Account-Based Marketing (ABM) – The 7 Things I Learned from Working with Some of the Best Business, Sales, and Marketing Visionaries in the World
Over the past 15+ years, I’ve had the privilege to help build BrightTALK into a business that today brings over 5 million professionals and companies together to learn and grow.
On this journey, I have worked with thousands of the most remarkable business, sales, and marketing visionaries in B2B. Assisted by unprecedented technologies, marketing can now transform itself from a cost to a revenue center, and ABM will only help this metamorphosis.
Fortune 500s all the way to start-ups are united in their quest to find and retain more customers. My goal with this humble article is to distill some of the insights I’ve picked up in witnessing ABM tests and implementations.
Focusing go-to-market activity on a clearly defined set of accounts is nothing new – scaling it is. So no, ABM is not another fad, but its technologies are in the ‘introduction to growth’ phase of the product maturity life cycle. And during this phase, vendors are stampeding to create market share and they kick up a vibrant dust of opportunity and confusion. In the process, many are trying to figure out whether to go ‘all in’ on ABM. Nothing like FOMO to get the blood pressure going!
Truth is, from what I can tell, ABM adopters fall into one of two camps: partial adopters (vast majority) and those going ‘all in’ (small minority). ‘All in’ being defined as companies who have built an ABM strategy with board-level alignment across the CEO, finance, operations, sales, marketing, and IT. They go as far as funneling non-ABM leads to smaller in-house sales teams, push them to partners or ignore them altogether. For the sake of this article, I will focus on the vast majority, the partial adopters.
Half of all companies currently have ABM pilot programs in place, but only 20% of those have had an ABM strategy in place for more than a year. – SiriusDecisions
A few reasons they may be exploring ABM…
- Pipeline analysis showed a cluster of companies performing better than others
- Accuracy of inbound/outbound activities to better engage the ideal customer profile
- Lead-to-revenue optimization
- Product/market fit
The 7 things I’ve learned from the top performers
Develop substantial target account lists in partnership with sales and customer teams (in the thousands if possible).
Continue iterating them weekly or monthly based on mutually agreed KPIs and clearly defined SLAs between the teams. One thing is clear – the list will constantly evolve. It’s not unusual for new ABM clusters to emerge from ongoing pipeline analysis across other campaigns.
When you’re exploring space, you never know which planets you might find. Critical mass seems key and ABM pilots (no pun intended) with small data sets fail often. If you’re targeting dozens of accounts, you’ll likely take a direct (strategic) sales approach with marketing in an enablement capacity.
Account-Based Marketing is a strategic approach that coordinates personalized marketing and sales efforts to open doors and deepen engagement at specific accounts. – Jon Miller, CEO and Co-Founder, Engagio
Accept that you’ll need some gritty outbound while you’re getting the data quality and campaign flows optimized.
It’ll take you at least 90-180 days to properly get the machine humming. In the meantime, guerrilla outbound tactics can go a long way to show immediate results.
Specifically, I have seen SDR and SE teams sourcing target account stakeholders by directly engaging them on social, by e-mail, and by phone with surprising conversion-to-appointment rates, assuming the outreach was insightful and relevant. 7-12 touches seems to be the optimal range before suspending outreach and adding the lead to nurture tracks. Where outbound bridges the gap successfully, the sales and marketing leaders agree to a more fluid interpretation of ‘marketing sourced.’
Provide a central account, contact, and program view to all relevant teams in their daily workflows.
Target account mapping, visualization, and activity/program tracking are key for cross-functional collaboration and delivering a remarkable customer experience. There’s no better way to frustrate target accounts than having misaligned or duplicated stakeholder conversations and activities across teams or departments.
There are options ranging from free to enterprise level, and the operations point person/team is an excellent partner to architect a solution. Even then, it’s clear that cross-departmental alignment around KPIs and compensation plans drive systems and process adoption.
Be cautious of ‘ABM-only’ solutions – your CEO doesn’t want you to stop finding buyers who are willing to spend their money with you.
The ABM vendors that matter will integrate fully into your current marketing and sales stack and create value across your customer and revenue life cycle, regardless of whether you’re in ABM campaign mode or not. Importantly, continue to hedge against ABM risk by continuing the programs that you know will pay the bills today.
Work with product marketing, product management, sales, customer success, and/or customers to produce commercial insights and center all content marketing around them.
The companies that are seeing the strongest content marketing ROI are not overwhelmed by an editorial calendar with thousands of pieces of content aligned to all the stages of every possible buying scenario across umpteen personas. They do less content and focus on uniting their buying committees (of 5+ stakeholders) around commercial insights that create overwhelming urgency to change the status quo. This is well documented in The Challenger Customer book by CEB/Gartner.
Put streaming content at the heart of your digital strategy to increase target account engagement and reduce acquisition cost.
By 2019, 87% of all the world’s internet consumption will be streaming content. – Cisco
Display, search, and re-targeting may be nice for awareness (if that) and white papers are great for re-engaging known leads, but we know that syndicating them results in low lead quality. Events work, but they are resource-intensive and hard to scale across territories. I’ve seen webinar and video content marketing reduce cost of lead acquisition by 10x and increase measurable engagement in target accounts by over 40x.
That said, the reg form, recommendation personalization, and real-time data pass-through will make or break conversions, so work with vendors who offer 1-step registration, AI-powered content recommendations, and APIs with the major sales and marketing platforms.
Quality of data and demand is directly correlated to the quality of the user experience from which it is sourced. – Val-Pierre Genton, VP of Audience, BrightTALK
Focus paid, earned, and owned media investments on quality.
It is hard to acquire, engage, and re-engage quality leads at scale. It only gets harder when the target account list gets tighter. And it’s especially hard online, where professionals are tired of being force-fed ads, clickbait, and bogus content. And yet, quick fix, price-driven, low quality, high-volume lead programs are pervasive.
In the end, the quality of our data and demand is directly correlated to the quality of the user experience from which it is sourced. If we want to generate better quality demand, let’s invest in the companies who are building intelligent products and market places that deliver quality user experiences and measurable impact on our revenue growth.
Message me if you’d like to pick up the conversation. Facts are facts. Opinions are my own.