Four Problems with Account-Based Marketing

Aligning Demand Generation Strategy with ABM

Account-Based Marketing (ABM) has officially become mainstream, with events and technologies focused on ABM springing up and vendors hitting hard with success stories, blog posts and sales pitches. B2B marketers are quickly jumping on the ABM bandwagon, looking to it as a way to both generate “better” leads and “improve” sales and marketing alignment. While there are merits to many of the principles of ABM, B2B marketers need to proceed with caution. Account-Based Marketing should not be treated as a strategy in and of itself. Rather, it should be considered as an approach that can be applied to your Demand Generation strategy.

Here are four questions for consideration before going “all-in” with ABM.

Does Account-Based Marketing Only Support Outbound?

At a recent conference in San Francisco dedicated to ABM, it was shocking how Account-Based Marketing seems to have reinvigorated the direct mail marketing industry.  It seemed as if most of the case studies involved tales of some sort of direct mail-based outreach to executives at targeted accounts that resulted in impressive returns and engagement within those accounts. What was missing was the discussion about leveraging an account-based strategy with inbound tactics. As a result, it may lead some to believe that ABM doesn’t play well with inbound (or a content strategy)— and that is far from the truth. Truly strategic Account-Based Marketing folds account-based considerations into the development of a buyer-centric content and Demand Generation strategy, which is what will best fuel your inbound marketing efforts.

The outbound content most tactical account-based marketers are using is often product-focused and does not serve to educate and establish trust with buyers. It is the outdated campaign-based approach which does not consider the buyer’s stage in their journey, but it has a slightly more intelligent target list. As a result, you will get lots of impressions, but low engagement.

Consider the foundation of a good content strategy — the development of personas for all of your buyers, including influencers as well as decision makers across the buying committee. Adding an ABM layer to this means that you need to figure out what types of companies are in your sweet spot, zero in on the specific needs of buyers from those types of companies and prioritize the development of personas from targeted accounts. Creating the content that speaks to the needs of buyers from target accounts, across the entire span of their buyer’s journey, will create the complimentary inbound component to the obvious outbound tactics that can be applied to ABM.

The problem is that many companies, when adopting an Account-Based Marketing strategy, focus on the outbound as the easiest route to success. They tend to skip some vital steps in the process, such as creating a persona-based content strategy to bolster a well-rounded Demand Process. You may get some quick wins, but it is not sustainable in the longer term.

Does Account-Based Marketing Alienate Prospects and Customers?

Just as there are success stories about ABM, there are just as many tales of targeted, account-based campaigns that were unsuccessful. A common theme in the case studies of ABM campaigns gone wrong is that they left potential buyers and existing customers feeling either excluded or unappreciated as they were removed from opportunities that they felt they should have been a part of. The mistakes made were largely tactical in nature:

1) Existing customers were largely excluded in favor of landing new logos.

Ignore existing customers at your own peril, as excluding them from your Demand Generation strategy means you will lose market share.

It is much easier (and less expensive) to support an existing customer than to land a new one. In fact, the origins of Account-Based Marketing are often traced back to expanding your presence across key accounts that are already customers. However, recent applications seem to be exclusively focused on new logo acquisition. Ignore existing customers at your own peril, as excluding them from your Demand Generation strategy means you will lose market share, strategy or not.

2) Targeted campaigns focused on specific accounts left buyers feeling underserved and excluded.

Truly strategic Account-Based Marketing folds account-based considerations into the development of a buyer-centric content and Demand Generation strategy.

If these efforts are extreme and visible, such as at an event or on social media, you run the risk of losing potential buyers due to insensitive messaging or “elitist” tactics. Tread lightly and consider carefully how your marketing efforts will be perceived. Never alienate a viable buyer simply because they are not “on the list.” Truly strategic ABM accounts for buyers that might fall outside the parameters of your target list, while still focusing on the companies that are the most likely to buy.

Does Account-Based Marketing Put Sales in Control of the Marketing Process?

Marketing has come a long way in terms of being more strategic over the past decade.  This is in large part due to the change in the purchase process being buyer driven and the rise of marketing technologies that allow us to better measure the return on our efforts and investments. Marketers are now able to prove what is working, what drives leads, which leads turn into opportunities, and which marketing programs drive the most revenue. However, poor visibility into turn-backs (marketing generated leads rejected by sales) from sales and perceived problems with lead scoring and closed-loop reporting still hurt us when it comes to establishing value and measuring performance.

Account-Based Marketing proponents often cite that highly scored leads get ignored by sales because they are coming from companies that they don’t feel that they can sell to. The establishment of a target account list and adoption of an Account-Based Marketing strategy that leverages that list can serve to solve that problem. However, there is a tendency to take this too far — giving sales control of the list and a license to reject qualified leads that are not “target accounts.”

Getting a lead from a target account is only part of the battle. There are too many moving parts to allow sales to drive your marketing strategy based only on a targeted account list.

To remedy this, marketing and sales need to work in a collaborative fashion to define their ideal target accounts and the criteria that will define them. After all, strategic Demand Generation is a marketing AND sales discipline. With inbound being a channel that supports ABM, organizations also need to account for qualified buyers coming from outside the target account list. There need to be clear and precise lead scoring and lead management practices, and service-level agreements with sales need to be created and maintained detailing lead handoff procedures that account for both qualified leads coming from target accounts as well as non-target accounts. Your Demand Generation program needs to be focused on supporting every buyer’s journey, engaging buyers with the tactics that drive revenue.

Getting a lead from a target account is only part of the battle. There are too many moving parts to allow sales to drive your marketing strategy based only on a targeted account list.

Is it Difficult to Measure and Monitor Account-Based Activity?

As ANNUITAS has discussed extensively in our blog, there are some inherent limitations in the technologies that marketers use that do not support an Account-Based Marketing strategy. 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 without investing in yet another technology tool.

Consider how leads vs. contacts work in most CRM systems. 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. Marketing automation does not offer the ability/option to operate in the same way, lacking visibility into account-level interest and activity in marketing programs.

That being said, it seems too easy to lose sight of the simple fact that incorporating account-based considerations into content strategy and lead management process will serve to bolster the most important marketing metric of all: revenue.

Technology is not a silver bullet, however. Marketers still face the same problems they have had since the first marketing automation customers began using those tools as very expensive email marketing platforms instead of as powerful marketing tools designed to nurture prospects and monitor performance … the best technologies fail without a solid strategy to drive them.

The most effective Account-Based Marketing programs take a strong Demand Generation strategy and build upon it by folding account-based considerations into the tactics that drive the best returns for your company.  And the truth is, a strategic Demand Process that incorporates content strategy, inbound and outbound engagement tactics, and lead management process can trump any sort of Account-Based Marketing strategy.

It is essential to discuss the construction of a strong strategy to drive demand that will also support any Account-Based tactics — without leaving any prospects or customers feeling underserved. Let’s Connect.

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