ABM Simplified: A Shift in Perspective

ABM Simplified: A Shift in Perspective

September 2018 | Digital Marketing

Account Based Marketing is everywhere. Everyone claims to be implementing it, but no one seems to understand what it is or how to make a success of it.

Account Based Marketing is everywhere. People have been talking about it for years and everyone claims to be in the process of implementing it. Yet no one seems to truly understand what it actually is or how to make a success of it.

In the simplest terms, Account Based Marketing (ABM) sounds revolutionary. Enterprise sales teams typically think in terms of accounts, marketing in terms of leads. By focusing your entire go to market strategy exclusively around accounts all along the funnel you substantially increase marketing and sales alignment, as well as your ability to penetrate and expand your target accounts.

Lifetime Value

The catch is that few companies have the luxury of exclusively following an ABM model. The 80/20 rule applies as it does everywhere else in business - 80% of your revenue comes from 20% of your customers. ABM is a strategy targeted at expanding that top 20% of your customer base. You still need a demand creation strategy for the long tail of small accounts that make up the other 80%.

As such, average deal size is a significant factor in deciding whether to pursue ABM. To do it properly you need to make substantial investments in targeting individual accounts. If the lifetime value of a customer isn't large enough to justify this investment, then ABM is a waste of time. For this reason, ABM is often seen as exclusively a strategy to attract enterprise customers. That's not to say that it can't work in a mid-market or SMB context, but be careful about your approach if you are using it to market to smaller businesses.

For an SMB audience it is often better to adopt a vertical specialisation strategy. Targeting specific industries in your messaging allows you to personalise your content without worrying about selecting or targeting individual accounts. It is sometimes claimed that vertical specialisation is itself a form of ABM. It's not. Industry specialisation allows you to achieve ABM levels of personalisation using highly focused content in highly targeted campaigns, but fundamentally your funnel and strategy in this scenario is still lead-based rather than account-based.

ABM before ABM

To do ABM properly, you need to start by tracking, measuring and reporting on accounts all the way from inquiry to closed won. Even prior to the rise of ABM, go to market campaigns sponsored by business development leaders would often be framed in terms of the number of new accounts acquired as a result of the campaign rather than the number of leads. In such campaigns, the audience would be supplied by sales based on a specific set of accounts preselected to meet the original segmentation criteria. The most forward-thinking execs would also place a significant emphasis on account expansion, to draw the entire network of influencers and decision makers within an organisation into the funnel.

Done well, such campaigns were often highly successful, particularly when used for product launches or greenfield expansion. However, inevitably the frustration would arise that the technology and reporting available in the CRM systems and marketing automation platforms of 5 years ago was unable to match the scale of the ambition. Principally, this would arise in three areas:

Marketing automation allowed them to achieve the desired one to one level of personalisation, particularly when combined with web personalisation technologies on the website. The challenge was actually proving it.

ABM is a methodology designed to enable this strategy without the drawbacks and frustrations. Technology has evolved to close the gaps which prevented marketing and sales from successfully running campaigns along the lines of the type outlined above.

A Shift in Perspective

At the core, ABM shifts marketing from measuring leads to measuring accounts. Campaign audiences evolve from a set of contacts that fit a set of demographic or firmographic criteria to a set of target accounts that meet the same options. These accounts can be a manually selected account list or they can be a dynamic set of accounts matching a specific size and sub-industry with a known need or interest. The goal becomes to generate demand among decision makers at these accounts using highly personalised content that addresses the pain points the company is experiencing, whilst also nurturing the interest of influencers so they can drive forward a potential opportunity.

ABM doesn't require a long sales cycle or a small number of large deals, but it helps in making it successful. Even in a small business, a typical buying decision can involve 6-8 people. In an ABM strategy, your objective is to get the right message in front of all those people so that every one of them is considering your product or service when inputting into the final purchasing decision. It's rarely possible to do this using a single campaign. You need a coordinated marketing plan to get the right content in the right channels so that all stakeholders discover it. Each stakeholder will probably require a different channel and a different message. This is why ABM is spoken of as a strategy. To do it properly requires a multichannel marketing calendar pushing different aspects of the same story to each persona stretching over several months.

To show success, you need to have the tools to place accounts at the heart of your reporting and a mechanism to match leads and contacts to those accounts. Using these technologies allows you to discover whether you are touching all members of an account or just one of them. Without this knowledge, there is simply no way of understanding whether you genuinely are building momentum at your target accounts, or if prospect activity is just a series of unrelated one-off touches with no follow-up. Then you're back square one, encountering the same frustrations as the Business Development leaders of 5 years ago, who developed a strong marketing led go to market, but had no visibility into campaign ROI or whether marketing was actually contributing to the bottom line. That's not a situation any CMO wants to be in.

Written by
Marketing Operations Consultant and Solutions Architect at CRMT Digital specialising in marketing technology architecture. Advisor on marketing effectiveness and martech optimisation.