Account Based Marketing (ABM) is built upon a framework of Reputation, Relationships & Revenue. However, without trust, success under this framework will be limited, no matter how well-crafted the campaign may be.
If you can establish trust with your target accounts and key decision makers, you're able to build deeper, stronger and more meaningful relationships, as well as improve communication, drive decision-making, and improve customer retention. However, many organisations are too focused on short-term results, leads and other vanity metrics to be effective in building trust, and this is harming the potential of their ABM efforts.
Adding to this, ABM is becoming increasingly focused on marketing operations and technical set up, along with an over-reliance on paid and tech to meet short-term objectives. Creativity, quality and storytelling have suffered.
On the other side, ABM is an incredibly powerful tool that can be used to establish trust and can focus your resources on building it right at the source of your organisation’s growth drivers - your largest and most strategic customers and prospects.
What is trust and why is it relevant in ABM?
I joined the Edelman business last quarter, exposing me to the world of trust and its role in business. But what is trust and why is it relevant in ABM?
Instead of reaching for a dictionary definition, I decided to do one better and share a summary of trust as defined on the Edelman website:
“We have studied trust for more than 20 years and believe that it is the ultimate currency in the relationship that all institutions — business, governments, NGOs and media — build with their stakeholders. Trust defines an organization’s license to operate, lead and succeed. Trust is the foundation that allows an organization to take responsible risk, and, if it makes mistakes, to rebound from them. For a business, especially, lasting trust is the strongest insurance against competitive disruption, the antidote to consumer indifference, and the best path to continued growth. Without trust, credibility is lost and reputation can be threatened.”
If trust is the ultimate currency that organisations build with their stakeholders then ABM, a marketing approach that centres around building relationships with senior stakeholders, surely depends upon it.
Let’s look deeper into how trust relates to reputation, relationships and revenue.
Reputation and Trust
Reputation simply cannot exist without trust. For your target accounts to engage and grow they must first have exposure to, an understanding of and a trust in your brand, your products and services. Many practitioners leap straight into communicating the solution/product offer to target accounts, whereas a focus on understanding and strengthening the trust that your target accounts have for your brand and solutions will set you up better for success and will reduce friction throughout the funnel.
Better yet, a deeper understanding or appreciation of the trust you have already established can help you better qualify and select the right accounts for your program in the first place. Selecting accounts from sectors and markets where you know you are trusted can give you a huge head start when building your reputation in a particular solution area.
Here, a strategy and creative built on a strong value proposition that centres around establishing your brand or service as the trusted provider in the space will win.
Relationships and Trust
During a recent ABM program, one of the main challenges I heard from sales was how hard they found it to break through with prospects who had well-established connections with the competition. As the old saying goes… relationships are built on trust and ABM is all about building relationships with key decision-makers at specific organisations. Trust allows you to build rapport and credibility. It also helps open the door to deeper and more meaningful conversations about your offering and this was certainly why sales were finding it hard to cut-through even with arguably a more robust offering.
Trust improves communication: When you have established trust with your target accounts, communication becomes much easier. Your target accounts are more likely to be receptive to your messages, and they will be more open to engaging with you on a deeper level. This, in turn, leads to more productive conversations and a better understanding of their needs and pain points.
Strong thought leadership is so important to establish this trust with your prospects. To establish trusted relationships, prospects need to trust in your credentials, experience and knowledge before they will trust your recommendations and advice. Social media is a great platform to elevate this, whether for your own personal brand, or that of your subject matter experts or salespeople. For more on this topic, Edelman and LinkedIn teamed up to produce the latest B2B Thought Leadership Impact Report, offering insight into the buying behaviours of B2B decision-makers and C-suite executives during an economic downturn.
It's important to also recognise what ABM can do for trust. Well-crafted ABM gives you a great opportunity to get close enough to senior decision-makers to have the necessary conversations to develop trust and create opportunities. Essentially allowing you to pin-point the key individuals you need to build trust with and building a highly targeted and personalised program around them.
Revenue and Trust
Trust is a major factor in the decision-making process. “You don’t get fired for buying IBM” is a famous quote that brilliantly illustrates the power of trust. It may seem obvious to say, that if your target accounts trust you, they're more likely to view your products or services favourably, and they're more likely to make a purchase. Furthermore, the wider buying committee are certain to offer less resistance in approving a deal with a trusted brand.
Bottom of funnel activity and sales outreach needs to quash any hesitation or lack of trust in your offering. At this stage, regular check-ins and communications with prospects can make the difference and this is often a great stage to incorporate content led by proof points, ROI calculations and investment reassurances to gain you the trust you need to get over the line. Most important though, is that you are on hand throughout the process and that you continue to build personal connections, credibility and trust at this critical time.
Once a deal is done, the focus on trust must continue. When you establish trust with your target accounts and existing customers, you're building the foundation for a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship. This, in turn, leads to higher levels of customer loyalty and repeat business. Going back to the example earlier, competitors will have a hard time going after your clients.
If we agree that trust is integral to business, then it must follow that understanding how well your organisation is trusted by your addressable market is a key foundation for successful ABM. In fact, many of the indicators ABM practitioners already use in account selection are also indicators of trust.
Looking ahead, imagine if you could score your target accounts and prioritise them based on the level of, and depth of trust your organisation had established there.
This could give you several new outcomes or even account segments to target including the following:
- Accounts that trust you. These are a great target for further growth, up sell and growth into new products and an expansion of your services
- Accounts where trust needs to be repaired or improved – perhaps you have seen revenue plateau or stagnation or an upcoming review of vendors and a retention risk. ABM activity here can help re-establish trust or build it with ne decision makers that may have joined your account.
- Accounts where trust is yet to be fully established. Net new programs where ABM could significantly broaden your client & revenue base.
Increasingly, Account Based Marketers are over-indexed on the technical set up and marketing operationsm and seem to focus less on building trust within their accounts. Business has always been about trust and relationships. Yet quarterly targets, short-term goals and a reliance on tech and paid to hit the numbers have distracted marketers. Creativity, quality and storytelling have suffered.
Building trust throughout the ABM funnel is integral to account growth and retention and incorporating trust as a core KPI from the start will ensure it stays front of mind for your sales and marketing teams.
In turn, ABM can be an effective tool to build trust where it matters most – your largest and most strategic customer accounts.
Josh Turbill is Head of Digital, EMEA (Technology)