Account-based marketing, or ABM, has become a hot topic in the B2B world over the last few years. But ABM is too limited a concept to describe the change that’s taking place. The impact of ABM should extend well beyond marketing, which typically focuses on customer acquisition. Instead, B2B players should adopt “account-based,” or AB, as their go-to term and mindset.
Not long ago, most B2B marketers weren't thinking account-based anything. Two years from now, I believe the B2B space will be dominated by the AB mindset. In the meantime, most players still have much to learn.
AB, beyond marketing
The AB discipline still involves an ABM core principle: concentrating marketing efforts on a clearly defined, limited set of prospects while delivering personalized campaigns. But AB is more than developing relationships with prospects and converting them into customers. It also involves nurturing those accounts throughout their entire lifecycle to increase how much they spend with your company and, consequently, improve ROI.
The account-based practice also weeds out the prospects who wouldn’t actually be long-term customers, even if they converted. This aspect sheds light on the true difference between AB and ABM. AB targets are high-quality accounts that are brought in by laser-focused marketing, then cultivated with tailored upselling and customer service. ABM, on the other hand, often stops at the point of customer acquisition.
It’s worth noting that in this era of digital transformation, your digital product division also needs to be involved in the AB mindset, tracking visitors to improve their experiences with your websites, mobile apps and social channels. Your company will need the right listening tools, so the product team can make rational decisions—such as making the Contact Us page easier to find or adding more helpful videos—based on signals from prospects and customers.
Account-based drives ROI — but the
transition can be difficult
Even regular ABM drives results for B2B businesses—in a recent survey, 87% of B2B marketers said ABM efforts delivered higher ROI than other marketing efforts. I have no doubt that AB initiatives will produce even better results given its focus on coordinating efforts across a larger part of the organization.
That said, ABM still hasn’t generated the level of investment it deserves; only 26% of marketing budgets were being dedicated to the practice in 2017. Here’s one reason why: Salespeople are used to the old way of doing B2B sales, which means casting an extremely wide net. In the past, if a software company had 100,000 prospects, it would go after all of them.
With the account-based strategy, after applying a set of rigorous qualification criteria, the same software seller would only target the 1,000 most-qualified accounts. This concept scares the heck out of salespeople who are accustomed to worrying about monthly numbers.
What’s the right way to adopt AB?
Properly instilling the AB mindset starts at the top—research shows that initiatives with executive-level champions arefour times more likely to succeed. And to realize AB’s potential, the C-Suite needs buy-in from every department—marketing, sales/revenue, customer service/success and digital product development.
B2B players need to be pushing customer conversations and using software systems that talk to one another in a way that allows the team on the backend to see touchpoints for every account. Sales reps need to know if a prospect fills out a form, reads a white paper or visits the site, so they can follow up with targeted messaging, like, "Hi, Julie, did you enjoy the white paper? If you'd like more relevant information, I can share other reports you might be interested in."
Adopting an AB approach isn’t about discarding ABM; it’s about expanding on its tenets and managing the entire customer lifecycle in order to retain customers, upsell them and achieve higher ROI. And all of that can be accomplished in a manner of months. The result? Better aligned teams, more revenue and happier customers.