Thinking B2B: Account-based marketing making comeback
by Warren Moss (@warrenmoss) Account-based marketing (ABM) as a marketing concept is nothing new. B2B organisations have been practicing ABM for a long time — but never in the kind of coordinated fashion that has recently shown such powerful results.
For years, ABM has been treated as either a sales or a marketing function, but it delivers the most-effective, -quantifiable results when it is a shared initiative between sales and marketing.
Key account team
B2B organisations generally have a key account team (KAT) who looks after high-value clients, with a focus on retention and growth. Its challenge is that it’s delivery-focused, therefore solving for client problems and building relationships, so any value it brings to its clients is generally around its solutions or services. The marketing team has a similar focus, but with a different approach — but the two very rarely combine.
The biggest misconception around ABM is that it’s something that marketing teams do for sales teams. What it really is, is the juncture at which the marketing function plugs into the key account and sales teams. A really strong, structured and facilitated ABM process delivers results which are exponentially better than if a KAT, marketing or sales team performed its own individual processes. ABM isn’t something that marketing organisations do for sales organisations; it’s something they do together.
ABM is at its most effective when a marketing team works with the KAT to develop profiles of the decision-makers and those who influence them, creating profiles for each person. Understanding each person’s role in the organisation, as well as their personal and professional likes and dislikes, is key to building a proper profile — something which the KAT can contribute heavily to, since it works closely with the people and the organisation every day. The next stage is developing insights around where the company itself is going, what it’s doing, what its challenges are and what its potential growth areas are. Bringing all of those things together informs an ABM campaign, which is then used to deliver insights into messaging, platforms, channels and themes that will deliver the most-effective communication and account growth.
Focus on company
Over a period of 12-18 months, the sales and marketing teams then execute campaigns together on that specific account, which deliver massive, tangible and measurable value. This type of effort shifts the focus away from the product or service to the company. When this is done consistently and authentically, the account grows exponentially, while the sales and retention elements look after themselves.
ABM works best when the size of the prize warrants the investment in an ABM programme. If a company has a number of small clients, ABM is relatively ineffective — but if the 80/20 rule applies and the majority of value sits with the minority of clients, it makes sense to invest in retaining them. It’s easier for a B2B company with a client worth R100m a year to grow that account by 10% than it is to land a new client that delivers that same 10% worth of contribution to the bottom line. The history, existing relationships and access that are already in place form the perfect foundation for the implementation of an ABM programme.
The starting point is to ask how much one would spend to generate that additional 10% profit. If you offered a company the chance to spend R1m to generate R10m, most would bite your hand off. That amount then becomes the budget for the ABM programme — and yet another measurable in the ABM process.
ABM may be applied to new customer acquisition as well. Asking a client for a ‘wishlist’ of new business and then asking what that new business would be worth — then dedicating a percentage of that to the marketing budget for ABM — may deliver great results. The programme will be different because there’s no existing relationship that may be leveraged, but the process will be the same, with sales and marketing working hand-in-hand to deliver the desired result.
The global CMO of Accenture, Sarah Fuller, is quoted as saying that proper ABM is the single biggest, most-exciting evolution of marketing tactics in the B2B marketing industry at the moment, because of the way it delivers genuinely quantifiable ROI — and that’s what great B2B marketing is all about.
Warren Moss (@) is the CEO and founder of Demographica, a multi-award winning full service agency that specialises in the B2B category. He is the chair of both the Direct Marketing Association of South Africa (DMASA) and the Assegai Integrated Marketing Awards (Assegais), as well as the only African to judge the B2 Awards, which recognise the top performing B2B marketers in the world. Warren contributes the monthly “Thinking B2B” column, which looks at the latest trends in B2B communications and explains why it is fundamentally different from B2C comms.
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