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Ramp Up Your B2B Account-Based Marketing Strategy With This Crawl-Walk-Run Approach

It’s time to ramp up your B2B account-based marketing strategy to drive growth. [Stocksy/Alto Images]

Three-quarters of marketers report a higher ROI on account-based marketing than any other marketing effort. Here’s how to uplevel your ABM game.

The numbers say it all: Over 75% of marketers surveyed last fall reported a higher return-on-investment (ROI) from account-based marketing (ABM) than any other marketing effort. As promising as B2B account-based marketing is, however, it can be difficult to define your place on the ABM maturity curve and ramp up to the next level. 

Our customers tell us that taking small steps over time can make a big difference. One of them, Phil Sobczak, director of marketing strategy and operations at Valpak, recommends a crawl-walk-run approach for growing an ABM program. Valpak, a direct-marketing company specializing in print, mobile, online, and coupon advertising, has seen incredible business results with ABM. Here’s how Valpak applied this approach to develop a unified customer view and grow its mailing list by 2 million — all during a pandemic. 

What is account-based marketing?

Account-based marketing (ABM) is a highly targeted strategy where sales, marketing, and service teams work together to target key accounts, engage every buyer on the account with personalized content, and grow those relationships over time. In traditional marketing, a single campaign targets a large audience, resulting in a less personalized experience. With ABM, customer-facing teams join forces to identify and serve accounts with highly personalized campaigns that resonate with each individual buyer on the account.

Crawl: Run a pilot campaign for a target account list 

When most marketers turn to ABM, they’re likely already targeting a wide range of accounts with similar frequency across channels and with similar brand-level messages. This is a great strategy for broad-based demand generation, but ABM is all about targeting the specific accounts most likely to buy, and getting very specific with your messaging to reach them. 

Knowing which accounts to target can be the hardest part of ABM, especially for companies whose customer data lives in silos. Highly targeted campaigns depend on having a complete picture of your customer — every sale, service interaction, and marketing outreach. CRM systems, for example, allow you to store customer and prospect contact information, identify sales opportunities, and document service issues in a central location. They also make that information available to everyone in your company. Democratizing data in this way gives everyone a voice in how to reach and retain customers. You can use those data points and insights to create relevant content, customize your marketing mix, and more.   

If you’re new to ABM, try launching a pilot campaign targeting a small set of accounts. Collaborate with your sales and customer service counterparts to identify the characteristics of potential accounts that align with those of your best customers. Next, get really comfortable with these customers’ pain points so you can tailor your messaging and approach for engagement.

When Sobczak joined Valpak, the company had standard nurture programs in place, but it hadn’t yet developed an ideal customer profile or a holistic lifecycle marketing strategy. 

“There wasn’t a lot of definition in terms of who our best client is and what that profile looks like,” Sobczak said. “I began by clearly defining what Valpak’s marketing qualified leads and sales qualified leads looked like, mapping out how long it took to get from one to the other, and determining the amount of time it took for a sales qualified lead to become a client. All of this work allowed me to build out an average client lifecycle. Then we could create highly targeted nurture programs for different customer segments.”

One key step in building an ABM strategy like this? Alignment with sales. “You really need to be working with your sales team to understand what they’re trying to achieve and the programs they’re running,” Sobczak said. “This allowed us to fit our strategy into their structure, account for seasonality, and build an entire editorial calendar that lined up with what our sales team was doing.” 

To reach alignment, Valpak leveraged Sales Cloud and Pardot, Salesforce’s B2B marketing automation solution, to give internal teams a unified view of data at both the account and campaign level. Valpak’s marketing team also uses Pardot to send weekly campaign updates to sales, helping reps target accounts with the highest propensity to buy.

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Speaking of technology, another must is marketing automation, which helps B2B marketers identify and segment target accounts, curate personalized, multi-channel messages for buyers in those accounts, and nurture them throughout the customer journey. It’s also vital for gathering real-time analytics that help marketers adjust campaigns on a dime, and ultimately drive marketing ROI.  

For Sobczak, any promising pilot campaign hinges on a marketer’s ability to automate, segment, and pivot. “The nervous system of this process is your automation and segmentation,” he said. “You should be dynamically querying different data points within Salesforce that guide who’s going to fall into the different programs.” 

Walk: Leverage data to personalize content for every account 

So far, you’ve identified the key accounts you want to target, and implemented marketing automation to execute across your digital channels. Now it’s time to maximize your CRM data to make each message in your campaign more relevant and personal.

Building on its own progress in the crawl phase, Valpak ramped up its ABM efforts by focusing on its current client base and increasing the amount of personalization in its messages through one-to-one communication.

“After building out those lifecycle campaigns and more account-focused programs with sales, we started looking at client retention and exploring ways to improve it,” Sobczak explained. “We developed an automated direct-mail campaign, which feeds into a more traditional nurturing campaign. We looked at certain data points within Salesforce to decide if a client was a right fit for the campaign. If they were, we moved those folks into a campaign that we could reference later for direct mail.” 

That direct-mail campaign involved sending “handwritten” thank-you postcards from Valpak’s CEO to new clients. This tactic continues to generate a huge response 14 months after launch. The postcard’s email CTA boasts a 70% open rate — the highest engagement with an email touchpoint of any Valpak customer journey.

“Our most important accounts receive very specific offers based on their industry, company size, and who they are,” Sobczak said. “Surprising and delighting your clients is key to retention and keeping them happy.”

Our most important accounts receive very specific offers based on their industry, company size, and who they are.

Phil Sobczak, director of marketing strategy and operations at Valpak

If you’re a B2B marketer who’s avoided personalization out of fear that your data is flawed, Sobczak urges you to be courageous and jump in anyway. 

“I’ve never been in a situation where my data was perfect. You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs,” he said.  “Don’t let inevitable errors deter you from creating as many personalized experiences as you can. It’s not enough anymore to just be sending something. It has to be relevant, and it has to be personalized.”

Run: Implement analytics and AI capabilities  

During the run phase of a B2B account-based marketing strategy, your pilots have grown into full-fledged programs, you’re personalizing your messages to key accounts, and you’re witnessing incredible engagement. The next way to level up is to measure your marketing impact, and communicate that value to leadership.

One way to strengthen your data and analytics muscle is to pull together a multi-touch attribution report.  This highlights the role that each campaign touchpoint played in driving a conversion, and assigns a dollar value to each one. You also might want to fiddle with artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities like behavior scoring, which uses machine learning to review a prospect’s engagement and behavior patterns, then assigns that prospect an overall behavior score to help prioritize nurture and sales activity.

For Valpak, an intentional analytics strategy coupled with AI has been key to reaching full ABM maturity.

“We traded spreadsheets for B2B marketing analytics to look at campaign performance in real time,” Sobczak said “Now, my executives don’t have to ask me how a campaign is performing. They can access the campaign performance dashboards themselves to see what’s working and what’s not. We also just had a full multi-channel campaign that launched because we found a cohort of re-activations we needed to address using B2B Marketing Analytics in Pardot.” 

We traded spreadsheets for B2B marketing analytics to look at campaign performance in real time.


Behavior scoring refined that campaign by allowing the company to set criteria through Pardot for delivering specific campaign touch points, ultimately leading to a 2,500% ROI.

“That’s a ridiculous number,” Sobczak laughed, “but it shows the magnitude of return.” It also shows the immense power of AI. Upgrading automations to determine score, and allowing AI to do the heavy lifting, creates incredible efficiency for marketers. No more recalibrating your scoring rules, and no more sales reps saying that your leads aren’t good.

Whether you’re crawling, walking, or running down the ABM runway, it’s time to ramp up your B2B account-based marketing strategy to drive growth and opportunity for your business. You don’t even have to wait for the right technology to arrive. Simply lean into the resources you have today, and go.

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