Account-based marketing isn’t a new technique, but it’s gained an extraordinary amount of attention this year as one of the hottest, most talked-about marketing strategies in the industry. The problem is, B2B marketers aren’t entirely sure what it is, what it does, and what it involves. With the increasing conversation around ABM has come the inevitable confusion (and profusion) of tools, tips, and technologies that have made it hard to identify the features and even the goals of this popular strategy. To get to the bottom of the mystery of ABM, we hosted a webinar called Beyond the Hype: Making Account-Based Marketing Work for You with guest speaker Lori Wizdo,Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research. Here’s what we learned:
ABM as a term was first introduced in 2004, but didn’t gain popularity until much more recently. Part of the reason for this is technology. Tools like predictive analytics, data analysis, and marketing automation have really helped pull marketing – and B2B marketers – into the spotlight. Marketing has always played an important role in helping generate leads, and educate target audiences, but the explosion of technology has given us a chance to be even more than that. We can collect and use data in ways that – in Lori’s words, make us much more of a “partner to sales.”
Demystifying Account-Based Marketing
So where does account-based marketing fit into all this? To understand that, we have to look at how and why it’s confusing in the first place. The short answer is, ABM as a term isn’t very clear, and as a result everyone – from creators of ‘ABM Tools’ to content creators has defined it differently. Lori Wizdo mentions that a Forrester study surveyed a group of marketers and found that “3/4 of the people surveyed said it [the term Account-based Marketing] was vague, inconsistently defined, and lacks specificity.”
In the webinar, Lori defines ABM as a strategy where marketing and sales “jointly obsess over how to pursue, establish and grow relationships with specific customer accounts,” which sounds like the best-practices of marketing strategy. Moreover, its other tenets like strong sales and marketing alignment and deep customization and personalization of strategies and segmentation are all hallmarks of good marketing in general.
The main difference comes in shifting the focus from an individual or individuals in a deal to a team of decision makers. It’s the ‘account’ in account-based marketing that separates it from other strategies. It’s this that makes marketing and sales teams partners, and is also what creates the biggest challenge: scale.
The Marketing and Sales Partnership
Traditionally, sales has had all of the insight when it comes to accounts and deals. Marketers have often taken more of a support role in building meaningful relationships with customers. We create brand-awareness, we highlight important features, and we send content to sales that they can use to connect with our customers. Thanks to technology, strategies like ABM are changing this traditional dichotomy. Marketers can now personalize – in context. We can create targeted ads and content that cut right through to who our buyers are and what their specific needs and challenges are.
As Lori pointed out, it’s now possible for us to align our spend and our campaigns to the same accounts that sales is prioritizing. Marketers can now be proactive – and bam. There you go: ABM. That kind of close symmetry goes beyond bridging the gap between marketing an sales to creating a whole new way to work together. With the kind of alignment that is now possible (thanks to all that data analysis) we can share metrics and goals with sales, and angle our campaigns to support those efforts.
Getting Your ABM Strategy out of the Gate
Now, I know you want to get started. We’ve talked about the why, the what for, and the what’s needed – so let’s dig into how to get this ball rolling. Getting started with ABM strategy is… essentially the same as getting started with any good marketing strategy: you’ve got to define your audience and choose which accounts to target, create the campaign and the content, and work out how to move warm leads into the sales funnel. It’s just good marketing – but there’s a few subtle things that make it different. First is the idea that marketing and sales need to come together. Yep. Right at the beginning. You’ll need to work together to determine which accounts to target. Then, after you’ve gone through the campaign and content creation steps, and led your leads into the sales funnel, there’s the post-sales relationship.
We know that our customers educate themselves, but just because sales has closed the deal doesn’t mean we don’t need to continue to build those relationships. That’s where marketing should step back in – because ABM connects marketers to the idea that the relationship doesn’t end after purchase. It’s adding value post-sales that gives more mileage to our marketing and deepens customer relationships.
Lori told us that ABM is effective when the sales process is long and complex, when the team making the final purchasing decision is large, and when there are fewer accounts. So while ABM is a good strategy in its own right, it’s not a one-size fits all solution.
Defeating the Problem with Scale
The main problem that people run into with account-based marketing is that it doesn’t scale. One way to get around this is to use ABM in different ways. From how you align with your sales team to what types of lead generation efforts you have in place, ABM touches almost every part of a marketing strategy – because so much of it is drawn from best-practices. While a straight ABM strategy might not scale the way your business needs it to, it shouldn’t rule it out as an option for your marketing. Look at how you can implement the elements of ABM – including it’s heavy emphasis on personalization – into your existing marketing strategy.
How do you define ABM and what works for you? Let us know in the comments!
For an in-depth analysis of ABM as a marketing strategy, listen to our webinar Beyond the Hype: Making Account-Based Marketing Work for You with guest speaker Lori Wizdo, Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research.