Few acronyms have been used more frequently in B2B marketing circles lately than Account-Based Marketing (ABM). The approach of targeting specific accounts with tailored programs is not a new practice (I was using basic ABM principles at Dell 25 years ago), but the development of new technologies and more sophisticated data management capabilities have made executing scalable ABM programs more practical. And with the diminishing returns from inbound marketing programs, marketers are seeking new ways to contribute to the revenue pipeline.
Jon Miller, former CMO of Marketo and founder of Engagio, an account-based platform that complements existing CRM solutions, believes, “in some ways, I think we all got drunk on inbound marketing over the last eight or nine years.” He also thinks the infrastructure for scalable ABM has only recently developed. “There are more scalable ways to do target accounts marketing than there existed before. People have been doing it for a small number of the largest, most complicated named accounts for years. But ABM was held back because the time it took to research and to personalize wasn’t ultimately scalable. In the last two years, new technologies have come out that enable you to be account-based at a new order of magnitude. And I think that has unlocked ABM for a lot more companies.”
So what aspects of ABM are over-hyped and which ones are truly ready for prime-time? Here is my assessment:
ABM better aligns sales and marketing – HOPE. One of the greatest benefits of an ABM programs is that it requires a common definition between Sales and Marketing on which accounts to target. The synergistic benefit of having the two organizations focused on the same list of accounts cannot be underestimated. “If Marketing is putting its energy into a group of accounts that aren’t accounts that Sales wants, that’s waste. And if Marketing is generating engagement activity at the account that Sales doesn’t want, that’s waste,” declares Miller. “What happens in that world is then sales reps waste time trying to go after the accounts they want by themselves without the support of Marketing. When you agree on the desired accounts and you get everybody aligned on that focus, you’re ultimately just going be more efficient, which usually makes you more effective.”
Developing the list of accounts is now easy to do – HYPE. Effectively selecting accounts to target for acquisition or development takes an understanding of the characteristics of the ideal customer. Many companies do not have that clarity so the alignment process is often subjective. Data modeling can help determine where best to focus which has led to the growth another highly-hyped category – predictive analytics. Combining first-party data (what a company has in its collective set of databases) with third-party data (information on companies which can be procured from data providers) takes some time and expense, but can help take the guess work out of the targeting decisions. Miller adds, “if you’re Boeing, you don’t need a predictive vendor to tell you which companies to sell to. You just know them. Where a predictive vendor is going to be the most valuable, is when your target customer space is much larger than the number of accounts that you can effectively go after. So they can focus you on the most valuable ones.”
One ABM program is all a company needs – HYPE. Not all accounts represent equal revenue and profit potential for a company so they should not be allocated the same level of resources. Miller elaborates on this point. “It’s not a one style fits all thing. I talk about three different approaches to account-based everything. At the top of the pyramid, you have what I call high-high – a high level of research and a high level of personalization. This is where you’re treating each account as a market of one. You’re going to create an account plan just for that account, then use that insight to create programs, messages and content just for that account. That’s the one that’s been around for years, and it works really, really well but it is really hard to scale. Then what’s come online the last two years or so are the medium-medium and the low-low. The medium-medium is medium level of research, medium level of personalization. So rather than a 30-page detailed account plan that maps every buying center and reading the 10K, for a medium, maybe it’s about 30 minutes of research. And how much can you find out and get in place in 30 minutes? For the medium level of personalization, rather than a completely custom piece of content, maybe it’s a piece of industry-specific content. You put their logo on the cover and you change the first paragraph and the last paragraph based on your research. And you send it to them as a very personalized message. The low-low is what some people call programmatic ABM because it can be completely automated – a low level of research and maybe you just personalize things at the industry and persona level.”
The tools for ABM now exist – HOPE. The inhibitor to effective ABM programs is no longer the set of tools marketers have available to them. Here is a landscape of the many options which exist today.
Measuring the impact of ABM programs is straight forward – HYPE. When marketers shift from measuring their inbound contribution to the sales pipeline to measuring their impact on generating revenue from a defined list of accounts, problems can arise. Miller’s observes, “Probably the number one mistake I see companies make when they start an account-based everything project is trying to make a shift to being account-based but not shifting the way they measure Marketing’s results. Traditional marketing is focused on counting things like marketing generated leads. ‘Marketing created this many opportunities.’ And in the account-based world, you need a different set of metrics to ultimately understand quality, not quantity. It’s not about how many leads you generated; it’s are you engaging and building relationships with the right people at the right accounts? That’s a different mindset for how Marketing should think about things.”
John Ellett is CEO and leader of the CMO Accelerator at nFusion, and author of The CMO Manifesto: A 100-Day Action Plan for Marketing Change Agents.
Image by Matt Trostle