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The five biggest barriers to account-based marketing success

11th Sep 2017
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The buzz around account-based marketing is palpable. Research from Terminus suggests that 60% of B2B marketers are implementing new ABM programmes, while a further study from Demandbase and Integrate found that 83% of B2B marketers polled said their organisations will be spending more on ABM than it had last year.

However, just because there is a surge in ABM adoption and investment doesn’t mean that all of these organisations are applying it correctly or enjoying the same success.

Indeed, despite all the buzz around ABM, there are plenty of challenges and mistakes that can make its implementation a difficult task.

Understanding how to develop and deliver a successful ABM programme can be complex, so with that in mind let’s examine some of the obstacles and errors that are commonplace on the path to account-based marketing.

1. An inability to identify the right accounts

In a survey of 500 B2B marketers conducted by Demandbase and Integrate, one of the two biggest obstacles cited by 90% of respondents was identifying the right accounts.

Fes Askari, head of inbound sales at Strategic Internet Consulting, explains: “ABM centres all activity around precise key customer accounts. Instead of generating a larger volume of leads, the goal is to progress with a singular account focus. So to run a successful campaign, you must first have a crystal clear view of who your ideal real-world accounts would be, their attributes (ideal revenue, size, location, etc) and their key business challenges that your solution addresses.

“Once you have a clear view of the attributes you’re looking for, you can create a shortlist of good-fit account organisations who fit those parameters, or use them to qualify any current database contacts you already have. Then when you know which accounts you want to target, identify the best contacts within those accounts to connect with - those decision makers and stakeholders who make up the Decision Making Unit (DMU).”

Shari Johnston, SVP of marketing of Radius, adds: “The greatest lesson for ABM is to truly invest in your account selection process with not only the inputs from sales but also using data on your target ideal customer profile to build and segment your target list. ABM is only successful if you are going after the right accounts, to begin with.” 

In his book, Account-Based Marketing for Dummies, Sangram Vajre, CMO and co-founder of Terminus, recommends the following: “The ultimate goal of these new B2B marketing and sales tactics is to identify your best-fit companies (accounts) at the start of your marketing initiatives. To identify these companies, you must agree on the ideal customer profile (ICP), which takes input from customer success to tell you which accounts have been the hardest to service. These criteria include measurements such as:

  • Company size.
  • Location.
  • Industry.
  • Job title.
  • Technology.

“This information is in your CRM, but you need customer success to validate your assumptions about which companies are in your ICP.”

However, identifying the right accounts can be hampered by another major obstacle.

2. Unreliable data

The other biggest obstacle identified by 90% of B2B marketers in the Demandbase and Integrate study was obtaining accurate, rich data on target account decision-makers. Accurate, detailed and up-to-date data is essential to ABM success.

Rishi Dave, CMO at Dun & Bradstreet explains:Irrelevant, incorrect, and outdated data should be a warning sign for all organisations. Companies need to ensure the data they are feeding in to their system is structured, real-time, and connected across departments to allow for deep, relevant and contextual insights. Don’t make the mistake of not enriching your customer database as this will lead to inaccurate or misleading profiles, inhibiting new business wins, stalling the sales process, and impeding growth.”

ABM strategies are only be as good as the data that supports them, and this presents a real problem for many organisations because the reality is that their data is often not as good as they’d like. Research by SiriusDecisions, for instance, suggests that as many as 60% of marketers consider their data to be unreliable.

Companies need to ensure the data they are feeding in to their system is structured, real-time, and connected across departments.

David Crane, a thought leader at Integrate, notes: “This lack of database confidence is unsurprising when you consider that an Integrate’s prospect data quality report found 40% of B2B leads contain incorrect, duplicate or missing data. Meanwhile, according to an Ascend2 survey, 54% of B2B marketers believe that “lack of data quality/completeness” was the most challenging obstacle to marketing success.

“Poor database integrity (customer and prospect info) affects ABM programs in several important ways. Targeted company lists compiled to match current customer accounts or high-converting lead characteristics won’t reflect the best chances of winning new accounts or upselling current customers. Databases must be accurate, complete and up-to-date if ABM strategies are to pay off.”

3. Not having buy-in

To be successful, account-based marketing requires buy-in – not only from the sales and marketing teams that are directly involved on a day-to-day basis, but also at executive level.

Dave explains:I think the biggest problem is not knowing where to start or not having buy-in from the executive team. While sales teams have been basically working in an account-based way for years, it’s only recently that ABM has become a company-wide effort that requires alignment, measurement, and more resources. I would suggest starting small with just 5-10 accounts. Test, learn, and measure so you can prove the value and then get funding to scale your ABM programmes.” 

To help with the process of generating enthusiasm for the programme, it can be useful to have a cheerleader/evangelist for the project, who helps to mobilise the teams and connect the dots between sales and marketing and ensure that everyone understands why everyone should get behind it.

Tony Yang, VP of marketing of ConversionLogic, notes: “I’d say the most important tip I can provide from learning from my own experience is to make sure your internal stakeholders have a good understanding of ABM and bought in on the approach.  While it’s critical to have a leader be the main driver or champion for ABM, you need to have key people from various teams involved or at least well-educated, including the executive team.  You don’t want to hear comments like “we’re doing ABM now because we’re running account-targeted display ads!” (because ABM is more than just running some ads), or “are we done with ABM yet?” (because ABM is an ongoing process and strategy), or even “oh, is that Tony’s ABM thingy?” (because it can’t be just my thingy, ABM is a team sport).”

4. Over-reliance on marketing

A lack of sales and marketing alignment is a common blocker of ABM success, and often there can be too much reliance on marketing to do the hard work.

Claire Nash, group strategy director at MomentumABM, explains: “ABM in many ways is a misnomer. It’s not really a marketing activity at all – it’s a business initiative that over time will reshape your go-to-market model. Whilst you don’t need to define this in its entirety from the get-go it is important to align sales and marketing behind this change in mindset. To remedy the problem of misalignment we would recommend senior-level, co-sponsorship from sales and marketing teams.”

In some cases, however, it can be that marketing is itself to blame – demonstrating a reluctance to collaborate and cede control of the programme.

ABM fails outright when marketing tries to go it alone without sales support or alignment to sales goals.

Megan Heuer, VP of research of SiriusDecisions, explains: “ABM fails outright when marketing tries to go it alone without sales support or alignment to sales goals, and when a company doesn’t do the work to choose its target accounts with case and a dose of reality."

5. Fear of change

The reality is that ABM does require a change of mindset, a change of workflows, and a change of strategy. And this alone can prevent the programme progressing.

Clive Armitage, managing partner at Agent3, explains: “Changing the way that you and your marketing team operate and switching to ABM is daunting. It requires nerve, focus and belief. And risk! On that basis, there is often a tendency to hesitate and overly focus on planning, rather than actually starting to deliver ABM campaigns.”

Claire Nash adds: “Although it is widely acknowledged as delivering the highest ROI out of any B2B marketing activity, many companies have stalled in adopting it. We’ve found this hesitancy can typically come back to a number of common misperceptions – the idea that ABM demands a lot of time, money, effort and resources up front. In reality, most organisations can see early rewards and take small steps into ABM. It just requires that shift in mindset to apply the resources you already have in a more strategic way.” 

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