Fishing with Spears: How Account-Based Marketing Differs from Demand Generation

For some businesses, attracting and acquiring the largest number of leads possible—better known as demand generation—works. But it definitely has drawbacks, not least of all the fact that a “quantity-focused” method of marketing doesn’t guarantee that you’ll generate a lot of quality leads.

For businesses that regularly do six- or seven-figure deals (or those that want to), demand generation is not efficient. It might land a high-value client here and there, but by targeting high-value potential and existing clients in the first place, you get a much better ROI. That’s what account based marketing (ABM) is about.

Rethinking Leads

The difference between demand generation and account-based strategies is where the leads officially enter the funnel. ABM does not start with a wide open funnel like demand gen. It starts with a target. We compare it to fishing with a spear, rather than fishing with a net.

While demand generation will invariably bring in a larger volume of leads in much less time, the leads you generate with an account-based focus have more value, and can lead to the kinds of bigger deals you should be fishing for.

How to Use ABM (or ABE) for a Targeted Approach

The key to a successful account-based strategy starts by aligning all of the stakeholders in your organization, which means this isn’t just a marketing strategy—it’s really an account-based everything strategy.

ABE, then, is all about the limited number of accounts you’ve selected to target—their interests, their needs, their unique characteristics. This is in contrast to spam, which is really about your business’ wants and needs. 

A successful account-based strategy takes research, patience, and organization. To make organizing your strategy easier, there are several processes, which, when tackled in order, can help you effectively target the big accounts you really want. The first four of the six common account-based processes are completely overlooked by traditional demand gen strategies.

1. Selecting the Right Accounts (Instead of Generalizing Industries or Locations)

With demand generation, you might identify an industry or geographic area where you want to find leads. With ABE, you identify specific companies (or “accounts”). While this process takes longer to generate leads, it’s far more effective at drawing high-value leads over time.

To find the right accounts, look at the businesses you’ve work well with in the past, and search for other, similar businesses. Create a profile of your Dream Client, and track down businesses that fit the profile. 

Sales and marketing teams can (and should) pool resources and insights to create an initial, manual list. You can then apply data—and even predictive analytics—to help objectively narrow your focus. Keep it realistic, but don’t be afraid to target accounts that are larger than you’re used to dealing with.

2. Discovering Contacts and Mapping to Accounts (Instead of Blindly Attracting Leads)

Instead of reaching out to the most people you possibly can, with ABE you expand your specific focus to reach all of the decision-makers within your target accounts. Your pool has gotten bigger, yet even more specific. 

Purchase decisions at enterprise-level companies can involve up to 17 decision-makers, so the more contacts you connect with from a given account, the more opportunity you’ve created to complete a deal with that account. 

There are several ways to discover contacts:

●    Search the company’s name of LinkedIn to find people, then use tools such as Email Hunter to find they email formats they use.
●    Target ads to the account for webinars, events, and gated content downloads.
●    Work with third-party data vendors  

It’s important to discover contacts on different levels of the decision-making team—and to know where each person ranks—because connecting with as many people as possible inside one account can create a buzz in their workplace about your brand. 

3. Developing Account Insights (Instead of Guessing What Your Buyers Want)

Because an account-based strategy is so targeted, you have to do your research before developing and releasing content. Instead of focusing on your own agenda (i.e: collecting leads) like with demand gen, you’ll be focusing on the accounts. 

The goal of developing account insights is to give you the information you need to create content that is specifically geared to be relevant to your target account. Your contacts will be more likely to open, read, and share your content if it’s content of value to them. Gather insights such as:

●    News and trends in the target’s industry/market
●    Opportunities, weaknesses, and culture within the target company itself
●    Relationships, preferences, agendas, etc. of each member of the purchasing team
●    How purchasing team members relate to each other
●    Existing connections your organization has with the target account

To research what is important to your target account, look at the business’ blog posts, social media, official business materials, and industry publications. You can also get a lot of insights by talking to your contacts—take them to lunch, meet at networking events, etc.—and/or by checking out their social media profiles. If your research comes up short, you can always run a survey that asks them what their needs are.

4. Creating Personalized Content (Instead of One-Size-Fits All Pieces)

High-quality content is important as always, but with ABE the content will be laser-focused on the specific needs of the decision makers at your target accounts. It’s this personalization that pushes your communication efforts above the noise. Consider:

●    75% of executives will read unsolicited marketing materials that contain ideas that might be relevant to their business.
●    92% pay attention to these marketing materials even if they are from solution providers the executive had not previously done business with (Source: ITSMA)

This does not mean that every piece of content needs to be completely unique and highly personalized. That strategy won’t scale. Instead, introduce varying levels of personalization based on the target persona: highly personalized content for executives, light personalization for lower-level purchasing team members.

Simple personalization for general purchasing teams or lower-level managers can be as easy as adding a little customization to existing, high-quality content. You might:

●    Target a title or subtitle.
●    Use imagery that reflects the target industry or niche.
●    Feature case studies from the target industry or niche.
●    Tweak an introduction or conclusion on existing content.
●    Create a custom landing page based on the target industry.

Highly personalized content is much more labor-intensive, but done on a much smaller scale. This level of personalization, however, makes the content very effective.

Consider the content you design for the C-suite your interview, or your face-to-face meeting. Imagine the CEO has already agreed to a meeting, and create material for that meeting.

●    Run personalized reports specifically for that company.
●    Create simulations of your solutions working for the target brand.
●    Address the target account’s specific needs, weaknesses, and pain points, and solve them.

This is content with no shelf life and no hope of being repurposed, but it is content that will cut through a crowded marketplace and get the right people’s attention.

Demand Gen vs. ABE

There’s a reason why account-based strategies are gaining momentum with B2B marketers and sales departments. Simply put: it works when you need to focus on landing high-value accounts. Done right, ABE is an effective marketing strategy for businesses of any size. 

And while it can be (and probably should be) a big, all-encompassing new strategy, you can start small. If you’re not convinced, keep your demand gen machine running, but take a little extra time to research one big fish. What’s that big account you’ve dreamed about? Start doing some research, and apply an ABE strategy to that target account and see how it goes. 

Jon Miller is a marketing entrepreneur and thought leader. Prior to his role as CEO and co-founder of Engagio, Jon was a co-founder at Marketo (Nasdaq:MKTO), a leader in marketing automation.

He is a speaker and writer about marketing best practices, and is the author of multiple marketing books including Engagio’s Clear and Complete Guide to Account Based Marketing and Marketo’s Definitive Guide to Marketing Automation. Jon has a passion for helping marketers everywhere, and is on the Board of Scripted and is an adviser to Optimizely and Newscred. In 2010, The CMO Institute named Jon a Top 10 CMO for companies under $250 million revenue.

Jon holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard College and has an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

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