What’s Behind the Resurgence for Account-Based Marketing

April 8, 2015 Debbie Margulies

ABM_2015

As recently posted on LinkedIn By Dan Ziman

For B2B marketing and sales professionals, the term Account- Marketing (ABM) has been cropping up more and more in conversations, media articles and blogs, vendors, and event presentations.

The Alterra Group polled a group of business executives and reported that the vast majority (87 percent) are involved in ABM initiatives and just over half (52 percent) said client retention and growth is a major factor in ABM’s rise in importance.1 Research by LeanData last Fall revealed similar results with over 85 percent stating that they are beginning or continuing to invest in account based marketing initiatives.2

Is this just simple hype? Unsubstantiated? It will blow over? Or, is this re-emergence the result of critical need by marketers to align their go-to-market strategies more closely with sales and target account selling?

“Account based marketing isn’t a new term nor a new marketing strategy.

ABM originated in the mid-1990s by large companies as a method to get their sales teams focused on accounts (or group of individuals) rather than marketing to a single person. Companies like BearingPoint, HP, and Xerox are noted as the early adopters. (There’s a good background story about it on Wikipedia.)

However, in today’s new work climate, the upswing and abundance of advanced B2B marketing and sales technology has enabled companies of almost any size to be account-centric. As an example, the marketing automation platforms market including Marketo (NASD: MKTO), Oracle Eloqua (NYSE: ORCL), Pardot – a salesforce.com company (NYSE: CRM), Hubspot (NYSE: HUBS), and quickly growing Act-On, and a few others combined to make this a $1.2Billion market in 2014, a 60% growth from 2013.3   These technologies were formerly only available to large companies with sizeable IT, marketing and sales teams. Now, SMBs and mid-range companies with very limited business and technical resources can be enabled to target, assign, and manage hundreds of prospective accounts and customers. They can keep track of their customers and segment lists for email nurture campaigns or for generating new interest.

B2B sales and marketing has also been in a desperate search for some sort of equitable hand-off process and shared metrics. It’s led to one of the most over-hyped, trite terms in B2B sales and marketing namely… wait for it…Sales and Marketing Alignment. It seems like we’ve read dozens of whitepapers and blogs about it, keynotes at events, and heard a plethora of vendor webcasts on it. Yet, we’re still dealing with basic issues, i.e. only 1 in 4 marketing qualified leads (MQLs) convert to sales qualified leads (SQLs). The breakdown seems to occur because leads are either not handed off to the right person, the leads are crud (read: they aren’t creating traction in ideal sales accounts), or because sales doesn’t have the context to take the appropriate action.

Sales-and-Marketing-Alignment

“What could be better to get everyone on the same page than aligning around target, strategic, named, or major accounts?

Rather than just generating a pile of leads, what happens when you show how leads match into accounts with pending or active opportunities, or leads into customers for upsell programs? The sales team will always be much happier when marketing uses their campaign funds to get traction in the accounts sales cares about the most.

It seems unlikely that businesses will take their foot off the ABM gas pedal at this point. But, there are at least two industry hurdles which need to get smoothed out:

  1. Inconsistent definitions. Sales and marketing professionals often equate ABM to different stages of the customer lifecycle. Many have claimed that ABM is in their personalized content strategy, which is used at the top of the funnel or sometimes for mid-funnel nurturing. Others are talking about building the perfect target account list as ABM.

That could be true, but let’s not stop there. ABM applies to every step of the customer acquisition and experience lifecycle — the “full funnel”. This means aligned at the top of the sales funnel (prospecting), mid-funnel (sales engagements), and bottom funnel (deal closure and customers). Additionally, the businesses that will excel at ABM will be the ones who encompass the entire funnel with respects the effort to coordinate marketing programs, lead generation, lead flow and management, sales follow up, and reporting across sales, marketing, and customer success.

  1. ABM Metrics. The mysteries surrounding marketing measurements need to be solved. Unfortunately, we can’t just call Scooby Doo and the Mystery Machine to come over and discover the ghost in this lovely challenge. You’ll need to focus on more comprehensive methods for measuring ABM success (read: tie every critical marketing campaign influence to sales opportunities and revenue). Standard lead metrics, CPL, MQLs, and conversion rates don’t tell the “account-based” story.

Big question for you…How ready are you to support this initiative across your entire demand gen, field ops, marketing ops, and customer marketing teams? It’s an opportunity to be the marketing leader ahead of this next wave. You don’t want to be the one who has no idea how to support and measure an ABM initiative. It’s coming.

Sources

  1. Alterra Group: http://alterra-group.com/insights/account-based-marketing-our-initial-findings/
  2. LeanData: http://www.leandatainc.com/account-based-marketing
  3. David Raab: http://raabassociatesinc.com/2014/02/20/raab-report-b2b-marketing-automation-to-reach-1-2-billion-in-2014/

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