You know what they say about pioneers: they often die with arrows in their backs.
So if you’ve been slow to invest in Account-Based Marketing (ABM), I’ve got some good news: the pioneers have made their mistakes, and you can avoid them all.
ABM interest is growing quickly. Google search volume topped its 10 year record in October 2015. In less than one year since, that search volume has doubled. To be sure, this movement takes energy from marketers’ genuine desire to spend precious budget efficiently. However, it is also fueled by vendor hype, and that’s where some of the pioneers began to lose their way.
Vendors have been quick to promote stats about ABM effectiveness. An oft-cited quote comes from the consulting organization ITSMA, which takes credit for coining the ABM term in 2003. Says ITSMA, “ABM delivers the highest Return on Investment of any B2B marketing strategy or tactic. Period.” I absolutely believe this. But marketers have to understand what ITSMA means. The ROI won’t materialize just because a vendor calls their product ABM.
There is no shortage of predictive marketing vendors ready to build your target account list. Indeed, predictive models can sort accounts by potential. But I’ve watched several companies buy such an analysis only to get stuck. What do they do with the list? They buy lists of email addresses or they aim display ads. Some are surprised when the click-rates are just as low as before.
If a marketer simply adds an account filter to the same old campaigns, that’s not ABM. In fact, it reduces leads. Marketers need to change their campaigns to speak directly to their high-potential accounts.
I encountered an ABM enthusiast who wanted to promote content to her target accounts. We talked about the benefits of paid social campaigns (such as LinkedIn sponsored updates). But she really only had one ebook. There wasn’t much of a blog to pull from. Until they produce relevant content, her company is stuck prospecting. It's a good idea to organize content onto a matrix, placing personas in the rows and buying stages in the columns. As soon as marketers create this matrix, it’s obvious where the gaps are. Once the gaps are patched, ABM will be able to engage all necessary stakeholders.
Take inspiration from this example of how Northrop Grumman embraced ABM to win a $2 billion deal with the state of Virginia. Their content, built specifically for the account, is the peak of ABM. But even just persona- or industry-based content is a step ahead of most competitors.
I get a lot of unsolicited B2B email spam. It’s full of lies, like “I researched your company, and I’m really impressed.” Of course what that really means is, “I didn’t have time to tailor this email, because my time is more important than yours.” A core competency in ABM is insight. Campaigns work better when marketers address the specific needs of a buyer with insight. In traditional ABM, marketers gain insight by commissioning a research team to spend weeks studying a handful of accounts. This enables high-touch, but it’s hard to scale.
To get insights at scale, companies need to bring their customer and prospect data into one place. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Even with CRM and marketing apps, companies neglect most data about a target account. The best marketers build infrastructure to combine and share as much of this data as possible. For example, if a sales team is selling to Cisco, they need to know when Cisco employees visit their website and what they read. They need to know what question a Cisco employee asked at the tradeshow booth. Any pitch should reflect accumulated insight.
A few months ago, I heard a marketer promise a turnaround in pipeline. She told her organization that ABM was the cornerstone of the strategy. Unfortunately, she took the burden upon herself. Without commitment from the Sales and content teams, there was only so much she could do. The turnaround didn’t materialize, and she ended up looking for another job.
ABM is not just for marketers. It requires cross-functional participation, especially Sales. The Sales team is an essential channel for promoting content, sending invites, and figuring out exactly who the influencers are going to be. ABM doesn’t work as a solo sport.
In conclusion, if you’re a B2B marketer selling deals larger than $10,000, ABM deserves your attention. It yields bigger deals and shorter cycles. If you want to learn more, see my post on The 7 Principles of ABM. And remember, despite missteps, none of the pioneers above are abandoning the effort. And now you get to skip their mistakes, charting your company’s path to ABM success.
Jason Garoutte is the CEO and Co-founder of YesPath, a SaaS platform for high-touch B2B campaigns. He is the former CMO of predictive marketing pioneer Mintigo. He has over 15 years experience in B2B marketing, including seven years helping at Salesforce.com where he helped scale the sales team.