By Sangram Vajre

In 2006, renowned author Seth Godin wrote about flipping the marketing funnel to give your fans a “megaphone.” Through the rise of the Internet, your customers can voice their opinions more loudly than ever before, and they will get louder. Your marketing and sales team also can flip the funnel with account-based marketing. This figure shows how to flip the funnel.

Flip
Comparing the lead-based and account-based funnels.

The traditional lead-based sales and marketing funnel has been turned into a cone by using account-based marketing. The tip of the cone is your initial lead. This lead becomes your first contact and is then developed into an account. That’s how account-based marketing got its name. You’re identifying the accounts you want to engage, then strategically marketing to each contact in the account.

There are four stages of account-based marketing: Identify, Expand, Engage and Advocate. The four stages of account-based marketing apply different processes and components of technology. By using technology, you can implement account-based marketing. This figure shows the stages of account-based marketing.

Stages
Examining the stages of the account-based marketing funnel.

Identifying your best-fit contacts

The first step of account-based marketing is to identify. With traditional lead-based marketing, your marketing team focused on feeding as many leads as possible in the top of the funnel. With the account-based marketing funnel, you start the sales process by focusing on a single point of contact. You target your best-fit lead and create a contact. This contact potentially is a good fit for your business. You determine whether they’re a good fit by using a set of criteria. This set of criteria aligns with your ideal customer profile. After you have determined that this contact meets your ideal customer profile, you begin the process of turning the contact into a full account.

Would you rather go fishing with a net or a fish-finder? Knowing where trout congregate in a stream is a first step toward catching the exact type of fish that you want, but how much easier is your job with a fish finder? Not only can you see where the fish are located, you also get more insight into the size of the fish. Think of account-based marketing as your fish finder, so you can reel in the biggest fish.

Expanding contacts into accounts

The second stage of account-based marketing is to expand. This involves expanding your contact into an account. After the account is created, you further expand the account by adding more contacts. Your ideal customer profile is the type of company (the account) you want to work with. Within those accounts, there are contacts (the people who will use your product or service).

Often, expanding is the toughest stage for marketers who are used to traditional lead-based marketing. With lead-based marketing, you’re starting big at the top of the funnel, then slimming down the leads through different stages of qualification. Switching from lead-based marketing to account-based marketing requires a fundamental shift in the mindset of an organization.

Engaging accounts on their terms

The third stage of account-based marketing is to engage. Engagement is where your content and channels come to life. This stage is by far the broadest, because there are so many ways to engage with your prospects. Engagement often is where marketers become scientists. They test different types of content to find which types resonate with specific types of contacts and accounts.

Using personalized marketing, your marketing and sales teams engage all of the contacts within an account. You target your marketing messages to your best-fit customers on the channels where your ads are most likely to be seen, whether that’s social media, display advertising, video, or mobile. This creates more energy to close deals sooner.

Engagement is the broadest stage of account-based marketing, because there are so many ways to engage with your prospects. Think about email, webinars, ebooks, targeted ads, videos, events, and any programmatic or automated ways you use to get in front of your target audience (target audience is the key phrase).

While this is the first step in the traditional funnel, the flipped funnel waits until you’ve identified key accounts before developing the targeted content needed for engagement. This gives sales and marketing the opportunity to dive deeper and understand the motivations, pain points, and demographics of each account.

Here’s an example: A healthcare company is actively targeting enterprise employers in the San Francisco area. With a list of employers in hand, the healthcare company can both target specific leads with which they may have already engaged, and automatically present personalized ads to other decision makers in those accounts on the same channels that they’re already using.

This increases the reach within those accounts and makes it more likely that those contacts will already have been exposed to marketing messaging by the time the sales team is actively reaching out. The key here is to present marketing messages on the buyer’s schedule, not on yours. This is a huge differentiator between traditional and account-based marketing. This outreach is called engagement.

Your sales reps are on the front lines, so they’re a valuable source of information about your prospects. Ask your sales team what’s going on with each of your target accounts. What are the pain points of these specific accounts? Which decision makers are you trying to reach? Which features of your product are most important to buyers?

Creating customer advocates

The final stage of account-based marketing is advocate. This is when your accounts are customers. Your new goal is to turn your customers into raving fans of your business. This is the creation of customer advocates. Customer word-of-mouth marketing through referrals, reviews, and talking to their peers is the most organic and impactful type of marketing.

Traditional B2B marketing lacks alignment between the marketing, sales, and customer success teams.