Account-based marketing – The grand unified theory of everything?

A connected customer journey brings benefits across the business. Collaboration between sales and marketing is key to achieving this.

In physics, there are two separate laws: the laws of the very large (such as our earth, solar system and the universe) and the laws of the very small (atoms and the sub-atomic particles of quantum physics). For decades, theoretical physicists have searched for a holy grail that neatly combines and expresses both the very small forces and the very large forces in one grand, unified Theory of Everything (TOE).

In business, we have also, for the longest time, had two functions with two separate sets of laws: sales and marketing.

It now looks like there is one phenomenon that could be the aligning “glue” that brings the two previously separate teams of sales and marketing into one unified function: Account-Based Marketing (ABM).

What is account-based marketing ?

I have selected two definitions that sum the concept up nicely.:

  • Matt Heinz, President at Heinz Marketing, uses a well-known analogy to describe ABM: “Account Based Marketing simply means 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.”

  • Contrast the above with the straight-out practical sentiments of Justin Gray, CMO at LeadMD: “Our definition of account-based marketing is just good marketing. If you only had one prospect to sell and market to, you would treat them with the same principles as outlined in ABM. It’s just aiming at a more well-defined area of the funnel, and treating your best buyers in a much more personal way.”

How does account-based marketing work?

ABM as a concept is not actually new. Account planning and account-based selling have been around for decades.

The difference these days is that modern sales and marketing technology has elevated it to the latest must-have. It can be very powerful, if executed well. Imagine you want to win a new key account, or retain a major client that is at risk of switching to a competitor. Wouldn't you want to give them the attention they need to help secure or retain their business?

How do you establish account-based marketing in your organisation?

ABM is a multi-disciplinary team effort, comprised of marketing, sales, product management, market experts and communications specialists that come together for a common cause.

Close collaboration between teams, particularly  marketing and sales,  is the main key to success here. This is backed up by findings from the fourth annual State of Marketing Report, which shows that high-performing marketers are well-aligned with their sales counterparts.

According to the report, high-performing B2B marketing leaders are:

  • 2.1 times more likely than their under-performing colleagues to be aligned with sales on goals and metrics

  • 2.1 times more likely to understand how their efforts impact individual accounts

  • 2.1 times more likely to share key customer and data insights with their sales counterparts

Digging deeper into the collaboration habits of high performers, the alignment starts by being empowered to collaborate with sales, sharing common goals and metrics, and understanding how their efforts impact individual accounts and customers.

Winning marketing teams keep close tabs on their sales counterparts’ needs, and value two-way communication. In fact, high performing marketers are 2.1 times more likely to say sales regularly provides key insights that shape marketing efforts.

Once collaboration is established, the next step is to identify the key stakeholders in your target account, i.e. your targets’ decision makers, influencers and gatekeepers. This will involve undertaking customer journey mapping, where you identify your targets’ likes and dislikes, challenges and opportunities. Then you target them individually, through your marketing channels, with content, event invitations and product demos etc that will persuade them to make an informed decision on why they should buy from your organisation.

Teams that get ABM and their customer journey maps right are reaping the benefits. This is backed up in the the State of Marketing report: “High-performing marketers overwhelmingly agree that a connected customer journey across all touchpoints and channels is a boon to business, lifting everything from loyalty levels to revenue.”

However, getting ABM right is not trivial. The State of Marketing report also states that : “Marketers realise the importance of delivering customer journeys, but are having a hard time breaking down silos between sales, service and marketing, and bringing customer data together to deliver on this vision.”

It seems that old habits die hard and that some organisations are not actioning ABM as quickly as they would like to.

Marketers and sales professionals can better collaborate when they have the right technology and approach. Here are my proposed steps towards introducing ABM in your organisation:  

  1. Baseline your people’s cultural readiness for ABM. Don’t overlook this step as it will form the foundation for your ABM future. Work hard to convince your team of the benefits, if necessary
  2. Select your ABM team members, align their roles and metrics
  3. Choose your ABM target account(s). Map the personas for these accounts and identify their buying journeys
  4. Enter the personas into your tech stack and assign engagement roles to your team members
  5. Create compelling content for all your target account personas along their customer journey and deliver it through your tech stack
  6. Execute, execute, execute

ABM is dependent on people, processes and technology being on the same page. Get any of these wrong and the results will be less than spectacular. Get them right and your organisation will reap the rewards for a long time to come.

It looks like business has achieved the sort of alignment that has eluded generations of physicists in their field - a grand unifying “Theory of Everything”. The customer journey and focusing on common goals and metrics can create unity between sales, marketing and their supporting functions. Unlike the alignment between the very large and the very small worlds in physics, ABM already exists and has been proven to work.

So, over to you, sales and marketing leaders, go forth and unify your teams and win new customers with ABM, and if you want more insights into becoming a high performing marketer, take a look at the the fourth annual State of Marketing Report.