Image of building tools representing the range of digital marketing platforms and range of options available to support account based marketing.

Account-Based Marketing Platforms For Startups

As companies consider how to best support Account-Based Marketing (ABM) strategies, one question consistently comes up: should we invest in a dedicated platform?

Just as there’s no specific time for a startup to begin adopting ABM strategies, there’s also no trigger to invest in an Account-Based Marketing platform. The decision comes down to questions of data management and expertise. First, let’s understand how data flows and which systems and expertise are required. Then, whether it makes more sense to invest in a platform or use existing tools.

Data Flows & System Architecture

Regardless of how your system is designed, it’s mandatory to integrate and test it to ensure data is captured, passed through, and stitched correctly. Each system requires different expertise to manage and integrate: ad platforms (Google Ads, MediaMath) vs Marketing CRMs (Marketo, Pardot, Hubspot) vs sales CRMs (Salesforce, Oracle) vs site analytics (Google Analytics, Omniture). Account-Based Marketing platforms sit on top. Some offer native integration, others via API. All require a skilled team to set up.

A non-Account-Based Marketing system architecture might look like:

While one incorporating an Account-Based Marketing platform could be:
Graphic illustrating a basic account-based marketing system architecture.

To Platform Or Not To Platform: You already have the power!

Account-Based Marketing platforms are primarily a data intelligence and manipulation layer that interacts with other tools, many of which may have similar capabilities to the Account-Based Marketing system. The key is the integration and enabling the right data to move between systems.

Important: Regardless of architecture, capturing the greatest benefits requires data to be shared with one or more third parties. An ad network like Google Ads performs best when Marketing and Sales CRMs share conversion information with the engine to link leads, opportunities, and new customers with the ad placements, keywords, segments, audiences, affinity data that influenced the conversion. If your security policy limits what data can be shared across systems (and thus third parties), more complex methods of data stitching are required.

Use Your Database(s)…And Your Data!

Just as relationships work best when communication is strong, marketing systems work best when data flows freely. When enabled, the results are deeper customer understanding and an optimized marketing mix. Data also flows bi-directionally so digital activities inform other digital and offline actions while offline actions, when added to database records, inform digital actions.

As an example, intent data (search query, demographic targeting, affinity targeting) is recorded by the Ad Engine and linked to website behavior via analytics (Google Analytics, Omniture). After conversion, a record is created or updated in both marketing and sales CRMs. Behavior recorded in site analytics is shared with the Ad Engine to improve future optimizations. The result is data illustrating who, what, when, where, and how for the entire marketing funnel. Further analysis will reveal the customer journey, levers that drive and support conversion, the most effective messaging, and general user intent at scale and individually.

Resources

Whether investing in an Account-Based Marketing platform or using existing systems an experienced team will configure and test integrations, validate data and monitor/troubleshoot activity on an ongoing basis.

We recommend bringing as much expertise in-house as possible to build institutional knowledge and align business/marketing goals while outsourcing where/when needed. An experienced agency will partner with your team and help define strategic marketing goals, lead tactical campaign implementation and improvement, support on systems integrations and architecture while the in-house team focuses on broad marketing strategy, systems building, scalability and customer insight.

Understand The Customer and Their Journey

What makes your customer tick? What messaging spurs action and engagement? What assets drive conversion? Which support conversion? Which help but aren’t credited? How many touches are required at each stage of the funnel?

Start with what you know drives the customer – professional, demographic and psychographic information – then test, refine and optimize. Dig into the data and share your customer’s story through yours. Where your brand narrative uses the long-arc of your company’s vision through PR and branding while goal-driven, performance campaigns act as the shorter-term, cyclical heartbeat that moves prospects through the funnel.

At each stage, behavioral, conversion, lead scoring and engagement metrics are collected and you’ll gain increasing clarity on the customer and their complete journey from awareness to closed deal. As marketing programs become more sophisticated, additional data can be leveraged in new and ingenious ways.

Targeting

A primary use case of Account-Based Marketing platforms is targeting of personalized messages to drive revenue by up-selling and cross-selling to existing customers while finding net new customers.

Account-Based Marketing platforms are designed to do this while automating some functionality. In most cases, these tools are also available in Marketing or Sales CRMs without additional cost.

Whether through an Account-Based Marketing platform or Ad Engine, existing customers can be used to seed and develop audiences. Both tools ingest CRM data – customers, leads, opportunities – which become the foundation of custom audiences that can be targeted across digital channels in a personalized way.

For example, existing customers can be remarketed to for up-sell and cross-sell opportunities while also being used to generate look-alike audiences and segments – by geography, role, industry – to be reached across channels.

Choose Your Tactics – An Integrated Approach

Broadly, the B2B customer journey spans myriad marketing channels, messages and venues. A closed deal might have been “touched” by one or all of a PR placed story, an event conversation, SDR cold-call, personalized emails, an organic web search, remarketing banners, a downloaded white paper, a thought leadership placement or paid search query.

Both Account-Based Marketing and CRM platforms capture the data to illuminate the impact of each marketing channel. Attribution analysis helps determine their value. Combined with a clear understanding of the customer journey, an integrated approach, with tactics selected by performance, allows you to build campaigns that tell the right story to the right person at the right time with the right asset through the right medium.

Also, because marketing requires spend, you’ll know the cost of acquisition – in aggregate, by channel, by campaign – which leads to more efficient budget management and better decision-making.

Final Analysis

Whether to add a dedicated Account-Based Marketing platform to your MarTech stack or use CRM tools depends on business need and a team’s capabilities. Consider: Will the business’s scale benefit from a dedicated platform and additional complexity? Do you have the resources and expertise to get the most out of it? Is your marketing program sufficiently sophisticated to support it? Do you know the customer journey? What messages, strategies, marketing channels work? Is your monthly spend large enough for it to make a difference?

If you’re not sure or hesitant, we recommend building the foundation with existing tools first. The good news, in terms of building the “dream” process, this will get you almost all the way there.

Alan Traeger

Marketing dynamo with particular expertise in making things happen and putting it all together. Formerly ran demand generation for an AI/digital workplace startup, acquisition for a FinTech company, plus acquisition/retention for a large etailer.

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