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ABM: How to successfully approach account-based marketing in 2018

James Myers, head of strategy at OgilvyOne Business, argues B2B marketers need to be better at embracing ABM to see the benefits in 2018

I attended a B2B Marketing webinar on account-based marketing (ABM) recently (available on demand here). The conclusion and responses aren't what you'd have expected. 

Too few have embraced ABM properly. There's not enough attention given to strategic planning and key account identification. 

It’s just good marketing with another name. Technology is the new snake oil. Sales and marketing need to align. So far so good.

One thing that did get ‘under-debated’ was understanding the decision-making unit and influencers. To be fair, the moderators raised a virtual eyebrow when few attendees thought it a challenge. I will declare our interests.

We happen to think that influencers are more influential than most organisations assume they are, we think the idea of the decision-making unit being made up of a handful of people is just unrealistic – convenient, but unrealistic. It may be the case in certain mid-size organisations but, on the whole, it doesn’t work like that.

This highlights the problem of working in B2B. Most client organisations don’t invest in primary research and most secondary research is considered not to be reflective of their markets. So, all that's left is to work to generalities and what sales tell us. 

Ultimately, few companies can show they understand how their clients buy. They know the sales process but not the action that happens before the initial sales conversation. And if you buy into the '60%,70% or 80% of sales process happens before the first contact' statistic, that’s a lot of missing action. In some B2B categories (not all), like professional services and complex IT transformations, the classical decision-making unit is the last to get involved. There are over 50 people who influence the decision and targeting them through social and customised lists not only creates a positive selling environment, it drives leads. 

But importantly, this approach has worked better when targeting certain types of companies. Our hunch is that it works better when targeting a multi-location company. Or perhaps there's a cultural dimension. 

Anyway, is this ABM? I don’t know and don’t really care. It's highly targeted, it focuses on key accounts and it drives action. 

But let’s return to the insight question. Do we need to understand better how organisations buy? Yes, I think we do, technology and research can help us here. It would be great to get a few clients, agencies, tech and data companies to kick this off. Any volunteers?

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