What Is Account Based Marketing?
One of the hot topics at Arketi’s recent High Tech CMO Roundtable was the implementation of account-based marketing (ABM.) As if we needed another approach to add to our growing set of marketing must-haves, the concept of account-based marketing continues to gain followers and buzz among B2B marketing organizations. But for all the hype, is account-based marketing a true innovative concept or just this year’s [insert failed marketing trend here]?
One thing is for sure – the buzz is real. According to SiriusDecisions, 92% of the B2B marketers they surveyed called the idea a “marketing must-have” with over half currently piloting an ABM project. Defined by Wiki as a “… strategic approach to business marketing in which an organization considers and communicates with individual prospect or customer accounts as markets of one”, it’s easy to see that the concept deserves at least serious consideration by marketers for three key reasons:
- It forces marketers to deeply understand the needs and values of the individual prospect to enable tailored marketing actions. Batch and blast techniques have zero place in a true account-based marketing strategy. By the way, that’s a good thing.
- If forces a stronger link between Marketing and Sales organizations. A true account-based marketing approach fosters deep collaboration between marketers and their sales counterparts in both content/message development and activity set and lead followup. And since a significant percentage of account-based marketing activities are typically directed at existing customers, the marketing/sales link is a natural occurrence. Uniting marketing activities with specific sales goals with sales feedback integral to opening new opportunities creates a natural connection between marketing and sales organizations.
- It delivers the one-to-one marketing payoff marketing automation and other technology tools have been promising us for years. By creating focus on a single account, marketers can deliver a highly targeted message to exactly the right prospect at precisely the right time – with a committed sales team ready to rapidly handle follow up.
But if account-based marketing is such a no-brainer, why are only 20% of B2B firms in the SiriusDecisions study engaged beyond the single pilot stage? The answer may be a deficiency in skill or sweat – or both. Almost half (47%) of the SiriusDecisions survey pool admitted their staff didn’t have the skill set to manage ABM programs. And account-based marketing takes work, otherwise you end up making costly mistakes. Well beyond crafting a clever email, building a landing page and firing up the automation engine.
A great deal of account planning and analysis typically precedes the launch of an Account-based effort, and these type of activities are seldom the “quick-hit,” low-hanging fruit type of win. The best run programs deploy a multi-activity approach, relying on different marketing actions, from retargeted ads to focused emails to even old school direct mail. The common denominator, across all channels, is delivery of an ultra-focused series of messages and offers built from a detailed understanding of the account’s position, needs and dynamics.
So is it for you? If you are selling a solution that requires a complex sales cycle or if you have struggled with conversions within your demand generation activities AND you feel you have the requisite skillset within your marketing organization, it’s probably worth trying out. Just be prepared to make a substantial commitment to the initiative.
Like most significant business initiatives, a key reason for failure to launch an account-based marketing (ABM) plan is often the quite reasonable question: “How do I start?” Or put another way, “How do I do this without really screwing it up?
The good news is, stripped of the hype, account-based marketing is fairly straightforward. Note that doesn’t mean easy, just not wildly exotic when it comes to planning. Here are some tips to help you get your pilot initiative off the ground.
- Build an integrated marketing plan. Once Sales and Marketing agrees on the account or accounts to target, jointly develops a prospect contact list within the account and develops a Sales plan, it’s time to begin building out a marketing support plan. Keep in mind that even though you’re approaching prospects in a single account, you still need a multi-channel approach to effectively engage both existing prospects and new contacts as part of the account planning exercise.
- Simply following a retargeting approach or sending a targeted set of emails to a small group of prospects won’t get it done. Use part of the research phase to try to identify options for engagement based on the account’s make-up, culture and market position.
- And don’t forget the metrics. With account-based efforts, traditional activity-based marketing metrics might be interesting, but your campaign will live or die on harder engagement, pipeline and revenue performance. Make sure you have a mechanism in place to track the “cradle to grave” path of the account prospects.
- Do a marketing team skill set evaluation. This is ensure you have enough internal horsepower to pull off a true account-based marketing initiative. Nearly half the marketing execs polled by Demandbase in their recent survey said their teams lacked the right skills to keep this type of initiative in play.
- To be successful, you’ll need team members with keen analytical minds, the ability to understand research and customer pain points and how to translate those into message elements.
- And writers – strong writers. To craft the individualized content components that quickly reach prospects and get them engaged. If you don’t have the talent, acquire it, lease it, rent it, but don’t fail to obtain it, before you launch.
- Assess organizational readiness. This might seem like common sense but unless you turn a real critical eye to your company’s culture and market position, to review a broad set of parameters, expectations and limitations, you’re likely to miss something critical.
- For example, if you run on a six-to twelve month sales cycle but do quarterly Marketing reviews, you’re out of alignment before you begin. If your C-Suite tends to be of the “What have you done for me lately?” mindset, meaning it’s all about leads now, maybe account-based marketing isn’t your best fit or at least shouldn’t command the bulk of your marketing efforts and resources.
- Get internal buy-in. With the confidence you have the right structure and the right talent, you’re ready to make your first sale; to your internal stakeholders. Unless you Sales team is all in, willing to support the initiative completely, and your execs are willing to give you the time to execute before demanding results, the effort is doomed to fail. The good news here is that Sales has every reason to support the effort if they are asked for guidance at the start as the outcome is measurable in Sales revenue.
- It’s also important, at this stage, to identify the amount of focus your Sales team devotes to specific target accounts vs. broad market coverage so you can align marketing efforts accordingly. Be sure to include current customers in your account mix as these can be the best source of success from up sell and cross sell efforts.
- Lastly, pilot your strategy before jumping in with both feet (and significant budget). Be sure the pilot account is large enough to produce a substantial return on your investment but not so large as to force an unnatural amount of effort just to manage. Like most other major marketing initiatives, the first round will probably be more learning experience than absolute perfection. But planned well, with the right level of support and attention to detail, it can be the foundation for a strong ongoing strategic focus that will carry your marketing efforts to new success levels.