Account Based Marketing – a strategic investment

Much has been written about Account Based Marketing (ABM) and much of it in highly abstract terms. If you are on the hunt for more of the abstract and highly theoretical, this blog isn’t for you. Instead, I’d like to shed some light into the engine room of making ABM work for you. Not highly theorized, but providing a practical view from the field to hopefully help you shape your own views on ABM in the context of the businesses and markets you operate in, the organizational challenges you might face and the budget constraints that you may have to live with.

ABM Definitions

Nevertheless, it’s good practice to start with a definition, and there are many. I’m picking two to illustrate:

SiriusDecisions for example, offers the following:

Account-based marketing (ABM) is the strategic approach marketers use to support a defined universe of accounts, including strategic accounts and named accounts. It also includes support for the post-sale customer lifecycle using marketing’s toolkit to contribute to the overall customer experience. ABM provides guidance on how to deliver the insights, goal setting, strategy and planning, integrated marketing execution, and sales alignment required to support growth, retention, and loyalty objectives. It also provides guidance on how to measure marketing’s impact beyond demand creation within defined groups of prospect and customer accounts. ABM helps to evolve the role of marketing to reflect a stronger alignment with sales objectives and customer needs to deliver better execution and revenue outcomes.

ITSMA shares a similar point of view:

ABM focuses explicitly on individual client accounts and their needs. More importantly, it is a collaborative approach that engages sales, marketing, delivery, and key executives toward achieving the client’s business goals. All of these attributes contribute to the success of ABM in practice.

Account Based Marketing – a strategic investment

It isn’t a band aid that can be slapped on to achieve a quick fix;It’s a long-term approach that needs to be well thought-out to ensure the selection of accounts, i.e. the defined universe, makes sense in the context of your business, the markets you operate in, and your clients. Done right, ABM can have a significant impact, as e.g. ITSMA’s 2014 ABM survey revealed. According to the survey, “over 80% of marketers that measure [Return on Investment] ROI say that ABM initiatives outperform other marketing investments. And half of those say that the difference is significant.”

So the rewards can be high, but before you embark on your ABM journey, it’s a good idea to take stock of your current marketing assets and ecosystems, your client portfolio and your sales processes and organization to help you gauge the effort required by you and your organization to deploy ABM.

Questions should cover a broad range of subjects such as:

  • What’s your average deal size?
  • How long does it take your sales teams to close a deal?
  • Do you have a CRM system?
  • … a marketing automation platform?
  • (How) do sales and marketing currently collaborate?
  • Do you measure your Return on Marketing Investment (ROMI)?
  • Are there already defined Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that govern collaboration between Sales and Marketing?
  • Is your client base already segmented; and if so, how?
  • Does this segmentation include attractiveness of this client and how is this defined?
  • How do you currently go to market?
  • How is sales structured?
  • Who are your key stakeholders?

You can add to this list, and the more you know about your point of departure, the better. The answers to all these questions will allow you to

  • identify quick wins;
  • assess how easy or difficult a move towards ABM might be;
  • get a feel for the climate in your organization toward embarking on an ABM program;
  • evaluate whether ABM is actually worth considering at this point in time, and
  • analyze the political landscape in your organization.

If after all this, you come to the conclusion that ABM is for you, use the information gleaned to draw up your own ABM positioning paper that will show how ABM can make a difference in your organization’s success; the resources you want to dedicate to ABM, the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), what you expect the Return on Marketing Investment (ROMI) to be, and what it takes to make it work. This of course differs from company to company and there are no hard and fast rules of how exactly ABM needs to look; here are some examples:

If you are in a large enterprise, you might want to look at starting a pilot in just one geography or a single industry vertical. Another option could be to select just a small hand full of accounts, where the climate is right and you know the sales team wants to collaborate with marketing. Set yourself up for success! You are trying to deliver above average returns to your business, don’t make it harder on yourself than it needs to be.

As it is such a wide ranging subject with many different interpretations, it’s a good idea to research the subject more deeply as well as join a forum or two to connect with other marketers who have experience in ABM.  I find this one (Account-based Marketing) on LinkedIn useful, and many of the technology and service vendors in this space also offer very valuable points of view on the subject, but I’ll save that for another time.