Build a More Effective ABM Email Strategy with our 3-Step Formula

February 24, 2023

ViB Editorial Team


Topics we'll cover

Email is one of the most effective ways to build brand awareness and generate targeted leads. Yet, many companies are not optimizing this B2B demand generation tactic — especially to achieve account-based marketing (ABM) goals. 

Why is this the case? Because many companies don’t have access to or are not fully leveraging a particular type of data — zero-party data. 

At ViB, we’ve unlocked a formula for success in both traditional and ABM email marketing programs using zero-party data. Our steps are simple but often viewed as unconventional. More importantly, they work. 

I shared these steps at a B2B Marketing Exchange event in early 2022, and now I’m sharing them here with you. 

Our 3-step email formula for ABM marketing

As you know, account-based marketing (ABM) is a strategy used to target and engage specific accounts, typically high-value customers, with highly targeted messages. This is in contrast to sending generic messages to appeal to a broader audience. 

ABM is not a new concept — but it has gained momentum in recent years, along with the expansion of digital tools that allow marketers to target specific accounts via email, social media, and other online channels.

What is B2B account-based marketing (ABM)?

B2B account-based marketing (ABM) is a type of marketing strategy that focuses on targeting specific, high-value accounts within a specific industry, rather than targeting a larger group of potential customers in a more general way.

Our three-step email marketing formula brings together email marketing best practices with ABM objectives because the two work so well together.

With the right data to inform your ABM strategy, you can create more personalized and targeted messages straight into the inboxes of your top accounts. 

Here are my three simple steps that can fetch advanced results, plus practical tips and stories from the ground to help you get started.

Step #1 — Know (and use) your zero-party data

Great ABM results are driven by great data. 

Gathering and using the right prospect data is the key to forming a complete picture of your accounts and marketing to them effectively. 

Zero-party data is one of our secret weapons. If you’re not familiar with the term, zero-party data is information that a potential prospect actively and freely shares directly with you.

This data is typically provided by consumers through online forms, chatbots, surveys, and other interactions.

Zero party data provides the most valuable insights into your consumers’ preferences, behaviors, and intention. It can be used by businesses to inform their marketing and sales efforts and improve their customer experience.

What is zero-party data, versus first, second, and third-party data?

Zero party data refers to information that is voluntarily and proactively shared by consumers with businesses. Unlike first party data, which is passively collected by a business from its customers (such as your web browsing habits), and second and third party data, which is gathered from external sources, zero party data is provided directly by the consumers themselves.

One of the smartest steps you can take is to create opportunities for your target accounts to provide you with their information. 

The primary advantages are that this zero-party data will be:

  • the most accurate data,
  • the timeliest data,
  • the most helpful information for your campaigns.

This is why zero-party data should be the foundation of your ABM program.

Tips: How to gather and use your zero-party data effectively

Here are three steps to gather and analyze zero-party data, which you can implement with your existing systems.

1. Find what subscriber data you already own

To begin, find out what kinds of zero-party data you already have in your arsenal. The best place to look is at your subscriber list:

For example, when companies add new subscribers to their website or blog, they typically ask specific questions such as about their communication or product preferences or brand sentiment. 

See the Spotify notification center screen shot below as an example of what I’m talking about. 

If you aren’t already collecting details like these with your subscribers, take the time to build out a killer preference center that captures information you’d like to know. 

This will give your new subscribers the opportunity to self-select their areas of interest, which in turn will give you valuable insights about them.

2. Deploy a strategy for collecting more zero-party data

Now once you have an idea of what you already have, I encourage you to take the time to create a strategy for collecting more zero party data. 

And some of the easiest ways to do this is simply asking for feedback. And this could be formally in the form of a survey or informally by simply asking for a reply.

In particular, you want to know their interests and preferences related to your product category.

This information request example from The Muse shows how the company asked customers for feedback via a structured survey, but you could also do this simply asking for a reply. 

One way to add power to this approach is to incentivize prospects and customers to share this information with you, which is actually a key step I’ll share more in a bit.

We also do this with our over millions-strong community of IT influencers and decision makers

We’re constantly asking them to provide feedback on where they’re at in their buying process, what technologies they’re interested in, and more. In return, we offer something that’s valuable to them, like an exclusive package for our B2B marketing services.

3. Incorporate your new data into your ABM strategy

After you’ve identified what data you have and created a strategy for collecting more, you will want to intelligently incorporate the zero-party data into your ABM campaigns. 

Now, many of us already have ABM programs that involve actioning on or scoring up accounts with intent signals from various sources.

It’s critical you interweave your zero-party data — and even first-party data — into the foundation of these programs. For example, if you know the contact has interest in a specific topic from the information they have selected in your preference center, send them a targeted email to that topic. When you combine this level of specificity with the company and persona-based personalization you likely already have built into your ABM program it’s an incredibly powerful combination. 

The ABM motions you already have in play will gain a significant boost from having this highly accurate first-hand consumer data added to the process. 

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Thumbnail of ViB B2B Marketing Trends Report

Discover the latest trends and statistics — and the key actions B2B marketers and leaders need to take today. 

Case in Point: Why it’s important to keeping records up-to-date

Here’s a great example from which I learned a lot about the power of zero-party data. I had worked at a company that was not using zero-party data in their very large ABM program. 

Instead, the head of the program relied on external second- and third-party data — even when a potential prospect specifically reached out and freely shared zero-party data. 

That lead had received one of our emails and wrote back to inform us that he was no longer with the company. Instead of digging deeper and updating our database, the team forged ahead with the program it already created. As predicted, the campaign received a minimal response. 

As it turned out, the buying center at the company was going through significant executive changes. Because we did not update the database with this new information — insight the lead had freely shared with us — our information was out of date. The company had invested in the best intent and ABM platforms but fell short when it came to data inputs. 

Sadly, this example is not an anomaly. It happens all the time at companies everywhere. So, a word to the wise — use the zero-party data that your prospects are freely sharing with you.

Step #2 — Broaden your targeting beyond your core personas

Us B2B marketers know it’s important to clearly identify your potential buyers — especially for ABM initiatives — to understand your target audience and create effective marketing campaigns that speak directly to their needs and concerns.

While buyer personas are likely the first consumer identifier that comes to mind, what’s really important to know first is your ideal customer profile (ICP). 

Here’s a quick crash course to first understand both concepts.

Buyer persona vs ideal customer profile — what’s the difference?

A buyer persona is a fictional representation of an ideal customer based on market research and data about your target audience, while an ideal customer profile is a detailed description of the characteristics of a company’s ideal customer.

What is a buyer persona? 

A buyer persona is a fictional representation of an ideal customer based on market research and data about your target audience. It helps to identify the characteristics, goals, challenges, and decision-making process of a typical buyer within your target market.

A buyer persona is used to create marketing and sales materials that speak directly to the needs and concerns of a specific group of customers.

What is an ideal customer profile?

An ideal customer profile, on the other hand, is a detailed description of the characteristics of a company’s ideal customer at the organization level. It includes information about the customer’s industry, size, location, budget, and needs, as well as any other relevant details that would help the company understand what kinds of companies are most likely to buy their products or services.

The ideal customer profile is used to identify and target potential customers who are the best fit for the company’s offerings.

The biggest reason behind considering an ideal customer profile first before you dive into a buyer persona in a B2B ABM strategy is that buying decisions today are increasingly distributed. 

Many companies often make the mistake of choosing limited buying personas to target in their ABM email campaigns. But the reality is that more than one person is involved in today’s corporate buying decisions. 

With larger and more distributed buying committees in B2B tech, being overly selective by targeting just the perfect buyer persona could be limiting your ABM success.

I’ve seen this a lot in my career, where someone is only going for that perfect persona. It could be that C level or VP level with a specific motivation to buy. But this phenomenon is backed up with statistics too. 

Gartner found that in large companies with between 100 and 500 employees, an average of seven people are involved in every large purchasing decision.

For your ABM emails, you need to fully understand the full range of buying personas who will be involved in the decision to purchase your products and services. 

Then you need to ensure the messages are targeted specifically for each one of them. If you’re not targeting your email messages, you’re limiting the amount of success you can achieve. 

In fact, if you limit the number of personas you target, you may completely miss the one person who would be the champion for your products and services — and help drive the sale. This is especially true for technology products.

Tip: Map out each decision maker in the buyer committee

To avoid a missed opportunity to reach the person who will help you make the sale in a target company, create a map that includes every possible decision maker, including influencers, detractors, gatekeepers, initiators, like our diagram here.

1. Understand each decision maker

Now, ask yourself who are the people who would get the most value from what we are selling? 

For example, initiators are people who are the innovators within their company. So they’re the ones who like to bring new technology ideas into the company. As a result, they’re a great entry point into new accounts and should always be among the people you include in your ABM strategy.

Every role in the buying committee should be mapped and considered. For example, even detractors you may want to email. Could you help win them over with pointed differentiator messaging? Something to consider. 

2. Build a segmented email strategy that targets each decision maker

Once you’ve mapped out your buying committee, you’ll then want to segment them for your email strategy

You don’t want to just throw everyone into a single account-based nurture and call it a day. You’ll need to write different email messages for different personas based on different criteria, such as:

  • The role each member plays in the buying committee
  • Where they are in their buying process
  • Their willingness to buy

Case in Point: Expanding targeting with segmented personas

We’ve put persona identification and segmentation into practice at ViB and gained amazing results. For example, a cloud infrastructure security platform wanted an email campaign that targeted Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs).

This made sense. CISOs are the most likely buyer and budgeting decision maker at a cloud infrastructure security platform. But by only aiming high, our client was missing out on critical influencers and deal champions with lesser titles, but who would actually gain the functional benefits of the solution. 

So we worked with them to expand their targeting criteria and added additional roles to their email campaign. 

In less than 30 days, we helped them generate and close a $75,000 business opportunity. 

The deal was negotiated with an up-and-coming buyer in the company. The person was somebody who, on paper, had a relatively unimpressive title. However, they were the project owner of a big cloud security project, so they had the power to endorse the sale of a solution they needed and wanted. 

This tip is especially relevant today as a growing number of businesses struggle through the “Great Resignation.” People are changing roles and jobs. So, your approach to targeting data needs to change, too. 

Being more inclusive when creating your list will help overcome this challenge in your next ABM email campaign. When you expand your campaigns to include additional personas, you’ll be more likely to reach the ideal person — the one who will champion your sale and support the purchasing decision process.

Step #3 — Give your accounts a reason to engage with you

My final tip relates to the concept of reciprocity. This means giving someone something to get something — in other words, rewarding their participation and their time. 

The concept is rooted in psychology, which has proven that we are more motivated to act when we receive a reward. 

Think about our B2C counterparts for example, who are so much better at using reciprocity to achieve their goals. Perhaps we can gain inspiration from consumer companies that provide financial incentives for buying behaviors and loyalty.

Too often, we receive messages that appeal to us, but then ignore them to prioritize other pressing tasks. We’ll say, “I’m going to deal with this later,” and it never gets dealt with.

Incentives come in handy exactly to get the attention of busy prospects (with overflowing inboxes) and stimulate them to take action with less delay. 

In B2B marketing, this giving to get approach is a particularly great tool to use when you want to gain access to exclusive zero-party data from your prospects and customers. 

You can even use your existing zero-party data to inform what kind of incentives to offer, like pushing a time-sensitive promotion if you have data about your top account’s buyer cycle.

Incentives-based programs to consider in your next B2B email x ABM campaign

  • Educational content like a template, checklist, or market research report, in exchange for contact information
  • Limited-time promotions to encourage your prospect to purchase sooner
  • Digital gift cards in exchange for completing a meeting
  • Tiered incentives for higher volume or bulk orders
  • Referral reward in exchange for sharing about your company with their peers
  • Personalized or physical gifts to build rapport with critical stakeholders

If you don’t know about them, Postal is one of our partners that we love to work with to get a range of gifts to our top accounts.

It’s also interesting to note how B2B marketers aren’t always onboard with the idea of rewarding people to take a desired action. In fact, they tend to have a bias against it. They think this action is not genuine. 

But from our experience and a realistic lens, that’s not necessarily true. Taking this step shows recipients that you value their time, and you value it so much you are willing to put a dollar value on it. 

Although you may occasionally attract customers who join your program solely to earn incentives, the returns and results you get from high-value accounts are well worth it.


Case in Point: Maximizing campaign results with relevant incentives

At ViB, we weave in relevant incentives as part of our proprietary approach to prospecting and nurturing. That helps us deliver hyper-targeted leads to our clients as part of our many B2B marketing services.

For example, we’ve run many incentivized B2B email marketing campaigns. Every time we do, we’ve increased our response rate by more than three-times. 

We also include relevant benefits when we’re driving a person to a company’s sales meeting using our ViB Appointments service. We see our customers report 50% lead to opportunity conversion rates on average.

With Abnormal Security for example, which is a cybersecurity startup, we drove appointment setting leads with a 84% conversion rate and 67x ROI.

See how Jon drove 67x ROI with ViB Appointments

“Almost every lead ViB sent us became a business opportunity, as we hoped it would.”
Jon Moody, Director of Demand and Digital Marketing at Abnormal Security

Do more with ABM with the right data and tactics

This blog post offers a wealth of data for companies who want to launch more successful ABM marketing campaigns. Here’s a quick list that you can easily keep on hand:

  • Start with your own subscriber data when building your zero-party list.
  • Think of zero-party data like the easy corner puzzle piece that will help you start to see the bigger picture faster.  
  • To gather more zero-party data, ask your prospects and customers for replies and feedback. 
  • Set yourself up for sales success by widening the number of personas you market to within a target account. 
  • Map the roles within a target account and segment them into email groups based on their roles and stage within the buying process.
  • Give your accounts an incentivized reason to engage with you by offering them rewards for sharing their value time and information.

To ensure that you are optimizing the full potential of your ABM email strategies, consider working with us at ViB. We have experience in both gathering zero-party data — and building email marketing campaigns that deliver better results faster. 

Just like how we advocate relevant perks, get a free consultation with our demand generation experts to review your current ABM program and how you can unlock your zero-party data and beyond.

Ready to get started with B2B lead generation?

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