Over the last few weeks, I’ve had some amazing conversations around the bottom line requirements for high-performance ABM. The timing of these conversations is critical as ABM practitioners increasingly ask how to properly build or re-architect their programs to achieve the results they believe possible.

“While hopes are high, most marketing organizations are ill prepared to onboard this new strategy and even fewer succeed at producing results,” states J. Robert Slaughter, President of Markistry. “Many well-intentioned marketers building an ABM program skip a number of steps and dive right into campaigns. Too often they spend little to no time on boring strategy and planning—instead jumping directly to tactical execution.” This gap has become so pronounced and ABM ROI so elusive that Rob and his team have created an "ABM Workshop and Revenue Blueprint”. These engagements are designed to assess current states, educate diverse teams to establish baseline knowledge, and ensure that your organization has the compass and basic roadmap to move purposefully in the right direction.

Today, I would like to share the ABM Maturity Model, a paradigm I created to describe the progressive vision of B2B marketing over the last couple of decades and into the future. This serves as a great foundation to understand how and why marketers struggle to achieve the promises of Account-Based Marketing. The stages of ABM Maturity include:

  • List-Based Marketing – Outbound marketing narrowcast to predetermined accounts. Historically, this has included direct mail, events, and telemarketing.

  • Lead-Based Marketing – Non-targeted lead acquisition and nurturing programs. Marketing automation and inbound marketing programs typify this strategy.

  • Account-Based Marketing – Account targeted programs designed to stimulate engagement across stages of the buying cycle, delivering pipeline revenue Volume, Velocity, and Value for target accounts.

  • Account-Centric Marketing – Coordinated account targeted marketing and sales efforts that are integrated across the organization, across channels and platforms, and across the buying cycle.

Before entering an ABM program, there are a few areas to cover. Johan Sundstrand, CEO of the internationally renowned Account Based Marketing agency Freya News, describes this situation well. “To succeed with ABM, you need to determine account and content strategies before you can calculate the right distribution – although it’s very important. First, you need to clearly understand target account needs and create account-specific content that will engage and meet their challenges. The role of ABM-content is to communicate to each decision-making group within your targeted accounts. If your content only supports the buying journey for ‘one persona’ it is not ABM and it will not work. This would be similar to a Key Account Manager who only has one contact person at a large account. That’s just pointless, it won’t lead to anything.” The most successful clients at Freya News have been doing this for years. They target the same accounts for long periods, across numerous channels and touch points. Each month they publish new account-specific content designed to address each decision-making group. These content are updated based upon sales collaboration and results that are measured at the account and buying group level.

What stage of maturity are we at today?

Today marketers are adding to their existing inbound strategies, like Marketing Automation, building a new set of strategies designed to increase efficiency and efficacy of outbound marketing. Account-Based Marketing. This transition isn’t easy and is quite unfamiliar to most B2B marketers. Our research indicates that approximately 70% of Account-Based Marketing programs are stuck in a digital version of a List-Based Marketing strategy. Based upon a sampling of 500 ABM practitioners, approximately 70% of them are unable or have not deployed strategies to address the evolving needs for each account, and instead are simply constraining a display ad program to an IP address reflective of a target account or are delivering retargeted ads – both using generic media and content.

More than a name or new acronym, List-Based Marketing misses the upside potential that Account-Based Marketing possess. The two are not the same. “As sales have separate discussions with each client, so should marketing, and the conversations should be aligned from the start to the finish” noted Christopher Engman, CEO Vendemore. “High performing mature Account-Based Marketing is exactly that; Account-Based. Some start with a List-Based approach, targeting and prioritizing accounts but don’t blend content and ads uniquely per account. While List-Based Marketing is targeted, most conclude that reducing spend isn’t enough, they need to increase impact. Results.”

Here are the fundamental gaps in approach and underlying capability

  • Where ABM programs need to pull targets through stages of engagement, creating pipeline Velocity, the lower performing ABM programs simply don’t plan at the account level, don’t create content to achieve target or segment objectives, and cannot change delivered content as engagement occurs. They are functionally incapable of doing Account Based Marketing. The chart below is from this research report.

  • While fewer than 50% of ABM marketers can measure results at the account level, even fewer are able to target or measure the results of engagement that occur within the group of people who actually influence and decide on purchases. Often called the Buying Group, this is a pivotal strategy. One that elevates the nature of Account Based Marketing from the List-Based vanity metrics of impressions, clicks and leads to the hard evidence of knowing how investments impacted those who influence and make purchase decisions.

How do you transcend from List-Based Marketing to Account-Based Marketing?

Become an expert at something. Select a group of target accounts that share a similar need and stage of engagement. Inventory your contact coverage within those accounts, adding contact where needed to fill out your profile of Buying Center roles. Then, create a plan that addresses the next two stages of engagement – creating ads, emails, and calling scripts (at a minimum) designed to advance these accounts to the next stage of engagement. Practice this game plan several times within your organization, find the areas of success and areas of friction. After working out the kinks and creating the processes necessary to see accounts advance, select another group of target accounts with similarities and build your program incrementally.

About the Author

Mark Ogne is a marketing veteran with global experience and 5 startups under his belt. Mark develops revenue traction using marketing strategy, analytic rigor and rapid execution across social media, digital marketing, content marketing, demand gen and marketing partnerships. Recognized for innovation and results-oriented approach, Mark is the founder of the Account-Based Marketing Consortium, winner of the 2015 “Top 50 Twitter #EmployeeSEAL Award for #Leadership”, contributor to the NYC bestselling book “The Social Employee”, built a global social program recognized by Kred as a “Top 5% Social Media Influencer, is a top 1% LinkedIn profile, and is committee chair for the Direct Marketing Association International ECHO Awards Board of Governors. Mark is an advisor to three startups and has held marketing leadership and general management roles at: NewzSocial, Demand Metric Research Corp, Acxiom Corporation, and more.