How to ABM Like a Boss (Part 5): Personalize Your Content

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January 5, 2021

14 mins read

How to ABM Like a Boss Part 5 Personalize Your Content

How to ABM Like a Boss (Part 5): Personalize Your Content

Focusing on the customer’s buying experience with personalized content is more important than ever.

In today’s information age, buyers have more and more power over sellers. As a result, there’s an increased demand for personalized, relevant experiences. The proof is in the numbers:

  • 77% of consumers have chosen, recommended, or paid more for a brand that provides a personalized service or experience (Forrester)
  • 74% of online consumers get frustrated with websites when content appears that has nothing to do with their interests (Janrain)
  • 85% of consumers would reward sellers who provide relevant personalization with increased lifetime value (Forrester study commissioned by Rockt)
  • 59% of customers say that personalization influences their buying decisions (Infosys)

Numbers don’t lie (if it’s coming from good data, of course.) In today’s competitive environment, personalization is a critical differentiator. In this post, we set out to give you the keys to deliver a more personal, relevant, and timely message to your buyers. We walk you through the frameworks we use, offer some practical tactics, then end by revealing some of our plays along with the results.

Let’s dive in!

Nothing is dead.

We are all familiar with claims in the market that: Cold calling is dead! Email is dead! Social selling is dead! While channels vacillate in popularity, the key really is what fuels the channels. Yes, it’s the content. We know that when messages are timely and relevant there is better engagement from buyers. Let’s walk through a framework for how we view personalization in ABM.

The content personalization spectrum

There are no hard and fast rules about how much you should personalize your content. If there were, we’d all be connecting with our buyers, and there would be no need for this blog.

Here’s the challenge: We all know that the more time you invest to deliver a more personalized message, the more likely it is to resonate with the recipient. However, personalizing content takes precision, which takes time. On the other hand, if we want to deliver a message to the masses, we can use a generic message.

If something reads like it could have been sent out to thousands of other people, then chances are it was.

The trick is finding the balance between low volume/high personalization and high volume/low personalization.

Before we go on, there’s one distinction that we must make: Customization is not the same as personalization.

Using tokens in your marketing automation system (for example, “Hi [first-name]) helps deliver a customized message. We can customize messages using any data of the fields available in our system (e.g., company, employee count, industry, etc.). Used correctly, customization is a powerful tool. However, this is not the same as personalization.

Saying “Hi John, it was great bumping into you at the SiriusDecisions conference yesterday— let’s continue our conversation about your ABM strategy over coffee next week” is personalization. In other words, you cannot use it the same way you use tokens. This message only makes sense to John.

At Demandbase, we advise having a balanced mix of content, with each piece falling somewhere on the content personalization spectrum:

There are six types of content personalization approaches

So, how can we start executing personalized campaigns across the entire spectrum? It starts with tiering your accounts.

Taking a three-tiered approach to ABM personalization

In our last ABM Like a Boss post on selecting target accounts, we covered the three-tiered approach to ABM. As a reminder, using account tiers (one-to-one, one-to-few, and one-to-many) ensures the right amount of resources for each account.

Tiering is important because it helps us start to scale our ABM programs. And scaling personalized ABM campaigns is the holy grail. It may seem like a lot of work at first sight, but innovative tools and technology have allowed Sales and Marketing teams to automate many tiering tasks we used to do manually, which increases our efficiency and drives more results.

Let’s cover each tier in detail and how it applies to personalization.

ABM classic: one-to-one

This is ABM in its purest form (as defined by the ITSMA). These accounts should get the “full” ABM treatment—meaning each one gets deep research, a full account plan, personalized content, bespoke campaigns, and lots of 1:1 attention.

This definitely means programs and initiatives should be hyper-personalized. Because they have the highest potential revenue, we can afford to spend more time personalizing content. In fact, we must spend more time personalizing content for these accounts because we have fewer chances of closing them due to the fact that there is a smaller universe. In other words, we have to make the most of every opportunity.

What does our day-to-day look like for this type of personalization? (Can you say MUBRIPE, anyone?)

  • Map out each buying center.
  • Understand where there may be revenue potential.
  • Build out the organization chart and see which contacts we know and which we need to know.
  • Research key business priorities and individual motivations.
  • Identify relationships and connections to the account.
  • Publish detailed account dossiers and maintain them quarterly.
  • Engage internal chat groups or forums dedicated to each account.

We put together Marketing plays that are designed for that account specifically, and we involve our entire organization, from the CEO down, to land and expand these accounts.

Now, you may be thinking, “I can’t do this for every single target account,” and you are correct. At best, you’ll have no more than a handful of accounts you can execute a world-class ABM strategy against with 100 percent personalized ABM.

ABM lite: one-to-few

This type of ABM lets you apply much of the focus and benefit of ABM to a broader list. These accounts also get individual research, but perhaps it’s limited to a few key talking points for each account.

Since you have more of these accounts, you cannot afford to spend the same amount of time researching and sending personalized messages.

Here are some tips for tier two accounts.

  • 3-for-5 rule: Spend three minutes to find five key selling points to write an outbound email.
  • 10-80-10 rule: Personalize the opening (10%), leverage templates with marketing’s core messaging in the body (80%), then personalize the call-to-action at the end of the email (last 10%). This is where customization comes into play. Use broader generalizations for larger segments of your audience. For example, for a play that targets CMOs, there are things that all CMOs care about. We take that information and customize a piece of content specifically for CMOs. This type of customization can be done for any audience segment.

Here are some segmentation examples:

  • Personas
  • Industry
  • Title
  • Region
  • Company size
What does our day-to-day look like for this type of personalization?

Since these accounts can be smaller, mapping out individual buying centers may not be as challenging. But no matter what, we still want to spend time making sure we have quality data at the account level, as well as for each of the key people in each persona in the organization.nd we’ll want a process to keep those insights fresh.

These accounts will not receive 100 percent personalized content and plays, but they should still get highly relevant touches nonetheless. Think about taking content written for their industry and customize it with their logo on the cover and a personalized first and last paragraph.

Programmatic ABM: one-to-many

This style covers all the accounts that we want to target but for which we don’t have the resources for rich personalization and customization. These will often be smaller accounts and can be counted in the thousands. To execute on these, we need the help of automation, which is why this type of ABM is often referred to as programmatic ABM.

At times we may target these accounts with specific outbound tactics, sometimes customized by industry or solution, but most of the time we simply use broad demand generation tactics. We still target specific accounts, but we leverage strategies such as ABM advertising, content syndication, web personalization, etc.

The key difference between ABM and traditional demand generation is that instead of scoring leads, we track account-level engagement and wait until the account hits a sufficient threshold to label them a marketing-qualified account (MQA). We’re not saying that any one style of ABM is better than another. On the contrary. By balancing our approach across the different tiers, we’re able to scale our efforts. Be sure to use account tiers and the different styles to ensure the right amount of personalization for each account so none of your accounts are neglected.

Turning theory into practice with account entitlements

Once a tiered approach to ABM personalization is adopted, there is still one thing that must be done before executing on strategy. We must define account entitlements. Most organizations overlook this step in the personalization process. They don’t thoroughly answer the question “What is the right amount of time, money, and resource to dedicate to each account in each tier?”

Account entitlements are a framework created by Marketing to make clear what the level of investment should be for each tier of accounts. This ensures teams understand how to invest dollars and time appropriately.
As we’ve discussed, personalization comes at a price. We pay with our time and resources, both of which are limited. That means we must be judicious.

If we spend all of our time on personalizing interactions for Tier 1 accounts, we’re left with no other choice than to automate interactions for Tier 2 and Tier 3 accounts. In other words, we’d spam those accounts, which breaks the rules of ABM. In the same vein, if we spend all of our ABM budgets on elaborate direct mail and costly ads on Tier 1 target accounts, we’d lack channel diversity and would be left with only the traditional channels of phone and email for Tier 2 and 3. This also breaks the rules of ABM.

It’s important to take a thoughtful approach when creating account entitlements.

Developing account entitlements

Ok, now let’s run through how we can apply account entitlements. Here’s a framework for how to go about setting up entitlements.

1—List your reps.

To select target accounts and split them up into their appropriate tiers, begin by identifying your sales reps. Ask questions like: How many reps do you have? How much time in a week do they have for prospecting? What’s your budget?

2—Set your baseline.

Next, start with best practices as your baseline for the number of target accounts per tier.

· Tier 1: 10s
· Tier 2: 100s
· Tier 3: 1,000s

3—Document your ABM campaigns.

List all of your ABM programs. This is anything that will cost either the reps’ time or money from your budget. This typically includes direct mail, ads, trade shows, field events, custom content, etc.

4—Input your numbers.

Define what you think should be a reasonable output of a specific Sales rep or SDR, given the account tier.

5—Refine your numbers.

Now, start playing with the numbers until they add up. This is the tough part and will likely require a few sessions with your Sales and Marketing leadership to get right. If you are dead-set on doing a certain set of activities for your Tier 1 accounts, but you’re out of Sales reps, there’s only one option: Reduce the number of accounts in that tier.

Understanding how your buyers buy

For effective personalization in ABM, we must have a deep understanding of not only our target accounts and ideal customer profiles, but also the customer journey. We must understand how they buy, the structure of the organization, their challenges, the buying criteria, and what they need to do at every stage of the buying process. The customer journey is the complete sum of experiences and interactions that a customer goes through when making a purchasing decision. It should not be seen as a checklist for reps detailing what to say. The customer journey must take the point of view of the customer.

When we acknowledge the buyer’s journey and put the focus on delivering an exceptional experience, only then will we be able to deliver a personal, relevant message.

So, how do you map the buyer’s journey?

1. Align Sales and Marketing around the challenges and outcomes of our buyers.

This means first defining our buyer personas and ideal customer profile. We covered this in our last ABM Like a Boss post on selecting your target accounts as well, so we won’t spend more time on it here.

2. Define the stages that the buyers go through when making a decision.

The buyer’s journey is a process. It’s a path they take on the way to purchasing our product or service. At a high-level, the journey is usually broken down into three stages: awareness, consideration, and decisions. Here is a breakdown of the stages and the activities the buying committee goes through in each stage:

1) Awareness Stage – They realize they have a problem.
  • Clearly identify the problem and their needs.
  • Conduct research.
  • Consolidate information.
2) Consideration Stage – They define their problem and research options to solve it.
  • Find possible solutions.
  • Compare and evaluate solutions.
  • Get buy-in from other stakeholders.
3) Decision Stage – They choose a solution.
  • Make a selection.
  • Begin implementation.
  • Prove impact.

Don’t forget to take into consideration the sub-states within each stage for complex prospects.

3. Uncover valuable buyer persona insights at each stage.

This is arguably the most important stage. In this stage, we define key points in the decision-making process and try to influence those points so the purchasing decision is in our favor. To find these key points and get the insight needed to influence the buying decision, we must do our research. First, talk to people. Talk to existing customers. Talk to your sales development team. Talk to the sales reps that are on the phone with prospects every day. Next, become a detective and see what customers and prospects are saying to each other. People are more than willing to share this information in public forums, such as social media, blogs, and chat rooms.

The bottom line is that to be successful, Sales and Marketing must align around their target audience, how they buy, and how to engage with them throughout the buying process. In ABM, Sales and Marketing must be done throughout the entire journey.


As you can see, creating meaningful and relevant content can really move the needle. Don’t wait to get started. There are many technologies and techniques to help scale your personalization efforts. For example:

  • Vendors that enable dynamic content can help deliver highly customized message flows that adapt as the audience interacts.
  • Vendors can insert a person and company name into videos.
  • Many digital print vendors can create cross-media campaigns that personalize across print, email, and landing pages, at scale.
  • PDF documents like eBooks can be personalized from a file of target profile data.
  • Personalized landing pages are a great way to complement personalized emails or direct mail.
  • Content curation platforms make it easy to assemble an entire content hub targeted at a single account.

Not all ABM is created equal, but if you can reach the right level of personalization for each of your target account tiers, you’ll be well on your way to scaling your ABM and achieving record growth.

Take the next step!

Ready to increase your conversion rate with unique and personalized website experiences tailored for your target accounts? Learn more about Demandbase Personalization

How to ABM Like a Boss Series

If you’re just digging your feet into ABM and looking for pointers on how to build a successful account-based strategy, then How to ABM Like a Boss is the definitive blog series for you. No need to read through a stack of posts from a dozen bloggers. This is it. It’s like reading an eBook but in an easier and more digestible way. The blog series covers how to create a budget, build an ABM team, get your data ready, select your target accounts, personalize your content, and measure and realign. Check out the rest of the articles in the series and own your ABM!

Part 1: Build a Budget

Part 2: Establish an ABM Team

Part 3: Get Your Data Ready

Part 4: Select Your Target Accounts

Part 6: Measure with ABM Metrics


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Brandon Redlinger

Thought Leader, B2B Marketing & Sales Strategy

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