Is account-based marketing the future of marketing?

SUMMARY:

Is marketing automation on its way out? No, but change is afoot, says Sangram Vajre, Co-founder and CMO at Terminus. During our recent talk, Vajre made the case for account-based marketing.

cell-phone-targetIn the world of B2B marketing, the big push is to adopt an account based marketing strategy. It seems marketing needs to align itself more closely with sales to ensure that the work they are doing can prove ROI. So let’s take a look at what account based marketing is, how it’s influencing sales accounts and what the future marketing tech stack is going to look like.

To do this, I had a great conversation with Sangram Vajre, Co-founder and CMO at Terminus, an account-based marketing startup out of Atlanta. Vajre is no stranger to the world of digital marketing. He ran marketing at Pardot during its Salesforce acquisition in 2013.

A quick definition of account-based marketing

Before I get into the meat of our conversation, in case you don’t know what account-based marketing is, let me explain. Much of digital marketing today is focused on inbound marketing. Marketers send out emails to subscribers; they post articles, social posts and so on in the hopes that customers and prospects will come to the brand website.

Account based marketing takes the opposite approach. It involves identifying key accounts that a meet a brand’s profile of the best customer, then directly going out and marketing to that customer. Account-based marketing is a B2B marketing tactic, and as you likely know, most B2B purchase decisions are committee based, or at least strongly influenced, so there is more than one person in a company marketing focuses their account-based marketing on.

For account-based marketing to work, sales and marketing need to be closely aligned because sales own the accounts. And to finish off my quick and dirty definition, account-based marketing is typically done on a much smaller scale.

Moving off the inbound hamster wheel

Vajre said that Pardot was an amazing content machine, but he likened inbound marketing, which marketing automation does very well, to being on a “hamster wheel.” “Only 1% of leads turned into customers.” What marketing needed to do, Vajre said, was get more connected to revenue.

In his view, it’s less about metrics and more about how marketing perceives things differently from sales. With account-based marketing, Vajre said that marketers have a way to influence at the account level.

How does sales feel about this new tactic?

sangram-vaire
Sangram Vajre

I was curious to know how many sales teams objective to this style of marketing concerned that marketing is trying to take over their job. Vajre said this is often a challenge. He also said that often sales doesn’t believe that marketing can influence their accounts.

Another concern that comes from the sales team is that they don’t want marketing to disrupt the customer by sending them a bunch of emails. Sales want to control the conversation Vajre said: and they should, because marketing doesn’t know what’s happening with the account.

However, marketing can play a key role in influencing the account. They can create what Vajre called “air cover campaigns” that won’t disrupt the sales process. They do this by reaching out to different people in the account the salesperson doesn’t have access to.

As I indicated earlier, account-based marketing focuses on reaching out to as many of the decision makers, or decision influencers within an account as possible, so this is certainly a key thing for sales to appreciate.

But hang on – if sales don’t know the all key people to reach out to in an account, how will marketing? Terminus does it by partnering with NetProspex and other data partners to identify company targets. In this case, sales tell marketing the companies and personas they want to reach, and marketing then uses Terminus’s data connections to match up cookies and IP addresses of people who match the personas identified.

The account-based marketing market is heating up

This space is heating up. Not only do you have pure-play ABM platform providers coming to market almost monthly it seems, but you also have marketing automation platforms incorporating account-based marketing capabilities (Marketo and Hubspot both offer different components of ABM).

Predictive technology platform providers like LatticeEngines are also introducing ABM capabilities, and there are others too, like Demandbase. I think it’s clear there is high demand, and Vajre sees the market growing bigger saying 2016 will be an explosion year for ABM.

So how does Terminus differentiate itself?

It’s hard to talk to an ABM vendor about ABM and not talk platform. I asked Vajre what make Terminus different in this high growth ABM market? Why would a mid to enterprise customer use this SaaS platform over something else?

Vajre outlined two key areas:

  1. Terminus combines three different categories typically offered by different vendors into a single platform. They want to own the interaction layer beyond email by publishing ads across social and through direct mail. They also provide personalization on the website. The idea is to make sure that every touch point has a personalized feel. They want to do this at scale.
    1. They have tackled the data problem through key data partnerships.
    2. And they have tacked the advertising problem through integration with over 50 ad exchanges.
    3. They apply an automation engine.
  2. Terminus does not do a markup on media spend. What the customer decides to spend on ads is exactly what they pay. No markup by Terminus, only platform fees (which by the way, run around $1000 /month.)

Does this mean marketing automation is on its way out?

Unlikely. Vajre said the best model is a hybrid model between marketing automation and ABM. However, he said if you know your market, you should be doing ABM. If you don’t, well, you have some work to do.

Vajre said that finding out who to target has never been easier. It’s what you do with them that makes the difference between successful conversions.

ABM will become the MA platform of the future – the two will merge, Vajre said. He also said there will be a push to see who can build the platform that supports it all; no one does it currently, not even Terminus. But Terminus isn’t looking to build the big platform, they are building the ecosystem, and that might be a much smarter approach.

My take

This week Demandbase joined with a group of ABM technology focused companies to create the ABM Leadership Alliance. It’s a website – not much on it yet, except an eBook you can download that talks about how to figure out the right ABM tech stack. But its creation is a sign that ABM is very much on the minds of B2B marketers.

Vajre said that no one vendor has it all; marketers will need to put together a stack that encompasses a few different technologies that support ABM strategies. The ecosystem makes sense. We see it happening in the digital experience space where a range of technologies come together to support creating and managing omnichannel digital experiences (although there are still the big suites who want to offer it all).

But the marketing tech stack just seems to keep getting bigger and bigger, and if I say so myself, even more confusing all the time.

Image credit - Feature image - street girl target phone © georgejmclittle - Fotolia.com. Headshot of Vaire used with Vaire's permission.