It seems like marketing has a new acronym every day: If it's not MQL, it's SMM, CMS, or CR. Here's a new one for you: ABM, or account-based marketing. And you're going to want to actually remember what this one means: Account-based marketing is the act of deepening relationships with existing client companies to sell more services within existing accounts. ABM is a huge opportunity for marketers, because it allows you to take a client who is already your advocate and leverage that to sign more business within the same entity.
So how do you set the groundwork to turn existing accounts into bigger, more lucrative relationships with companies you already work for? The first step is to build just that: relationships. They say you can't build a disco on a graveyard, and this type of thinking is also true for successful account-based marketing. You need the foundation of a strong relationship with your existing client to be able to extend that into great ABM assets and tactics that target other parts of the organization. Here's where you can start.
Think of each client as made up of individuals rather than as a single unit
In today's business communication, you're far more likely to see "we" than you are to see "I," both in terms of success and failure. "We were able to achieve great numbers this quarter," you might hear someone say, or "we were hoping for better results." But in reality, a company doesn't speak for itself. It's made up of individuals, and they don't always speak in unison. Keep that in mind as you cultivate relationships. Yes, you are contracted to work with the business as a whole. But the relationships you are building are with individuals. That one-on-one, face-to-face relationship can so often be lost in a time when there's never an email with fewer than five recipients copied on the message.
This isn't a matter of going behind anyone's back. Keeping everyone in the loop is great, and also important to the health of the account. But when it comes time to review the budget and your campaign is on the chopping block, it's going to be a single or very small group of individuals that either chime in to sing your praises, or who bring down the hammer. One way to make sure you're spending time on each individual you work with in a company is to make time for each person.
For each client contact, seek out his or her unique expertise: For the senior leader, see if you can schedule a meeting to review the latest iteration of the project together before it goes in front of the entire team. Make sure to incorporate his or her input in the final version. For a lower-level project manager contact, pick up the phone and ask him or her a specific question about how her company works. By soliciting this advice, you have a reason to reach out. When budget time comes around, each client contact is far more likely to speak to your strengths if they each know you on a personal level.
Create allies across the company
No matter how much success you've achieved with a given department, it's not always in your control whether the rest of the organization hears about your achievements. The company might not place an emphasis on internal communication, or your direct client contact might not see a place to advocate for his or her team's success. That's why it's really up to you to create a foothold in a company that's strong enough to weather the inevitable turnover that happens at every company. One way to do this is to physically visit your client's office. If you can, host a lunch for your direct contact as well as other departments who would also benefit from the services you provide.
There might be an opportunity to host a lunch where you, along with your client contact, report on the success and lessons learned from your most recent project. That way, you'll be top-of-mind when other departments are seeking the services you offer. It also gives you the opportunity to reach out directly with a thank-you or follow-up material. The greatest source of leads you're missing might very well be at a company with whom you already work.
Help your client advocate for their success..
Giving your client contact an outlet to share his or her success is such an important aspect of being a strong partner. Your client may feel like talking about a project within their own company is more intimidating than talking about it to strangers. Especially if you can frame the conversation as, "hey, let's tell your colleagues what we did and what they can learn from it," rather than, "hey, let's brag about our success." There's such a value from both sides. If the client has an internal communication system at his or her company, offer to contribute a write-up or case study on everything your client did well. Many companies have employee-of-the-month awards, project recognition programs, or systems to reward high performers. Encourage your clients to pursue these, and provide data on success levels that make it easy for him or her to apply.
It can be helpful to set the expectation up front that you'd like to share the client's story with the world to get them used to the idea. It will depend on your business whether you'd like to formalize this process or not; some agencies add clauses in contracts that ask clients to allow them to include the work in case studies once it is complete. Some clients will have legal departments that advise them against mentioning specific company details publicly. Having conversations early in the engagement to let your client contact and the company as a whole know that you'd like to celebrate their achievements helps get them on board with the idea.
...And help them to shout that success from the rooftop
In addition to helping your client contact become an advocate within his or her company, talking about your success outside of the office can help build deeper relationships. Start by making the case to your client contact why he or she should be willing to share your joint story with the world. Some companies can be reluctant to talk about what they're doing because they think that's divulging the "secret sauce" to competitors. Rather than being secretive about what works, I see it as more of a pay-it-forward attitude. By sharing the creative approach you generated along with the results that came out of it, you're merely giving other companies a glimpse into one aspect of one campaign. There is no net amount of creativity -- it can be shared with only benefit for all involved.
Once you have approval to talk about the engagement, there are many ways to both spread the great news of your success while endearing yourself to your client contact on a deeper level. Consider applying to industry awards on your client's behalf. The cost associated can be a worthwhile investment when it means handing over a shiny trophy to commemorate your work together. Invite your client contact to speak with you on stage at an industry event, in a session that highlights how you were able to work together. You might also offer to submit your client contact's name for an industry training or user conference. The idea isn't necessarily to get your name out there -- it's to get your success out there, and to make sure your client contact knows you're on his or her side.
Just as a new customer campaign often requires strong content to fuel it, account-based marketing needs a different kind of fuel that can most easily be tapped into from the success you already achieved. When it's done right, you form a trusted exchange between you and your client in which you are helping each person you work with become a better advocate for him or herself both in and outside the office. By seeing an account as a true relationship, the reward is much greater -- in terms of both revenue and satisfaction for supporting your client personally and professionally.
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