With #FlipMyFunnel, the San Francisco event only a few weeks behind us, it seems as if Account-Based Marketing (ABM) is now the “shiny new object” that has captivated the attention of B2B marketers. Just in the last few days, I have received countless emails from organizations declaring ABM the new way to conduct marketing; that “ABM has now gone mainstream”, and the pronouncement of an “Industry Account-Based Marketing Framework” from our friends at SiriusDecisions. Even my firm, ANNUITAS, has written a blog on what “Flipping the Funnel” means to us.
It seems that each and every year there is a new trend (not that ABM is all that new) or “shiny object” that overtakes B2B marketing and like moths to a flame we go flying off to develop a new strategy, new approach to align to X,Y, and Z. Anyone remember Revenue Performance Management? The rise of the Chief Revenue Officer? The Chief Marketing Technologist? It seems as quickly as these new approaches and strategies rise, they also fade away and are replaced by something else. It is no wonder that many marketing departments still struggle with demonstrating their value year after year. It is near impossible to demonstrate value when the approach to marketing changes continually – cause and effect.
While I may seem like an ABM-antagonist, I’m truly not. I do believe, however, that marketers need to take a step back before going all-in on ABM and consider some things that may help frame the approach to ABM and perhaps give us something to think about:
1. ABM is Not New
There have been many who have written articles or from the stage discussed the concept of ABM as if it is a new concept. However, this concept is hardly a new one. Over 15-years ago when I managed demand generation for a major software company we were tasked with supporting sales for “account based selling.” This led to our team having to work with our sales team, identify the accounts, the key stakeholders in these accounts and seek to generate leads therein. While back then we did not have all of the technology we had today and there was not quite the buzz around B2B marketing, the concept was the same.
2. This Does Not Mean the Death of Inbound Marketing
Much of what I read and hear in regards to ABM is that outbound is key and that inbound is largely fading. This could not be more inaccurate. As has always been the case with demand generation, it is a combination of inbound and outbound that is the most effective. Having your content searchable so buyers can find it and then responding via outbound is how you create a dialogue with your buyers. Simply blasting out to “strategic accounts” is not as effective and will limit the results.
This is not to say that key account considerations should not play a role in your inbound strategy — it means that it is more important to emphasize those considerations and the role they play in persona development and the creation of content to support those personas. Understanding the mix of inbound and outbound rather than outbound vs. inbound will help drive better overall results.
3. Organizations Cannot Lose Site of Individual Stakeholders
There is no doubt that within the world of B2B we are living in a consensus buying era. According to CEB, there are on average 5+ buyers as part of any kind of B2B buying committee. The ABM approach would be to identify those stakeholders and market accordingly. However, with all of the talk of ABM as the new darling of B2B marketing, the truth is very few marketers are actually doing this. In fact, according to the B2B Enterprise Demand Generation Survey that we here at ANNUITAS conducted, 65.1% of organizations do not develop specific content for the individual personas on the committee.
Content is not a one size fits all; it must be tailored to each person within the account. If organizations are going to be successful they cannot just blanket an account with content. It is one thing to identify specific individual stakeholders, it is a whole other thing to speak to their unique needs and perspectives.
Simply focusing on accounts, rather than the people and the roles they serve as part of the account, runs the risk of being generic with your message. We are still selling to individuals who are all unique in their role and need to be sure we do not lose sight of that.
4. Limits Content Effectiveness
According to Content Marketing Institute, the percentage of marketers that can prove the value of their content has dropped by 12% over the last three years. Perhaps one of the reasons for this, is the majority of organizations are not developing content that is specific to each member of the buying committee.
This approach is limiting content’s effectiveness and again does not speak to the individual pain points and challenges that exist within each member of the buying committee. As a result, it limits the effectiveness that this content can have.
In reports by CEB, the breakdown of a buying committee usually happens within 37% of the first purchase phase. So we must ask ourselves if developing content that not only speaks to the committee at large, but to the individuals as well, could help solidify the consensus sale?
Account-based marketing is something that marketers need to consider, but at the same time, be careful not to go so far down the ABM road they lose their bearings on what constitutes strategic demand generation best practices. We must as marketers avoid the “shiny new object syndrome” and be sure we are doing what is needed to understand our buyers not only at the account level, but the individual level as this is what has the most impact.