ABM and the importance of keeping it human

Today, I want to build on Nicky Brigg’s guest post here on The ABM Practitioner. She rightly points out the importance of content; I want to remind everyone of the importance of keeping it human!

When I started out in Account Based Marketing (ABM), definitions of ABM as a ‘pure art or science’ didn’t exist. In fact, it was referred to as Key Account Marketing, was regarded an integral part of Key Account Management, and identifying target accounts was pretty clear cut: Large companies, where a supplier hoped to sell / or had just sold a large complex service.  And you were in it for the long run! Professor Malcolm McDonald and Diana Woodborn have written reams about it since the late 1990s, and their books are well worth a read!

Fast forward to 2015 and the definition of what constitutes ABM; which accounts are suitable targets, and the marketing ‘tool-kit’, particularly the digital marketing tools, have changed dramatically. 

Anyone who read the “Cluetrain Manifesto – The end of business as usual” way back in 2000 should have seen it coming. The authors put it thus:

What if the real power of the web lay not in the technology behind it, but in the profound changes it brings to the way people interact with business? And what happens, if these changes were altering the nature of your company as profoundly as they have changed your markets?

New digital tools help the modern day ABMer tackle, and thrive within, a much more complex environment

Albert Einstein

Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler

With the help of new digital tools, we are better able to analyse our client base; segment them, identify personas and intent. They give us the ability, to some extent, to scale elements of our ABM efforts, while at the same time still keeping it personal. This seems to have lead to the perception that all you need to execute your ABM strategy, are these admittedly ultra smart and – dare I say it: cool! – digital tools. But you’d be missing the point.

The importance of keeping it human

Don Peppers, co-found of Peppers and Rogers Group put it far more eloquently:  “When people in networked markets can get faster and smarter information from one another than from the companies they do business with, it may be time to close shop. Or, maybe, it’s just the time to… …fully understand that your customers are living, breathing creatures who want one-to-one relationships with your company, not just one-way rhetoric.

In addition to providing a ‘last mile push’, one of the key objectives of ABM is to build relationships and advocates within client organisations. Much of that, these days, can be done online. BUT the quality of these relationships, and therefore what ultimately determines, whether you win that big deal or not; or whether your NPS score tracks in the right direction, happens in the real world, through the quality of human-to-human interaction.

That doesn’t mean ABM can’t evolve or shouldn’t use these new tools. Quite the contrary!

Today, we have the ability learn far more about a company and the people we seek to build or expand relationships with, by using the data available, than ever before – before first contact. The interpretation and analysis of this data give us deep insights that help us understand what might be ‘top of mind’ for a client and armed with this really important context, we can ensure our sales teams and our marketing activities are relevant. In an age where much of the buying process is (pre-)informed through online research, relevance becomes the key differentiator. And in a good ABM program, this relevance applies not just at the business level, but at an individual level in the buying centre. We’re turning B2B marketing into B2B2i! Business-to-Business-to-the-Individual!

Of course, you may also want to influence individuals within a company outside of the close relationships you help your sales teams and/or thought leaders to build. And for this, some of the new digital tools are also extremely useful, as they allow you to very accurately target your spend and with that, increase the impact of your activities and in turn hopefully increase your ROMI. But the decisions around the use and deployment of these tactics need to be driven by insight. And, as Nicky put it in her guest post: Content comes first.

Depending on your business-priorities, your existing digital infrastructure, the budget at your disposal and the potential ROI from any given customer/customer category, your view and deployment of ABM may differ. Once size doesn’t and shouldn’t fit all, and the tools at our disposal just keep getting better.

Just remember one thing, and navigate by it:  The importance of keeping it human!