Is ABM a One-Hit Wonder?

Who doesn’t love a good one-hit wonder? Thinking back to the musical artists of our youth, that we may or may not be embarrassed to remember how much we loved in their heyday. But there’s also a parallel in the marketing world. As we see new trends come and go, and attitudes shift, it’s worth considering for sustainable strategic demand marketing what separates a one-hit wonder from a solid-gold standard that stands the test of time.

In no particular order, I submit the following to you for the One-Hit Wonder Marketing Hall of Fame:

Gamification

It could be argued that the concept of gamification itself is all around us, and right in our hand with our smart phones, but as a B2B stand-alone technology, implementation rarely added value and often adversely affected site speeds. We all see our LinkedIn Profile stats, but is anyone changing behavior based on it?

Portals

In what could be called in classic early 2000’s style, ‘Customization Gone Wild,’ portals burst onto the scene with options for marketers to create a custom experience for customers or high value prospects. However, with the advent of better personalization and scalable options to deliver the same customized experience with less legwork, portals became unnecessary.

QR Codes

Remember when these were going to be the next big thing? They would be everywhere. It sounded tailor-made for consumers who were always going to have their phone in their hands, but in practice, it was a somewhat clunky and often extraneous user experience. Somehow this particular tactic never took off, aside from some retail and hospitality use cases that you see today.

Banner Ads

Perhaps the grandest example of interruptive marketing, the banner ad, complete with obnoxious fonts, flashing lights and even auto-playing sounds was one of the first ways marketers tried to capitalize on the ‘eyeballs’ available in the digital world. Never a good experience or particularly effective, it has luckily been largely left in the annals of digital marketing history.

So, where do one-hit marketing wonders end up? Do they get relegated to the bargain bin and live in relative obscurity or is it possible to find life beyond their original purpose?

In some instances, these tools are just too niche (QR codes) or outdated (banner ads), but a few stand out as worthy of a second chance, just perhaps not as a stand-alone tactic. When there is value, it often becomes more integrated into a better overall approach. Think about gamification’s impact on some better web or interactive experiences you might have experienced recently.

Which brings us to ABM

In the world of B2B marketing, nothing in the past few years has received as much breathless wonder and fanfare as Account Based Marketing or ABM. Sometimes haled as the ‘replacement for demand,’ it’s where many marketers have placed a lot of their bets recently. It was a way for sales and marketing to be more aligned, which added to the allure, but without an intentional approach, had a tendency to become hyped up sales enablement. As recent market and industry developments over time have shown, however, it isn’t ‘the answer’ to demand that many claimed, and has instead been consigned to its proper place within the context of strategic demand marketing.

In terms of technology, ABM certainly seems to be finding its natural place. The latest Gartner Hype Cycle for Digital Marketing maintains ABM platforms sliding down the Trough of Disillusionment, with an estimated 2-5 years until they reach the Plateau of Productivity. It’s also noted that it’s common that as marketers gain more experience with many of these technologies, they often morph from stand-alone tools to become more integrated into other platforms.

With its recent acquisition of Engagio, DemandBase seems to be providing a perfect example from a technology perspective and analogy to understand ABM tactics as a whole. No one would argue that Engagio wasn’t good at its core functionalities, but it definitely needed a more contextual home in a tech stack. What the two companies bring together helps to build a fuller featured platform around targeting, qualification, web personalization and intent. But it’s still a platform, and as such, is in need of a broader demand strategy.

ABM is often labeled as a strategy, but alone it’s an ineffective one. It is more accurately understood as a tactic, and as we’ve seen over time, when it becomes part of an integrated stack and strategy it can help marketers build a stronger account basis into their demand strategy. It’s not ‘the’ answer, but part of the answer.

So if ABM isn’t the answer, what is?

ABM isn’t the answer because it answers the wrong question. Instead of asking how ABM can solve all of our problems, we need to ask: ‘How can ABM be incorporated into a more strategic approach to demand marketing to reach buyers at the right time, with the right message, in the right place, and at the right organization?’

To explore how strategic demand marketing and ABM align, it’s important to define strategic demand marketing. Strategic demand marketing is always on, repeatable, buyer-led, and inbound oriented. It engages the buyer continuously and offers a sale only when appropriate. Strategic demand marketing puts the buyer at the center of everything. (Read more in: Making the Critical Shift from Tactical Demand Generation to Strategic Demand Marketing)

ABM can layer onto a strategic approach to demand marketing to provide:

  • More granular segmentation and targeting
  • More facilitated or customized customer journeys
  • Higher sensitivity for qualification
  • Different engagement approaches

To illustrate how these use cases for ABM layer onto and provide tactical adaptations to strategic demand marketing, consider the tenets of strategic demand marketing:

  • Built around the customer journey
  • Engaging in two-way dialogue
  • Integrating demand processes to include people, process, content and technology
  • Always on
  • Always optimizing

With this lens, each of the ABM use cases above becomes more anchored by and integrated into strategic demand marketing.

  • More granular segmentation and targeting. It’s not enough to apply target account lists to engagement, without adding the ‘people’ layer to reach the right people at the right organizations at the right time.
  • More facilitated or customized customer journeys. Strategic demand marketing orients around the customer already, but if we know more about certain companies and roles because of our granular segmentation and intelligence, we can smooth the way even more and customize their journey with personalization from their account. But this should always be engineered to be a dialogue, a two-way conversation, never just more and more interruptive tactics aimed at an account wish list. To do this, you have to understand your customer inside and out. Start by reading 8 Deeper Questions to Ask to Understand Your Buyer.
  • Higher sensitivity for qualification. While one buyer may not have all the signals, taking buyers across an account as a whole can provide a fuller picture of different signals in different pockets of an organization. Using intent data can complement individual data to identify qualified accounts. Weighting for high value contacts at an account can be used to normalize behavior that might not otherwise be as easily perceived as buying signals on their own. This balance between the account and the individual is critical because people are still buying our products. When this balance is off-kilter, a program that is outcome-oriented will provide the data and insights needed to optimize qualification to the right sensitivity.
  • Different engagement approaches. High value contacts can be engaged with via higher cost channels, if the strategy warrants it. If a cost per lead measure isn’t ROI-positive, but cost per Opportunity or Win is, different approaches can be deployed for different types of accounts. No one channel is the answer, however, as buyers have non-linear, multi-channel approaches to their process. With the right frameworks, we can intersect and influence this process, if we have an ‘always-on’ demand program and not one that is stop and start and outbound campaign-centric.

For business leaders and demand marketers who are focused on driving sustainable growth for their organizations, ABM may play an important part in their overall demand strategy. What we’ve seen is that to truly operationalize around the customer journey successfully, it will require a strategic approach to demand as the foundation upon which to layer ABM and other tactics. From this layer, leaders should then assess their tech stack and its functions to support the right demand processes.

To learn more about how to build sustainable strategic demand marketing, read:

Making the Critical Shift from Tactical to Strategic Demand Marketing

The Anatomy of a Strategic Demand Marketing Plan

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