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Inbound ABM is a Thing

At HubSpot’s big annual shindig last week, INBOUND 2017, a classically trained inbound marketer and HubSpot alumnus gave his take on translating inbound marketing skills and strategy to the far more customized and more modern ABM strategy.

“Account-based marketing and inbound are often called opposites,” said Patrick Shea, a former inbound-marketing executive at HubSpot, in a presentation at INBOUND. “But they are not.”

Titled “Account-Based Marketing in an Inbound World,” Shea’s presentation was insistent that inbound marketing and ABM are both essential to a “full-funnel marketing strategy” – and, as such, that they complement each other.

“ABM is traditionally thought of as a defined marketing strategy…aimed at a finite set of accounts,” said Shea. “Inbound marketers, though – we always want to stretch the top of the funnel.”

The former Hubspotter now applies those funnel-stretching sensibilities to ABM intiatives at his current company, Cybereason, – an information-security startup that completed its Series D this past summer. Its ABM initiatives are relatively nascent, and Shea (VP of demand gen) has taken an inbound-like approach to ABM – especially when it comes to the funnel-stretching activities that go into getting new accounts.

“In Q2 we were able to get five times our year-over-year pipeline,” reported Shea, crediting in part the marriage he has worked on between his inbound-marketing expertise and button-up ABM thinking. This makes sense, given how well ABM strategies (ABM Lite in particular) can lend themselves to particularized account acquisition.

“A key characteristic of ABM is about…pursuing identified major opportunities,”write Bev Burgess and Dave Munn in their book, A Practitioner’s Guide to Account-Based Marketing. “According to research, ABM Lite is not just used for existing accounts (56 per cent compared with 70 per cent for strategic ABM), but is often a way to break into new accounts.”

In this case, however, Shea and his team seem to be using multiple types of ABM. Shea describes his teams as having prioritized and segmented accounts accordingly into about 25 to 50 “A” accounts, about 50 to 75 “B” accounts, and about 100 “C” accounts. This strategy, improvised as it may have been, mirrors expert advice on in-depth ABM planning – distinguishing between strictly defined strategic ABM, the cluster marketing approach of ABM Lite for accounts that mildly lack in either relative strength or attractiveness, and the even lighter methodologies of programmatic ABM for lower-priority accounts.

Shea concedes that a lot of his inbound-informed ABM work at Cybereason goes along the lines of “figuring it out as we go along,” but suggests that an inbound form of ABM isn’t that hard once you consider the differences between the two and how to balance them against each other – so long as marketing and sales are aligned. After all, Shea reports, ABM is easy to get off the ground if you already know your accounts well. 

For this reason, account mapping is critical to the inbound marketer’s ABM – especially because ABM’s extensive demands for customization inherently lend themselves poorly to process or scalability. Shea pointed to research by CEB (since acquired by Gartner) that a standard B2B buying decision requires the formal agreement of an average 5.4 people.

“How many contacts should you have on [an ABM] account? At least that many,” said Shea. (And, indeed, arguably more, given that the CEB figure does not include the number of people who influence the formal-decision makers.)

Moreover, account mapping allows marketers to inject inbound sensibilities of automation into ABM. On this point, Shea discussed a customizable lead-to-account matching system by Eustace Consulting that his own company uses – allowing “instant collaboration” by sending notifications to all account team members as to each new name added to an account.

“If sales is selling to only one person over and over and over… you’re gonna miss that impact,” said Shea. “Your ABM strategy is only going to be as good as your account-based selling strategy.”

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