Account-based marketing – time for some honest re-evaluation?
ABM is on the rise, but how can we address its emerging concerns? Clive Armitage provides insight and actionable suggestions
The last two years have seen a meteoric rise in interest in and adoption of account-based marketing.
Why? Well, just google ABM and ROI and you will be inundated with stats that show how ABM outperforms other marketing disciplines. No surprises therefore why savvy marketers have been adopting ABM in their droves.
So far, so good. But before we all get too excited, I need to suggest the hype may just have got a little ahead of reality recently. Yes, ABM in each of its three classic forms (one-to-one, one-to-few and one-to-many) does deliver value but based on the whispers that I have been hearing this summer, areas of disenchantment are appearing across the ABM pyramid.
As a dedicated proponent of the value of ABM to modern marketing, I thought I'd share the most common concerns I have heard across each point of the pyramid, and suggest a way to address each one.
1. Concern: One-to-one ABM is expensive and time-consuming
Long regarded as the true definition of ABM by those diehard ABM evangelists who have been engaged in marketing directly to key accounts for more years than they can remember (you know who you are!), there's undoubtedly huge value in building bespoke campaigns to target large addressable 'markets of one' in certain key accounts.
But there's no getting away from the fact that doing so is expensive. And time-consuming. And sometimes slow to deliver results (try telling an irritable sales director that you expect to yield some tangible results 'in the next year or so'...). I've heard from lots of different client contacts over the last couple of months that these issues are forcing them to re-evaluate where they are pointing their ABM budgets.
And the reality is, it is drifting away from one-to-one ABM.
Sure, there is still a requirement for that large programme to support a really juicy account but I'd counsel that marketing needs to be honest with itself (and with its sales colleagues) that, actually, there are few accounts that really do warrant individual attention.
My advice here is to employ what we term the OCA index.
OCA stands for Opportunity, Co-operation and Achievability and means you simply look at each element and score where the account sits against it.
- Opportunity: Look at the size of the account, its potential to grow and the need to defend it.
- Co-operation: Determine sales buy-in. Will they really support engagement efforts, and are they committed to the long game?
- Availability: Check if insight and intelligence can be gathered and really understand if the target stakeholders to engage can be identified and agreed with sales.
This simple process will really help you understand which of your potential accounts are truly most ripe for one-to-one and I guarantee it will help you reduce the number of accounts that you have to provide one-to-one coverage for.
2. Concern: One-to-few cluster ABM is not always executed effectively
There's been a definite flight to 'one-to-few' (or what I would term 'cluster ABM') from my perspective over the past few months.
Driven by the desire to create a degree of personalisation and engagement, but at more scale than a sole account, marketers are getting wise to the value of building programs with a blended technology and human consultancy approach.
In simple terms, the tech element allows activity to be both created and then delivered at scale while the consultancy element allows human input to create personalised and relevant engagement strategies for each campaign.
The benefit to the marketer is obvious; larger account coverage and quicker time to value (always handy when seeking to align to sales needs...).
But I've seen issues start to emerge with some brands falling into the classic trap of starting from the premise of 'we have this campaign/product launch/sector we want to target and cluster ABM seems to be the answer!'. This is very wrong and is reminiscent of old style 'broadcast marketing' (in short - 'I'm going to tell you why I am great'!).
Effective cluster ABM starts from understanding the drivers from a target account perspective and then building the cluster ABM approach around those drivers.
It has to be customer-centric to be effective. After all, why deliver a personalised campaign to drive engagement without the confidence that your activity is going to meet the needs of the targeted account?
And being customer-centric means investing in account insights and intelligence first, before you start to determine your strategy. Trust me, the returns will justify the investment.
3. Concern: One-to-many involves too much tech and not enough value extracted
It's not news the bottom of the ABM pyramid has seen an explosion in technology solutions to help marketers address the challenge of reaching large volumes of accounts with relevant tactical content.
But it's also likely to be no surprise that some of these technologies work less well than others in delivering true value.
As a result, I am seeing definite signs of buyer fatigue setting in at the one-to-many ABM level where marketers have invested in the latest 'shiny new toy' from a technology perspective but then are left floundering to demonstrate ROI.
Many of the people I speak to are therefore trying technologies for defined periods of time and then not renewing after the initial period. This feels like a waste of time for all concerned.
Now I'm about to make what my Mum calls a SOTBO (statement of the bloody obvious) but bear with me, because it seems to me that people keep making the same mistake when it comes to buying technology.
Deep breath, here goes; if you are going to invest in technology, make sure you have a very good answer to how you are going to exploit it. There, I've said it.
How to get the most out of (exploit) ABM tech?
From my perspective, you have three possible answers:
1. You have a team internally that 'gets' the tech and can extract value for you.
2. Your preferred technology vendor has a services arm that will work with you to extract value (please, do make sure you get an service level agreement for this too).
3. You have an agency partner that knows how to use the technology you are buying and you can outsource management of it to ensure you get the value you want.
One of these three elements must be in place before you sign off that new technology purchase order. Ignore this advice at your peril.
I remain a passionate advocate of the value of ABM. When done well, it is a truly exciting component of a marketer's armory allowing real ROI and often delivering the holiest of holy grails – sales and marketing alignment. But the path to ABM contentment is littered with the odd pothole, as I have outlined above. So, navigate your way carefully to ensure that you avoid some easy to make mistakes along the way and, in the process, put yourself in the best possible position to deliver true ABM value.