Account-based marketing: Why is it important today? How will it evolve tomorrow?

7th Sep 2017

In my recent article, I posited that account-based marketing (ABM) has become a priority for many B2B organisations, thanks in part to their need to become customer-centric.

Customer experience is changing how organisations are conducting business. The customer is in control. So now it’s no longer about leads and acquisition, but more about engagement, and ensuring that the customer’s experience meets their needs and expectations. Customer experience is what drives value and growth. And, growth is all about moving the customer along the retention, loyalty and advocacy phases of the customer journey.

B2B organisations are battling to see who can best deliver value to customers and drive them along the customer journey to advocacy. ABM is the future of B2B - it’s all about organisational groups aligning together to build customer relationships and growth, and maximising customer lifetime value.

So where is ABM today and where do we go from here?

To investigate these questions, I enlisted the help of four ABM thought leaders:

  • Matt Benati, CEO and co-founder of LeadGnome, an innovative account-based intelligence web service that mines email responses to deliver account-specific contacts, enhance existing leads, and provide actionable sales intelligence.
  • Megan Heuer, VP of research of SiriusDecisions, a research and advisory company focused on ensuring product, marketing and sales leaders drive intelligent growth for their B2B organisations
  • Shari Johnston, SVP of marketing of Radius, an AI-powered revenue platform that uniquely combines intelligence with the only source for always-on B2B data allowing you to find, engage, and convert buyers with more predictability and scale than ever before.
  • Tony Yang, VP of marketing of ConversionLogic, a cross-channel measurement platform that combines cloud analytics and machine learning for enterprise marketers.

Let’s get started.

SD: Why is ABM so important to organisations today? Why is the demand for it so high?

Matt Benati: Selling is expensive and time-consuming. Account-based marketing demands coordinated focus on best-fit accounts. The promise, and if done correctly, the result, is a higher close rate. While it’s scary to walk away from the old sales math (drive more into the funnel so that more close), focusing precious resources on a smaller number of accounts (the ones with the characteristics that are ideal for your solution) increases the yield. The bonus: your customers will love you because of the attention and support - they become your advocates!

Megan Heuer: ABM is the natural progression of sales and marketing alignment in B2B. Sales has long focused on accounts. Marketing has evolved its capabilities and credibility within B2B companies to a point where sales wants to leverage marketing’s toolkit to support their goals. Customers and prospects have also demanded that marketing be part of both the buyer’s journey and post-sale customer lifecycle, so smart companies are embracing this reality.

Our studies conducted with hundreds of B2B buyers over three years show that they want their buying experience with a company to be evenly split between sales-led and marketing-led interactions. It’s a team effort between sales and marketing to support the customer the way that customer wants to be supported, so companies are wisely embracing ABM as a great way for marketing to deliver on that promise.

Focusing precious resources on a smaller number of accounts (the ones with the characteristics that are ideal for your solution) increases the yield - Matt Benati 

Shari Johnston: ABM is important for organisations to truly gain a competitive edge by reducing waste on their budget on resources by focusing on the accounts most likely to convert. Scaling more effectively is on every organisation’s wish list, and successful ABM is a great solution. It is in such high demand because of the success stories around it not only improving the effectiveness of go-to-market strategies but also in aligning marketing and sales teams. And frankly, the old school method of batch and blast was just not working for B2B.

Tony Yang: While an account-centric approach to sales is not a new concept, ABM is getting a lot of attention these days because there’s a greater requirement for marketing to be closer-aligned to sales in achieving the same objectives, and also for marketing to reduce wastage in resources and to prove ROI. In addition, there are more data and technologies available today that enable marketers to more effectively implement an ABM approach. But really, I think the main reason is to align marketing with sales because an organisation’s leadership is no longer interested in having marketing simply throw leads over the wall (even if they’re qualified!) and then have sales handle the rest. It’s about working in tandem with sales (and even with customer success teams, product, etc.) to find the best ways to increase engagement with key people in a buying committee at a target account.

SD: How can ABM be used to help drive customer experience?

MB: Account-based marketing is all about fully engaging best-fit accounts. Spending time, money and resources on a finite number of accounts builds much stronger relationships, which in turn, greatly enhances the customer experience. As the FlipMyFunnel model shows us, ABM results in delighted customer advocates.

The old school method of batch and blast was just not working for B2B - Shari Johnston

MH: How much more interesting and valuable is it to be in a conversation where the other person has taken time to get to know you and listen to what you’re saying? It feels great, right? You want to talk to that person again and if they offer you advice, you’re likely to listen. That’s the power of ABM in customer relationships. The customer’s experience isn’t ruined by marketing sending the same high-level information over and over. Instead, marketing is part of a developing partnership built on knowledge and mutual respect.

SJ: An ABM approach by its nature is a more targeted and personalised strategy, offering a more refined lens across the customer journey by orchestrating touchpoints across awareness, engagement, and conversion, therefore, creating a more bespoke and tailored customer experience.

TY: A full-blown ABM approach can, and should, extend beyond when that opportunity status gets updated to “Closed Won”. This is especially true for software-as-a-service businesses who typically take a “land-and-expand” approach when selling to enterprise, and also live and die by recurring revenue. You obviously don’t want a customer to churn, but more importantly, how do you get your customer to a point where they see tremendous value in your offerings so that it opens up more opportunities for upsell/cross-sell as well as get them to become your advocates. 

ABM favours a more personalised and customised approach instead of a generic, mass-targeting approach. The former will make your individual customer accounts feel like you truly value their business and that you really want to help solve their unique business problems.

The customer’s experience isn’t ruined by marketing sending the same high-level information over and over. Instead, marketing is part of a developing partnership built on knowledge and mutual respect - Megan Heuer

SD: What top ABM trends do you see coming?

MB: Consolidation of ABM technology stacks will happen as the market matures. Watch for the larger vendors to begin purchasing niche vendors in order to fill out a complete set of capabilities.

MH: It’s all about analytics right now - predictive, AI, machine learning - the whole category is all over ABM. This is a great thing because to get the most from these areas, companies are going back to doing their homework on what types of accounts they can and should target and they’re tackling the improvement of long-neglected data and insights engines. The future is bright for analytics and tech-enabled ABM because it makes the human part of creatively and thoughtfully engaging accounts so much easier.

SJ: I have seen ABM evolve to greater maturity over the last year with more and more impressive campaigns and tech stack migrations as well as a greater understanding of integrations between technologies to support ABM. Next, I see the much needed migration to shared operations of sales and marketing operations migrate to  "Revenue Ops"  for operational and alignment efficiency across your ABM strategy. This will require a new skill set of operations leaders to understand a greater breadth of marketing technology and workflow to support both teams, but in the end will be a win for ABM aligned organisations.

TY: From a personnel and talent perspective, it’s becoming more clear to me that there needs to be someone in that “revenue operations” role. It’s almost like a combination of marketing ops with sales ops, but once you start thinking past “closed won”, how do you incorporate the needs from a “customer ops” perspective into this mix?  Essentially, you need someone who has that clear view of the entire target account customer journey from a workflow, systems and data point of view. Having a person with these capabilities and skillsets will become vital to successfully executing an ABM strategy.

While ABM is still new, for many B2B organisations, it is all systems go. ABM is the future of B2B marketing and is mandatory. It is driving B2B marketing decisions.

In SiriusDecisions’ recent survey, it noted that 89% of B2B organisations stated that ABM remains “extremely” or “very” important to the success of their overall marketing programs. So while new applications, products, and services to improve ABM are accelerating, it’s still prudent for organisations to understand the purpose of ABM, and how they can benefit from it before going all-in, something we are covering at length throughout this particular content series.

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