The Problem with Account-based Marketing
*This post first ran June 13, 2014.
Account-based marketing is a trend that is gaining a lot of traction, probably because it just makes so much sense. Sales has always used an account-based approach while evaluating the leads they receive from marketing, as the first thing they look at is if the lead is from a company they believe could become a potential customer. After all, a “qualified” lead that has run the gauntlet of demographic and activity-based scoring from a company that will never, ever buy is not really a lead.
As B2Bs continue to try and adapt one-to-one B2C techniques and technologies to work on the accounts they try to sell to, they miss the vital and strategic understanding of how B2Bs actually buy. The vendors we work with for demand generation and the technologies we have invested in have yet to grow and evolve to accommodate the account-based approach, forcing us to work within the confines of their systems and continue to make decisions based on demographics, and not firmographics.
A high level marketing executive pointed out once that his company “doesn’t sell to glass buildings, we sell to people.” While true, B2Bs are not selling to individual people – we sell to a committee of people tasked with making a decision together. All of these people have different motivations, different pain points, are rewarded differently, and are evaluating your products or services from different points of view. The only thing they often have in common is that they work for the same company, and unless they are all engaged in some sort of buyer dialogue with you they are not likely to buy.
Consider myself as an example of an “engaged” individual in your marketing automation system. I get calls from marketing technology vendors almost daily, based on the fact that I am a bit of a collector of white papers. I download the hell out of those things, with every intention of reading them all to help expand my knowledge of marketing best practices. I must be a “hot lead” in more systems than I can count, and I am sure I am not alone. I know many folks in the space that do the same as me. We are the window shoppers, the tire kickers, and there is no easy way to identify us in most marketing automation platforms since our titles are probably in the sweet spot and our activity-based scoring is through the roof.
How can you tell if there is a real selling opportunity at my company? Easy! If I am not the only one from my company interacting with your website or downloading content.
The problem though is that most (if not all) marketing automation platforms don’t offer that sort of visibility into account-based activity. There is no way to easily tag multiple prospects to a single account. Running a report on the account name might work, unless there are multiple spellings of the company name (IBM vs. I.B.M. vs. International Business Machines) to muddy the waters. Consider how leads vs. contacts work in Salesforce.com. Traditionally, when marketing owns them, they live in the leads tab with no common link at the account level. Conversely, when sales own them, they become contacts and cannot exist unless they are associated with an account. Why can’t marketing automation offer the ability/option to operate the same way, providing visibility into account-level interest and activity in our programs?
Our service providers put us in the same sort of pickle. When renting an email list or putting together a content syndication program, there is often no easy way to exclude leads from companies we know will not buy. Sometimes you are allowed to provide an exclusion or suppression list, but it is typically limited to specific email addresses you already have rather than expanding to companies you know will not buy. Filtering is usually limited to titles or departments, and almost never company size or industry. And don’t even try to specify B2B vs. B2C! They simply are not configured to provide firmographic-based leads – at least until enough customers demand it. They take advantage of the fact that we need those leads now, and rather than force them to change they way that they serve our needs we wind up paying for leads we know will never, ever buy.
The problem with account-based marketing is that our vendors are not yet equipped to handle the change in tactics. Until we put it at the top of the features request list, or walk away from vendors that cannot accommodate the approach, we are going to be stuck using a shotgun approach to demand generation when a precision rifle would serve our needs much more effectively.