Every customer wants to feel special, whether in a business to consumer (B2C) or a business to business (B2B) scenario. 

But for far too long, only the B2C context delivered on some of the promises of personalization.

Today, that's changing. Many B2B organizations are shifting their focus from traditional lead generation approaches to account-based selling and marketing, looking to provide experiences tailored for specific clients. 

Account-Based Strategies Demand Deep Customer Insights

With account based marketing, marketing and sales collaborate to deliver personalized information and offers to stakeholders in the target account. Customer communication is based on deep research into a customer’s specific pain points and potential solutions. 

Imagine a sales executive who is completely in tune with her account. She understands their business, builds and manages account relations with a passion and knows the influence of internal and external stakeholders. She stays aware of the account’s short and long term goals. She continuously monitors the multichannel activities of all key contacts in the organization and, based on their interests, sends relevant and timely information to help customers make informed decisions and meet their business objectives. 

A typical “spray and pray” campaign is a far cry from this customer insight-driven model. An account-based strategy requires a surgical approach to every account, to ensure every offer and contact speaks to that customer's needs.

In theory, account-based strategy is quite simple, but in practice most organizations find it difficult to implement. Many try it for a short period of time, then revert to tried and tested tactics to generate new business: email blasts, cold calling, webinar promotions, online ads, search engine marketing, etc. 

More often than not, the issue preventing those organizations from success with ABM is data.

Success depends on the thorough understanding of the account and contacts within that account. It relies on the collaboration between sales, marketing and services to devise and orchestrate a coherent account strategy. It requires discovering and navigating the complex organizational structures in the company and identifying the right influencers and champions. 

When you get this right, you can deliver highly tailored information and offers to your customers and have conversations that matter to them. 

Account-based strategies provide the ultimate B2B customer experience. Here’s how you can evaluate your account-based plans and fill in the gaps:

Understand the Account

Account understanding is an overloaded term, but we will use it here to refer to the key profile information, which is basic, but essential.  

Building a complete account profile requires capturing and merging information from various internal and external systems. 

The account profile information (name, billing address, web address, number of employees, revenue numbers and industry) could be in your customer relationship management or salesforce automation system. An order management application may contain other essential information, such as taxation or discounts, while your enterprise resource management system holds the shipping address and forwarding agents. 

With scattered account information, it can be challenging to generate a complete account view. But that’s of the highest importance for understanding an account. For a full picture, you need a data-driven account management application that brings together information from all these sources and matches and merges the data to construct a consolidated account profile. Proper segmentation and engagement personalization depend on reliable account profile information.

Understand Hierarchy

Larger accounts, with globally distributed business units and subsidiaries, can be tricky to navigate. 

Companies procure account hierarchy information from third-party data providers, who can provide the legal hierarchy structure of the organization. However, this information may not be actionable by the sales executive. Sales may want to evaluate the product penetration at various locations in the account, review competitive products installed globally or find sites with an existing footprint of their products. They may want to understand the risk across different business units and investigate if all account divisions are adhering to the current contracts. 

For an account-based strategy to succeed, account executives need access to all this information, in the form of personalized hierarchies. Comprehensive hierarchy information created in the context of sales objectives is critical in understanding customer needs and driving the account-based strategy forward.

Understand Relationships

Selling in B2B accounts requires strong relationship management. 

These relationships include people, committees and teams, plus extend to relationships between individuals and products, and between goods and locations. Graph technology can help discover relationships across various data entities. Further analyzing these relationships can help you evaluate the influence of every relationship in the account. 

With this information, sales can develop a plan to approach the right influencers with relevant offers. They can cultivate champions in the accounts and find common connections to reach key influencers. This is the equivalent of having a custom LinkedIn application for the target account.

Collaborate Across Teams

Account-based strategy requires a coordinated effort across teams. When marketing, sales and support are not aligned, the customer may get inconsistent information and experiences from different functional areas. Plain old CRM applications do not provide the collaboration capabilities needed here, especially in the context of account management. 

To formulate the right expansion strategy, account managers will want to collaborate with global team members. They may want to share material information impacting the deal in play, and collaborate with marketing to create the right message and content for the customer. They may want to survey across business units to find the influence of a person in the procurement process. 

In deals involving different sales people selling different products, you'll want to align their visits so that you’re not over-contacting the customer. Internal collaboration allows for the sharing of real-time account information and supports the continuous delivery of an excellent customer experience.

Monitor Engagement at the Account Level

Understanding the account also means knowing the people or “contacts” in your accounts, and observing their multichannel interactions (web visits, email clicks, support queries), their interest, their influence and their preferences. 

Just as traditional funnel models use lead scoring, a similar scoring model can be used at the account level. Once you start aggregating the engagement information at the account level, you will start understanding the account's priorities and solutions they are seeking. 

A sudden surge of interaction on the website or calls to the call center may indicate a significant event. However, you will only reveal this when you observe engagements at the account level. When you collect and present these signals to account managers, they may unearth an opportunity to sell something new, or give time to prevent an existing account from leaving.

Customers appreciate a proactive approach. When you offer solutions to their problems before they ask, you build the foundation of a long-term relationship.

Provide Contextual Information to Sales

Ease of information access is a must to create thorough account plans. If sales has to search various systems, call marketing and ask sales-ops to run reports in order to obtain information, they may never get the full picture. Account plans and tactics will be based on stale and incomplete data as a result. 

Teams need access to current, consolidated and clean information that relates to the context of account objectives. Account executives want a purpose-built, data-driven application to bring all this information — such as account profiles, engagement, hierarchies and relationships — together in a single, easy-to-use interface. When sales has access to this contextual information, meaningful conversations with the customer become possible.

Account profile information should also present insights such as business value, churn probability and credit risk. Any insights that make sales go to a separate system reduce sales efficiency and effectiveness. Sales can take action when accurate account insights are presented in the context of strategy planning or tactical execution.

Make Intelligent Recommendations to Guide Engagement 

Account information can overwhelm account managers. And each manager accesses, processes and leverages information at varying skill levels. Different managers may take different actions based on the same information. 

Figuring out the right move, at the right time, for the right account and delivering on these consistently determines the experience quality. Inconsistent service, responses or offers raise red flags in your target accounts. Using machine learning and predictive analytics to process account information and provide intelligent recommendations to your sales teams not only helps with timely data-driven engagement but also drives consistent customer interactions. 

An account-based strategy is about understanding the company and its mission, and your contacts and their motivations. It’s about building a partnership and consultative relationship with the customer. 

Modern data management plays a vital role in operationalizing account-based strategies. 

It brings together all customer and account data from internal, external, social and third-party sources and matches and merges the data to create complete account profiles. It also establishes many-to-many relationships between contacts, accounts, products and locations using graph technology. This relationship graph not only helps to unearth product gaps, and up-sell opportunities, but also allows companies to understand the influence of key stakeholders in the accounts.

When the client knows you understand them and offer relevant solutions to their business problems, it builds trust. With an account-based approach, you can help customers reach their goals quickly and efficiently. However, it's only possible if you understand your customer well. 

Title image "dead end" (CC BY 2.0) by Beat_Tschanz