Account-based marketing (ABM) is a business-to-business marketing strategy concentrating resources on a set of target accounts. The approach has long been used in the technology space where sales cycles are long, dollar values are high, and purchasing decisions involve a large cross-disciplinary buying team. So, when and how does it make sense for event marketers?
- When you want to attract high-quality attendees to an event. ABM tends to work well when quality matters over quantity. In fact, we suspect that this approach is gaining traction among event professionals right now as a result of travel restrictions, business disruptions, and lingering concerns about mass gatherings, all of which foretell a decrease in overall attendance at physical events. In an effort to ensure exhibitor satisfaction doesn’t drop in tandem, marketers are attempting to attract attendees who represent significant buying power within an industry or profession.
The first step in ABM is identifying — often in coordination with key sponsors and/or exhibitors — the individuals that have buying power or otherwise meet their objectives. The more easily identifiable the quality buyers/influential companies are within an industry or profession, the better ABM works. And it’s important to note that in addition to looking at the influential organizations, we must look at key job titles and functions within those organizations. Buyers might be the end users of a product or service, professionals from purchasing/procurement, managers who are responsible for understanding how the purchase aligns with the future vision for the organization, etc.
At mdg, after we identify the buyers (or buying teams), we develop a ranking system that allows us to engage our top prospects with a personalized approach that includes both marketing and attendee sales or customer relations representatives. Second- and third-tier targets might be grouped together and, as we move to lower value targets, we’re essentially just marketing via segmentation and targeting.
Together with the step above, we map out “journeys” that move prospects from the awareness stage to the marketing-qualified — or ready-to-hand-off-to-attendee-sales stage. This journey is customer-centric and includes an understanding of the prospect’s needs and corresponding value messages at each stage.
- When you’re selling multiple events or other opportunities to a prospective exhibitor or sponsor. Another way to leverage account-based marketing is to streamline exhibit and sponsorship sales across multiple events or sales opportunities within a portfolio.
The best way to implement ABM to grow sales within an organization is to target the top five to 10 biggest accounts — those currently spending the most with you or engaging with several of your offerings. The goal should be to sell these accounts into all events and products of interest across your portfolio annually. This should be a win-win for both you and the account as you get a revenue guarantee for the year, the potential to position the account as a partner or larger supporter and can offer both incentives (like discounts) and streamlined service to the account. You will need marketing and sales to work together, ensuring that all client background and history is communicated across this team which will collaborate toward the common goal of an account-based sale.
We recommend this team takes an agile approach, meeting regularly for status updates on outbound and inbound communications with account contacts. This aligns the team with the packages created, how they’re being positioned, updates to messaging that resonates, and the like. The potential sales value justifies working at such a granular level and is helpful to keep the team working together and dedicated to the initiative.
As powerful as ABM can be, it doesn’t work for every event or organization. For instance, if you serve a highly fragmented industry where buying power is evenly dispersed among many organizations, ABM may not make sense. It requires a lot of internal collaboration between marketing and sales, and it takes time. As we rethink the future of live events, though, it is at least worth considering an ABM approach to attendee acquisition or exhibitor sales.
Shauna Peters is vice president of strategic account management at mdg, a marketing and public relations agency specializing in audience acquisition for live and online events.