Over the past few years, marketers have been reintroduced to the idea of account based marketing (ABM) through an inundation of advertisement about various ad based offerings, services and even certifications around the topic. Let's be clear -- while the practice has gone by other names, the idea of ABM is nothing new. Old and new school marketers are familiar with the concept as the practice may have been positioned differently.
Today, ABM's set up, nuances and technology has changed a bit with far more options. On its face, ABM is simply the practice of marketing to a select account/client list, a proverbial "no brainer" for B2B marketers, but constructing a program that is efficient, quantified, measured accurately, and organized is not something that is as obvious.
How do marketers use ABM for B2B?
ABM was made for B2B marketers, as many that provide hardware, software, or some other kind of solution tend to have the ideal list of customers that make profitable and those that don't. As David Ogilvy said, "Don't count the people you reach; reach the people that count." That means that your organizations sales force should be laser-focused on specific stakeholders in specific company to help drive profitable sales from a focused list of accounts, not a broad-sweeping one.
As a starting point, most (if not all) established brands will ingest account information from marketing and/or sales activities to facilitate communications through a CRM or marketing automation tool (e.g. Marketo, Eloqua, Salesforce, etc…) to customers and/or prospects. Top brands complement their CRM operations with expanded ABM paid media tactics through traditional direct mail, digital display (e.g. Demandbase or Madison Logic), hosting gated content on partner sites (e.g. only targeting/accepting leads from an account list), and paid social (e.g. retargeting via Custom Audiences Facebook or LinkedIn Accelerator). Depending on the company or product sold, there will likely be a sales team calling on the folks in market to close the loop on the sales process, which can also help quantify the marketing activities.
In an ideal scenario, there will be business rules set up that allocate some kind of scoring mechanism based on any site, advertising, lead, or sales activity that has occurred to better gauge where the prospect is in their consideration of the product or service. In this scenario, all the prospect/customer touch points will be connected to a common system that allows marketing to be in lockstep with the sales force. This means that everything from an initial prospecting sales call, the creative assets used in a banner ad, landing page content, and all other marketing activities are collected and used to inform the future marketing initiatives, budget allocations, and the overall user journey.
Stumbling blocks with ABM
On paper, an ABM program is a simple integration of all inbound/outbound dialogue with the consumer, but not all corporate structures allow for such a smooth adoption company wide.
For large corporate entities (e.g. those with a few acquisitions/mergers) who may have fragmentation across the organization, diverse product offerings, use several different CRM tools, siloed sales teams, and too many internal stakeholders with conflicting interests for this to be immediately possible across the organization. For products with long sales cycles, the feedback loop may be difficult to quantify early in an ABM program which may tempt folks to focus on the top line metrics (e.g. cost per lead) but not tie in the sales, renewals, or churn. While these measurement and learning exercises maybe be a "work in progress," it is needs to be continually evaluated and evolve with the business.
For smaller companies that may not have their target account list narrowed down, lower budgets may not allow the ability to test various ABM tactics outside of email, and they may not have the competency (both technical and marketing) to get a profitable ABM program up and running.
No sound strategy
Neglecting a sound strategy can result in ABM activities not being directed toward the right people (e.g. marketing team targeting different account list than sales), misaligned communications (e.g. messaging strategic targets that are already in contractual negotiations with sales), or creepy banner/social ads that can turn off prospects/customers. Maria Pergolino wrote a good article on additional pitfalls earlier this year.
If a company has been successful at getting ABM in up and running, there still has to be an overarching strategy with organizational "buy-in" into the program. This buy-in ensures that everyone is aligned with the goals, targets, and key performance indicators that they will be measuring the program against. As an example, if you were to ask someone in your organization who their target list is was or the company strategy around ABM and you didn't get the same answer from different departments, that's a telltale sign that there might is an issue.
Getting started with baby steps
Looking at a macro view, any organization considering ABM should strive toward a holistic view that is companywide. This means that the goal should be to have one overarching mission for the program that is uniform. Below are a few categories and questions an ABM program in its infancy should be asking:
- Do you have a 30-60-90-day plan to implement/assess the ABM program?
- Have your sales, marketing, and executives bought into the idea?
- Do you share the same target account list?
- How detailed are communications surrounding media, leads, and sales wins/losses communicated internally?
- What is your appetite for testing?
- How do you validate a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)?
- Do you have a strategy and available resources for multiple tactics?
- Do your online activities align with field activities?
- Are you acting on feedback from prospects/clients?
- Are you acting on feedback from other teams?
Measurement and learning:
- Do you know your goals (e.g. awareness vs. direct response) and the value of a conversion (e.g. lead, sale, or lifetime value of a customer)?
- Is everyone aligned and is this being reviewed by everyone?
- Which metrics matter and/or are there proxy metrics?
- Does this get challenged?
Once the program begins, it may find that certain tactics do not work and need to be refined. That's OK. In today's digital marketing environment, brand need to be agile and constantly test, assess, and tweak their operations to stay ahead of the curve. Unfortunately, there isn't a one-size-fits-all ABM tech stack that marketers can just fold in, so that just means that most marketers will want to include some level of customization for their unique needs. At the end of the day, most (if not all) B2B marketers will find incredible value in a sound ABM program, so it behooves marketers to make sure their program is set on a foundation that will foster success.