Account-Based Marketing Is Not The Silver Bullet People Are Counting On; It’s Just One Arrow In Your Stocked Quiver
I just had a client tell me that they’re moving from inbound marketing to account-based marketing.
In our experiences, it’s not a one-or-the-other scenario. I pointed out that they’ll still need an amazing website, highly creative and educational content, well-orchestrated lead nurturing and, most importantly, the messaging, stories and disruptive content to get someone’s attention who is not yet aware of their solution.
They were receptive and appreciative of the insight, but that doesn’t seem to be the general perception in the marketplace. As an inbound marketing agency leader, what I see at a macro level is people now think account-based marketing is the secret to their demand generation, lead generation and new customer acquisition challenges. I’m sorry to say that if you think ABM is all you need, you are going to be disappointed with the results.
Here are four account-based marketing insights we’ve learned based on our experiences driving results with an inbound marketing approach.
1) If You Don’t Have The Right Stories, You’re Going To Be Dead On Arrival
Account-based marketing is perfect for people who are not yet searching for what you do. It also means ABM comes with its unique set of challenges. For instance, how do you get their attention if they don’t know they have the pain you solve? The answer is with disruptive, emotional and compelling stories, messaging and conversation starters.
Think about it this way. When you’re watching TV and you see an ad for something you don’t need, you tune out. But when you’re watching TV and you see an ad that piques your interest because you could need the product or service, even if you’re not actively looking for it, you pay more attention. I know, it’s an example using a TV commercial; I’m embarrassed for even using it.
Maybe this one is more appropriate for the audience. You’re sitting in front of your computer or smartphone and an email comes in from someone you’ve never seen before. The subject line is light. Your first thought is to delete it. But what if the subject line grabbed you by the back of your neck and shocked you out of your email stupor? You’d open it. Reading the email, now you’re even more engaged because of the story, the insight and its relevance to you and your business. Now you’re clicking through to the links on the screen. The difference between success (an open) and defeat (a delete) is disruptive, engaging messaging. You’ll need this for ABM.
It gets tougher from here. Your end game is not an open on emails. The end game is closed business. Now that you have someone’s attention, you need to keep it. You have to move them from pre-awareness, into awareness, down to consideration and then to decision-making, with the ultimate goal being them deciding to work with your business.
The only way to do this is with highly creative, educational, strategic messaging designed to be delivered in snackable sizes and created to uncover pain, present solutions, differentiate you from your competition and ultimately get them to know, like and trust you. You’ll need all of this to get ABM to work.
2) You’re Going To Want Technology To Make The Ongoing Maintenance, Management And Measurement Scalable
Marketing shouldn’t be about one-off campaigns. It should be about creating a repeatable, scalable and predictable lead generation and revenue acceleration machine. You don’t want to build an ABM program that works once; you want to build a process that produces repeatable results over and over again. It’s why we love inbound marketing. When it works, you simply repeat it and repeat it and repeat it, tweaking it over time to produce even better results but still working on a foundational set of tactics already proven to work.
Because of this thinking, you want to apply technology to ABM, just like we apply technology to inbound marketing. HubSpot and other tools like Marketo, Pardot and Eloqua help us automate repetitive tasks and give us all the analytics we need to know what’s working well, what’s working OK and what’s not working at all. You need a similar system to help with account-based marketing.
One quick visit to my favorite software ranking site, G2 Crowd, produces a long list of ABM software tools. If you follow the link, you’ll see a page that produces about 7,570 results. Here’s another link that does a better job presenting a few of the leading options for ABM. Some the ABM tools we’ve used to help clients include Marketo, Engagio and DiscoverOrg.
As you start to look at the collection of technology options, make sure you clearly understand your goals and requirements, and be sure you’ve worked out all the strategy elements of your ABM before you start looking at tools. Software never solves your pains; it’s just one part of an overall solution that when coupled with the messaging, content and targeted list will help automate and measure your progress. Keep this perspective as you get your ABM program up and running.
3) You Need Complete Alignment Between Marketing And Sales
According to Marketo, aligned sales and marketing results in 208% more value and 108% less friction in the sales process. In English, this means a higher close rate on new customers and a shorter sales cycle. Both improvements have the potential to add significant impact on top-line revenue growth.
Is ABM a sales activity or a marketing activity? It’s a great question, but it’s irrelevant when you’re looking at the big picture. Call it whatever you want, but keep in mind that it requires sales and marketing to work together regardless of your history. Marketing has to provide the sales team with all the messaging, stories, tools, assets and sequences to achieve solid, engaging communication. Sales has to handle the execution and use the tools provided by marketing. It requires very tight alignment.
The good news here is that you want your sales and marketing teams aligned anyway, not because of ABM, but because the experience you’re creating for your prospects spans the marketing and sales sides of your business. The click-to-close experience includes people coming to your website, clicking on something, giving you their email address, you nurturing them through their buyer journey and eventually having them decide they’re ready to speak with a sales rep.
Success, right? No, that’s not success. You want to turn that lead into a new customer, and you need sales to do that. Your sales reps have to continue the same experience your marketing created throughout the sales process. If they put on the pressure, the lead will go underground. But if they continue the educational and guided process, your lead will turn into a new customer and they’ll turn faster, for more money and at a higher rate. The point of my story is you want your marketing and sales teams working together anyway. ABM simply gives you a programmatic tactic to get that alignment set up and executing.
4) You’ll Need A Portfolio Of Supporting Marketing Tactics, Too
If we learned anything from inbound marketing, it’s that you can’t do one or two tactics and expect them to produce a ton of leads and new customers. In a similar fashion, if you just do ABM for your top prospects, that won’t be enough to move the needle either and you’re going to need supporting tactics.
Here’s an example of the wrap-around tactics you’ll need for the ABM program. You’ll need a great website because anyone who connects with you through ABM will want to go to your website. You’ll need a constant flow of engaging, educational content to offer the people who do connect with you through your ABM program.
You’ll need ongoing lead nurturing and email marketing to keep the conversation going in between your touches with new ABM leads. You’ll need ongoing testing on the messaging you’re using to connect with your ABM contacts. You’ll need ongoing optimization for the web-based tools you’re using to collect contact information from engaged ABM contacts. You’ll need social media support, conversation starters and content in small, bit-sized formats for connecting with ABM contacts via social networks. All in all, a fair amount of supporting work is necessary to drive success with ABM.
If you’ve read about ABM, heard about ABM at a conference, talked about ABM with a colleague and now you’re ready to jump in expecting it to work right out of the gate, we should probably have a short conversation about expectations. Talk with any of the experts on account-based marketing and the first thing they’re going to tell you is that it takes a lot of work to get it set up. It takes a significant investment to make sure your data is clean and accurate, to set up the segmentation and automation, and to create the performance metrics by which you’ll measure its success.
Continue talking with those experts and they’re also going to tell you it takes a long time to engage with people who are not in the awareness stage, not searching for what you do and might not even have the pain you need to get them to engage. Do you want to put all your bets on this one approach, or would it be better to use this in conjunction with other marketing tactics? The answer should be very clear to you. ABM is not the silver bullet. ABM is another very practical approach that needs to be applied the right way, at the right time, for the right type of targeted prospect.
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