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It’s time for ABM to be true to its name

Paul Mackender

September 13, 2018

Insight is at the heart of true ABM; it’s grounded in a deep understanding of the customer environment and buying centres / decision makers.

Has Account Based Marketing (ABM) become a bit like watching toddlers play football; everyone chasing the one ball, making the right moves, but with little discernible outcome?  We think so. In the rush to adopt an ABM strategy – nearly 60% of B2B organisations say they are currently using ABM and another 27% intend to start using ABM strategies this year (Dun & Bradstreet 2018)  – organisations are coming up against myriad challenges they didn’t expect and consequently not driving the results they were seeking. To be more granular, our customers tell us they have three main frustrations, (echoing the findings from the B2B Marketing survey) in deploying ABM; how to scale ABM, how to align sales and marketing around the strategy and knowing which approach to take.  
But how to tackle these three challenges?  Well, to start with, with better definition, each challenge can be, if not solved, at least alleviated and expectations better managed.  So, let’s remind ourselves of the three broad types of ABM:
– 1:1 ABM:  where you focus budget and resources on marketing to a single large ‘must win or must protect’ account. This involves very high levels of account insight, personalisation and knowledge. This the purest form of ABM and we support a number of clients delivering such programs.

– 1: few or Cluster ABM: where you focus on between 2-10 accounts that share characteristics, show propensity for a similar proposition or are in the same sector. This involves lighter personalisation than 1:1 ABM and is often based upon industry insight that’s relevant across those accounts and includes personalisation only for specific tactics.

– 1: many ABM: where you focus on more accounts – between 100-500 or maybe more – but with much lower levels of personalisation and insight. This stage uses automation technology to target named accounts at scale and is more a case of marketing to accounts than ABM per se. We have a strong MarTech and AdTech offer regularly use such tools within programs but in isolation are not, in our view, ABM.
True ABM
Most of our clients hanker after deploying a 1:1 approach as they know it is highly effective, but they quick realise that the only way they can execute at scale is to create a budget equivalent to the GDP of a small developed nation!  Knowing this is not feasible, many therefore revert straight to a 1:many approach. The problem here is that, given 1:many is more concerned with programmatic or an ad-only based strategy, it really should be more accurately defined as ‘marketing to accounts’ rather than Account Based Marketing.  
Particularly so if measured against the very principles of ABM, which Bev Burgess, SVP and ABM practice lead, ITSMA states are: partnering with sales, building everything on insight, tailoring campaigns and building reputation, relationships and revenue.  So while 1:many may be an effective lead generation mechanism, it won’t solve the ultimate goal of ABM of building deeper and more valuable relationships with key and named accounts.
So how do you crack the requirement to create as close to a 1:1 ABM experience as you can, enabling organisations to focus on very specific accounts, while still scaling the programme to drive results that will be noticed across multiple accounts?  The answer lies in adhering to the principles that define ‘true’ ABM;

  1. Insight is at the heart of true ABM; it’s grounded in a deep understanding of the customer environment and buying centres / decision makers
  2. True ABM builds real conversations, reputation and engagement with customers that lead to pipeline and revenue
  3. To deliver true ABM, you need proven methodologies, experience and skills that allow you to combine data, technology and content in the right measures across the entire customer journey
  4. True ABM leverages the full sales and marketing mix, online and offline, to drive engagement with the most relevant tactics to reach the right decision makers in a timely fashion
  5. True ABM is strategic – it’s not a tool or a tactic but a strategy that aligns sales and marketing behind a common goal of driving revenue that is quicker to close in your key and named accounts
  6. True ABM aligns with the individual account engagement strategies of individual account teams, as opposed to being “a line of best fit” across large volumes of accounts

Delivering ‘true’ ABM at scale
Tackling the three barriers to ABM success – scale, sales and marketing alignment and knowing how to (successfully) deliver ABM, requires being committed to delivering ABM on the basis of the guiding principles outlined above.  We passionately believe that these principles have to run through all ABM activity and always deploy a 6 simple step methodology to ensure that that is the case for our customers when we run campaigns on their behalf. We’ve been talking about this approach at the ITSMA ABM Forum today but to precis it, it looks like this:
1)      Structure and workflows – having a framework in place makes true ABM repeatable and scalable.
2)      Insight – only through using actionable data and insight can you know when, why and how customers are ready to engage with your brand.
3)      Strategy – having the data at your fingertips on which to base your approach means your strategy is built on insight, not instinct and you can focus on short terms wins, alongside the longer term pipeline opportunities.
4)      Campaign planning – your campaign will harness the power of data, technology and content coming together at the right time.
5)      Execution – based on your insights, you can execute your strategy on the right channels, with the right tactics and target the right stakeholders on their terms, when they are most receptive.
6)      Measurement – true ABM generates engagement, not just open rates or click throughs. Measuring relationships and revenue means you can see exactly how effective your strategy is, or areas where it could be tweaked for maximise benefit.
The promise of ABM is significant; a chance to engage with key and named accounts around their needs with relevant and personalised messaging to drive greater value for both parties, across an elongated period of time.  But, let’s be clear, achieving this lofty goal means adhering to the principles of ‘true’ ABM and not investing in broad based programmatic Ad campaigns or once a year golf days! The conclusion? If you want to drive value from ABM, then practice it as it meant to be practiced and ensure you deliver ‘true’ ABM on behalf of your organisation.  Trust us, the results will be worth it.

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