Thought Leadership: ABM and ABX Strategies to Drive Profitability

ABX (account-based experience) can be one of the most cost-effective marketing strategies because of its laser-focused approach. When you identify the most profitable potential clients, and design winning personalized campaigns, you can achieve better ROI (return on investment) than other outreach strategies. It’s one of the best ways to grow your business.

Even if you’re not yet approaching global players for contracts, you should know that smaller businesses stand to benefit from ABM (account-based marketing, a strategy which falls under ABX). A survey of business leaders found a 46% increase in closing deals on annual contract values between $1,000 and $5,000 thanks to ABM.

One of the challenges a lot of SMEs face is that they aren’t well known, so they struggle to build trust within their target market. This often means losing contracts to more established competitors.

I have been in this position, and managed to win fantastic contracts despite representing the smallest business in the race. I’m going to share my approach to ABX with you, so you can attract a potential client’s attention when you’re just one voice in the crowd.

What is ABX?

Account-based experience is an advanced marketing strategy in which sales and marketing departments work closely together to create personalized campaigns aimed at winning high-value clients.

Standing Out From the Crowd

So, how can you stand out from the competition, and prove your products or services are better than other offerings on the market? Ultimately it comes down to carefully researching your ideal clients. You’ve got to understand their pain points, and offer a surefire way to help their business grow.

Muzafar Chaudhry portrait

No matter which business you are dealing with, you are selling to – and trying to win over – the people within it. Human beings, as a species, tend to make emotional decisions. If we like someone or an experience, we tend to warm to and trust the person behind it.

This is important to remember when designing your sales and marketing strategies: people sell to people. Your approach should be informed by the entire buyer experience from start to finish.

In practical terms, it boils down to the level of personalization in each point of contact your business has with the target client or customer. ABM is all about narrowing your focus to build stronger relationships with fewer contacts. This can greatly improve your chances of closing on deals that will make the biggest financial contribution to your business.

So how does it work in real life? To give one example, say you notice your targeted ads have reached the screen of a CEO you’d like to contact once or twice. Yet this CEO is likely overwhelmed by generic outreach messages day and night.

Your marketing manager has done some research and found this CEO loves star wars and golf. This manager is a bright spark, and suggests sending a novelty Yoda bobblehead holding a golf club to the CEO’s office.

A Yoda bobblehead is holding a golf club and an umbrella with the words "Star Wars" written on his podium

Yoda is accompanied by a message: “Hey CEO, are Yoda one for me?”

(He’s holding an umbrella because our product or service can make it rain cash for them, you see.)

Pause for laughter.

Maybe a smile appears on the CEO’s face. Maybe this warms up the lead a little. Maybe she takes notice of your company’s name when it appears in other places such as direct marketing emails, social media, display ads, and so on.

Human Warmth: Why It Works

Everyone that you want to speak to has a personality. For the most part, those personalities are largely defined by affinities: the things we like, and the groups we belong to. When you take notice of these affinities and appeal to them in your messaging it cuts through the noise.

Then your marketing and sales “tactics” become a very human interaction that makes the person you are trying to speak to take notice. Suddenly you become an individual instead of words on a screen.

Successful ABM is not simply about finding the right kind of gimmick to appeal to your ideal client, but it’s this kind of personalization you should aspire to.

Ingenuity, creativity and lateral thinking will bring success for scale-ups implementing ABX. It only takes the right thing, said at the right time in the right way to open the doors of opportunity.

Which Business Leaders Should Use ABM – and Why?

A lot of businesses will do one-to-many marketing campaigns, which address a very broad audience. While these broader campaigns can be effective in warming up target clients, I’d suggest a more focused approach as your business matures.

With digital marketing prices on the rise, it’s actually more cost effective to do account-based marketing than it is to do industry-wide marketing. The reason is you narrow your audience, so your spend is less. Indeed, 76% of marketers agree that ABM leads to better ROI than any other marketing strategy.

If you’ve already got a thorough understanding of who your ideal clients are, then you’re in a good position to pivot to ABM.

You’re likely to catch a bigger fish this way, as you deepen your prospects’ level of trust in you. Research supports this: companies found their average contract value increased by 171% after they began to use account-based marketing.

How to Combine Marketing and Sales Efforts

Too often sales and marketing isn’t aligned when going after opportunities, so you end up with random acts of sales and marketing. The edge with account-based experience – and what differs from account-based marketing – is that alignment with sales at every touchpoint the buyer experiences.

Building processes with your sales and marketing functions to identify the best opportunities is a great place to begin your journey.

Start by selecting a handful of lucrative prospects and build a little squad of sales and marketing people around these. Your goal is to run highly targeted campaigns – which is why the most important part of this process is intelligence gathering. Sales and marketing team members tend to have different approaches to this, so the combined expertise is much more potent.

You need a deep understanding of each individual prospect: where they sit in the marketplace, what their infrastructure is, and exactly how you can help them grow.

Personalized marketing begins to prove to a prospect that you appreciate their organizational needs. The magic happens when you understand how this affects their perception of your company and where the mutual opportunities lie.

Once you understand a potential client’s pain points (amid current industry pressures), you can expertly position your offering. Campaigns can be purely outreach or, if budget allows, you can couple this activity with ads served to specific groups of people in your target accounts prior to outreach.

The key to all of this is timing. Because your sales and marketing personnel are working so closely together, the sales call can come at the ideal time based on ad or email engagement.

Human Touch, with Human Timing

While tailored content can be done on a large scale with things like web personalization based on IP data, chatbots and automated ads, all of these typically have significant costs attached. I look at it in a very human, experiential way and know that it can be done on a smaller scale with a little ingenuity.

I travel frequently by rail. On one of my train journeys the bathroom was out of service – and unfortunately the smell made this obvious. Checking my Wifi – I saw that the passengers had started using Wifi hotspot names to talk about it. I tweeted the following image:

screenshot of a phone screen with wifi names, "can you smell wee?" and another one reading "Yes it stinks of wee"

I noticed I was seeing ads on my phone from a company that specialized in gifts. Later, the company’s outreach email hit my inbox – one of which included an email with the subject line “Smell of Wee” that (obviously) caught my eye:

Screenshot of an email that reads: Smell of Wee? blurred sender name. Hey Muzafar, Noticed your Twitter your Avanti West Coast experience! Less than ideal to say the less, especially as it looks like you get on the train a lot... So please use this amazon voucher to pick up this air freshener on me for your journey's. Then there's an image of the air freshener on Amazon. Curious, with everyone using the saturate digital channels to engage with their key accounts, are you delivering the best customer experience to engage key accounts?

The salesperson had sent me a picture of a can of air freshener and a voucher to get it for my future train journeys. They also tied this to the product offering.

I already knew the company from the ads I had been receiving and this message created a positive emotional reaction while capturing my attention. It was pretty funny, not to mention clever. All it took was a little intelligence gathering, planning and orchestration for a company to launch their combined sales and marketing campaign.

Personalization should reduce friction, and most importantly delight the people you want to influence. There is no better way to do this than intel-based tactics like these.

Using AI for ABX Automation

There’s always going to be a place for ingenuity and lateral thinking. Yet AI tools can speed things up by way of idea generation – which is particularly helpful if you’re looking to execute ABX at scale.

One way I’ve successfully used AI sometimes is requesting gift ideas for a contact based on their interests. Of course, it’s never a good idea to leave the entire process to a machine learning model because you need to sense-check the appropriateness of each suggestion.

For instance, if your contact likes horror movies and cooking, and the AI suggests gifting a chef’s knife set, it may be better to go with something a little more nuanced. Context is critical, and you can gauge personalities and adjust your strategy as you progress in building the client relationship.

Nevertheless, widely-available AI tools can give smaller companies a tremendous boost in their capacity to carry out ABM and ABX. I’ll leave you with my top uses for this new technology in my industry:

Top Uses for AI in ABM Strategies

  1. Analyzing financial reports for pain points
  2. Aggregating news content to identify opportunities
  3. Suggesting personalized messaging and subject lines
  4. Creating tailored ad creatives
  5. Ideas for industry-specific content and lead magnets
  6. Building outreach templates

It now takes significantly less resources to run ABM/ABX programs with as little as two people: one from sales and one from marketing.

While AI and marketing automation can help, it isn’t the solution to everything, and there’s nothing more off-putting than insincerity as your first impression. Whether or not you’ve done your research will always matter, and the human touch is everything.

Written by:
I am the ABX Director at Expert Market, with over a decade’s experience in marketing strategy for global technology firms. My innovative marketing tactics win critical contracts and market share for competitive businesses.