Personalization That Actually Feels Personal

How to Use ABM to Build Relationships and Revenue, According to Drift, 6sense, and Qualtrics

Account-based marketing (ABM) is like the weather. We talk about it a lot, but when you start asking deeper questions, it seems like no one actually understands how it works.

We’re here to change that.

Let’s get the boring definition part out of the way first. ABM is a marketing approach designed to win over one or a few specially selected high-value accounts. Instead of sending them the same content as everyone else, you create personalized campaigns with the aim of building an authentic long-term relationship that ultimately generates recurring revenue.

That’s the theory. In practice, many marketers find that, like chess, cutting hair, and synchronized swimming, ABM is harder than it sounds. How are you supposed to know what messaging is going to resonate with a total stranger? How do you convince the people controlling your budget that they should fund this highly intensive, very narrow approach? How do you win over Dan in sales, who thinks this sounds like a waste of time?

These are all valid questions. But they don’t have to be deal breakers — not anymore.

It’s now easier than ever to collect the data needed to build campaigns for your most prized accounts. We know because we help our customers do this with their buyers and we happen to love engaging in some ABM ourselves.

With input from experts who understand both the potential and the pain points of ABM, here’s your practical guide on how to build ABM campaigns that get personal and get results.

Meet Your ABM-bassadors

Stefanie Neer

Who they are: Senior Marketing Manager of Enterprise and ABM at Drift

What you should know about them: Ten minutes of listening to Stefanie will convince anyone that ABM is not only possible but a lot of fun. Our resident ABM expert has big plans for this approach at Drift.

Personal take: “ABM is a slower game. Building high-value relationships with diligence and mindfulness in every single marketing touch takes time, but the payoff can be astronomical. You can build really meaningful and long-lasting relationships in business with ABM.”

How to get them to respond to an ABM campaign: Share a new recipe with her or ask her about her record collection.

Latané Conant

Who they are: CMO at 6sense

What you should know about them: 6sense uses artificial intelligence (AI) to collect and analyze intent data, solving the mystery of anonymous buyers. With this information finally available, Latané believes that sales and marketing should make decisions based on data rather than instincts. She knows what she’s talking about: She wrote a book on ABM.

Personal take: “The old way of spam and cold calls is not creating relationships. It’s delivering a horrible prospect experience — and then we wonder why they don’t want to engage with us. Today, we differentiate based on the experience we offer, and to do that you need data.”

How to get them to respond to an ABM campaign: Shoes, talk about shoes.

Peter MacArthur

Who they are: Global Digital Marketing and ABM Senior Analyst at Qualtrics

What you should know about them: Qualtrics is a business operating system for experience management. Peter is the mastermind behind the company’s ABM program, which uses the Drift and 6sense integration.

Personal take: “One interesting thing that we’re doing at Qualtrics is trying to do what we call ABM at scale. We’re trying to find those areas where we can be targeted and speak to individual accounts, but doing that at scale.”

How to get them to respond to an ABM campaign: Mention his dog, Casimir the Vizsla.

Erin O’Neill

Who they are: Global Website Marketing Manager at Qualtrics

What you should know about them: As the person in charge of Qualtrics’ website experience, Erin uses 6sense and Drift to find out what visitors want and create a highly personalized user journey in response.

Personal take: “Don’t overcomplicate personalization. It can be really simple and still have a lot of impact.”

How to get them to respond to an ABM campaign: She skied 55 days last year — that’s your in.

Decide Who Makes Your Wishlist

A famous slice of wisdom claims that the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. For the record, we are completely against eating elephants outside of metaphors. But this slow and methodical approach is how you get into the mammoth (also not for eating) task of kicking off your ABM campaign.

The first things you need to know are:

  1. What kinds of companies would make good target accounts for you, i.e. your ideal customer profile (ICP)?
  2. Which existing companies fit that profile and are likely to buy from you?

Here’s how to answer those questions.

Compile Your Ideal Customer Profile

Countless books, podcasts, and blog posts have examined the dos and don’ts of building your ICP. In the context of ABM, your ICP is significant because it’s how you start to narrow down the types of companies you should focus your attention on, based on who you typically sell to successfully.

The only problem is that many B2B companies still struggle to compile an accurate ICP. Every potential client involves multiple stakeholders who all do their own research, and they all tend to shop anonymously. This makes it hard to know what your ICP really looks like, and, therefore, difficult to know who to target in your ABM campaign.

6sense calls this problem of anonymous buyers “the Dark Funnel.” Their technology helps companies shine a light on what’s happening in their funnels, including visitors on their site and others doing related research. In other words, it’s the ticket to revealing your ICP.

How to Craft Your Target List

Using your ICP as a template, the next step is working out which accounts you think are worthy of your ABM campaign. Again, let’s break it down into stages.

Team Up with Sales

This list-building will be a joint effort between marketing and sales. Your sales team will usually be the ones communicating directly with buyers at your target companies, so you need them on board from the start. The more your two teams align, the more successful you’ll be at ABM.

Balance Instincts with Data

For a long time, target lists have been built on instincts. However, 6sense can now give you reliable data on which accounts you’re most likely to land.

Latané explains: “Our AI looks at patterns within your data to see what types of customers you usually win and why. Is it because they’re in a certain region, a certain size, using a certain technology, or researching a certain keyword? The AI looks at all these patterns to come up with the most likely reason, and pings the universe of data in 6sense to find accounts that look like this.”

That doesn’t mean Dan from sales’ gut feeling gets thrown out the window. The challenge is to combine people’s instincts with data so that you have a solid list everyone is invested in.

Start Long and Edit Down

In collaboration with sales, create a longlist of accounts to target using your ICP and your intent data. This process will probably take extended internal negotiations, but once the dust has settled, agree that it won’t change for a specific period of time.

If who you're targeting changes over and over, you're not giving yourself an adequate amount of time to test any program with a set group. It's going to be really hard to prove the case for ABM and to see success because it's not an overnight game.

Stefanie Neer
Senior Marketing Manager of Enterprise and ABM at Drift

Once your longlist is firm, temporarily exclude these accounts from all other marketing touches and group them by priority. Even though only a handful will ultimately be the recipients of your highly tailored one-to-one ABM strategy, you can still serve the others with less intensive personalized campaigns. For example, you can group accounts by industry, size, or challenge, and create content addressing that shared aspect.

Once you have your final longlist, there’s no set way to use it. Review the prioritized accounts within your longlist to determine which accounts to further include in your one-to-one shortlist. Treat it as a chance to experiment with different groupings and campaigns, depending on your priorities and resources.

Know Who’s Ready to Buy

Understanding where your buyers are in the funnel can affect their position on your target list.

When you have 250 similar accounts to narrow down, and you’re trying to score a win for your new ABM campaign, it makes more sense to prioritize the account that’s just about to sign a deal over one that doesn’t know your company exists. 6sense gives marketers a much-needed window into “the Dark Funnel,” so they can see which accounts are at which buying stage.

That said, seeing that an account is at the top of the funnel might not be enough to disqualify them from your shortlist. Instead, you can use this information to inform how you speak to them. For example, you can serve them introductory short-form blog posts instead of an ebook that gets into the weeds about features they’ve never heard of. Ultimately, choose accounts that align with the core objective of your ABM campaign. Are your goals and KPIs top of funnel (TOFU) or bottom of funnel (BOFU) focused?

Building your target list gives you the “who” to focus your ABM campaign on. Once the back-and-forths have coalesced into a final longlist and shortlist, carve it into stone and display it in a prominent place where sales and marketing can see it. OK, that’s a bit extreme, but the point is, everyone must be committed and aligned to these lists for the time being. The list is rigid: It’s in figuring out how you use it that you can flex your creativity and, as you’ll see, your detective skills.

Create a Truly Personalized Experience

Personalization is the heart of ABM. Because it’s the process of crafting custom experiences that sets ABM apart from other marketing strategies.

It can sound intimidating — after all, it’s like trying to buy a meaningful gift for your new colleague equipped only with the knowledge that she has a pet cat and is allergic to cheese. Many well-intentioned ABM schemes (and workmates) have cracked under this pressure. “We’re all so busy and we have limited capacity. It’s really easy to set the list, set the initiative, and then when push comes to shove, everyone ends up getting similar messages again,” Stefanie acknowledges.

Here’s the secret: The number one resource you need to make your ABM campaign work is resilience, reinforced with intentionality, planning, and resourcefulness. Do your homework, think creatively, and you can pull it off.

Study Up on Your Buyers

Wait, wait, don’t close the ebook. This type of studying is fun, we promise. Especially if you consider yourself an internet detective.

The first stage of creating a personalized marketing campaign is to find out about the company and the people you’re designing it around. This requires two types of insights:

1) Emotional

The accounts you’re selling to are run by people. And unlike chatbots, those people have feelings. Think about their emotional motivators, including their fears, hopes, personal interests, etc.

2) Mental

This involves the more practical details, i.e. knowing how your target buyers work so you can deliver your message in a way that is most likely to resonate. For example, do they prefer emails or phone calls? How much time do they have to consume your materials?

These two types of insights apply at three key levels: company, buying committee, and individual.

1) Company

You need to show your buyers that you understand their company’s past, present, and future. Knowing a company means knowing about their industry, including common pain points and disruptors, as well as details about them specifically.

For example:

  • What makes them similar and different from their competitors?
  • What are their primary goals for this quarter or the year?
  • Have they been in the news?
  • Have they made any big hires recently?
  • Demonstrating this level of knowledge reassures buyers that you have looked closely into their company and concluded that your product is a good fit for them — and that you’re not reaching out randomly.

2) Buying Committee

The more members of the buying committee you can include in your ABM campaign, the better — and sooner rather than later. The earlier you engage everyone who needs to be involved in a deal, the more likely you are to close it.

But tracking them down is a tall order given that, according to research published by Gartner, it takes an average of 14 to 23 people to rubber-stamp a tech purchase. 6sense can help you identify the stakeholders you most likely need to engage with.

“We can say, ‘These are likely the contacts doing the research,’” Latané says. “We can also say, ‘This buyer is not currently doing research, but you typically need to get this role engaged, so here are people in that role we think you should reach out to.’”

Once you know who you want to speak to, start by considering their respective personas.

  • Map out the buying roles: Who are the influencers, the champions, and the decision makers
  • Be specific about each: Are they The Money? Are they technical? Operational?
  • What kind of key performance indicators (KPIs) might someone in these roles be measuring?
  • These factors can serve as a starting point for the profiles you’re building out on each person.

3) Individuals

This is the really fun, nerdy ABM stuff. Put yourself in your buying committee’s shoes and consider them as individuals. See what you can find out about them online. You can start with LinkedIn and incorporate anything about them that’s relevant and publicly available.

For example:

  • How long have they been at the company?
  • What’s their background?
  • Have they been promoted recently?
  • What’s their specialty?
  • What interests or hobbies do they have?
  • Have they participated in any recent videos, podcasts, or webinars that will help you understand their unique perspective?
  • Really critically think: How will my product or service directly benefit and serve their core objectives? Why would they care?

Using this research, write out a profile of everyone on the buying committee. All of this information can help you build a campaign and refine messaging that will capture their attention and hopefully, begin a meaningful relationship. Going the extra mile here allows prospective buyers to more quickly identify with your company, allowing you to build trust and alignment faster.

A lot of marketers fall down on the study stage and end up skipping ahead, only to realize that without this information, their ABM campaigns really aren’t that personal. Treat it like a creative exercise in empathy. It will serve your campaigns and your long-term relationships.

Power Personalization with Intent Data

Personalization can mean many different things, some more impactful than others. For example, slapping someone’s name on a landing page is a good start. But it’s not enough to convince them that you understand their unique challenges and goals.

Erin knows this from first-hand experience. She says that doing things like customizing a landing page with a buyer’s name and industry didn’t move the needle on conversions.

What we have seen work is intent data: Knowing where the user is in their buyer journey and using that information to meet users where they’re at. We've seen that convert at a much higher rate than just doing personalization for the sake of it.

Erin O'Neill
Global Website Marketing Manager at Qualtrics

Here’s how you, like Erin, can push your personalization efforts further.

Create a Mental and Emotional Experience That Resonates

ABM is not about bombarding prospects with video messages until they agree to a meeting (or issue a restraining order). It’s about understanding how your product will actually help them and demonstrating that in a way that resonates.

Building a personalized emotional experience is integral for generating trust with buyers. It’s how you show them that you don’t consider them just another prospect and that you’re genuinely interested in them as an individual. But the emotional experience is often the one marketers rush past or oversimplify.

Don’t settle for surface-level insights. Dig a little deeper. This is why you did all that research. The more you know about your buyers’ needs, concerns, background, goals, etc., the more readily you can acknowledge and address these at every touchpoint, which ensures you’re highlighting how your product serves them.

You also have to account for the buyers’ mental experience. A personalized mental experience is more about ensuring all your thoughtful messaging reaches them in a format that resonates.

“Your marketing team might be excellent at creating long-form content — but if you’re targeting a busy executive who wants to read bullet points and maybe watch a short video, they’re not going to consume these beautiful pieces you put your time and energy into,” Stefanie says.

Strategically sending buyers information in their preferred format increases the probability that they will access your materials, connect with the product, and understand what you do and how you can help them. It’s more subtle than a landing page with their name flashing in the middle, but it’s often more effective.

Make Their Digital Experience Feel Psychic

Every smartphone owner has experienced the weird sensation of receiving an ad for a product seconds after they thought about it (or even seconds before). That’s because AI is becoming increasingly intelligent and less artificial.

Rest assured, the robots are not going to take over the world anytime soon. They’re just very good at analyzing and predicting human behavior, a skill set you can harness to create a similarly psychic experience for your buyers.

Here’s how it works:

    1. 6sense’s technology uses AI to deanonymize your website visitors within a certain degree of probability. This means you have a good idea of who is on your website, whether they’re a target buyer or even one of your ABM accounts, and what they’re researching on your site as well as third-party sites — including your competitors’ sites. 6sense can also gauge interest based on past visits and behavior. For example, someone who has viewed your website three times in a week is giving strong intent signals.
    2. 6sense passes this information to Drift, which uses it to create a customized user experience. For example, Drift routes the buyer to the product pages they’re most likely to be interested in and sends content tailored to them via chat and email. Drift can also run custom playbooks you’ve designed for your high-priority clients, as well as notify your team that the account is on your site so the right sales rep can jump into live chat.
    3. Drift and 6sense determine when your buyer is ready to talk to sales and direct them to the sales team. This helps ensure sales only gets involved with the most promising website visitors. Drift can also make sure high-priority ABM accounts are transferred to a sales rep immediately. From there, 6sense’s sales dashboard supports reps by offering highly specific, data-based recommendations, such as buying contact information or doing a social touch.

Personalization goes beyond name recognition. So, take all the data you’ve collected about your customer (with assistance from AI) and create a digital experience tailored to their emotional and mental needs. With Drift’s 6sense integration, you’ll be able to optimize the assets and resources your team already has in order to serve your buyer a more tailored experience, which leads to faster deals and stronger relationships.

Send Swag They’ll Actually Like

Finally, we’re going to talk about swag! Everyone loves a freebie, but since this is ABM, the point is to make your gifting personal. Sending them a branded frisbee won’t cut it. And because personalized gift-giving can get expensive, you’ll probably have to save these goodies for your highest-priority accounts.

Although budget is a consideration to make, it really is the thought that counts. We can all think of a present we’ve received that wasn’t the most expensive, but struck a chord because it was so us. At the risk of sounding like a greeting card, your most important investment is effort, not money.

If you’re stuck, turn back to your research. Are they following any local businesses on LinkedIn or Instagram? Do they post about hobbies you can enable with a gift card? Ask the salespeople who have spent time with your buyer if they have any suggestions.

If you’re still experiencing gifter’s block or you’re buying for an initiative targeting multiple accounts, try choosing a theme. For example, for one Drift campaign on the theme of having better conversations, buyers received a pair of AirPods and a high-quality microphone. You can also have a set gift package tied to different life events, like a birthday or a new job. Stefanie recalls that when she moved to a new position, a customer sent her a desk plant to “grow with her,” alongside a personalized note.

Tailored, intentional personalization is core to ABM. It requires you to see your buyers not as prospects but as people. It’s about figuring out their unique needs and expressing that empathy in a way that resonates on a human level.

“Personalization goes so much deeper than using someone’s name or their company’s name,” Stefanie says. “You’re not wrong to do that, it’s a step in the right direction. That tiny shift can generate higher engagement rates in targeted ads. But when you’re really diligent and disciplined, and you get passionate about it, you can do so much more.”

Build a Tech Stack, Not a Tech Pile

Marketers today are spoiled for choice when it comes to shiny tech that promises to make our lives easier and our work more effective. But like an all-you-can-eat buffet, grabbing too much just because it’s there may cause pain later.

There's so much technology, which is amazing. It's tempting to try everything — but that gets messy, your data is everywhere, and it's harder to measure. My guidance is that your strategy always needs to drive your tech stack and not vice versa.

Stefanie Neer
Marketing Manager of Enterprise and ABM at Drift

Instead of investing in technology and then trying to retroactively fit it into your ABM campaigns, identify what you need help achieving and find the tool for that job. There are four main areas to cover:

1. Discovery

As you know by now, understanding who is visiting your website, why, and where else they’re looking is integral for building your ICP, your longlist of target accounts, and your high-priority list.

6sense finds and surfaces this data in a user-friendly way. “6sense shares proprietary data that tells us which accounts are researching terms around topics that we care about, for example, ‘customer experience,’ ‘contact center,’ or ‘employee experience,’” Peter says.

As well as highlighting this intent behavior, 6sense analyzes where buyers are in the funnel, and even whether they’re a statistically weak or strong fit.

6sense shares proprietary data that tells us which accounts are researching terms around topics that we care about, for example, 'customer experience,' 'contact center,' or 'employee experience.' Those models give us data on how much an account fits into our ideal customer profile. We get an account fit for each of our different models.

Peter Macarthur
Global Digital Marketing and ABM Senior Analyst at Qualtrics

“For example, we might have a random account that’s not a very good fit for our employee model because accounts that have these characteristics tend to not purchase from Qualtrics. But on the flip side, they might look like a strong fit for our customer product.”

Knowledge is power in ABM, so you need a tool that can go digging for it where you can’t.

2. Action

Information is only valuable if you can put it to good use. You need technology that can take all the insights from that intent data and use them to generate a personalized experience for your customers.

Enter Drift. 6sense tells Drift, 'This is the account,' and Drift knows which person it's chatting to, or if it's an SMB account it runs the SMB playbook.

Latané Conant
CMO at 6sense

You can design playbooks exclusively for your ABM accounts, whether you’re targeting accounts in a set industry or doing a 1:1 motion with an individual buyer. Once Drift knows the history you have with that person, it can deliver your highly personalized content and offer buyers the opportunity to speak directly to a sales rep.

Discovery and action complement each other so they need to integrate, like 6sense and Drift. Think of it as the who and the what. One tool tells you who to target and the other tool tells you what to do with that data.

3. Testing

Even with all your careful research, you still need to fine-tune your strategy. Try different messaging to see which prompts more engagement — for example, you can switch between a message about the buyer’s obstacles and one about their inspirations. The tools you use need to enable A/B testing so you can compare different approaches, see what works, and hone your approach.

4. Dashboard

Once you have your tools and data, you need somewhere you can easily track them. That’s how you measure your progress, ensure you’re hitting milestones, and keep everyone accountable. It also makes it easy to collect and pull data that proves your ABM strategy is working, especially to the people who haven’t bought in yet.

Think of your ABM technology not as a plate of spaghetti you’re throwing at the wall and more like a dart — designed to hit the target if you use it right. Your ABM goals are highly specific, so choose tech that helps you accomplish them, not a grab bag of the newest tools. “Just because all these technologies exist doesn’t mean you have to use them,” Stefanie says. “What’s going to matter is what works for the audience you’re setting.”

Use the 3 Rs to Prove Your ABM Strategy Is RRRight on Track

One of the challenges of being your organization’s ABM champion is that you’re playing the long game when other people want to see immediate results. “ABM is about being really committed to creating high-value relationships, and that takes time, thoughtfulness, and diligence: It doesn’t happen overnight,” Stefanie says.

Regrettably, ABM also takes budget and resources, which means you really do need to get buy-in throughout the organization and not just from the people with the checkbooks. ABM is a team effort between sales and marketing, and it can only succeed if you convince sales that it will ultimately help them make their quotas.

Since it could be months before you’re able to attribute revenue to your ABM scheme, get creative with how you track and report on your progress. We recommend using the three Rs: reputation, relationship, and revenue.

1. Reputation

Prove that your ABM strategy is positioning you as a market leader. Highlight relevant indicators such as brand awareness and thought leadership campaigns. You can measure these through metrics such as:

  • Click-through rate (CTR) for marketing materials on social media, promoted ads, and emails
  • Mentions on social media
  • LinkedIn connections and engagement
  • Earned media value: A calculation that puts a dollar value on the organic engagement you’ve generated via social media and other third-party sites
  • Webinar attendee and download numbers
  • Direct traffic: This shows how many people remember your company well enough to go straight to your website
  • Referrals, including via backlinks: This indicates how confident people are in recommending your service to others

In short, you need to show that people know and respect your company as a leader in your field. Long-term, this puts you at the top of their list when they’re ready for your services.

2. Relationship

Strong relationships are one of the main goals of ABM. By treating your buyers as individuals and directly addressing their needs and obstacles, you build trust. When buyers trust you to know what they need and how to deliver that, they keep coming back. That’s how you eventually generate recurring revenue.

Like every relationship, this process takes time. Document and highlight key milestones as they happen on the way. These don’t have to be super technical. For example, they can include booking a meeting with key stakeholders, inviting them to a conference, sending them a gift, or even having a promising email conversation. Record who you’re talking to as well. For example, noting that your initial contact put you in touch with someone higher up on the buying committee is a good sign. Think creatively about how to record anything that proves a developing personal connection.

A lot of the relationship data will live with your sales team. Marketing owns data around content and campaigns, but sales has the inside scoop on how the relationship is going. Create regular catch-ups and clear lines of communication with sales so they can access your data and you can measure the evolution of your relationships.

3. Revenue

Since it can take a while for your ABM campaign to start directly generating revenue, in the meantime, find ways to showcase your scheme’s potential revenue. This can be tricky, depending on the data you have, so look for metrics that highlight your campaign in the best light.

For example, consider measuring:

  • Influenced pipeline: How much revenue your ABM campaigns contribute to pipeline
  • Customer lifetime value (CLV) compared to customer acquisition cost (CAC): This can reassure concerned parties that the time and resources you’re putting in now will pay off in the form of long-term revenue
  • The total potential value of all the accounts you’re targeting with ABM, based on factors like the products you’re pushing, their budget, etc.
  • How many accounts have progressed through the funnel since the campaign started and how along the funnel they are
  • The number of qualified accounts you expect to close imminently: This will require close collaboration with sales

Once deals are starting to close, you can record actual revenue. Helpful metrics include:

  • Average selling price (ASP): How much your ABM campaigns netted after six months, a year, etc.
  • Win rate: How many of the accounts you won as a percentage of the total number of accounts you targeted
  • Annual recurring revenue (ARR): The return on investment (ROI) from applying ABM strategies to existing customers
  • Deal velocity: How much your ABM programs accelerated the time to purchase

It can also be helpful to divide your revenue reporting based on your strategic priorities. Reporting that you’ve landed, say, 30% of your top-priority dream accounts is far more impressive than 30% of your low-priority accounts.

When you’re passionate about your ABM campaign, you’ll start to find ways to share that excitement with others. See the metrics you record and report as another opportunity to be creative and bring everyone in your organization on board.

Remember That ABM Is About Mindset

ABM is not just a buzzword — it’s an opportunity to craft creative campaigns customized to your dream accounts. Thanks to technology like 6sense and Drift, it’s easier than ever to collect data on the most promising accounts, figure out the most effective messaging to use, and deliver campaigns in ways that resonate.

But what’s even more important than these tools is your attitude. Commit to studying your buyers, get to know them as individuals, and tailor your campaigns to fit them personally. If you can do that, congratulations, you’re doing ABM. You can write the next ebook!

We Asked the Experts How to Run ABM Campaigns…

…And they wrote us a whole playbook. Here’s everything you need to know about running ABM campaigns that get personal — and get results.