ACCOUNT-BASED MARKETING, or ABM, is having a moment.
In the 20 years that I’ve been in the industry, a significant part of it spent leading B2B marketing campaigns, only in recent years have I seen a record number of clients coming to our agency with a specific request: an ABM strategy.
What is an ABM strategy? It’s a B2B marketing plan of action that uses highly targeted, customised campaigns that zero in on a specific set of target accounts, instead of generic blanket campaigns within a specific market. By combining efforts from sales and marketing teams, they can identify specific accounts in a specific market. This level of specificity and access enables them to engage early on in the game and thus get higher chances of closing a deal.
That clients come in with this strategic approach in mind is nothing short of good news. From the demand, it could be gleaned that even in the age of digital, executives recognise that getting more qualified leads requires more than simply casting a wide net over a broader audience.
In other words, in an era where newsfeeds and inboxes are already filled up by the competition, businesses with an edge know better than to blindly follow the crowd, and instead, make their sales and marketing efforts more powerful.
And yet, while the intention is there, there also remains a number of pre-conceived notions that need to be demystified as ABM turns from theory into practice. How do you do ABM? There is no one formula in creating an ABM programme, and before putting a plan in motion, you need to understand its many nuances.
Some of the pre-conceived notions about ABM:
“It’s a new hottest strategy to impress the CMO.”
Indeed, ABM is basking under the spotlight, and if there’s a need for a little more push to convince the higher-ups, you can easily namedrop Forbes, which in May 2019 hailed ABM as one of the “three ideas” upon which “the future of digital marketing in B2B lies.”
It said, “B2B companies don’t just compete with one another for attention; they’re also competing with the best digital experience our audience has ever had anywhere and in any context.” With this, it adds, “ABM helps companies take the long view with customers because it requires the creation of a long-term strategy and requires companies to consider their long-term goals with acquiring an account.”
However, it would be helpful to note that ABM is more than just a “new shiny thing,” or a fad that is bound by its impermanence.
True, ABM provides a direction where sales and marketing teams follow-through a more targeted approach, but they need to view ABM as a long-term strategy where they align through data-sharing in order to identify the right target accounts, as well as set realistic expectations and goals towards implementation.
“It’s the latest buzzword for B2B marketing.”
Judging by data from Google Trends, you could infer that the interest in “account-based marketing” has been rapidly increasing since 2016, and interest continues to rise.
What few people might know, however, is that ABM has been around for a long time already—even far back to the martini-fueled “Mad Men” era, or the so-called “era that changed advertising.”
During this period in ad agency history, which traces back to the 60’s and is characterised by its glamorous allure, agencies won business by focusing on a strategic few high-ticket accounts with a highly targeted approach.
Only in recent years, however, did the term “Account-Based Marketing” come to be. An association of marketing services professionals claims to pioneer this term, but it really is no different from other already-familiar concepts like account marketing, key account marketing, or strategic account marketing.
What are the types of ABM? There are different schools of thought regarding types of ABM. For us, ABM can be:
1. One-to-One: ABM where extensive efforts are strategically spent on larger enterprise accounts with an equally longer and more complex sales process that might involve a number of decision influencers and decision makers. Such strategy warrants that the ROI on this particular account is typically higher than other mid-size accounts.
2. One-to-Few: ABM where efforts are targeted at a cluster of mid-market to enterprise accounts with a long complex sales process involving multiple decision influencers and makers across various departments. Content and offers are often customised to fit a specific vertical.
3. One-to-Many: ABM is scaled to reach out to a higher number of target accounts, often specific segments horizontally or vertically across multiple markets. This is also known as Programmatic ABM.
With the digital age driving ABM into new heights, the challenge for clients is not in finding an agency that can implement ABM—many agencies can claim to do this—but in selecting the one that truly understands ABM far beyond mere theory, and has extensive experience that has driven results.
“I will test it out on a small budget for a period of time.”
If you’re already considering an ABM campaign, a pilot campaign can build the foundation and resources for a full-blown ABM programme. With proper execution, a pilot campaign ran over a shorter period of time can showcase what the results of a full-blown ABM programme could be. It can also be a bridge to begin aligning the teams that will be involved in running an ABM programme.
However, a pilot campaign is there to only manage internal expectations. Executive and internal buy-ins are crucial before putting an ABM strategy in place because organisation commitment is needed to support the campaign at every stage of the customer lifecycle.
Note that ABM is a successful approach because it highlights building a long-term relationship with key prospective clients.
“This is marketing’s new playground, let them try it out.” or “All I need to do is ask the sales team to give me the list.”
Believe it or not, the first step to having an agile ABM strategy is the alignment of the sales and marketing teams. The collaboration of the two produces the optimal target account lists, a solid campaign messaging, aligned expectations and shared goals and KPIs.
It can be confusing because the term ABM literally has the word “marketing” in it, but not sales.
However, come to think of it, marketing usually focuses on building awareness and lead generation—regardless of the sales team’s preferred accounts. On the other hand, the sales team zeroes in on the accounts immediately, and develops relationships with decision-makers. Therefore, the metrics of the latter is based on driving revenue, and yet they may tend to disregard marketing leads if the leads do not fit their sales criteria.
Thus, with ABM’s flipped funnel, the quality of leads is higher, and the nurturing process is more extensive in order to narrow them down.
“All my sales identified leads will be given personalised message, treatment, giveaway, etc.”
True, there may be packets involved (some campaigns even involve drones), but these only comprise the tip of the iceberg.
There are a multitude of channels apart from the usual marketing kit, such as face-to-face meetings, EDMs, social media marketing, retargeting, as well as networking events. One of the keys in doing ABM successfully is strategically using the various channels that deliver consistent messaging across channels, with proper measurement of results to prove the campaign ROI.
“I expect ROI out of my ABM campaign.”
Like any other marketing strategy, ABM cannot be justified by the typical ROI (return on investment) metrics.
Marketing funds are unlike capital expenditure (CAPEX), because marketing funds are risked and are better suited to be lodged as operational expenditure (OPEX).
That said, measuring the market’s response is better done with ROMI, or return on marketing investment.
ROMI is computed by dividing the profit net of market spending, by the market spend in the same period. A positive ROMI is usually enough to justify market spending, but note that there are still other marketing results that are not tactile or measurable, such as awareness or mindshare.
In 2017, Huffington Post surveyed 12 top executives on how long it took for them to see results after deploying an ABM programme.
Some executives saw results in as little as three days. Most took 30 days. Others noted “good success” after six months.
In conclusion, ABM results depend on multiple factors, especially if you consider that the nature of every business is unique.
Every company deserves an agency that can plan and implement an ABM strategy that is tailorfit to their needs and expectations. Our team of highly experienced strategists, creatives, digital marketing specialists and technophiles can help you in embarking on an ABM programme.