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We are all individuals: an agency perspective on ABM

We’ve heard brands sing the merits of ABM, and of course vendors, but how do agencies feel about it? Emma Crofts gives her view on the strategy

We all like to believe we’re a little bit different, don’t we? As people and as consumers we hold on to the quirks of personality that make us who we are. We place a value on them and make choices about the things we do, the brands we prefer and the products we buy because they appeal to those traits and reinforce our image of ourselves. Businesses are increasingly the same.

A strong business brand is one with an authentic and consistent personality; a personality that will be reflected in the choices made right across its supply chain. And while the purchasing process for a business is more complex than it is for an individual, the drivers behind procurement decisions are often broadly the same. Cost is always a factor of course, but shared values are crucial – and, as marketplaces become increasingly crowded and consumer power grows,

personalisation is everything.

An approach that makes perfect sense

As a B2B agency, we welcomed the rise of

account-based marketing (ABM)

with open arms. It felt very much like the natural culmination of all the important lessons we’ve learned from years of experience in the industry: an ABM approach helps to forge the stronger alliances we’ve always wanted between sales and marketing teams; it never forgets that business buyers are human too; it forces businesses to think about what their prospective customers want rather than focusing on how cool their new products are and – done well – it’s the perfect combination of accurate insight and creative innovation. What marketer wouldn’t love it?

Thankfully, the need for a more targeted, carefully personalised approach to marketing is something we’ve had no trouble convincing our own clients of. In our experience, ABM has introduced itself naturally during planning sessions and workshops; it provides a common-sense answer to a common B2B question: how can we reach a small pool of high value prospects? If you already know exactly who you want to attract or can easily define your audience from a limited number of organisations, ABM is the perfect fit. 

Why ABM works

Imagine for a moment that you’re

a large manufacturing business that’s worked long and hard to craft a reputation for being environmentally sound.

Energy remains at the core of your manufacturing processes and your energy spend each year would make you a hot prospect for any electricity supplier. Would you be more likely to listen to the sales pitch of an energy business who demonstrated that they had an understanding of your sector, a sensitivity to how external challenges might impact your business goals, and an offering that not only addresses those challenges but also aligns to your green ethos, or one who sent you a circular about the features of their latest product/service that made no mention of manufacturing, sustainability or renewables? I’m obviously over-simplifying, but I think you get the point. ABM is about getting under the skin of the organisations you want to reach and carefully tailoring your content to their specific needs.

Spend time on strong foundations

So, once the decision to use ABM has been made and prospects identified, what happens next? The answer is ‘research’ – and this is where the greatest plans can come unstuck if you’re not careful. While flipping the sales funnel on its head and starting with a tightly defined audience can often appeal to clients in theory, one problem that we’ve come across is convincing them of the value of spending real time on gathering all the data they can on those prospects before creating any of the shiny new content or making contact with their key targets. This is particularly true with a one-to few campaign, where the need to consider complex stakeholder maps and conduct careful fine-tuning of messages means carving out time for plenty of important but unglamorous leg-work before the fun stuff can begin. It can be hard to agree realistic timescales when clients are chomping at the bit to get started – but it’s important to lay strong foundations.

Inaccurate data or insight that hasn’t been properly verified can render even the most beautiful and eye-catching ABM materials useless.

The role of internal teams

ABM timescales can also be affected if internal teams are already overstretched. While an agency can carry the load of some of the research work, input from internal teams is invaluable. After all, they’re the ones on the front line with access to the truly meaningful insight. They’re also the ones who will need to carry the relationships with new clients forward. Getting sales teams involved at this early stage will pay dividends in the long run but progress can stall if the daily BAU always takes priority over longer term marketing strategy. 

Internal communications campaigns can make all the difference. We’ve found that creating exciting visual concepts to get teams fired-up about this different way of working, as well as providing them with comprehensive upfront information that includes realistic timelines, a clear statement of ambition and an easy-to-follow brief helps them to understand exactly what is required from them and secures their commitment to the cause.

The return of the conversation

ABM is exciting for a whole host of reasons; not least because it spreads the budget less thinly – meaning you can create exciting pieces of bespoke collateral. For marketers it offers an opportunity to make big impressions with imaginative and creative material and for businesses it offers the chance to cut through the noise and start a real conversation. In a world of shrinking customer-loyalty and ads designed to satisfy a three-second attention span, ABM feels like a more solid and trustworthy alternative to mass-marketing. While there will always be situations in which the need to cast the net wide makes ABM impractical, if this is a technique which can help businesses begin more transparent and durable relationships, it is one we’ll certainly be recommending more.

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