After a day filled with four different tracks addressing all aspects of ABM, Steven Casey, Principal Analyst, B2B Marketing with Forrester, will wrap up this week’s ABM Innovation Summit in San Francisco.
ABM in Action caught up with Casey in advance of his closing keynote for a preview of some of the topics he will address during the event. Casey shared a glimpse into how changing buyer behavior is making ABM an imperative for B2B organizations, as well as his perspective into the maturity curve for ABM adoption across the industry.
ABM in Action: You will deliver one of the closing keynote sessions at the ABM Innovation Summit this week. Can you give us a glimpse into some of the themes and topics you will touch on?
Steven Casey: I will be talking about the changes that have taken place with the B2B buyer. Certainly, the focus of the conference will be about technology, ABM and processes. But as we end the event, I want to turn the focus a little bit to how buyer behavior has been changing.
We did a report recently called The Birth of the B2B Consumer, where I explored this topic. The primary drivers of these changes in B2B buyer behavior come from all of our experiences as digital consumers. I’ll touch on a few different areas where there have been drastic changes in buyer behavior and how marketers need to adapt to meet the needs of these buyers, these new B2B consumers.
ABMIA: Any examples of how that consumer behavior is starting to bleed over into business?
Casey: It falls into four categories, the first being brand experience. I think B2B marketers traditionally have focused on their product features and functionality as differentiators and really projected that to more of a brand promise. But B2C marketers have known for a long time — because so many of the transactions or purchases we make as consumers are impulse buys — that they need to make an emotional connection with their buyers. The costs of switching are so low; the barriers to switching are so low.
Unless you make sure that every customer experience and every brand experience is compelling and emotional, buyers may very well switch when the next best offer comes along. It’s really companies like Amazon and Apple that are setting the stage or setting the bar for brand experience for everyone today, B2B companies included.
The next dimension is the nature and timing of sales engagement. Really, this is a process that was set in motion a long time ago with B2B buyers waiting far longer in their purchase journeys before they were willing to have a sales conversation. They wish to remain anonymous far longer, so there’s a gap in the lifecycle that marketers really need to step in and own.
Another dimension is purchase influence, where peers have really become a much more important part of the access to information that B2B consumers have. So, that has become a much more important factor in their decision-making process. Then, it’s really centered around this notion of loyalty, but I like to think of it as post-sale presence — how involved does the typical B2B company need to stay with their customers after the sale?
That certainly has an implication for marketers and sellers, where we’ve tended to be a little more transactional and not appreciated enough the desire customers have to stay in touch with us post-sale. So, we’re looking for loyalty from the customers. Really, what the customers are looking for is us to show them loyalty by staying engaged before they give that loyalty back to us in return.
ABMIA: Do you see the growing adoption of ABM as being driven by those changes in buyer behaviors and expectations?
Casey: It’s definitely related because account-based selling is an old strategy. I mean all B2B, apart from sort of procurement level, e-commerce supplies, anything more complex than that, anything with even a modicum of consideration in the purchase process has always been an account-based sale. What ABM technologies now enable marketers to do is create those kinds of personalized conversations that sellers have always had with their buying teams in the buying center.
Now, marketers can do that on a larger scale, and that’s where ABM comes in. These are technologies that are enabling personalized conversations, experiences and engagement at a broader scale. So, understanding who the buyer is, what their preferences are and how they prefer to engage with you as a partner throughout that lifecycle is critical, and that’s where this fits in.
ABMIA: The theme of the event is around real-world results. What’s your sense of where most B2B companies are in their ABM maturity? Are you seeing a lot of B2B organizations that are already experiencing positive results?
Casey: We recently surveyed B2B marketers who have set down on this path of an account-based marketing strategy and more than 60% of them said they’re “beyond experimenting.” So I think this is a timely theme for Demandbase because I think it matches where the market is today. People are beyond experimenting; they’re now looking for advice and counsel on how to really take this to the next step: by proving value in a pilot phase or early experimentation phase, and now it’s time to make it real.