Thinking B2B: Things to be careful of when implementing ABM
by Warren Moss (@warrenmoss) The South African B2B market has matured a lot when it comes to account-based marketing (ABM), with demand growing as marketers really begin to understand what it’s about and how it may benefit their businesses. B2B CMOs are pushing hard on ABM implementation because it’s something that can really move the needle and show a major return on marketing investment. But it’s only effective when applied properly, and there are plenty of ABM pitfalls to be mindful of.
Many B2B organisations implement ABM too soon; they’re so excited by the potential that they want to start immediately. The problem is that ABM is a strategic and focused programme that requires research, alignment and preparation; it’s not a campaign that can simply be switched on. It’s a long-term play that needs a lot of ducks in a row up before kick-off; if you rush into ABM, you’re wasting your time and money and potentially doing great harm to your brand.
Not having true alignment between the sales and marketing teams is a major challenge. Part of the problem sits in the name: because part of the acronym is “marketing”, many companies assume ownership sits with the marketing team — not sales — but that’s simply not true. Both teams need to be aligned on an ABM programme before it’s implemented. “Alignment” is key to the success of ABM and simple ‘buy-in’ just won’t cut it. There is a difference between alignment and buy-in.
There’s often a level of mistrust between the sales and marketing functions — not in the human sense but rather in terms of delivery. Sales says marketing isn’t generating enough leads/awareness/interest/[add business objective here] and marketing believes that sales doesn’t work hard enough to convert/educate/secure/[add business objective here] the leads that are generated. Since ABM demands mutual trust and cooperation, it’s important that each understands the other’s functions and processes before attempting to implement it.
No space for ‘gut-feel’
Selecting the wrong accounts may see ABM fail, easily. Its success is driven by research into target accounts and choosing the right tactics to pursue the right accounts. A common error sees sales give marketing five accounts it’d like to target with ABM, simply because it’s having problems with those accounts or it ‘feels’ that they’re high-growth accounts. There needs to be an understanding of what the problems are, first; hoping ABM will fix problem accounts isn’t the right way to go about targeting. They should be selected against predefined data to make selection objective and measured. There’s no space for ‘gut feel’ in successful ABM.
Selecting too many accounts is also problematic. There could potentially be many accounts where the application of ABM would make sense — but it’s not feasible to roll it out across a broad spectrum. Our experience is that 1:1 ABM programmes shouldn’t be applied to more than four or five accounts to start with, while 1:few programmes should target small clusters of 10 accounts, in order to have a fair chance of being successful.
The defining principle of ABM is putting the target account at the centre of the ABM programme: making the messaging relevant to the target account, rather than just talking about what you want to sell them. When companies cut corners on research into target accounts, they may get the messaging wrong and the system fails. The right amount of research applied in the right way allows us to add value to messaging that delivers truly effective ABM.
Similarly, not creating bespoke content to target defined accounts may see ABM fail. Falling back on generic content just isn’t good enough; when you’re targeting specific accounts, the magic of ABM lies in that those accounts feel as if you’re only speaking to them, in their language.
Possibly most importantly, setting the wrong KPIs for ABM may make it look like it’s failed before its even begun. Most marketers allocate typical KPIs — leads, deals etc — to every campaign, but ABM is different. For ABM, the true KPIs are around the problems you’re trying to solve by implementing it. If you have an account which sees you as a provider of a specific type of service it doesn’t believe it needs, you need to change that. If your client spends R100 000 with you and you want it to spend R200 000 with you, that’s an ABM KPI. The KPIs applied to ABM accounts need to be fit for purpose — and specific to individual accounts.
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Warren Moss (@warrenmoss) is the CEO and founder of Demographica, a multi-award winning full service agency that specialises in the B2B category. He has been 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.