First, you have to decide if “account-based marketing” is really a “thing.” Unlike other marketing channel disciplines or specialisms, account-based marketing (ABM), doesn’t require a whole new set of technologies. Sure, there are emerging tech and service providers who specialize and sell under the promise of ABM and provide valuable new capabilities that play a part. But ABM is more of a strategy, data, integration and process story. You cannot just buy “technology platform x,” integrate via IT and train your marketers. Which means it’s hard.
For B2B marketing, not much could be more alluring than the idea that I can target the right people at companies x, y, and z with valuable content and advertising with sequenced precision and churn up demand just waiting for a savvy salesperson to follow up with the “two’ of the “one-two-punch.” Clearly this approach promises to create warm leads, shorten sell cycles, build interest or even preference to make selling oh, so much more, efficient.
Here’s how Matt Heinz of Heinz Marketing describes ABM:
“In its purest form, account based marketing has been around forever. Account based marketing is simply instead of fishing with nets, we’re fishing with spears. You identify exactly the prospects you want to do business with and then you market very precisely and narrowly to them directly. I think we have a renewed interest in ABM now, because there’s an advancement in tools and technology that make it a little easier to execute – but the idea of doing target account selling and target account marketing is not new”
“Account-Based Marketing is used by B2B marketers to identify and target the accounts they value the most. ABM solutions typically include account-based data and technology to help companies attract, engage, convert and then measure progress against customers and prospects.”
Targeting accounts vs. segments
Let’s say you sell to mid-size plastics manufacturers. To reach them via digital marketing, you would create a continuously more clever way to reach “segments” that include the people at the type of companies you want to sell to. But your sales team already has a prospect list - specific accounts - they want to go after. Let’s say you have about 300 companies on that list. With ABM, you would be targeting the people who work at those 300 companies with more personalized marketing.
One of the biggest challenges is achieving the scale of impressions and frequency that trigger enough data to be generated and released by partners like LinkedIn and others. There are challenges with achieving the kind of scale of impressions that many ad networks rely on to work and that second problem of getting the data out of the networks to pass along to sales. These hurdles will be reduced quickly over time.
Sorting the most valuable partners vs. the “frothy” ones
Go ahead and search for account based marketing companies in Google. 32MM results. Scott Brinker could probably do a whole Martech diagram on it. Oh, Bertrand Hazard of TrustRadius, did that as a guest post.
A lot of the existing marketing technology stack makes parts of ABM possible. From personalization on the front end of the marketing side to the lead nurturing of the CRM end of things. The trick is to figure out where any additional value-add comes from and how to add that without needlessly investing in new tech or too many new partners. Clearly, targeting accounts (companies) or leads (individuals) across the Web is a valuable piece of the pie as is funneling that data as to what content and advertising they were exposed to/showed interest in to the sales teams and their CRM. Companies like Demandbase might then be a reasonable choice, for example.
The renewed version of account-based marketing is still new. Clear authority on how to do it and what it takes is not yet clearly established. Our good friends at Forrester are starting to unpack the category. You can find a good report here if you are a customer. Selecting the right partners will require a lot of DIY exploration and even some ‘try and learn.’
Connecting marketing to sales and driving action
Ultimately, the promise of ABM is locked up in just how good you are about sharing data with sales and driving the sales force to actions. Without a contemporary and aggressive sales force who get what the marketing engagement with leads can do for their own efforts you won’t be able to go too far with ABM (or any other appreciable marketing and sales integration). And without a good CRM platform to take in the marketing data and trigger other sales actions, you may be paralyzed with too much manual data tracking.
Oh, and don’t forget actual sales tracking and likely control group testing you will need to do to document the benefits of the ABM investment. Not to pile on, but if you have super-long sales cycles with complexity in terms of how many influencers weigh in on a purchase, there is little about ABM that is going to make that much easier.
“ABM requires even greater alignment between sales and marketing, but that doesn’t mean that aligning sales and marketing is harder with ABM. In fact, it's easier. The results from companies adopting ABM back up this. A survey by LeanData in 2015 suggests sales teams using ABM are 20% more likely to trust attribution reported by marketing and 20% more likely to understand marketing’s goals. The marketers also said they found sales followed up on 25% more leads.”
The price of success
What does success look like? More sales? More effective sales? All because of what? Marketing. Who could be against that? Think about it. The tension between marketing and sales is there for a reason. Sales is convinced that they are solely responsible for sales. Marketing purports to assist in ways that are just a chore to document. Ultimately, marketing aims to scale the impact of sales meaning that sales doesn’t have to grow to achieve the same impact, it actually shrinks. Sometimes it’s hard to get the sales force excited about the implications of all that.