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ABM: Beyond the bottom of the funnel

What if instead of identifying accounts and targeting them, you could engage prospects that need what you already have, says Ashley Evans?

In every job there’s a lightbulb moment when everything clicks into place and make sense. For me, in this role, it’s taken seven months of working at an ABM agency group for things to click into place.

I started my career working in full-service agencies, so presumably this would all be familiar – I started in media planning and buying – but this is a different beast and it’s taken that amount of time to properly get my feet under the desk, learn the service offerings, the competitive landscape, the tools we employ and our general approach to things at Pulse and Transmission.

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What I’ve come to realise after countless conversations is there are a lot of pre-conceived ideas in the marketing world about what ABM is and how you attack it. Many think it’s something you bolt on to your existing B2B marketing activity; a tactic rather than a strategy. Others will tell you they’re ‘doing some ABM’, but when you drill down it’s really just implementing some marketing automation. But what staggers me most is the assumption that ABM, in the minds of most people I speak to, begins and ends at the bottom of the funnel with one-to-one, or one-to-few.

ITSMA defines ABM as “treating individual accounts as markets in their own right” and I absolutely agree with that. But even they concede “the opportunities to apply ABM principles far beyond your key accounts have grown in recent years”, and this is largely down to the tech available now informing how we source prospect accounts at the top of the funnel, or one-to-many, stage.

Traditional methodology is to pick a sector you think your value proposition resonates with and decide on the companies therein you want to target. This might be informed by market trends or by historical CRM data – sectors and companies you’ve had success with in the past – and though it sounds a reasonable approach there’s a lack of hard evidence to suggest they’re buyin’ what you’re sellin’. Or to put it another way, there’s no suggestion of buying intent. 

For those in the tech sector already running one-to-many ABM, intent data has become paramount, the compass by which they navigate. Instead of guess-work they’re allowing the hard facts to guide them.

The road to good intentions

If you’re unfamiliar with intent data, imagine chucking 1,000 bingo balls (accounts) into a tombola. The ‘intent tombola’ spins and the accounts that emerge are the companies surging (or ‘in market’) around topics and pain-points your proposition can satisfy. For a cyber security brand it could be a company that was recently breached reading content about a topic like ‘resilience’; for an energy vendor perhaps a company researching ‘renewables’ or ‘carbon neutral’.

It feels to me like a reversal of methodology is required. Instead of naming accounts first and worrying about whether they need your products second, why not go where the data takes you and engage prospects that need what you have, now. If nothing else, intent data will either reinforce your instincts about that account you want being ‘in market’, or will show you why your resources are better deployed elsewhere.

I’ve heard varying statistics, but the overwhelming majority of B2B buyers claim to be two-thirds of the way through the decision-making process before they ever engage a sales person. Moreover, an overwhelming majority (89%) of B2B researchers use the internet in their research process and they conduct 12 searches prior to engaging on a specific brand’s site. As a rule of thumb, the more research, the bigger the deal size.

Intent engines allow us to track this activity and feed it back to marketing teams to build out content strategies accordingly for engaged prospects, and to ensure their brand and solution is top-of-mind at the top and all the way through the funnel. 

If, then, the purchasing decision is actually happening at the top of the funnel then the need to engage the decision-making units and nurture accordingly has never been more pressing. A one-to-many ABM programme allows you to show those engaged leads the right information at the right time and nurture them to purchase.