Clearing The ABM Roadblock: B2B Marketers Need Better Strategy To Find ABM 2.0

After several years of shoving pallets of content and countless vendor presentations, the tech industry has succeeded to convince only 19% of B2B marketing leaders that they can deploy a successful ABM program.


ABM 1.0 And The Confidence Gap

This gap became the backdrop of a Dreamforce ’17 panel, “ABM 2.0.

Taking a wild new approach, not a single vendor presented. Gasp! Our approach was to find new paths based on those who get the work done. Featuring a platform agnostic vision described through the experience of four top B2B agency CEOs, we identified where this confidence gap comes from and how to solve it. We sought to find a new version of ABM, one that exists somewhere beyond the vendor presentations, movements and, of course, hype cycles.

At the start of the presentation, we surveyed the audience… 95% of attendees managed marketing programs, 20% have a current ABM plan or program, 10% have an active ABM program, and not a single person in the room was confident of their organization’s ability to execute an account-based strategy. Now, these people had just seen a half-dozen ABM vendor presentations that day and not a single person was able to translate the vendor deck into an actionable plan.

So, where does this confidence gap come from?

What’s old is new again — we’ve seen this hype before. No need to think further than content marketing, social media marketing, lead management and, of course, marketing automation. At first, a “big shiny” new tech future, then reality soon sets in. Eventually, the narrow, tech-first vendor pitches give way to actual marketing strategy.

We’re just approaching this transition — a shift to something that will become ABM 2.0. Innovators and early adopters have paved the way for others, just as the Diffusion of Innovation theory predicts. Something peculiar to this hype cycle, however, we have no lack of awareness and communication volume is certainly not an issue.

However, we could argue that the state of innovation is more advanced than the strategy of how to use the innovation. Why else would we have a high intent and interest with low confidence? Here, the content (i.e. strategy) doesn’t fit the needs of marketers who have seen these hype cycles before.

The ABM Consortium researched this point last year and found only 18% of existing ABM programs produce positive, measurable revenue impact. We examined how their tactics differed from those who performed poorly and found the essence of strategy coming out of the high-performance programs. Only the most persistent and innovative marketing leaders are finding the right strategies and are the ones truly paving the path to ABM 2.0.

What did you learn from prior hype cycles that you can apply to ABM?

Let’s have some fun. To fully grasp this point, you really should look up the movie “Groundhog Day.” Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, a weatherman doomed to repeat the same day over and over. Through the course of the movie, he cycles through a range of emotional reactions to his plight. Most are funny. In any case, at some point he goes through a transformation where he decides to learn from the past and create a new and more positive future. He repeated the same day, learning more from each cycle… we have it easy, we just need to decide to become better, to apply what we already know to be true.

New technology is a blessing and marketers shouldn’t be afraid of trying new things, even failing at new things. The point here is that the content surrounding much of the hype is causing people to do the wrong things — to predestine failure. The key learning from prior hype cycles is that the illusion of tech bliss always gives way to the reality of strategy, content and process.

ABM 2.0 — Applying  The ‘M’ To Your ABM?

Based upon the collective wisdom earned across hundreds of successful, high-performance ABM programs, our advice is vendor agnostic and sides squarely on the side of today’s’ marketing leader faced with the decision to deploy or redeploy an account-based strategy for their organization.

Good news is that we took the first cut at the path forward! While reading these points, open your mind to new ideas. Many will sound familiar to your learning after prior hype cycles, but most are vastly different than the balance of ABM dialog you’ll find elsewhere. Open your mind!

Strategy First – Too many organizations believe they have an ABM strategy. Yet, when asked about it, they answer with “We just purchased _______” (fill in the blank with any number of marketing technologies). Technology is not a strategy.  Patrice Greene, President of Inverta, made an amazing point when she asked, “Where do you want your revenue to come from?” While a lot of vendors tell you to start by selecting accounts and delivering ads, it’s critical to first understand where — if at all — an account-based program fits within your overall growth strategy and interacts with your other marketing programs.

ABM is primarily a data challenge, not a media challenge – Ask yourself one simple question, “How many target account buyers do you have in your marketing automation system?” Don’t feel bad if you can’t answer this. During the Dreamforce session, I asked this question and not a single person knew the answer. Account-based strategies impose a new set of data requirements on marketers. To get yourself started down the path of tackling this data challenge, consider these initial tasks:

  • Flag target accounts in your CRM – This could be as simple as a new custom field, checkbox. Once you do this, it’s easier to accomplish many things, like report against ABM efforts.
  • Flag target accounts in your marketing automation system – It’s best if you can do this programmatically based upon CRM flags but even a simple logic sequence that queries new email addresses against a list of domains represented in target accounts will get you close to the right answer.
  • Sync target account leads – While standard inbound leads should follow typical scoring and routing policies, consider how you can adapt these processes to accommodate the target accounts. Many marketers adapt scoring templates to make the target account flag a definitive scoring criterion and process these leads as qualified — based upon target account status — and alert assigned account teams.

Buyers matter – All engagement is not created equal. Minutes, clicks and other volume-based measurements miss the point. Stakeholders who can make, or influence, purchase decisions are the clues you need to find within the noise of engagement. Start by identifying buyer personas and translate those roles to a collection of titles. Identify and flag those you know within your CRM. Here’s a simple method to fill missing buyer roles at those target accounts:

  • Create a spreadsheet with target accounts and add columns for Opportunity stage and the number of buyer contacts you already know.
  • Sort the spreadsheet by the buyer contact column and identify target accounts with fewer than the average number of buyer contacts.
  • Start contact acquisition for target accounts based upon a simple decision process: Target accounts with the presence of Opportunity and fewer than average number of Buyer Contacts should go first, then all other target accounts with those having the fewest buyer contacts.

Get your target accounts “right” from the beginning – When it comes to establishing your target list, “…the best place to start is actually in marketing, not sales,” said David Lewis, CEO of DemandGen International.  While this might seem contrary to the normal approach of having sales reps create their target list, marketing these days is better suited in establishing targets due to their expertise in product marketing, persona development and access to predictive/AI tools for audience building. David isn’t saying marketing should do this in a vacuum. In fact, he stressed the point of needing this to be a collaborative effort with sales but should be driven by marketing now.

Get your metrics right – Proving ABM is critical. “It’s a longer journey than expected so marketers need to establish metrics for early, mid and late stages,” said Ryan Vong, CEO of Digital Pi. More than anecdotal evidence, to become a long-term part of your marketing mix, you need to plan from the beginning about how you’ll gauge success. Here are some samples of metrics for ABM that Ryan shared; they evolve as your ABM program matures:

  • Early
    • New contacts in target accounts
    • Increases in ABM program engagement across multiple contacts within a target account
    • Lift in website traffic from target accounts
  • Mid
    • Number of meetings within target accounts
    • Marketing qualified leads from target accounts
    • Number of call connects within target accounts
  • Late
    • Increase in target account win rates
    • Deeper and broader relationships
    • Number of opportunities within target accounts
    • Increase in opportunity velocity: Deal acceleration
    • Increase in ACV: Multi-product, multi-year deals

Without compelling content, ABM will fail – “Tailored content is more important to an ABM program than any other marketing effort.” This is a theme discussed by David Jones, President of Yesler. The need for content changes based on the stages of buyer engagement, throughout the range of issues an organization solves, requires varied formats to suit numerous channels. This integrated marketing challenge cannot be solved by technology alone. At the heart of ABM is the hope of engagement, but engagement is earned by a marketer’s ability to address what’s interesting for an audience member. Here are some approaches you can take away from our session and start to apply in your business today:

  • Inventory content already used for inbound and demand gen programs;
  • Identify topics and messages important to the buyer personas;
  • Map content to the needs of target accounts and the personas of the buying group; and
  • Identify triggers that can be used to shift selected content you will deliver to a target account.

Engagement Is Earned, Not Purchased

For ABM to be successful, marketers need to be able to identify a great audience, know their buying personas, understand their needs, deliver content that’s focused on those varied needs and measure the results of those efforts. Simple, right?

Relevancy is the key and it’s defined by your audience, not you.

Nobody has ever said that they want more advertising, an email or another phone call. People are, however, interested in what interests them, not you. Seventy-five percent prefer fewer ads (marketing) that are aligned to their needs; 71% say they would be interested if it were tailored to their interests and habits. People are 7X more likely to click on a marketing message that reflects their preferences and habits. This understanding of needs and interest doesn’t start with the purchase of a new platform. Typically, it already exists. For most mid to large organizations, you already have the digital exhaust of prior engagement within your target accounts. Find it and you will find engagement and revenue traction.