Account Based Marketing: Hype or Hero?

Let me deal with this question straight up – is Account-Based Marketing (ABM) over-hyped?

In truth, yes. Done properly, ABM drives significantly higher conversion, win rates and higher order value than standard lead generation programmes. It is fast becoming the latest buzzword in every B2B marketers kit-bag – driven by marketers seeking the next ‘silver bullet’ to generate increased demand and enabled by the explosion of marketing technology and automation tools. But with mass adoption comes average execution and underwhelmed senior stakeholders.

According to Business2Community, 75% of B2B marketers have rolled out ABM programmes, with only 5% running longer than 2 years. There are examples of great ABM programmes and use cases reporting a three-fold increase in revenues.

But we can’t ignore the fact that ABM at its core is just really great marketing, it’s built on a very deep understanding of who and where your customers are, what they need and how they buy. It focusses on engaging them in a highly relevant and beneficial way for all parties. And it works with all the other internal stakeholders in the business, in particular presales and sales account managers, to ensure the personalisation and consistency is maintained throughout the entire sales cycle.

A person receiving a message that is highly relevant to the challenge or needs they have right now is more likely to pique their interest and willingness to engage. Whether they’re buying for themselves or their business. That is the crux of Account-Based Marketing. Whether you’re developing a 1:1, 1:Few or a 1:Many, programmatic approach, the objective is to achieve the perfect balance of relevance, value and timeliness.

Does it work?

Well, that depends on whether there is a clear strategy and company-wide alignment behind it. A marketing team building a programme in isolation without clear integration with Sales will end up with little more than a nice marketing campaign.

ABM requires a change of mindset. It’s not a short-term tactic, but a long-term re-orientation of sales and marketing efforts.

It can be quite a culture-shock, particularly if past efforts have focussed on filling the sales funnel to the gills with leads of varying quality. An ABM strategy is about Marketing and Sales teams working together in real partnership. Building a defined list of target acquisition, or expansion accounts and working together to gather/pool insights and a joint engagement strategy. The outcome being a clear 1:Few, or in the case of large, highly strategic accounts, a 1:1 plan.

Where the greater volume of opportunities is required, a 1:many approach can centre around key themes, triggers or moments in time when it would be most appropriate to engage a buyer. Identifying those triggers guides the creation of messaging and content that can engage the target audience through awareness, consideration and decision-making.

Buyer Intent Data can add a lot of value in this scenario. Setting the Intent engine to monitor the triggers you’ve identified, set against defined sector and decision-maker profile lets you focus in on the 3% of prospects who are active in the market, rather than the 97% who don’t have that burning need and openness to engage with a vendor.

Coupled with marketing automation capability you can trigger a highly targeted customer journey, all the way through to individual sales engagement if desired. The narrower and more specific your triggers are up-front the more personalised your journeys can be.

The keys to success are:

Targeting – A clearly and narrowly defined target market.

Alignment – in particular between Sales and Marketing with everyone ‘buying-in’ to the strategy

Support – leadership endorsement that this is a way of working, not a one-off tactic.

Skills – the ability to create multi-touch engagement models across multiple marketing channels required skills and multiple customer journeys requires a skilled marketer.

Technology – preferably an integrated marketing automation platform and buyer intent data engine. Avoid having too many separate tools with disconnected data and reporting.

Content – ultimately this is where the value is. Being able to seed the right information at the right time is what will instigate a response. Working hard on using the intent insights to create relevant content.

Journey – with powerful intent data it can be tempting to apply it only to the bottom of the funnel, that will realise ever-diminishing returns. Instead, build content and engage at every stage of the funnel. Remember: this is a marathon/a strategic shift, rather than a sprint.

Is it for me?

“It’s just for corporates” – absolutely not. If you want to operate more effectively at greater scale, you simply start small. Run a pilot, maybe starting with a target new account that your sales team would like to win and building a 1:1 plan. Helping the sales team to win a major new account is a sure-fire way for them to start realising the value in what you’re doing.

“It’s too expensive” – there are marketing automation platforms now to suit every budget, many with a low monthly fee meaning the barriers to entry are low.

“I don’t have the resources” – you can work through a certified partner meaning you don’t need to integrate new technology and can outsource the entire programme until you’ve proven results and are ready to bring the capability in house.

Implemented as a behavioural and organisational way of working, ABM is very powerful and proven to deliver results. Approached in the right way, you can transform the success not only of your marketing team but of the entire business.

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