchpoints and investments accordingly for each tier.

Getting Stakeholders’ Attention

Tactics to reach top-priority prospects vary, but we’ve found a handful bring outsized results:

High-Tech Personalization: Effective ABM requires more than a generic contact list and the ability to mail merge. Various MarTech solutions can help identify the most promising contacts in your database or identify key stakeholders at target organizations.

From there, try micro-targeted social campaigns by uploading lists of high-priority contacts into LinkedIn and Twitter ad platforms. ABM solutions can customize landing page content for individual prospects and ad programs. Digital tools require an upfront investment but can make your outreach more effective while pre-qualifying leads and tracking your effectiveness.

Thinking Outside The Search Box: Don’t forget that some of the most impactful material you can deliver isn’t digital. High-value gifts can keep you top-of-mind. Old-fashioned direct mail can still generate attention when done right. Gift baskets delivered to prospects’ hotel rooms provide an easy conversation starter during conferences. The more creative your outreach, the more likely you will be remembered.

Looking Outside Sales & Marketing: Seek out others in your organization who hold roles that mirror your prospects’. At the bare minimum, you should consult people in the same positions you are trying to reach for their perspective on what matters most when procuring a product. You can also bring in colleagues in engineering, product or leadership roles for direct peer outreach to your highest-value accounts. This could be through personal email, social media or in-person introductions at niche industry events.

Impressing In-Person: Make your presentation worth their time. Add value with events like a VIP dinner with an established company thought leader or an invite-only networking opportunity with high-level people in your industry. Bring the solution to them with roadshows and lunch-and-learns. Or develop webinars with subject matter experts aligned to your top prospects’ interests.

Procurement stakeholders are bombarded with messages from potential vendors. Success requires cash and creative investment in activities that set your company above the rest. Be patient. Even the most effective ABM campaigns typically take the length of an entire sales cycle to bear fruit, which for many B2B organizations can be six months or longer.

Watch: How ABM can boost your pipeline by as much as 55%

Bringing The Campaign Together

With your priorities and tools in place, deploy your ABM campaign in phases. Early touch points will likely include ads and ad retargeting with links to general demand generation content, like blog posts and videos. From there, phase two should involve more targeted efforts that entice high-value prospects to download resources like white papers and ebooks or to sign up for webinars and events. After that, the final phase is all about sales enablement.

Marketing should provide sales with resources, training and content needed for every lead. This calls back to the pain points identified in your ideal customer profile and the kind of information your prospects will want at each point of the decision-making process.

At my agency, we deployed ABM successfully for a leading billing solutions provider that identified a substantial growth opportunity in SaaS companies. My team helped rank target accounts programmatically, identified gaps in their tech stack, and planned out content and demand generation strategies for the campaign. By the second month of the program, our client’s customer acquisition costs dropped by 23%.

There’s no reason your organization can’t achieve results like this. To reach decision makers more effectively, create an in-depth plan for personalized outreach and align your efforts with the sales team. Then, deploy your resources across technology and tactics that make your solution stand apart from the rest.

Want to learn more about the potential of account based marketing for your business? Download our free Quick Start ABM guide.
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Kim Charlton is co-founder of PMG and a member of the Forbes Agency Council. This article originally appeared at Forbes.com.