Salesforce taps AI to do the 'heavy lifting' in identifying the right contacts for successful Account-Based Marketing

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher March 16, 2021
Salesforce drafts Einstein to pick up the manual 'heavy lifting' involved in creating successful ABM campaigns.


What's the most important thing you need to have a successful Account-Based Marketing (ABM) strategy? Well, you need to identify the right buyers, of course. As Mrs Beaton used to advise in her cookbooks, first catch your rabbit! 

Now, that sounds simple enough when you say it like that, but in practice that can be one of the - if not the - hardest thing to do, especially if you find yourself having to do this manually. 

But this is a challenge that needs to be overcome, given the growing importance of ABM in wider marketing. As I noted back in August last year, the direction of travel here looks clear from where I’m sitting:

ABM will become the new B2B marketing cloud with data as the hub. One thing B2B marketers are doing that is key to their success is creating a new data architecture that brings together all account-level data in one place. When brought together, the data from systems of engagement like email, advertising, chat, and all interactions can create a more informative data model…ABM will become the new backbone as companies transform to the account-based model. 

AI everywhere 

Given this manual ‘heavy lifting’ challenge facing ABM advocates, it makes sense that Salesforce has put AI capabilities front-and-center in its own latest ABM announcement today. Salesforce focusing on AI isn’t in itself unusual - the cloud firm’s Einstein tech pans across the provider’s multiple product lines, from sales and service through analytics  to marketing and commerce. Integrating Einstein AI into Pardot marketing automation tech, for example, has enhanced that offering, providing the likes of better behavior scoring, attribution and campaign insights. 

In the case of its ABM offering, Einstein Key Account Identification uses AI to surface those accounts that the AI recognizes as having the greatest chance of getting to the stage of actually making a purchase. With those accounts identified, insights and recommendations are on offer to inform and prompt actions for marketers and sales people to target those with spend/purchase or other decision-making responsibilities within those organizations. 

The Salesforce pitch here is that companies can now analyze data across their CRM  and marketing systems to stack accounts and prospects in order of priority. This in turn assists marketing and sales teams to focus on deals that are most likely to close quickly and most profitably. Marketing can then optimize its spending, focusing on top-tier accounts where there is a higher opportunity. 

Getting personal 

Another significant part of the Salesforce ABM play is its Accounts as Campaign Members feature. This enables users to leverage AI insights to create highly-personalized campaigns for individual buyers within top-tier accounts. 

The personalization aspect is another key focus area of the wider evolution of ABM as a category. As I noted as far back as 2018

Once you understand the personas you need to target inside your identified accounts, you can examine the role each one plays in the purchase decision and create the content they need. Each persona typically has a different perspective on the pain points and challenges you are trying to help resolve with your product or service.

But I also highlighted a challenge here: 

Value propositions and content development are highly customized in one-to-one and one-to-few ABM programs, which means the marketing team needs to do their research and understand these accounts and the roles they are targeting within the accounts well enough to develop highly targeted content. And that is a struggle - not only to create that content but to create it at scale.

What Salesforce’s Accounts as Campaign Members tech enables is for organizations to be able to target the most valuable points of contact in an account, even if they do not actually have personal contacts for that account, and to automatically sync those new names and associated data into existing marketing campaigns as soon as this new information is identified. 

What that means is that whereas marketers ability to target accounts was contingent on whether there was individual contact data within their CRM database, it is now possible to spin-up ABM campaigns very quickly and add contacts to it on the fly to deliver targeted campaigns across multiple channels. 

In practice

To make the point, Meredith Brown, SVP & Head of Product, Salesforce Pardot, pitched me a potential use case centered on account prospecting. In this case, Sales would add an account to the campaign with the goal of finding contacts. Another exemplar would be the ability to add accounts that marketing or sales would like to invite to an event before they know exactly who should be invited.

Those are theoretical use cases, but there are also a number of real world exemplars. Derek du Preez yesterday yesterday highlighted McAfee’s work with Salesforce to align its sales and marketing efforts. There’s an ABM angle here, as CMO Brett Hannath observes:

We've simplified our data visualization to better engage our customers and prospects. This past year, we've shifted our organization to work from home and transformed how we engage customers. ABM has helped us personalize customer engagement, align our sales and marketing teams and improve data accuracy.”

Other reference examples cited include Wärtsilä, a global leader in solutions for the marine and energy markets, where General Manager for Marketing Operations Jaime López states: 

The ground-breaking AI-based Pardot features like Einstein Attribution and ABM account identification have fundamentally changed the way our marketing team makes decisions, and strengthened the relationship with our global sales teams.

My take

Anyone who reads my analyses or works with me knows that I am a big proponent of ABM programs and the need for Marketing and Sales to be closely aligned as functional entities. I'm also interested in how the tools are evolving to support this alignment around critical accounts. 

Einstein Key Account Identification and Accounts as Campaign Members are both expected to be generally available later this year. These new ABM features within Salesforce are another positive step on the part of the vendor towards creating an ABM solution that looks as though it could rival pure plays in this space, such as Demandbase or Terminus. 

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