Account-Based Marketing (and its all-embracing cousin “Account Based Everything”) has been touted by its promoters as a miracle cure capable of halting the precipitate decline in conventional marketing effectiveness – and derided by cynical detractors as just another over-hyped trend.
As with most new(ish) trends, the reality is probably somewhere in between.
The essence of the idea – as I have come to understand it – is that rather than pursuing poorly-targeted generic campaigns, we should be progressively tailoring and targeting our marketing messages and sales conversations in a way that appeals to the real priorities of the specific organisations and stakeholders that we wish to do business with.
And in order to achieve that, we need to understand as much as we can about the specific situation, issues, challenges and opportunities of our target audiences. And that, of course, requires that marketing, sales and customer success are in lockstep about who we are seeking to do business with (and why), what really matters to them, how they make buying decisions and how we can help them accomplish their goals…
Account-based initiatives absolutely depend on intelligent partnerships between marketing, sales and customer success, to the extent that I believe (and have observed) that any campaign that is exclusively or largely led by marketing without the wholehearted and active involvement of both sales and customer success has no chance of reaching its full potential.
But we also need to make sure that we establish trust between all parties: sales and customer success need to trust marketing to campaign in a way that isn’t at odds with their goals for the customers, and marketing needs to trust sales and customer success to play their full part in ensuring that prospect and customer information is as complete and accurate as possible.
People, not personas
If they are to succeed, account-based initiatives depend on in-depth research into and shared intelligence about real organisations and real people, rather than generic, average-based market research or similarly generic (and often risible) buyer personas. They are most effective when based on fact rather than speculation.
But the intimate level of detail needed to conduct truly effective highly-targeted account-based initiatives usually does not exist (or is at best patchy) in most organisations. Any account-based initiative needs to recognise that the initial customer data set will probably have a great deal of room for improvement.
All in the mind?
Sales people and customer success managers have often accumulated information in their heads about prospects and customers that they haven’t recorded in CRM – because they weren’t asked, because the fields don’t exist, or because they see it as yet another unproductive administrative burden.
For as long as these mindsets exist, they will prevent account-based initiatives from ever reaching their potential. We need to make it easy for everyone to share what they have learned, to recognise what we need to know but don’t yet know, and to establish metrics and put programmes in place to fill the gaps in our customer intelligence.
Substance, not style
I’ve seen highly visible (and often highly-expensive) account-based initiatives fail because they focused too much on the glossy deliverables and not enough on the underlying intelligence needed to target them. And I’ve seen far less expensive, pragmatic campaigns that start small and learn as they go make a huge difference to revenue growth and lifetime customer value.
Investing in ABM technology can facilitate progress but is never by itself a miracle cure. Account-based initiatives succeed in the real world when everybody pulls together to capture, share and apply real customer intelligence in an effective and intelligent way.
And they succeed when marketing, sales and customer success all buy into the concept, see how it can benefit both them and their colleagues, and work together in a collaborative partnership to achieve their shared goals.
A version of this article was first published in the December 2018 edition of the International Journal of Sales Transformation.