As you might imagine, we get to look under the hood of a lot of B2B sales and marketing programs. And now that account-based marketing (ABM or whatever we’re call it these days) has started to proliferate among more organizations, we’re seeing some steady trends of how not to do ABM.
These are tactics and directions taken by well-meaning companies honestly trying to make ABM work. But we’ve seen the movie a few times now, and when we see these five starting points, we know the movie likely ain’t gonna end well.
Here are the statements that make us the most nervous:
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1. “Sales is building the target account list”
I’ve heard numerous marketing leaders tell us they’ll be able to start doing ABM once sales tells them who to target. This on its face isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but the problem comes in when you try to find out exactly what criteria is being used to select those strategic targets. Often the criteria is arbitrary, too broad, or not conducive to what they’re selling.
Who you’re selling to is immensely important, and needs to take into account the characteristics of accounts most likely to align with your solution. It’s more than just size and industry. It’s readiness to buy, which is both more difficult to determine at times but can make or break the success of your ABM program. Get this wrong up front and you neuter the impact great offers, plays, etc. can have.
2. “We’re going to send an ABM email to our existing lists”
This is the “tipping our toe in the water” approach, which tells me a few things. One, there really isn’t a commitment to make ABM a new way of driving precise, revenue-focused outcomes from marketing. Two, I can near guarantee that someone in company (maybe not marketing, but someone in sales, finance or operations) is going to determine that ABM is a failure when that one email doesn’t “deliver” (and how that person defines “deliver” is also nebulous). Three, your existing lists probably don’t go deep enough into the target account buying committee, nor do they likely accurately reflect the full realm of companies you’re trying to go after with ABM in the first place.
A single, random act of marketing isn’t going to prove anything, and in complex buying cycles that ABM is built for won’t make enough of a difference to decide how you want to move forward. Commit to a real program, isolate a proof of concept program up front if you like, but don’t assume a single tactic to the same lists is going to work.
3. “Let’s start with just 1-2 sales reps and go from there”
This one sounds like a good idea. I’m a big fan of testing something with a small audience to see how it reacts before launching to everybody. Problem is, doing ABM with just 1-2 reps in 95% of cases ultimately devolves into some custom sales training. It also often means the sales leadership isn’t bought off on ABM so is trying to limit its impact and appease someone in marketing that’s asked for it.
If you want to start with a subset, at least go with a larger group of sales reps and provide material marketing integration with the ABM plays you develop.
4. “Let’s do a campaign first to see if it works”
A campaign mentality is far better than that single email or other random acts of marketing, but it also typically reflects a lack of commitment from marketing to change the way they focus. That list of target accounts? That’s not a three month campaign. That’s your list, man! That’s who you want to sell to – today, tomorrow, next quarter, next year, whatever & however long it takes.
If your intention is to run a first ABM campaign to learn what works, make adjustments and get on to the next effort or play, that’s great. But if you’re going to try it for two months and go back to random paid search, it’s probably not worth the effort in the first place.
5. “Sales isn’t bought in, but let’s do it anyway”
The worst part about the “account-based marketing” name is that it implies that this is a marketing initiative. Marketing may instigate it, but make no mistake ABM is a company-wide effort across customer-facing teams to increase impact and conversion on your most important lifetime value accounts. Trish Bertuzzi started calling all of this Account-Based Revenue last year, and I like that a lot. It’s broader than marketing, and implies customer lifetime value as well vs just acquisition.
If you’re simply doing more precise marketing campaigns and sales is doing their own thing, all the value you built by customizing messages to buying committees and better targeted accounts will be lost in an inconsistent and dissonant sales effort. That isn’t to say the sales team is selling wrong, but if they aren’t following a similar messaging and campaign/play cadence playbook, you’ll just end up frustrated.
Curious to hear what other “false starts” you may have seen or experienced with ABM efforts.