Account-based marketing - get your foundation right

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher January 5, 2017
Account-based marketing is the next big thing - supposedly. But if you fall into the trap of chasing marketing tech, it's not going to work out. In the first of a new three part series, Barb Mosher Zinck shares the keys to a solid ABM foundation - with tips from vendors and experts.

One of biggest marketing buzzwords that captured our attention last year was ABM or account-based marketing.  But if 2016 was when ABM made its official entrance into the CMO’s purview, it’s this coming year that will see it firmly established in the marketing stack, possibly as a foundational element.

If you haven’t already looked at ABM as part of your marketing strategy, it’s time to do so. This three part series on account-based marketing will help. We’ve sourced the advice of four experts on this topic: Victoria Godfrey, CMO of Avention, Charm Bianchini, senior director marketing at Marketo, Matt Heinz, president of Heinz Marketing and Sangram Vajre, CMO of Terminus. Now I do realize that three of these experts sell ABM technology, and we will talk tech, but there’s much more to think about than implementing ABM technology, something all these experts understand intimately.

I first wrote about ABM back in April of last year, and here’s how I defined it:

It [ABM] 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.

From 2016 to 2017 - how will account-based marketing move forward?

There has been a lot of talk but almost as much confusion and frustration. Account-based marketing is very different than inbound marketing and demand generation. Many dabbled and that’s good, but it’s time to get serious, and as Victoria Godfrey, CMO of Avention said, start showing real solutions and ROI. And that requires looking at how to scale ABM while simplifying the marketing stack.

She noted that marketers need to embrace and implement a data-driven strategy with ABM.

Many companies guess at their best target accounts or allow sales to hand-pick their favorites and then jump right into campaigns. That’s really not going to yield a long-term revenue strategy that the company desires.

Charm Bianchini, senior director of marketing at Marketo agreed, saying that this is the year marketers will start executing and gather learnings. She also said we’ll see more advanced technologies unique to ABM (hopefully ones that integrate nicely into the marketing stack).

Both Matt Heinz, president of Heinz Marketing and Sangram Vajre, CMO of Terminus said that it’s time to just starting doing it. It’s moving from hype to execution and we’ll start to understand better how to actually “do” account-based marketing and how to measure success.

Forget having the perfect ABM tech stack or the best-in-class integration between sales and marketing.  Just get started already – break some glass if needed but start moving forward with operationalizing better alignment between sales and marketing, and an account-oriented approach to prospecting and pipeline growth. - Heinz

Don’t rush to ABM, get the foundation right

So while, yes, you need to stop thinking about ABM and start doing something, you don’t want just to throw some half-baked strategy at the wall and see what sticks.

It’s critical that organizations identify their goals, lay out a plan, and determine if ABM is right for them before buying a solution that will not effectively meet their needs.  - Bianchini

Heinz said the biggest mistake marketers make is putting the technology before the strategy, or as he called it “letting the tail wag the dog.” The proper foundation is critical if you are going to get this right. This is something everyone agreed with it, and these are some of the things you need to do:

  • Decide if it’s right for you, and what kind of ABM strategy (or strategies) you want to develop.
  • Understand your customer base, where your strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities are, and then target the right accounts based on what you’ve learned.
  • Know your objectives, align execution and plays with the appropriate buying journey
  • Determine what’s required to get your marketing and sales teams aligned.
  • Plan for measurement - you need to have the right goals and KPIs defined.
  • Use the right technology, which depending on who you ask, could be as simple as spreadsheets and notes.

A note on measuring ABM success

There are a lot of different metrics and KPIs marketers use to determine if their marketing strategies are successful. Vajre pointed out one of the biggest challenges marketers face is attempting to take the same approach to measuring ABM success that they do other marketing tactics, like inbound marketing.

ABM challenges the very essence of how marketing success has historically been measured. With ABM, it’s not about generating new leads but about bringing in new revenue from best-fit accounts. - Vajre

When you think about measurement, set aside your MQLs (marketing qualified leads). ABM is not about leads. Vajre said it’s about the progression of accounts that are engaged and want to learn more about doing business with your company, so look at things like the number of interactions and the amount of activity required to get an account interested.

My take

The tactics behind account-based marketing have been around for a long time, but it’s only in the last year that we see it emerge as an approach that is critical to the B2B marketer’s toolset. Every customer is not the same, every account doesn’t want the same information or provide the same value to a company.

Focusing on those accounts that are most important make sense. It allows you to adopt an even more personalized and targeted approach to the company and shows that you really want to build a long-term mutually beneficial relationship.

The key is to get started - on the right foundation.

Next time, we’ll talk about the best content to development, the technology you need and what, if any, tactics you can borrow from traditional digital marketing. If you there’s something you want to know specifically, drop me a note in the comments and I’ll do my best to get you the best answer.

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