How to Use ABM for Customer Retention and Account Growth

March 12, 2021
Contributor: Rupal Bhandari

Account growth is critical to success, and software providers need to identify how to maximize account opportunities. Keep reading for account-based marketing tactics for customer retention and growth.

As a software provider grows and builds a portfolio of products and services, a crucial part of that growth hinges on convincing existing customers to either buy more or buy higher-value offerings. The aim is to turn the customer using a midrange solution into one using a top-range solution, possibly with a few add-ons. 

Current customer account growth and retention are among the top priorities for chief sales officers (full report available to Gartner clients). With current account growth critical to success, software providers need to research and evaluate strategies for identifying and maximizing current account opportunities.

One viable strategy for maximizing current account opportunities is account-based marketing (ABM). ABM is a marketing (i.e., sales and marketing) strategy that targets select accounts with synchronized and continuous marketing and sales activities, engaging them through all stages of the buying journey. 

However, ABM tends to be prioritized for lead generation and new customer acquisition (full report available to Gartner clients), leaving the potential for current customer account retention and revenue growth untapped. Software providers looking to utilize ABM as a strategy for customer retention and account growth should use the following tactics.

Align sales and marketing for shared responsibility

Traditional demand generation approaches, governed by marketing and sales funnels, have clear handoffs when prospective customers move from the marketing team to the sales team. With an ABM strategy, that sales and marketing partnership is no longer linear and should center on the customer or the target account.

Marketing and Sales Relationship: Traditional vs ABM

Following an ABM strategy, the sales and marketing relationship has these distinct characteristics:

  • The marketing team no longer needs to provide the sales team with marketing qualified leads because there is a continuous customer/account dialogue. 
  • The sales team provides the marketing team with intelligence for each customer or target account. 
  • The marketing team drives the targeting as well as tailors the messaging for each customer or target account. 
  • Both teams have a clear consensus on account plans as well as the roles and responsibilities for data upkeep.

Set the criteria for customer accounts to be prioritized

The criteria that sales and marketing teams use for evaluating and targeting current customer accounts for ABM can often be misaligned. This could be because both sales and marketing teams value a different set of customer attributes, which prevents them from seeing the full potential of an account.

A list of example attributes for marketing and sales qualified leads

However, for an ABM campaign to be successful, the marketing and sales teams need to be coordinated on the current customer accounts to be targeted. They can use any selection method such as the weighted measurement matrix, opportunity fit scorecard or the three-question method (which can be explored further here), but it is critical that the method is uniform across the two teams. 

Additionally, the teams should remember that since they are targeting customers and not leads, they will likely already have details such as key decision maker’s profile, purchasing barriers and information challenges for each account. This additional information can be used to tailor the selection process and improve the quality of the account selected for targeting.

Determine message focus, content priority and account plan 

While the marketing team in an ABM program is usually responsible for targeting and tailoring the messaging, it heavily depends on the sales team’s expertise in capturing critical data about the customer. It is this information that will help determine some of the most critical essentials for an ABM campaign.

Checklist of essentials for an ABM account plan

With all of this information in place, the teams can prepare plans for each account or a group of accounts. This plan comprises the marketing and sales material to be used, actionables for both the teams and the timelines for each actionable. It would also need monitoring to ensure the ABM strategy is working, and adjusted based on the customer’s response.

Leverage existing customer relationships for account growth

When looking to purchase a new solution or service, over 75% of buyers consider choosing a new provider as much as staying with the current provider (full report available to Gartner clients). 

In such a situation, the software provider can follow an ABM strategy and reach out to the customer with information on the success of an already delivered solution to get the conversation started. The software provider could also share a vision of how it can help the customer overcome business challenges or meet new goals. This ABM strategy would nudge the customer toward a purchase decision, without overwhelming them with a bold marketing campaign. 

Using an ABM program to target these customers can help software providers maintain a direct line of communication with them, as well as deliver tailored content. This could also help software vendors have an advantage over potential competitors and other external suppliers, and use an existing business relationship for account growth. 

Use intent data throughout the customer life cycle and maintain a competitive edge from prospecting to retention with our white paper, “Retain and Expand With Buyer Intent.”

Rupal Bhandari

Rupal Bhandari covers sales and account management markets. She received her master’s degree from the University of Delhi, India, and has created content for some of the world’s leading technology products and companies. Connect with Rupal on LinkedIn.

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