Dear Marketing, Here is why what you are doing isn’t Account-Based Marketing

It seems like everyone is talking about Account-Based Marketing (ABM) these days. But what’s the big deal?  Personalizing messages targeted to key prospects isn’t really new. Early versions of Account-Based Marketing started back in the 90’s as one-to-one, or personalized marketing, with the rise of online marketing and analytics that allowed marketers to have a better understanding of their web visitors and what they were interested in.  As marketing automation tools like Eloqua and Marketo came into popularity, marketers were able to deliver more timely and personalized messages. Is Tuesday at 10 am when people are looking at whitepapers on data warehouse solutions? Sophisticated CRM tools like enabled collecting information about each account and related stakeholders.  Yet, most B2B marketing campaigns are really set up to focus on one of three things: a geographic region (local marketing), a buyer’s functional title (like IT Director), or a preference (interest in IoT).  Most marketers aren’t really parsing their information, research and outreach by ACCOUNT. In fact, a lot of traditional marketing tools make it difficult to research or to communicate that way.  The marketing world has been very contact focused. Many marketers still like to think in terms of lists and buyer titles.

Typically, “working” key accounts has been left to a small handful of senior sales account execs. Tools like DiscoverOrg  and RainKing were primarily used by sales for account planning.  So where is the confusion that is leading many marketers to claim they are doing ABM?  In May 2016, Aberdeen Group reported that 42% of all marketers practice some form of Account-Based Marketing (ABM).  I was puzzled by the size of that percentage so I started looking for a more precise definition.

ITSMA presents a helpful and clear definition: “Account-based marketing, put simply, is ‘treating individual accounts as markets in their own right.’”

In their blog, Defining the Three Types of Account-Based Marketing, ITSMA defines four underlying principles of ABM:

  1. Client centricity and insight. With ABM, sales and marketing focus on solving the buyer’s problem, rather than promoting the solution they want to sell. This outside-in approach means understanding clients and their organizations in enough depth to create propositions that help them achieve their business objectives.

  2. Partnership between sales and marketing. ABM will only achieve its potential when sales and marketing work hand in hand. This requires more than agreeing upon definitions, rules of engagement, and a list of prioritized accounts. It means that sales and marketing are equal partners collaborating on the same team.

  3. Focus on reputation and relationships, not just revenue. ABM objectives focus on client lifetime value, going beyond lead generation and near-term revenue goals to drive increased mindshare and stronger, long-term relationships.

  4. Tailored programs and campaigns. Using a combination of market insight, account insight, and individual buyer insight, marketing and sales craft personalized content to drive interest and engagement.

Principle #2 is the one that tells me that most marketers are NOT using ABM because sales and marketing today are most often NOT aligned.  And by that I mean most marketers are focused on the top of the funnel and pass off those waterfall leads to sales to work the rest of the funnel.  First of all, for ABM, we need to have sales and marketing work collaboratively and on an ongoing basis, and to take the customer journey perspective rather than the traditional “funnel” perspective.  Sales and marketing need to form account teams and work together hand in hand. We also need to bring in the concept of sales enablement and deliver focused content along that journey.  And for ABM, that content is not just tailored to a decision maker title, but to that account’s needs.

In Principle #3 ITSMA indicates that the focus is on client lifetime value and that means including upsell, cross sell, and customer satisfaction in the sales and marketing account team focus.  That’s another aspect that deviates from the top of the funnel mindset prevalent in most marketing teams.

ITSMA defines the three types of ABM – Strategic ABM, ABM Lite, and Programmatic ABM – that are each tailored to the amount of investment you want to make based on the ROI per account.  Meaning, the higher the lifetime value of the account, the more aligned and hands the team needs to be, and time you want to dedicate to that account. Strategic ABM is a one-to-one approach that is highly focused and personalized and looks more like traditional one-to-one or permission marketing.  Each sales and marketing ABM team handles just a few accounts – ITSMA says an average of 4. Marketers and account executives work collaboratively as part of the same account team and share the same goals.  As ABM becomes more programmatic, small groups of accounts with similar goals or needs (say, 10 to 30 accounts that need to address new regulatory compliance requirements) might be clustered together for specific programs and campaigns.  Sales and marketing collaboration is less frequent but still aligns along the buyers’ journey and communication and rapid feedback around programs is essential.  Using this model, a company could apply one of these three types across all of their accounts.  Or, they could just dedicate a focused ABM team to their very top key accounts.  ITSMA published the Definitive Guide to ABM. Or checkout their site for free downloads.

Despite the amount of conversation being dedicated to it, Account-Based Marketing isn’t for everyone.  If you do think it’s right for you and your prospects, and you’d like help laying out a plan to align your teams, define a process, and select the right tools to support ABM, please contact us.