We’ve told you that account-based marketing (ABM) is a journey, not a destination, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get there or that you can’t begin to see results early on.

Half the battle can be figuring out where to start. For some organizations, pivoting to an account-based strategy seems easy: Choose target accounts and market to them. For others, it seems very difficult. In our experience, it’s both less and more complex than you’re expecting.

Less complex: Your sales team understands the concept of ABM (well, they understand sales) inherently, and they are your best guides.

More complex: Program governance and solid coordination between sales, marketing, and operations is critical to ABM’s success; lots of organizations don’t spend enough time hammering out these details.

Don’t let the more complex aspects block you from getting started. We recommend starting with a pilot so you can uncover where you’ll need to augment and coordinate but also so you can begin to measure successes you can build on until ABM is baked into your overall revenue strategy.

That’s what this post is about: Setting up a pilot so you can get ABM off the ground.

Before you begin, make sure you have the resources to manually support the marketing automation platform (MAP) and CRM systems work (such as data reconciliation and list uploads). Onboarding new technologies to scale your ABM program is essential, but during the pilot phase, you’re working with what you already have. If you have enough resources to run more than one pilot program concurrently—great—it’ll give you more data to work with when you scale.

Step 1: Identify target accounts

Lean heavily on your sales or account teams to select a target group of accounts. A good place to start might be your existing customers—if you have products or services to upsell or cross-sell and especially if the sales process for them involves additional decision makers. If your account team has accounts that fit these criteria, they might be your first target account list.

Alternatively, pull your closed-opportunity data to see who has been a good prospect in the past. Both won and lost opportunities offer a window into your ideal customer profile. Then, interview your sales team to see if they have target accounts or ideas about where they’ve seen success. Obviously, your lead scoring model, if it’s been successful and includes firmographic information, can be helpful too.

Loop your product team into these conversations. Who are they building the product for? This is a basic question, but it’s important to ask at regular intervals. Kicking off an ABM pilot provides the opportunity to ask it so that you can make sure your target accounts are a good match for the products.

Once you’ve gathered this information, narrow your target account list to about 10 accounts for this pilot stage.

Step 2: Define measurable goals

We advocate for aligning your marketing goals with revenue goals. But if your sales cycle is long, the pilot phase (which should run for about three months) might not be measurable by revenue. In that case, try measuring by:

  1. Reach within an account: “Marketing is going to activate three new contacts within each of our target accounts by the end of this pilot period.”
  2. Conversations: “Marketing is going to ensure that our sales or account teams have had a conversation with each of our target accounts by the end of this pilot.”
  3. Opportunities opened. “Marketing is going to drive a pipeline of $XX by the end of this pilot period.”

Be specific. Even if you don’t reach your named goal, the pilot is still a success if you made significant progress against it. It’s okay to revise a goal up or down, but you need to go into the pilot with a very specific goal in mind and align your strategy to it.

Step 3: Personalize your strategy

Once you’ve identified your KPIs, it’s time to think about who you’re targeting (the personas, what they like, don’t like, and how to message to them) and how to reach them (at least one targeted ad platform like LinkedIn, email, and other tactics). And then document it—use our template if you need one.

You’re familiar with this part of this process, so don’t over think it—but don’t under-think it either. Your messaging should be somewhat personalized, but don’t get caught up designing personalized nurture tracks for every contact in your database.

Do remember that part of your strategy is the interaction between your sales and account teams and your prospects. To make the pilot successful, include this piece when making materials. For example, personalized email from the sales team is a strong component of a holistic strategy that takes interactions into account.

Direct mail in the form of attractive pieces and packages also can be a very effective ABM tactic to employ.

Step 4: Create your playbook

You have a plan, now work with your sales team to create an agreed-upon playbook. Lay out the exact customer journey: What the targets receive at each touchpoint, who is talking to them and when, and what the sales team will record in your CRM to automate subsequent touchpoints.

Once you have the playbook and established timelines, create workflows in your CRM to track adherence (or lack thereof) to what your sales and marketing teams agreed to. For example, if the playbook says that each lead receives two emails and then a phone call, set up reports to show that those things happened when they were supposed to. These governance reports must be transparent to both sales and marketing so that both have visibility into what the other is doing with this sub-segment of accounts.

Step 5: Augment your data, if needed

If you don’t have the kinds of contacts you want for your target accounts, consider augmenting or purchasing data to enhance your target audience for the pilot.

Step 6: Run it

Again, this will be familiar: Architect the campaigns and deliver the assets needed to make the campaigns run. Remember to A/B test your subject lines and messaging.

Also, make sure your reporting is set up to measure against your KPIs.

Step 7: Launch

Have a cocktail! It’s launch day!

Step 8: Measure

Three months have passed, and your campaigns are humming along. You picked a specific goal early in the process, and maybe you’re doing awesome against that goal or maybe you’re realizing that it was overly ambitious. Maybe you’re realizing that whatever strategy you chose hasn’t had the impact you hoped it would. Remember: ABM is a journey, not a destination. So, take a step back and start digging into the great data you collected.

If you’re considering the pilot a success, look carefully at the emails and messaging that worked, and then select the best pieces to work with going forward. It’s time to scale!

If you’re considering the pilot a failure, dig deep to figure out why it failed. Did everyone work according to the playbook? Did your messaging get a big, fat “meh” from your target audience? Did you miss your target? Tweak and try again.

And celebrate: You’re doing ABM now, and it’s only up from here.