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How to take ABM from good to great – Q&A Meredith Fuller of Quarry

ABM has gone from niche to mainstream at breakneck speed but that means the bar for excellence is moving inexorably upwards, and ABMers have to work harder than ever to succeed. So what does great look like for ABM in 2019? Joel Harrison spoke with Quarry’s MD of buyer engagement Meredith Fuller.

ABM has been one of the hottest trends in B2B marketing in the last few years. But marketing is a fashion industry, and isn’t ABM just another fad that will sooner or later become passé?

Meredith: While I don’t agree that marketing is a fashion industry, like fashion there are styles that are timeless. There are marketing practices and approaches that endure. To me, that’s what ABM represents. 

However the name “ABM” will fall out of use. We no longer talk about flat-screen TVs, they’re just TVs and they’re all flat. We seldom talk about smartphones anymore either. They’re just phones and they’re all smart.

The ABM label will fade away because all B2B demand marketing will be account-based. It’s just smart marketing. No more mass marketing, only crystal-clear targetin.g. Laser focus on quality of leads, not quantity. Marketing and sales congruence versus dissonance. KPIs that tie ultimately to business goals not individual tactic performance.

What does the level of ABM sophistication look like in 2019? Are most people still at the beginning of their journeys?

We’re past the time of having to explain what ABM is or why it’s altering the course of B2B. Most organizations — certainly the large tech firms we work with — are in-market with account-based initiatives in some capacity.

In my mind, 2019 and beyond is about scaling, enhancing impact, making account-based strategies, metrics, tactics and tools central to the DNA of the B2B organization.

From this point forward, the conversation is about how to go beyond the basics. How to get to the next level. How, as Jim Collins famously put it many years ago, to go from ‘Good to Great’.

Assuming there’s a growing number of marketers who are dabbling successfully with ABM, how do they accelerate or expand these programmes to achieve their potential?

Many B2B organizations are in-market with ABM in some capacity and are having solid success. Moving from good to great is about taking each discrete aspect of ABM to the next level through further sophistication around strategy, execution, and technology. 

This could mean increasing the rigour around identifying ideal accounts; more thorough contact coverage at target accounts and understanding their unique needs and motivations; personalization based upon this understanding; enhanced orchestration and measurement. The opportunities for improvement go on and on.

Do you have a view about what ‘great’ ABM looks like?

Great ABM is an ever-rising bar, but there are a number of tangible wins we’re helping our clients achieve as they evolve.

Ideal account identification: Today we can go so far beyond the basic firmographics and technographics that most programs begin with. We’re layering in predictive data, intent data, behavioural data, trigger attributes and more. We’re also going deep with qualitative investigation that harnesses the collective wisdom of the sales team, executive leadership and more to arrive at a powerful and nuanced view of which accounts to target, when, and how.

Account coverage: We find that many ABM programs are suffering from insufficient contact identification and classification. We’ve helped our clients dramatically increase the number of relevant contacts inside large firms, and to better map and understand the internal dynamics that are essential to delivering really smart, meaningful messaging.

Deep personalization: Dynamic copy that picks up people’s names, company names, industries etc. is superficial, and becoming table stakes. We’re leveraging a wide range of capabilities to develop a clear picture of current pains, objectives and priorities, and we’re delivering more timely and impactful communication as a result.   

Tech stack optimization: Many large firms have a relatively deep range of tools at their disposal, but they seldom leverage them to the full potential. Getting to great requires maximizing the capabilities of your existing tools and introducing new technology in the right way at the right time.

If you do go direct to ABM at scale, what implications does that have on your marketing team set up, your martech stack and your use of agencies?

My first recommendation is don’t rush to scale. It’s a well-recognized best practice to run a pilot first, but there seems to be a lot of uncertainty about how to best structure a pilot. 

The mistake some companies make is running a superficial pilot. You can’t excuse cutting out half the steps because it’s “just a pilot”. You need to plan, execute, and measure at every stage of the process, adhering to ABM best practices at each point. “Pilot” means doing it at a smaller scale with a tighter focus area, a smaller budget, and a smaller team – not skipping over important principles of ABM.

Think of drilling a core sample versus scraping away topsoil. A core sample will give you visibility into everything you’ll encounter when you go big. If all you do is scrape the top layers, you’re not really learning.

Ensure that you leverage the learnings from a pilot in order to accelerate and de-risk the rollout when the time comes to scale.

As ABM matures inside a firm, a wide variety of team structures may emerge. A global program office or center of excellence often takes the lead in establishing standards, processes, and measurement. Customization and execution lives at the product level, in each line of business, or the field or regional level. Some firms organize ABM teams by objective with a team for new logo acquisition, one for pipeline acceleration, and another for customer share of wallet expansion. There’s no single best way to do it.

Is adoption of ABM increasing pressure on B2B organizations to deploy more martech? What are the dangers inherent in relying too much on tech?

A proliferation of powerful new tools is a result of ABM going mainstream, and also one of the causes. Deft use of technology is absolutely part of the requisite capabilities of any high-performing ABM team.

That said, there is a dangerous tendency to rush into technology evaluations too soon. You can’t buy ABM; you have to build it. And until you’ve done some heavy lifting around alignment, objectives, strategy and metrics, you’re not ready to buy new tools.  

This is another area where a good agency partnership can come into play. Agencies with established ABM practices are already using a lot of these tools, and you can often avail yourself of their stack (and their expertise in using it to the fullest potential) to see which tools really move the needle for you. That puts you in a much better position to know what you need when it’s time to scale. 

Do you agree that hyper-personalisation is the key to ‘great’ ABM?

There’s no one key to great ABM. Excellence is an ever-rising bar across every aspect of your ABM capabilities. Hyper-personalization, or deep personalization as we tend to call it, is definitely one area where most organizations have a lot of room for advancement.

Quarry has been making exciting strides in this area recently, and our clients have been thrilled with the results. Specifically, when you go far beyond routine personalization and introduce intent-driven and behaviour-based assessment to deliver highly relevant and truly valuable content — in a very timely manner — to each individual that can influence the purchase decision, you’re doing something really special.

For perhaps the first time ever the opportunity exists to message directly to the most pressing needs, opportunities, and challenges to each member of the buying syndicate within the targeted account based upon what their behaviors are telling us, versus what we presume them to be. High-impact? 100%.

Agencies recognise a bandwagon when they see it, and a good many have jumped onboard the ABM bandwagon as it gathers pace. But what should clients look for when seeking out an agency that can help them deliver truly great ABM?

If there’s an ABM bandwagon, I like to think we’re one of the horses. We’ve been out in front for a long time now, with years of learning and a great many successful account-based programs built and delivered along the way. I guess it’s validating that others are jumping on, but we’re never going to stop pulling hard to stay at the forefront.

Beyond looking for an agency that has a lot of ABM experience, there are two other things I’d look for if I was on the client-side.

First — and even if I was only looking for help in one part of ABM (perhaps just strategy, or activation) — I’d look for an agency with deep capabilities across every aspect of planning, executing, measuring and scaling an ABM program. With that comprehensive experience comes an appreciation of how everything fits together and an understanding of end-to-end philosophies and best practices underpinning success. 

The other thing I’d look for is an agency that’s large enough to have teams of experts in every aspect of ABM, while also being small enough that I’d be working closely with their most experienced leaders and team members — folks who have personally rolled up their sleeves and dug into account-based.

I believe there’s a “Goldilocks” size for agencies; not too big and not too small: just right to deliver maximum results.

What are your ABM credentials as an agency?

Quarry has been actively standing up high-impact ABM programs since 2015. 

We’ve built whale-hunting one-to-one campaigns. We’ve built one-to-many programs across thousands of targeted accounts. And of course we’ve worked with every conceivable one-to-few variation in between. Perhaps more importantly, these campaigns have met or exceeded program objectives in every case.

We’ve worked with clients who are new to ABM, helping them lay foundations and run their first pilots. We’ve helped post-pilot clients scale. Most often these days, we’re working with organizations that are already doing a really solid job across many aspects of ABM. Quarry helps them go from ‘Good to Great’.

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