Without question, there’s a continuing push across B2B industries to align the goals and strategies of marketing and sales teams. And along with new technologies designed to help achieve that comes a renewed hype around account-based marketing (ABM), which over the past 15 years has shown promise to help marketers meet this often elusive objective. “While account-based marketing is a hot topic, it isn’t a new strategy,” says Emily Sue Tomac, research manager and lead analyst for research firm TrustRadius. “Rather, it’s a swing of the pendulum back to outbound marketing, from marketing automation and social media marketing’s focus on inbound efforts.”
According to TrustRadius, technology that enables account-based marketing is the sixth fastest growing marketing-tech category. Tomac warns, however, that this renewed interest stems more from companies that offer technology that enables ABM strategy rather than from B2B marketers themselves. She acknowledges, however, that increased options do indeed allow marketers to have an even bigger impact on sales. “There are different categories of software that can contribute to a company’s ABM strategy; predictive analytics, sales intelligence, marketing automation, lead management, content personalization, and ad serving and retargeting software, to name a few,” she says. “We believe that account-based marketing is more of a philosophy or strategic approach than a fully-fledged software category. This could change moving forward.”
Sangram Vajre, CMO at ABM platform provider Terminus and author of Account-Based Marketing for Dummies, insists that ABM will move from experimental territory into a marketing must-have. “A few years from now this will be the standard B2B marketing playbook,” he says. “The reason it’s exciting today is because there are technology solutions which can finally help B2B marketers execute ABM at scale, just like email campaigns.”
Vajre points out that ABM breaks down the silos that have been dividing marketers and sales for years by recognizing that most B2B buying decisions are not made by a single person, but rather by a group of people, and then marketing to that group as one account or audience. “Account-based marketing starts by identifying the best-fit accounts for your business, expanding the target audience within those accounts with contact data, engaging those contacts — your audience — on their terms across multiple channels, and then turning your customers into advocates,” Vajre says.
Steps for success
Whether a marketing team is just launching ABM or has been using it, there are universal, crucial steps to ensure success.
Peter Isaacson insists that fostering collaboration is an imperative first step to ensuring that account-based marketing actually works. “Account-based marketing requires a shift in thinking in how a company approaches leads and generates revenue, so it’s important that the entire company is on board,” says Isaacson, CMO for ABM-software provider Demandbase. “Success comes from collaboration across teams.”
Success also comes from having shared goals — not only between marketing and sales, but also across the organization. Doing so is necessary to track and demonstrate the effectiveness of ABM. “The only way to measure true business impact is to grade your performance on metrics that are tightly aligned with your overall business goals,” Isaacson says.
A collaborative environment and shared goals can help marketing leaders achieve a third element needed for effective ABM: shared customer insight. Jennifer Pockells-Dimas, VP of marketing and business operations at Plex, knows this firsthand. She says that to succeed everyone on her team needs to understand the makeup of media streaming company’s audience. “Understand the attributes that describe your most successful customers,” Pockells-Dimas says. “Then build a list of accounts that meet that same criterion. It’s then that you’ll be able to focus on delivering targeted messages to those accounts that honors who they are and where they are in their buyer journeys.”
Despite ABM’s history, many marketers—and especially key constituents outside the marketing team—lack a full understanding of the approach. So basic education about ABM is critical to its success, says Colby Fazio, senior marketing strategist at The Pedowitz Group, a revenue marketing agency. “From program managers and content developers, to digital marketers and salespeople, educate the team on what account-based marketing really is,” Fazio says. “You simply can’t start blasting a [prospect] company without really understanding how to design account-based programs. If it’s done incorrectly, ABM will break trust with the target account. This is a new way of thinking for most marketers, so failure to educate will undoubtedly result in failure of the business strategy.”
The challenges of ABM
A limited understanding of ABM isn’t the only challenge marketers face in trying to adopt or use it. There are several—along with the obvious issues involved with fostering collaboration, aligning goals, and sharing data. And, as Terminus’ Vajre points out, identifying obstacles is as vital to a winning ABM strategy as is identifying the steps for success.
Vajre lists three of the biggest challenges with ABM: finding new, more effective metrics; having too narrow of a focus; and thinking short-term. “Marketers are used to looking at quantity of leads instead of quality,” he says, referring to identifying the right success measures. “The same metrics that made marketers heroes are no longer good enough. Metrics such as leads, attendees, website traffic, open rates, and click-through rates will need to be retired. And metrics such as pipeline, revenue, account-level engagement, and personalized campaigns will become the norm.”
An ABM program with too narrow of a focus on too few accounts also can negatively affect the program’s effectiveness and, worse, company growth. “If the number of accounts is too few, it might be hard to scale the program and see results,” he says.
Vajre warns that marketers need to be in it for the long haul. “Account-based marketing is marathon—not a sprint. In this type of strategy there isn’t the instant gratification like the number of downloads, clicks, or open rates,” he says. “Marketers need to be patient and focus on the long-terms view of account engagement and generate velocity. Then turn opportunities into customers.”
MedAssets CMO Michael Donohue and his team recently implemented an account-based marketing strategy to improve lead quality and conversion. He says that since implementing ABM, the sales team at the healthcare consulting and tech provider has seen a 389% increase in accepted leads.
For those who haven’t taken the plunge, Donohue gives this advice: “Without the right people, process, technology, and content in place, it becomes very difficult to pull off. Without the customer data and insight it’s difficult to deploy. Without sales being all-in it’s difficult to implement. Without the right enabling technology it’s difficult to support. Before anything, build a solid foundation first.”