Every couple of years, a new acronym or buzzword takes a foothold in the world of marketing. ABM, the acronym for Account-Based Marketing, is the latest rage. It is an example of how an old concept can be recycled and be claimed anew again.
In the 1980’s and 1990’s, ABS, the acronym for Account-Based Sales, was all the rage then. The concept derives from the notion that your best customers are your existing customers. And, that within large enterprises, there were many available sources for revenue growth within large accounts. This led to more sophisticated selling approaches, such as Consultative Selling and Miller Heiman.
The evolution of the Internet and digital technologies now means marketing plays a greater role in building awareness and opportunities. Yet, we cannot lose sight of the importance of sales in account-based strategies. This is the type of strategy that succeeds through “feet on the ground” understanding. Particularly when working with large enterprises.
What was true then and is as true today, is the need for information and insights into accounts. When ABS (account-based sales) first came into existence, it began with needs assessments and led to the collection of information on teams, hierarchy, divisions, decision-makers, approvers, etc. For example, if an organization adopted Miller Heiman, sales began their efforts with filling out as much of the “blue sheets” as possible.
An outgrowth of this approach led to many organizations creating major account, national account, and global account sales teams. A recognition that a dedicated focus was required and high-stakes dollars made for more complex selling. Marketing played a role then by supporting sales with content that sales delivered.
Today, from a marketing standpoint, this dedicated focus is translated into an increased stake in building awareness. The premise remains the same, however. To succeed at ABS and ABM requires a deeper understanding of how targeted accounts in targeted industries behave and make decisions.
Buyer Insights Are A Prerequisite
As with any new concept, there can be a tendency to make critical missteps. When it comes to ABM, there are three potential missteps that can derail an ABM strategy from the start:
- There is a lack of or there are no efforts involving gaining deep buyer insights respective to target accounts and industries
- There is little to no coordination with sales on how to synchronize an ABM strategy with an ABS strategy
- Applying generalized content marketing thinking to an ABM strategy whereby the focus is on “getting our content in front of more people in our accounts”
These three missteps are made, especially, when ABM is bought into to push more content and lacks the understanding of how organizations – and the people within them – work and behave.
What becomes evident when you think about these three potential missteps is that gaining deep buyer insights becomes a prerequisite for succeeding at account-based marketing – and – account-based sales. And, it is important to reiterate the need for a synchronized ABM and ABS strategy.
Propelling ABM Via Buyer Insights
If buyer insights serve as a prerequisite for succeeding at a synchronized ABM/ABS strategy, then what insights should be gained? There are three critical areas that will require deep buyer insights:
- Organizational Insights – this area of insights is often the most neglected and often skipped over entirely. Organizations are comprised of many dynamic parts be they culture, people, structure, processes, systems, technology, etc. These dynamic parts manifest into organizational behaviors intended to attain organizational goals. As the digital economy further evolves, how organizations behave and operate are undergoing a radical transformation. An ABM/ABS strategy lacking insights into how organizational behavior is transforming is akin to walking in through the front door of an account with horse blinders on.
- People/Team Insights – recently, I came across articles regarding defining buyer personas for ABM. Offered up for reading amounted to nothing more than what existed back in the days of Miller Heiman and glorified job descriptions. Yes, this basic intelligence is always important but should not be confused with deep buyer insights. In today’s world of digital transformation, people and teams are also undergoing a radical behavioral transformation in their goals, goal-directed behaviors, interactions, how they work individually, as well as, within teams, operational systems they use, and how they contribute to organizational goals. Making the need for buyer insights greater than ever. With importance given to going beyond simplistic personas or role descriptions.
- Market Ecosystems – ecosystems related to a variety of markets are also being disrupted seismically. As we are witnessing in retail today, the ecosystem of malls, anchor stores, shopping plazas, and other traditional distribution is hemorrhaging with a rapid amount of store closings. Other markets, be they B2B or B2B, are facing similar upside down transformation. Not understanding the where, when, what, why, and how of reinvention required to fit into newly forming ecosystems, fueled by digital transformation, will set any ABM strategy or a company for that matter – years back.
ABM Does Not Equate To A Content Marketing Campaign
If the above is looking a bit deep and complex, it is because – it is. What marketing and sales teams should avoid is this – turning an ABM strategy into a glorified content marketing campaign. This is certainly occurring based on buyer insight interviews I have conducted recently. Whereas an ABM is defined simplistically as uncovering additional people to be recipients of content.
A synchronized ABM/ABS is a strategic undertaking that companies will need to prepare for and attain a degree of readiness. Reaching such readiness requires obtaining deep buyer insights that inform the overall ABM/ABS strategy. It is one thing to say, as I have heard several times this year, “we are doing ABM” – yet it is entirely another thing to be in a state of readiness.
Being in a state of readiness for an ABM/ABS strategy means it is grounded in deep buyer insights. Without it, companies run the risk of appearing more out of touch with their customers than if they had done nothing at all.