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Account-based marketing (ABM): 10 things we learnt at this week’s roundtable

At a recent roundtable, held in association with Enigma Marketing, a group of senior marketers laid their ABM cards on the table. Jess Pike reports

It’s the acronym that B2B marketers love to hate: ABM. But despite being bandied around far and wide, there’s little agreement over what it really means and how it's best implemented. Questions abound. Does a whole new approach mean throwing away years of lead generation best practice, for example?  What are the main barriers to success? And how can marketers reap the rewards?

At the roundtable, we sought to address some of the main concerns surrounding ABM and build a roadmap to success. Here are the main nuggets of insight, gathered from a room full of marketers who head up teams at a host of well-known B2B brands.

1. Account-based marketing isn’t a panacea to all your marketing-based woes (sorry!)

How marvellous would it be if ABM was that elusive silver bullet that you’ve been searching for all these years? But rather than think of it as a magical quick fix, it's better to see it as philosophy or a new way of thinking that will focus the attention of the entire organisation on what really matters: your most important customer accounts.

2. Securing organisational buy-in is crucial

And we’re not just talking about the sales and marketing functions, or even the board: we’re talking about external communications, product marketing, pre-sales and post-sales support, and customer experience champions. Each individual and team has a big part to play in identifying the right target accounts and the individuals within those accounts and deciding which channels, value propositions and content to use to engage with them. Consider the contacts you engage in one area of a customer account but not in another, is there potential to define opportunities, engage new contacts and cross-sell? If teams aren’t communicating effectively, useful information will remain locked up in silos.

"ABM should be viewed as a personalisation approach that requires sleuth-like research and investigation"

3. ABM will work wonders for marketing and sales alignment

For one roundtable attendee, discussions over the definition of ABM were secondary to one of its main benefits: alignment between marketing and sales. That said, it can be difficult to bring target-driven, reactive sales teams on board, particularly if they feel ABM will distract them from hitting targets. Pick the most visionary salespeople: they’ll be able to recognise the value this new approach will bring.

4. Bigger organisations often find implementing ABM more of a challenge than their smaller counterparts

Embedding an ABM mindset in unwieldy, sprawling organisations is always going to be tricky – but a good way of getting the ball rolling is to identify which individuals at senior level take most responsibility for strategy. This person is more likely to take a long-term view and could very well be your best champion for the cause.

5. The customer sits at the heart of ABM – so make sure you know them inside out

And this isn’t just the responsibility of marketing: make sure you’re linking up with your sales team to gain their insight too. For one roundtable attendee, ABM should be viewed as a personalisation approach that requires sleuth-like research and investigation. Get your sales and marketing teams digging around on LinkedIn and Twitter – you want them to know as much as they can about key individuals within your key target accounts.

6. While different accounts will require different channels, don’t assume digital always trumps physical

According to one roundtable attendee, the days of fax aren’t quite over. (Yes, really.) His team knew that each senior individual within their key account had their own office (and thus their own fax machine); they also knew that a fax was more likely to be read than an email. Don’t assume that because something isn’t your preferred form of communication it won’t work with customers.

7. Once targets have been identified, do all you can to avoid content overload

There’s a propensity among some marketers to become over-excited when the right individual has been identified; one roundtable delegate admitted that he knew of a former colleague who’d discovered that one of his key clients had received three different whitepapers in just three weeks. Needless to say, the client wasn’t interested in any of them and his opinion of the company was completely undermined.

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"One roundtable delegate admitted that he knew of a former colleague who’d discovered that one of his key clients had received three different whitepapers in just three weeks"

8. The quality of your content will be shaped by your proposition

Customer validation is oh-so important here: the best marketers will be meeting with customers and prospects, inviting them into board or advisory meetings and proactively asking for their views of the company and brand. Once you’ve discovered what they think of you, look at your competitors and their value propositions and messaging. All too often, said one attendee, you come up with a great strapline or summary only to find out that it pretty much replicates that of your competitor.

9. Data, as ever, has a vital role to play in your ABM strategy

Disparate data sets are a perennial problem for many marketers, particularly those working in bigger organisations. But although there are tools and technologies that can help marketers clean their data, it takes manual graft and personal research to build the most reliable and rich data sets for ABM programmes.

10. Pick your key accounts carefully

Account selection is crucial – whether you choose to use tools like predictive scoring or not, make sure you involve every relevant person in the process. Remember that ABM is often used for larger accounts with longer sales cycles, so tracking and mapping progress against quarterly sales targets can be restrictive. Instead, look at the bigger picture and have the right metrics to reflect that. And above all, remember that successful ABM always demands a wholesale change in mindset.

Attendees

Participating at November’s roundtable, held in association with Enigma Marketing, were:

  • Conrad Mills, Xerox
  • Jeremy Harpham, Pitney Bowes
  • Gurbir Phull, CBS Interactive
  • Louis Fernandes, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE)
  • Andy Barraclough, Pegasystems
  • Jada Balster, Workfront
  • Hina Sharma, Pitney Bowes
  • Martin Simcock, Enigma Marketing
  • Adam Greener, Engima Marketing
  • Oliver Matejka, B2B Marketing

The discussion was moderated by Jess Pike, editor of B2B Marketing.