Account-based marketing: perils, pitfalls and the reality

Nearly everyone in B2B marketing is doing some form of account-based marketing (ABM) – more than 90% of marketers believe that ABM is essential to B2B marketing and more than 60% of companies plan to invest in ABM technology (SiriusDecisions). What teams don’t always understand is how wildly different ABM can be from a company’s existing go-to-market engine. It requires a deeper relationship with sales, more clarity about customer buying centers and priorities and a stronger ability to position solutions and their impacts. It requires marketing to participate in the sales arena.  And it is also far more than just a set of loosely-connected tools and technologies. Success requires that marketing teams reorient their approach  to customers, to their sales colleagues and in their priorities. And the first step is to look at the reality behind some of the ABM myths and messages.

Myth:  Predictive marketing is the critical linchpin for ABM.

Reality:  Predictive tools are an important addition to the toolset but definitely not sufficient.

Predictive marketing can identify propensity to buy, but not necessarily how, who and whether a prospect will actually move forward. Likewise, predictive tools need buy-in from sales teams who often trust their intuition and relationships far more than lead flow. When used correctly, these tools can organize call lists and prevent sales from wasting time on prospects unlikely to move forward at that point. Likewise, the tools can help marketing prioritize which content and programs could have most impact. But without a focused effort to dig into market and account dynamics, predictive analysis can easily just sit on the shelf.

Myth:  ABM automatically solves a company’s targeting problems

Reality:  ABM creates more pressure on marketing to demonstrate its value with analytics and contribution to revenue.

With responsibility for understanding the market and developing customer journeys, marketing is uniquely positioned to prioritize go-to-market efforts and to understand how to best position offerings. This knowledge is most valuable when put to use in partnership with sales teams and the on-the-ground insights they bring. But one size does not fit all. In the SMB space, marketing needs to focus on identifying propensity to buy and related upsell and cross-sell opportunities. Since smaller companies are usually served by telesales and channel partners, marketing needs to focus on providing data and best practices. As companies get larger, marketing efforts must focus on understanding specific account dynamics, competitive and internal pressures and existing conversations.

Myth: ABM doesn’t change your organization

Reality:  ABM demands orchestration and personalization and a much deeper relationship with sales

Marketing and sales have natural tension but have common focus when teams target customer segments and engage groups of similar prospects. But with ABM, demand generation is only one piece of the effort – marketing has to extend itself to cover a much larger part of the sales funnel. Product and solution marketing teams will be asked to position offerings against business problems specific to segments or individual accounts. Instead of creating general collateral, marketing may have to adapt and personalize content for a specific situation. The challenge is doing this at scale while helping build a more self-sufficient sales team. The winning marketing team will find the appropriate balance between general campaigns targeting broad swaths of customers and activities that focus efforts on even a single buying center within a target organization.

Myth:  ABM is a great way to align a company for success

Reality:  ABM requires a new political order across marketing, sales, and the rest of the company.   

Customer journeys are much less sales-driven and the buying process is much less controllable.  While project bids and RFP’s will still exist, especially for public sector and larger enterprise accounts, driving influence and engagement is the new order.  And since marketing has a stronger role to play throughout the sales funnel (or spiral), companies see the “blame game” raise its head internally. Leaders must manage the natural tensions between marketing and sales to minimize friction and maximize pipeline flow. ABD demands an effective use of KPI’s, including joint evaluations, and management attention for a company to gain the tremendous benefits.

In the end, ABM is not a product play, it is a change in the way marketing deploys itself against market opportunities and in partnership with sales.  Products can help but the basics of ABM do not change these fundamental needs:

  • Understand the customer journey for specific customers across different segments
  • Prioritize and drive actions based on data-driven insights
  • Build content and offers that meet customer needs, both expressed and unexpressed, at each stage of the buying cycle

Lacking a robust data infrastructure or having limits on the ability to produce content should not stop a company from realigning to support ABM.  While the initial actions may not be perfect, these recommendations will still have impact and push teams in the right direction. At a bare minimum, companies benefit from having a marketing team that better understands the sales challenge and that can deploy resources with agility. As the infrastructure and toolset improves, the ability to automatically deepen personalization and proof points will follow.