How utilities can forge stronger connections with their business customers

How utilities can forge stronger connections with their business customers
By Kelly Zonderwyk and Leah Richbourg
May 16, 2022
Account Based Marketing (ABM) can help utilities forge deeper relationships to confidently achieve customer satisfaction and program goals

It’s no secret: In today’s business-to-business (B2B) environment, there is more demand for—yet greater difficulty in—setting and achieving goals within the commercial and industrial (C&I) customer sector. This means there is an increased expectation that utilities develop a deeper relationship and higher customer satisfaction with their business customers.

In fact, in ICF’s recent survey of utility C&I program managers, more than 60% of utilities said that they want to be innovators and pioneers when it comes to new C&I program delivery methods. 100% reported a renewed focus on business customer relationships heading into 2022. That's not a surprise when you consider findings in the J.D. Power 2021 Electric Utility Business Customer Satisfaction Study. At the start of 2021, overall business customer satisfaction scores were on the decline before climbing during the second half of the year. In part, J.D. Power attributes that unprecedented rally to an increase by utilities in business customer outreach.

When it comes to marketing and outreach to C&I customers, there are more opportunities for utility companies to forge deeper relationships than ever before. By properly harnessing an ABM approach, utilities can make strategic and data-driven decisions that improve efficiencies, increase customer confidence, and achieve—and often exceed—goals.

ABM as a strategic framework

ABM adoption is increasingly recognized as a successful approach in the B2B space, accelerated in part by the digital-first push heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

We can note ABM’s surge in adoption and success through several impressive industry statistics:

Achieving ABM success at that scale requires data-driven personalization, something that utilities still need to work to achieve—and it’s getting harder. For example, with Google's impending phase-out of third-party cookies on their Chrome browser—one of the most popular browsers in the world—it is crucial marketers focus on efforts centered around quality first-party data, such as from their own websites, to deliver personalized relevant content.

This is the key to any successful ABM strategy.

More than a campaign

ABM is not a campaign or replacement for general awareness; rather, it is a connected alignment between marketing and sales around mutually agreed upon high-value business targets. Crucial to its implementation is a connectedness among teams—including the service provider community—who seamlessly work together to prioritize attention and resources on the highest value businesses and understand the decision-making committee at those businesses to achieve program goals.

Guided by the ABM framework, teams work with data and tools to create ideal customer profiles of businesses followed by decision-maker personas. These valuable account insights are used to develop hyper-targeted content throughout the full lifecycle of the customer journey. That content library must be robust enough to provide value to each of the decision-makers at every stage of their process. Deploying this level of content during the micro-moments of decision-making is the key to overcoming missed projects and savings.

Investing in your business customer relationships

ABM is the innovation that will help utilities secure their stature as trusted partners with business customers—today and tomorrow. When ABM is properly executed, customer satisfaction scores will only continue to rise.

Go to ICF

The ABM framework takes several shapes:


This is a highly customized and personalized approach that focuses on a specific company and its specific decision-making committee.


This approach involves light customization and personalization in clusters of similar types of accounts.


With this approach, some levels of personalization occur at different moments but not at the full scope. Demand generation is one level down from this.

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To succeed, utilities will use a hybrid of the above approaches but must prioritize a rapid digital transformation of tactics and program delivery to implement the 1:1 or 1:Few approach. In the same J.D. Power study cited above, the number of business customers noting that they had an assigned account representative is also attributed to the overall satisfaction score rising from 33% to 39%. In fact, a dedicated account representative is associated with a 73-point lift in overall customer satisfaction.

Still, to properly staff a dedicated person to every business customer is unrealistic. Knowing the value of such personalized relationships, the 1:1 and 1:Few ABM approach is the perfect marrying of data and technology that allows a utility to build a relationship with the 60%+ customers lacking a dedicated account representative today.

Combine ABM implementation with industry expertise for exceptional outcomes

The pandemic created seismic shifts in how businesses operate, forcing the rapid advancement of a digital-first mindset in the B2B space. Moreover, the workforce itself shifted with a new composition of decision-makers. According to B2B International, 73% of millennials in the workforce are now involved in either influencing or making buying decisions for their companies. The B2B Institute study, Work in BETA: The Rising B2B Decision Maker, further examined the role of individuals ages 21-40 in business, a group they dubbed the BETAs. This group has new ways of working and consuming, new behaviors and attitudes, and the highest of expectations around a personalized and digital experience.

Utilities should aim to deliver on these new expectations and relate to this fresh wave of business decision-makers. A cohesive and connected ABM approach helps deepen such relationships while delivering a level of efficiency and greater return on investment. When it comes to ABM, an expert industry partner can help you:

  • Inform targeting using a customer platform like ICF’s Sightline Analytics and data-driven insights
  • Research and create buyer personas for personalized marketing and outreach
  • Provide third-party tools and lead generation tactics to find decision-makers
  • Improve knowledge of local markets, customer experience, and customer satisfaction scores
  • Develop creative campaigns with deeper layers of content and hyper-targeted outreach
  • Picture progress through data visualization

The key takeaway

Across industries, ABM is already a proven strategy for success. With a dedicated universe of customers to target, utilities can take advantage of ABM to make the best use of budgets, understand return on investment, and effectively meet program goals. To make the most of this high-performing approach, rely on a partner who can prepare your team for success by providing the full scope of ABM services—tools, technology, and expertise—under a single framework.

Meet the authors
  1. Kelly Zonderwyk, Director of Commercial Energy Marketing and Outreach

    With nearly 20 years of experience, Kelly designs and delivers award-winning energy efficiency programs and marketing campaigns for utility programs and local governments. View bio

  2. Leah Richbourg, Marketing Account Manager