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How to Get Started With ABM Using Third Party Intent Data

Nov 22, 2019 | Author John McTigue

To say that account based marketing (ABM) has become a “thing” in 2019 is quite an understatement. According to ITSMA, 80% of marketers who measure ROI say that ABM outperforms other marketing initiatives. In B2B, that number rises to 87%, with 69% reporting improved results in 2019, and 35% seeing significant improvements. So, assuming you want to benefit from an ABM strategy going forward into 2020, what do you need to do to get started?

Who Are Your Future Customers?

This isn’t as simple as it sounds.

Most ABM experts and resources cite building your ideal customer profile (ICP) as Step #1. There are multiple ways to develop a sensible ICP, but most people do two things:

#1 - Look Backwards

If you aren’t a startup with a small footprint, take a hard look at your historical customer base. Do some statistical analysis. First, determine which success factors are most important to you that you can use to rank order companies that are ideal fits for your business. Is it annual revenue, revenue growth, lifetime value, profit, acquisition cost, or something else? Pick 2-3 factors that are most important to you. If you need more criteria, go for it, but know that it will become more difficult to identify best fits the more complex your evaluation becomes.

Next, identify which company characteristics or combinations of factors, for example, industry, location or market, employee count, annual revenue, revenue growth, market share, funding history, or installed technology, correlate best with your success criteria?  Are you looking for lean, fast-growing companies in data security in the U.S.? How about digital healthcare solutions providers in San Francisco? Depending on your product-market mix, you may want to perform this same exercise on specific product lines and regions to find more focused segments for ABM.

In other words, don’t just take a guess, analyze the data and take an objective look based on business criteria, not marketing metrics. Narrow down your list to a set of company criteria that your sales, marketing, and customer service teams agree is your ideal customer profile.

Before you accept your findings as Gospel, rank order your customers by the criteria you’ve agreed upon, go through the list, and ask yourself a simple question.

“Is this an account I would want to do business with again if we were starting over?” 

If not, figure out why and use that as a new filter to refine your list and ICP. Now we’re talking about a useful ICP.

By the way, if you are a startup, you’re going to have to do some serious guessing. We’ll get to that below.

#2 - Look Outwards for Companies That Fit Your ICP

Now that you know who your desired customers are, or at least have a solid guess, the challenge becomes finding them. This is where many companies start their ABM initiatives by using tools like LinkedIn Sales Manager or DiscoverOrg, and ABM-specific tools like Terminus or Engagio, or even AI-powered tools like 6Sense or Mintigo. Taking your ICP criteria, you are searching company databases to find the best matches.

While it makes sense to start this kind of search early in the ABM process, your results will only be as good as your initial criteria, and your combinations of criteria, so the more thought and effort you put into figuring out who your ideal customers are, the better.

At this point, you’ve accomplished the first goal in ABM - identifying precisely who you want to work with. There is one important thing missing, however.

You need to know who wants to work with you!

Finding Companies and People in the Market for Your Products

You could take that nice long list of companies that fit your ICP and start cold calling or emailing them. Before you do that, consider a few statistics from HubSpot:

  • It takes an average of 18 calls to actually connect with a buyer
  • Only 24% of sales emails are opened (this sounds high to me!)
  • Sales reps spend one-third of their day actually talking to prospects, 21% of their day writing emails, 17% entering data, 17% prospecting and researching leads, 12% going to internal meetings, and 12% scheduling calls.

There are plenty more reasons to avoid the “spray-and-pray” approach to B2B sales and marketing, and ABM was developed as a strategy to explicitly solve this problem. The idea is to narrow down your focus to a relatively small set of ideal target companies and the key people within those accounts - then you treat them as people, not lists of leads.

Assuming you’re with me on that philosophy, how do you know which accounts to focus on and which contacts are the ones you should court first in your one-to-one approach?

This is where intent data comes into play.

Intent Data in ABM

There is one really easy way to know if a company/person is interested in your products and services. 

They contact you!

This is what we call “first party intent data”. It could be that they fill out one of your “contact us” forms on your website. Maybe they respond to your chatbot and ask pertinent questions. Or maybe they give you a call (amazing, but this still happens). They are showing explicit intent and have overcome any barriers to entry to reach out and touch your brand.

This is the gold standard for all ABM data, and as long as the company/person who did the reaching out fits your ICP, all you have to do is close the sale.

That’s a big “if”, of course, because most companies get a lot of inbound leads that they consider to be unqualified. Or maybe they don’t get a lot of inbound leads, which is the case for most startups. Then, there’s the “intent” part. People contact you for a variety of reasons, and purchasing from you is only one of the possibilities. So, first party data is highly valuable, but you still must classify inbound accounts and contacts based on context and all of the other criteria you use for ICP. You also need to have inbound leads to classify, which can take months, if not years, to build up through organic search, social media, and demand generation marketing. Bottom line, you should definitely collect and pay attention to first party intent data, but do it thoughtfully, and don’t expect this source of ABM accounts and contacts to skyrocket any time soon.

Now, imagine extending your data collection net to include the world beyond your website and social media profiles.

Third Party Intent Data in ABM

Think about the power you have to find companies and study who works for them, what they do or say, and what their apparent interests are. You can do this right now by searching for them on Google or social media, drilling down and taking notes on what you observe. The only problem is, this would take you and your team all day, every day, in order to keep up with just a few companies and key people. That would be an expensive and not very efficient process, right?

So, let’s consider what we would want to know about ABM ICP companies and key contacts to evaluate their sales readiness:

  1. Are people searching for your products and services?
  2. Are they visiting your competitors’ websites?
  3. Are they engaged with thought leaders for advice?
  4. Are they attending relevant trade shows and other events?
  5. Who are the members of the buying team, and what are their roles?
  6. What connections do we already have, if any, with these “players”?

Where can we go to find this information, besides exhaustive personal searches?

Account-Level Intent Data Providers

There are data vendors who do much of the research work for you, for example Bombora or Demandbase, that allow you to search or submit a list of your ICP companies and/or the criteria you use to find them, and they will tell you which companies are actively searching for content that is relevant to your business. You can find a complete list of these vendors here. The benefit of this kind of data is that it can show you, at a high level, which companies are showing interest in the content topics that pertain to your ICP. That’s certainly an element of “intent” and can be especially powerful when a company is showing a “surge” of interest, perhaps corresponding to a buying team caught in the act of considering a purchase. The primary drawback is that you still don’t know “who” is showing the most activity and what their specific interest is.

Contact-Level Intent Data Providers

This category is less prevalent in the ABM data market, and perhaps a bit misleading. Several of the account-level providers will suggest contacts at the accounts they recommend based on roles or other logical criteria, but they don’t actually provide proof of those people taking any action that could be construed as “intent”. Our IntentData.io data is the exception. We offer real contact-levelTM insights that you can use to not only identify active accounts, but also the members of the buying team who are active and what they are doing. In effect, you can answer the aforementioned questions about the fit and intent of accounts and their key contacts.

Moving Forward With ABM

Armed with a smart, realistic ICP based on companies that fit your criteria and are primed for your ABM outreach programs, you can now get to work. In my next post, I’ll talk more about how to utilize your data effectively to reach, engage, and build relationships with your target accounts and their primary contacts and influencers. Stay tuned!

Photo by George Karelitsky on Unsplash

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