All good marketing starts with the customer. Account based marketing (ABM) starts with a customer of one. ABM is about people not personas, accounts not markets. ABM is about playing the long game, building relationships over time and nudging the customer to think differently. To make this happen requires a deep, methodical understanding of that audience of one. And when we say understanding, this is what we mean:

Market
It’s not enough to appreciate market dynamics. ABM marketers needs to understand the customer’s place within that industry sector – how macro events are presenting systemic challenges and where competitive pressures are stimulating sales opportunities. How, in short, is the market and the customer’s place within it shaping an organisation’s agenda.

History
For history read historic successes and failures. It’s essential to understand how the customer has approached the issues you are hoping to address in the past; what’s worked and, more importantly, what hasn’t worked. Learn from past failures to better plan for future success.

Culture and sentiment
What are the cultural characteristics of the account in hand? Is the organisation a leader or a follower? Does it innovate or is it risk averse? Without appreciating these intrinsic attitudes, you will be unable to demonstrate empathy. And without empathy, your narrative proposition will miss the mark.

Relationship status
This is not relationship status as a Facebook user might understand it but rather the connections – exhaustive or minimal – that exist between supplier and customer. Who does the customer already know at the supplier? Who at the supplier knows the customer? How strong are those relationships? What are the mutual perceptions of those they know? And, perhaps most importantly, who don’t you know? Which executives and stakeholders capable of changing the dynamics of the account relationship have you yet to establish an affiliation with? Lots of questions in search of answers. Interviews with key account directors will start to reveal the status of these relationships, good and bad, extensive and negligible.

Priorities
This means explicit knowledge of customer strategy coupled with awareness of programmes and projects already in flight. But it also means implicit understanding of priorities team-by-team, stakeholder-by-stakeholder.

If that’s what you need to know, how do you discover it? The answer is to combine these investigative methods:

Primary research including interviews with those that used to work for, with or alongside the target customer. At Momentum we find design-led thinking workshops a particularly effective method of understanding customer needs, motivations and priorities
Large-scale digital analytics. To deliver on the latter we built the Momentum 360 analytics engine which allows us to interrogate volumes of real-time data from hundreds of publications and social sources. This digital footprint tracking provides clues on all aspects of the customer, from interests to priorities, from culture to sentiment.
We’ve also recently invested in third-party intent data which shows how people are interacting with content across publisher networks, either at the IP level or through user registration and cookies. This data shows which types of content a user is reading, watching or downloading – providing valuable signals about propensity to buy. Only with these insights can we – and you – truly know a customer.