Why Personas are Essential for Successful ABM

Why Personas are Essential for Successful ABM

May 2019 | Digital Marketing

Account Based Marketing is in-depth personalisation and expanding target account penetration. Strong Buyer Personas are still critical to making this work.

So, you've decided to go with an Account Based Marketing approach. You've chosen your target accounts, identified the message that resonates with that account and are now wondering how your existing buyer personas fit into all this. If so, you're missing a critical dimension to ABM that cannot be ignored. Successful enterprise marketing requires building connections and is all about driving engagement with your audience at scale, so that Sales can then build the buyer confidence and inter-personal relationships required to close the deal. Such relationship building starts from the very first point of contact with a prospect, and the fact they're an ABM target doesn't change that.

For this reason, traditional buyer personas are just as important in the ABM world as they are in a classic demand generation strategy. Yet, many marketers downplay their relevance preferring to focus on the account specific challenges of an ABM target, rather than the needs of the individuals within that account. ABM is still about people, it's just that an additional layer of context is added so that the messaging and targeting can be much more personalised than in lead-based campaigns. Focusing on the business needs within your target accounts is still central to the success of ABM, but marketers should also consider how those business needs affect the day to day needs and ambitions of the individuals within each account. Without the personal dimension to their message, the ability for marketers to build engagement over time is just as limited as it would be for any other type of activity.

Multiple Decision Makers

ABM inverts the funnel to better mirror the reality of corporate decision making, namely that there are multiple individuals involved in every buying decision. Typically, there are multiple decision makers in that decision-making group reflecting the various layers of approval that are required within any large organisation. That's before the broad group of influencers consulted in the purchasing process is considered, some of whom will have an effective veto over the decision or a far greater say than the final decision maker.

From a marketing perspective, the key difference between ABM and other approaches is that you're targeting this entire buying team within the account as a collective rather than treating each individual in that team as a discrete entity. As such, marketers need to be including all the relevant individuals in the audience for their campaigns. There is little benefit to ABM if you're only targeting the same one or two key decisions makers that would have been targeted anyway – campaigns can be more targeted due to the focus on account specific needs, but this additional level of personalisation can be done as part of a best-in-class demand generation strategy, and often has been.

The Entire Team

Expanding your reach within an account is just as important as progressing that account through the funnel. Typically, the key decision maker is not the person you want to be speaking to early in the decision making process. This decision maker will be a senior executive with budget and authority. However, he or she will have delegated the consideration stage research to the rest of the buying team. Sales will need to speak to the decision maker when they're ready to engage face to face, but until that point is reached you need to be getting your content in front of the key influencers responsible for drawing up shortlists and inputting into selection criteria.

This is where Account Based Marketing really shines – a traditional marketing process often ignores these people because they don't qualify for Sales contact under BANT criteria. Marketers then focus on this same group because they're measured on leads and contributions to the bottom line, even though they can make just as much business impact focusing on targets within an account that Sales don't want to speak to. If sales concentrate on the people holding the budget, that frees marketing to optimise their messaging towards the people responsible for shaping the business requirements, thus putting in place the foundations to shape the customer perceptions underlying the purchasing decision in your favour.

ABM explicitly targets these key influencers with content describing the different aspects of your solution that is most relevant to their specific role in the business. You don't have to use different content pieces for each individual – combining multiple pain points into one asset works just as well. The goal is to spread your message as widely as possible in your target accounts so their buying team does the job of your sales rep for you. The key decision maker is far more likely to listen to your brand messaging if it's delivered by a colleague with intimate knowledge of his or her business rather than a salesperson paid to pitch your products.

End to End

That doesn't mean you can afford to ignore the decision makers. They're still the most important people in the decision-making process, and your marketing messages will always have a critical influence over their decision-making process. It is just that spreading your word as widely as possible makes it far more likely that any buying decisions get decided in your favour. This relies on the messaging being joined up.

It also relies on you knowing who the key decision makers in each buying team actually are, so that Sales can work that angle of the relationship whilst marketing does their job. That's because there is one other factor that is even more essential to successful ABM than personas: strong Sales and Marketing alignment. Taking a holistic approach to major accounts only works if Sales are on-board with the message being used for that account. A sharp divide between sales and marketing messaging leads to the all too common age-old problems and the familiar blame game when deals inevitably break down. ABM works best when Sales and Marketing can sit down together to agree a shared set of target accounts, as well as a strategy to penetrate those accounts as deeply as possible with as personalised a message as is practical. Personas are still a critical ingredient in achieving that.

Written by
Marketing Operations Consultant and Solutions Architect at CRMT Digital specialising in marketing technology architecture. Advisor on marketing effectiveness and martech optimisation.