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The voodoo of account-based marketing

Ricky Abbott, marketing and strategy director at Pulse, warns B2B marketers not to get carried away with account-based marketing technology

Account-based marketing (ABM) is dividing marketers everywhere. It’s certainly a very fashionable term like ‘content marketing’ or ‘programmatic’ before it, but as always, it is very often misused. I’m sure there are marketers everywhere whose eyes roll when they hear someone say: “I want to run an ABM campaign; I have a list of 10,000 companies”.

Just to be clear, this isn’t true ABM. It is a clever way of using the principles that ABM offers to generate high-quality mass customer engagement. I’m not saying that is a bad thing, in fact, marketers that are using this approach, I salute you.

In years gone by, ABM was restricted to physical events, emails and direct mail. But with the explosion of tech companies, we can now target accounts at a more granular level using tech.

Who would have thought it? Sound like voodoo?

Technology needles

At the moment everyone wants more technology but often it’s not used to its full capabilities and more importantly not used in an integrated fashion. Sticking needles in your prospect doll using technology hoping that they will feel the pain, sit up and notice you is still, unfortunately, the usual approach. I don’t think it is because marketers are being lazy, more like they have huge internal pressures to get campaigns and activity off the ground so it’s a case of the path of least resistance.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the technology solutions available defy belief and the talent used to build it is far smarter than me. But with the great explosion of tech solutions from predictive analytics organisations to curation companies to website personalisation and ABM analytics, how do you know who is right for your needs and more importantly, will actually work? Often the tech providers’ overlap with solutions, can cost a lot of money and their success can be dependent on the state of your own internal data or systems. So, where to even start in making sense of the noise?

The answer is to start by looking at your campaign as a whole. What other tactics are you using? What do the nurture streams look like? Rather than simply throwing technology at your campaign, actually think about how it helps and complements the campaign as a whole and gets the different tactics working together for the same unified goal.

When deciding on the technology, remember that different things are important to different people. Take intent data, for example. Marketing is interested in the surging topics as it can inform the content they create, whereas sales are interested in the companies showing intent so that they can contact them. It is vital to include sales in the decision making so that the technology you use works across the board.

Don’t forget content

Marketers are looking at the nice shiny new car but may have taken their eye off the content used to fuel it. This is where ABM campaigns, whilst performing well (Marketing Profs report companies using ABM generate 208 per cent more revenue for their marketing efforts), can improve even more. The technology machine still needs to be fed by great content.

Imagine a world where, instead of sticking pins in prospects, you have full funnel content, broken down by persona or vertical. This is then built into a robust nurture stream AND that same content is then used to distribute in the places you don’t own but where, let’s be honest 90 per cent of your prospects’ time is spent. Often companies will either create good content or good email campaigns or (and this is less so) good external syndication methods whether that be programmatic, native, social or search.

Measuring ABM results

This neatly brings us on to measurement. How do you measure and action the insights these technology platforms can generate? With an ABM approach, there is a need for a vastly different approach from sales as the old mantra of ‘leads’ do not always apply. We are now being forced to ask our sales teams to not deal in the guarantee of leads but take a leap of faith. We still supply them lead level data (through owned systems and external content syndication) combined with data on company activity which but now they need to translate this into their conversation with those targets. It’s not always an easy jump to make and so the talent is in being able to report that back in a meaningful, insightful and easily consumable way.

There is a divide between mass market quality prospect engagement and true ABM but it’s getting closer, yet the huge number of tech providers in the middle can easily drown you.

In summary, here’s my advice for ABM

  1. Understand where, how and the formats your audience like to consume their content.
  2. Bring sales into the process as early as possible.
  3. Get your content aligned to your customer pain points.
  4. Make it personal and think outside of business to business speak, think human.
  5. Distribute both in your own controlled environment e.g. email, social and site.
  6. Don’t forget there is a big world out there, how can you entice them?
  7. Are you measuring success based on account level engagement.
  8. Make sure sales understand the whole programme, what a lead will look like and the ideal process on following it up.