Contextualised B2B intent marketing in 2021

Gartner and Forester talk about brands embracing a customer-centric and data-driven approach. And yet, the majority of organisations do not leverage data, or have a truly customer-centric approach.

The quote above originates from my article on The death of marketing campaigns, published in July 2020. Let’s recap why I wrote this slightly controversial topic. I actually have been challenged a couple of times by marketing leaders why I wrote this post. I feel that they actually emphasized with the pain I described in the article but also realizing that the post had a slight visionary feel to it. And that’s partly the problem we ‘data-driven’ marketers face on a daily basis. Implementing your data story, where customers can enjoy a targeted and personalized experience will always remain a ‘vision’. By the time you will have implemented your vision, the goalposts will have moved. Quite frankly, even the best marketers in agile environments can’t keep up with the latest trends. As the Gartner hype-cycle for digital marketing will show you:

Judge for yourself, but the marketing profession continues to struggle with the ever-changing landscape of new tech. Or let me ask you this question, how is your attribution project going? Still figuring it out?

Why change is necessary

The efforts that go into campaign marketing are simply overwhelming and wasteful. I think it’s the marketers’ fault that we ended up in this conundrum. Marketers are generally aware that campaign-focused marketing takes up a lot of resources and simply makes the entire department slow to execute (perhaps my subjective view and not applicable if you have dedicated campaign planning teams). The main problem however is that we fire messages into accounts and consumers and we miraculously expect them to ‘thank’ us as they were patiently waiting for us to communicate the latest campaign. Times have changed.

The Cambridge Mass.-based market research firm summarised this quite nicely by saying, the overarching theme is that organizations must “pivot” from campaign-based approaches to ongoing strategies with an “omni-channel” experience that lets buyers act more like consumers in purchasing in whatever way they choose. But this requires marketers to play the ‘catalyst for change’ within the organisation (again). Whilst I don’t want to touch on how to win your colleagues over and get buy-in into your vision, I wanted to focus more on the tools/process that allows an organization to shift its campaign focus. In the following chapter, I introduce a tailored approach that works for me:

The six-step approach

To start with, let’s have a look at the 6 steps needed to pivot to contextualised ‘intent’ plays. We’ll go through this in more detail.

  1. Creation of account plans
  2. Mapping stakeholders
  3. Developing targeted value props based on modular plays
  4. Planning integrated sales & marketing campaign
  5. Executing the program
  6. Evaluating results and updating plans

Step 1: Creation of account plans

Step 1 and 2 are mostly owned by the sales teams. Whilst marketers help with defining the ideal customer profile (ICP), the selection of accounts amongst a long list of TAM, SOM, etc depends on the reps. Over the years, I tweaked and personalized this account scoring guide, it scores an account based on the attractiveness to the company but as well as the relevance and competitiveness of the chosen organization in that industry.

Access a view-only version. This needs customization based on the accounts, but the template is a good start.

Step 2: Mapping stakeholders

Next, simple but crucially important to map out the relevant personas you may want to engage with. If possible, it’s good to create a visual representation of departments, reporting lines, etc.

Step 3: Developing targeted value props

The upper half of the image below shows step 1 and 2 combined. There is a lot of account research to be done and the sales team requires a good understanding of what’s driving the account. This may range from industry news, competitor news, internal staff changes, hiring, new product launches, the list is long…

The crucial bit that is make or break is the ‘intent’ box. This is where external tech comes to the rescue. Depending on your budget, you may have selected an ABM platform that captures on-site intent signals or hopefully third-party intent (intent signals that didn’t happen on your website). The latter arguably more important as prospects may not be familiar with your brand and therefore not visit your website to start with.

There are many account-based marketing tools out there that can capture intent signals. I looked into Leadfeeder, Leadsift, Spikr, Bombora, Terminus and Demandbase, but the evaluation on choosing the right intent tool very much depends on the maturity of the market you’re in, the buying cycle, the sales regions, etc (probably an opportunity for another blog post to tell you about my observations working with some of these tools).

All of these systems work in a similar way though. They want to be fed with insight. With data, information that allows them to understand what matters to you. Most tools are keyword or category-focused — this is where the importance of search-marketing comes into play. Perhaps often a little bit neglected in a B2B world, SEO and its keyword research are absolutely vital to later create account plays.

What is illustrated below, an account shows some intent signals, and based on that, a ‘play’ will trigger. The beauty of this is of course that there is no mass-marketing campaign, but instead, there will be perhaps hundreds of individual mini-campaigns that are being triggered throughout the year — when the account is in-market (that’s what I call contextualized intent).

I actually looked at integrations to semi-automate this and will show an example scenario in the next step.

Step 4: Planning the integrated sales & marketing campaign

Sales ops will be your best friends here. And good data hygiene will simplify this process. Sales and marketing can now work together on defining the level of personalization before the outreach into the account happens. The challenge here is of course to build up enough content assets within that ‘play’ or theme. One particular challenge for sales reps is to have a compelling event. However, this can be somewhat replicated through recorded scheduled webinars, or if resources exist, live Q&As with customers or thought leaders (depending on the size of the account).

I looked further into ways of semi-automate the process. The fewer manual steps and the better the insight into a sales team, the easier and agile this workflow becomes (perhaps only makes sense if you have a few hundred accounts). CDPs will help here substantially but the scenario below consisted of a martech stack of Hubspot, Adroll, Bombora.

Example scenario:Bombora detects an increase of content consumption on third-party sites from account X. The Bombora integration into Hubspot means that the existing Account X contacts are automatically enrolled into an 'aircover/pre-targeting' display campaigns via Adroll (an automated workflow that put these contacts onto a smart list that syncs with Adroll). In the meantime, the sales rep receives an automated task and will be able to work with marketing on defining the degree of personalisation, before enrolling the contacts into personalised sales sequences which have 10-15 touchpoints across multiple channels.

This workflow can be replicated with other platforms.

Step 5: Executing the program

The problem with ABM programs is of course that they’re supposed to be personalized. It’s a lot like qualitative data captured through primary research. Data-driven marketers find this difficult to manage as the data is unstructured. However, this doesn’t need to be the case, these outreach programs can still be personalized and yet be in a templated sequence. This is actually quite important, as the programs can only be improved over time if data is being captured. Below is a simplified outreach cadence across different channels (this requires tweaking for your business).

Step 6: Evaluating results and updating plans

The beauty of this model is that these programs are being triggered when the intent happens. Rather than sending the same collateral into hundreds of accounts. Instead, we see the same campaign being triggered multiple times throughout the year — contextualized, when the account is ready, when we see intent signals, perhaps there is a transformational project. Important is to keep the eye on the data. Defining ABM metrics is yet another blog post, but comparing engagement metrics amongst the different plays in place will help to optimize the assets, cadences, stages, channels, etc.

Summary

I hope you find some value in reading this post. The reality is that no organization can adopt a contextualized intent-driven approach overnight. It’ll take time to adopt and best practice is to find a couple of allies in the sales team that are happy to experiment with this.

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I’m a digital marketer and passionate how brands can provide a better customer experience with the help of emerging technologies.

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Dominik Elmiger

Dominik Elmiger

I’m a digital marketer and passionate how brands can provide a better customer experience with the help of emerging technologies.

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