Account based marketing: Think you're ready for it?

For those taking their first tentative steps into ABM, you'd be forgiven for feeling somewhat daunted on where best to start. Andy Bacon is your ABM guide

Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of guidance out there for those starting out on their ABM journey – including B2B Marketing's How and when to deploy technology for ABM report, which is an excellent piece of work and goes a significant way towards helping to define a roadmap. The question is, why does ABM appear so complicated when its roots are so historically grounded in best practice marketing? The tech landscape looks like a minefield (see page 15 of the guide), and this is probably down to the fact so many vendor solutions now overlap as they seek to offer a total solution.

I think the answer lies in the fact that as the latest marketing 'paradigm', ABM joins a growing list of modern marketing techniques, nearly all of which have been enabled by emerging tech solutions.  

During the past 15 years, we’ve gone from CRM, to tracked personalised emails, through wholesale marketing automation and algorithmic real-time media buying to name a few. It’s as if no one will take us seriously unless our strategy is supported by an impressive tech stack firing silver bullets.

Master the marketing fundamentals before buying flashy tech solutions

My worry is that this often means putting the ‘cart before the horse’. A farmer can now invest just short of £1 million on a state-of-the-art, tech-laden combine harvester that uses GPS to measure crop yield across every square metre of his field. Technology won’t make his wheat grow stronger or enable him to get more £/tonne at market. He will, of course, ‘reap what he sows’; his experience will tell him there’s no escaping good groundwork. Getting the fundamentals of soil management right will always come first.

So, while selecting the right mix of tech solutions is really important to reap the rewards of ABM, don’t assume they guarantee success and certainly don’t let them define your strategy. I have witnessed first-hand many large-scale international B2B clients who invested in CRM in the nineties and marketing automation in the noughties; but the ROI from these tools depends on their ability to implement. Many have learned to their peril that this can be a significant and costly challenge. Hands up those of you using your marketing automation platform as little more than an email marketing tool and have not yet fully implemented nurture tracks and lead scoring mechanisms.

ABM can facilitate sales and marketing perfection

The point is, to succeed in ABM requires unequivocal business alignment behind the strategy. However, the magical opportunity that ABM presents is a powerful catalyst for a new kind of sales and marketing 'interlock': a shared strategy that enables collaboration for shared success.

Like a shiny new combine harvester, ABM can certainly produce impressive results, but it can only do so with thorough groundwork. You need to assess your ABM readiness and that includes gaining buy in from all stakeholders across the business beyond just sales and marketing.

Those of you working in large organisations can be excused for ‘not always knowing what you don’t know’ and if anything is going to scupper a great fledgling ABM programme, it will be the sudden impact of hidden obstacles that few knew existed. For example, these could include the structure of first-party data (including GDPR compliance), limitations of your current website platform and level of marketing automation implementation.

Failure is not an option

Your need to mitigate all risk of failure can’t be underestimated. Stakeholder confidence in your programme must be maintained to ensure that the business trusts your ABM strategy is both repeatable and sustainable over the long term. Your professional reputation depends on it.

Your ABM agency and/or tech provider is unlikely to know your business better than you, so taking a step back and deep-diving into your organisation’s capability to support your ABM programme is essential before starting your journey. Fortunately, proven management tools, supported with experienced consultancy, are available to help you assess your business’ current ‘state of readiness’. These will gain you the visibility of hidden obstacles (interdependencies) so you can mitigate the risks. If you have already started ABM, these tools can also be used to optimise an existing strategy if you are becoming concerned about increasing inertia.

Strategic marketing consultant and agency founder, Andy Bacon has worked at the sharp end of B2B marketing for the last 25 years and counts many leading global IT brands as his clients.

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