How data drives ABM effectiveness: Insights from Dan Vawter, Managing Partner at Sojourn Solutions

August 13, 2021 Chuck Leddy

Account-based marketing (ABM) focuses marketing and sales resources (budget, people, data, technology, etc.) around a predefined set of target accounts. While ABM has consistently been shown to boost return-on-investment when compared to traditional marketing approaches, doing ABM “right” takes high quality data and maturity in your data management. As Sojourn managing director Dan Vawter says, “quality data and data management are foundational for any effective ABM program.”

Data is ABM’s top challenge

The key ingredients for success in nearly all approaches to marketing, but especially with ABM, are (1) knowing your customers, which requires data, and (2) leveraging what you know (i.e., data-driven insights) in order to send relevant messaging that facilitates customer conversion and propels the buying journey.

ABM success requires accessing and leveraging high quality data at every step of the ABM process, having the capacity to transform data into actionable insights, and then acting upon those insights in a timely manner that enables funnel conversion. In other words, ABM needs a data infrastructure, especially since ABM targets larger buying groups and typically nurtures longer sales cycles.

Doing ABM right in 4 steps

To drive high impact ABM, from program set-up to every step of the buying journey, quality data and mature data management are must-haves. Here are four key steps to driving high impact ABM: 

  1. Defining your ABM objectives and identifying the “right” accounts to target.

  2. Aligning marketing and sales; getting and sharing as much information about your accounts as possible.

  3. Creating content tailor-made for account needs and distributing it to the right contact(s) at the right time. 

  4. Measuring results and optimizing your way to ROI.

Let’s examine each of these steps in depth, with insights from Dan Vawter.

Step 1: ABM planning, Identifying the “right” accounts to target 

High-quality data is absolutely critical to ensure you select the right accounts to target for ABM efforts. You should develop an “ideal customer profile” before you begin selecting accounts, then use various types of data to determine which accounts are the “right” fit for your predefined profile.

As Vawter describes ABM planning: “ABM requires that marketing create a plan with sales, identify accounts to target, figure out goals, key metrics, shared terminology, and service level agreements. You then collaboratively figure out your tiers, customer journeys, personas, and playbooks.” Firmographic data is essential for ensuring that you're targeting the right company accounts for your ABM efforts. For example, if your product’s price point is half a million dollars, you’re probably going to target bigger companies because smaller companies simply can’t afford to buy from you. If you’re selling technology solutions or SaaS, technographic data will be important for scoping out a target account’s existing tech stack and understanding what tools they might need next.

Once you’ve decided on which accounts to include in your ABM program, you have to map out and identify the contacts who make up each account’s “buying group,” so you can target them with the right messaging that nurtures and converts. “With ABM,” says Vawter, “you need to engage on both the individual and the account level. So if you've got 10 people associated with a target account, it's really important to understand how all those people behave as individuals and then how they all fit together to impact group buying decisions.” That requires lots, and different types, of data.

Step 2: Aligning, and getting as much information about accounts as possible

Since the buying journey, especially at the account level, is non-linear and long, alignment and coordination between marketing and sales is essential to driving ROI. “You need alignment with anyone internally who impacts your target accounts, especially marketing and sales,” says Vawter. “ABM is a major effort, a bi-directional and multi-channel process of engaging with customers, listening to the signals they send out and responding with relevant messaging -- all that demands shared data and tight alignment.”

Shared data -- whether demographic, firmographic, technographic and more -- is key for coordination and conversion within an ABM approach. While some data is relatively “passive” (demographics, such as contact name, job title), it’s also important to collect more dynamic and contextual data (at both the individual and account level) for ABM so you can respond to fluid situations and incoming signals that may trigger purchases.

Personalization is about having data and using it to drive content relevance. “Quality data informs every single step of ABM,” says Vawter, “from account selection to ABM execution. Data needs to be shared to support the alignment of marketing and sales. Data informs ongoing discussions about strategy, execution, content, performance, and optimization.” 

Step 3: Creating and distributing content tailor-made for account needs 

With high quality data, B2B marketers can get experimental and determine what content is performing effectively. If the data shows that a certain creative asset has a better response rate from contacts than another, that signal can help you define your content approach moving forward. You can take that “content performance data” to help inform your discussions about the formats and types of content you create to better engage your accounts, as well as improve when and how you distribute that content. 

Data serves as the fuel that drives the right content to the right accounts at the right time. “Data is critical for personalization,” says Vawter. “Your data and ABM metrics allow you to know what's working at the tactical level versus what's not. You really want to start small and test approaches and tactics, following the data and failing small. Get that measurement in place because you're going to figure out what works as you go along.”

Step 4: Measuring results and optimizing ROI

With data used for measurement, you can run ABM programs with an “experimental mindset,” making tweaks and improvements based on incoming data/feedback as you move forward. By definition, attribution is actionable. That's why you do it -- so you can say “this particular action or content drove this particular result.” 

Aside from optimization, measurement and attribution are keys for reporting and gaining credibility within the C-suite. “An ABM program typically comes with a lot of visibility at a lot of levels within the organization,” says Vawter. “So you definitely need to have your measurement in place to gain credibility and leadership buy-in. Getting your data and data management ready is simply foundational for ABM at every step of the way.”

To learn even more about managing your data to drive the effectiveness of your ABM, reach out to us here. To hear more from Dan Vawter on the importance of data and data management, watch this on-demand webinar (free).

Previous Article
Cookies are crumbling: First-Party Data is the future of marketing, says Adobe Experience Cloud's Chief Anil Chakravathy
Cookies are crumbling: First-Party Data is the future of marketing, says Adobe Experience Cloud's Chief Anil Chakravathy

If adapting to 2020's “digital acceleration” wasn’t challenging enough, now there's another crisis impactin...

Next Article
Cookies are crumbling: How Apple's new email privacy features will impact B2B Marketing (and what to do now)
Cookies are crumbling: How Apple's new email privacy features will impact B2B Marketing (and what to do now)

On June 7, 2021, Apple dropped a bombshell on the road to a cookie-less future. It announced a series of ne...