In the quest for personalization, we often (somehow!) forget that our prospects are human. This is even more important in account-based marketing (ABM) strategies, where concepts like “accounts” and “buying teams” can obscure the individuals that you’re ultimately trying to reach. A lot of marketers talk about humanizing content, yet it’s often harder than it seems to actually implement.
Earlier this year, we hosted a great conversation between Iron Horse CEO Uzair Dada and CMI’s Stephanie Stahl about personalization in account based marketing. The upshot? Customers increasingly expect the buying process to feel like it caters to their individual needs. As organizations shift more resources toward ABM, it will be even more crucial for marketing and sales teams to understand how to take a humanized approach.
With this in mind, I’ve pulled together this list of approaches for achieving a truly humanized account based marketing content strategy.
First of all, what happens when your ABM content strategy is not humanized?
As the number of touchpoints increases, we, as marketers, feel compelled to do more. However, we often create those touchpoints independently of the sales team. The result? A potentially disorganized, ineffective, and “inhuman” customer experience.
Uzair talks about a disjointed marketing experience he had on a developer website. After downloading a white paper, he was immediately bombarded with 10-12 marketing touches within a couple weeks. At the same time, he received 6-8 separate communications from sales. Beyond a huge amount of information, it wasn’t even all relevant to the topic he was researching when he provided his contact information. Ideally, he would have been able to continue further down his journey before talking to a salesperson. As we’ve said, it was messy, ineffective, and, frankly, annoying.
Here are three ways to achieve personalization in account based marketing.
Create content that answers the questions your target customers have.
We all know the importance of relevant content in an account based marketing strategy. But did you know that, according to NetLine’s recent report, 2021 was the second year in a row that B2B content consumption increased dramatically? As content consumption surges, it becomes even more crucial to have simple but thorough content for multiple audiences at every stage of the funnel. Here are some strategies for humanizing the content you create.
Build your brand’s stories.
The Content Marketing Institute’s head of strategy, Robert Rose, insists on the importance of the brand story. “Your story identifies what your passions are and serves as the foundation for all your future content developments.”
People genuinely care about the brand story. It’s a great way to build empathy and trust with your audience while humanizing your company. You don’t need a ton of content. In the same way, throwing a bunch of sales and marketing touches at a lead isn’t the answer. You need great content. Memorable content. Content that fits into your brand story.
Foster human connection through video and social media.
One of the biggest, if unsurprising, trends in humanized content is how audiences have embraced video, particularly live video. For marketers, video has been on the up and up consistently over the last decade. However, the last two years have resulted in a population craving human connection, something they don’t always get from podcasts or static content.
More people than ever are attending events like live webinars and joining social media communities where they can join like-minded people and participate in the conversation. When done right, marketers can participate in that conversation and contribute value to the conversation, which leads to the next strategy.
Leverage community and user generated content.
Community is such an interesting space that people both talk about constantly and are afraid of. Many brands and companies are afraid of what they’ll hear if they insert themselves into their communities. They’re worried about backlash and having to deal with criticism and even trolls.
However, there is a lot an organization can learn by having those conversations. Not only will you tap into the real thoughts, feelings, and pains the community is experiencing with relation to your brand, but you open the opportunity for user generated content.
“Do not fear the power of user generated content in your ABM content strategy.”
To be successful in community-led spaces, you will need to make a conscious shift from chest-beating to legitimately helping and education. If you do it right, your users will become your fans, then your advocates. People like being part of something they’re interested in—something their peers are also a part of. They like to share great ideas. If you’re giving them great content and a great community, they’re going to advocate for you.
What does this look like in action? We saw a case in a community group where someone posted something negative about a company. Before the PR team could get together and think about how to respond, the community took care of it. They stood up for the brand.
Ultimately, that testimonial is so much more powerful than anything the PR team could have said.
Measure content success meaningfully.
Instead of asking “what can we measure,” our chief research officer, Jay Famico, recommends asking, “what would success look like…and what can I measure to get closer to that?” Then, once you’ve dialed in which metrics to pay attention to, you must share those insights between not just the marketing and sales teams but the content and design teams as well.
A great example comes from the Cleveland Clinic case study. Their blog, Health Essentials, has grown tremendously over the last decade, reaching 13 million visitors per month. And it’s no secret how they achieved that.
According to Amanda Todorovich, Cleveland Clinic’s Executive Director of Content Marketing, “We measure everything. And we look at it every single day.” They’re measuring each piece of content every day to see what’s resonating, engaging, and generating conversation. This constant analysis has led them to make excellent decisions on when and what to post. It also means they catch content and posting trends immediately and are able to adjust accordingly.
Get your content to the right people in the right place at the right time.
McKinsey published a B2B sales study in December 2021, reporting that the number of channels customers and prospects use to engage with sales teams has gone from five in 2016 to 10+ different channels in 2021. With so many channels, it becomes even more critical to choose the places that meet your audiences where they want you to meet them and align with the sales team on where and what that contact will be.
Choose your channels strategically.
When you’re setting up your ABM content strategy, you can’t just say, “We’re going to be everywhere! Newsletter, blogs, videos, LinkedIn, Facebook, TikTok…” You’ve got to be more strategic about it than that. Personalization in account based marketing means meeting audiences where they want you to meet them. Where are they already? You’ve got to be on top of those channels at all times.
You also need to ask where your target personas are when they’re in the right frame of mind to receive your content. There’s no one-size-fits-all content that will work successfully across all channels. The starting place will look differently for different personas based on where they’re consuming your content. Starting everyone off at the same level regardless of whether you’re communicating on LinkedIn, email, or your website will only frustrate them.
The answer is integrating your messaging and content across the channels you do choose to create a consistent experience for buyers, a fundamental in omnichannel marketing.
Align marketing and sales teams over content touchpoints.
Sales and marketing teams must collaborate on their nurtures to make sure they aren’t overwhelming their audiences, giving inconsistent messaging, or sending irrelevant content. From project kick-offs to analyzing and sharing insights, marketing and sales must be on the same page. Without that, you risk the disjointed communication we described above.
Enable sales to build on previous interactions.
There’s nothing worse than getting into a sales cycle after doing the work to know what you want and having to start at ground zero because of the way their sales funnel is automated. If you’re ready for a demo, your salesperson shouldn’t have to go through their whole script from the beginning, as if you were a fresh lead. This is where marketing and sales teams need to be very thoughtful about their strategy and playbook.
Humanize marketing and sales automation.
Society loves automation. It makes our lives easier; what’s not to love? However, we cannot forget the importance of the humans on the other side of it.
Take chatbots. They’re great if they can answer your question. But if they can’t? You need to make sure a live person can answer that question. The further that gap stretches between chatbot and live person, the more frustrated your prospective buyer gets.
Rather than approaching outreach separately, marketing and sales teams should create a unified conversation by co-designing a nurture flow within the marketing automation system that includes touches from each team. The number and cadence of these interactions will depend on your solution; the important point is to continue the conversation with each touch—rather than starting from zero with each team’s nurture.
Change the sales playbook.
Humanity is always changing. Individual humans are in a constant state of transformation. A truly humanized sales playbook enables your sales team to flexibly meet prospects where they’re at, rather than starting their script from the beginning every time. To do this, sales need to recognize that prospects may be pretty far along their journey before they ever talk to a salesperson. Marketing plays a big role in enabling this perspective shift.
We said it in 2021, and it’s still relevant today, “As the keepers of engagement and intent data, marketers must take an active role in not only curating this data for sales, but training them on how to interpret and act on it.” Make sure you are meeting regularly with your sales counterparts to talk about what you’re each seeing in the data, and what the best next steps may be as a result.
The Iron Horse insight.
Marketing and sales teams rarely get second chances. There are so many available tools and content people can get their hands on to help them make a decision. If your touches aren’t unified and humanized, you’ll lose that lead to a competitor whose touches are.
Humanizing your ABM strategy isn’t just an imperative to remain competitive but an opportunity to test these approaches. Once you find strategies that resonate with your audience, you should expand them to your other marketing efforts. You won’t just need to be human with target accounts but across all your demand gen efforts.
We haven’t yet discovered alien life, as far as we know. In the meantime, our marketing and sales will always be between humans. And we should treat each other as such.