Take a look at your customer base and, if you’re a B2B company, you’ll find that it probably follows the 80:20 rule where the majority of sales (often around 80%) come from a small proportion of customers (that’s the 20%).

That being the case, it makes sense to focus your resources on these high value customers as that will give you more bang for your buck.  That’s the principle underpinning Account Based Marketing (ABM), an approach where a separate marketing plan is created for each high value (or high potential) account.

If you’re planning to adopt an ABM approach though, it’s essential that your strategy is based on thorough research.  Otherwise, you’ll simply be mass marketing to a smaller group.  Here’s the three insights which should form the foundation of any ABM strategy.

First, you need to decide who to target.

The trick here is to find customers who are high value now or have the potential to be in the future.  To do so, map sales in the last 12 months against sales growth compared to the previous 12 months.  This will identify four types of customers who should be included in your ABM plan:

  • Stalwarts: High value customers with little or no growth
  • Shooting stars: High value, high growth customers
  • Rising stars: Mid value, high growth customers
  • Fading stars: Previously high value customers who have significantly decreased spend

A word of warning.  When following the steps above be ruthless, as otherwise you’ll end up with too many customers to make ABM possible with the resources available.

Choosing ABM customers


Second, you need to decide how best to target these customers.

To do that you need to know:

  • Who to target: The structure and dynamics of the decision-making unit
  • How to target them: The channels most effective in engaging them
  • The messages to convey: The benefits they seek and goals they aspire to
  • What to promote: Products and services they buy from you and others

To gather this knowledge, start by speaking with everyone who touches the account as they will have valuable insights.  However, don’t rely on this alone.  Whilst these opinions are useful, their ‘second hand’ nature means that they will inevitably be limited and somewhat biased.  To create the full picture, you need to ask these questions to customers themselves.  So:

  • Reach out to them (keeping the relevant sales lead in the loop of course) and explain that you’ll be investing in building a closer relationship with them
  • Ask to meet with them and their colleagues at a time and place convenient to them
  • In this meeting, explore the information areas above and pose the killer question – “how can we do more business with you?”. You’ll be surprised how receptive they are to this straight-talking approach

Armed with these insights you can then formulate a tailored marketing plan for that customer detailing who to target, through what channels and with what messages.

Another word of warning.  Speaking to each and every account is essential but will be time-consuming, so consider outsourcing this to a professional research agency who can bring resource and additional expertise – I hear those Circle Research guys are pretty good ????

Finally, you need to measure the impact of your ABM activity and identify improvements as you go along. 

So, before you go live, conduct a short survey of these customers to benchmark their current perceptions.  This should gather hard data in areas like:

  • The associations they have with your brand
  • Their satisfaction in different aspects of the experience with you/your products
  • Their understanding of your product range
  • Their likelihood of considering you in each product area

Repeat this survey six or twelve months into the campaign and you’ll be able to see if you’ve moved the needle (and where any shortfalls requiring greater focus are).  It’s also valuable to repeat the in-depth discussion you previously had with customers every 12 months as this will provide rich guidance on performance and enhancements.

The true test of success of course is sales so be sure to include hard financial metrics in your campaign evaluation too.

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About Andrew

Andrew has specialised in B2B research for over a decade and co-founded Circle Research in 2006. He is a columnist for B2B Marketing Magazine, a regular contributor to Research Live and frequent speaker at leading events such as the B2B Leaders Forum, Customer Experience Live and the Social Media World Forum. Andrew is a Chartered Member of the MRS, teaches the MRS B2B research course and holds an MA in Psychology from Aberdeen University alongside an MSc in Marketing from Strathclyde University.

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