In Defense of Demand Generation in the Age of ABM

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Much has been made of the argument that Account-Based Marketing (ABM) gained traction so quickly in B2B marketing primarily because traditional, funnel-based demand generation has stopped working. A recent video making the rounds on LinkedIn asked: “Is Demand Generation Losing its Effectiveness?” (The answer provided was: yes.)

The real answer to that question, I would argue, is more nuanced.  Yes, many companies are seeing lower returns from traditional demand gen.  I would also allow that many of those same companies could benefit greatly from integrating ABM into their overall demand gen mix.  But it would be a mistake to suggest that ABM somehow “replaces” demand generation or that the funnel-based approach is an idea past its time.

Instead, the real problem with modern demand generation is the way in which it’s practiced.  I argued previously in this space that one of the primary drivers for ABM, and the frustration that sales professionals rightly feel at the inability of marketing to deliver qualified leads, is that companies are just really bad at lead nurturing.  More broadly, it’s not that demand generation has stopped working.  It’s more a case that demand generation is being executed poorly.

In this context, it’s ironic that ABM is painted as requiring such a disciplined, strategic approach.  To be successful, we’re told, ABM requires a deep understanding of one’s target audience (including personas and buying centers), an abundance of personalized, relevant content, and success metrics that align with specific, quantitative goals and even buying stages.  All of which is true.  And ironic, because if only demand generation were executed with the same discipline, sales wouldn’t be baying quite so loudly for a switch to ABM.

In the last 5-10 years, demand generation has become overwhelmingly technology-driven, and largely tactical.  Demand marketers have fallen victim to the siren call of vendors who would have us believe that finding the right buyer, at the right time, with the right need is really just a matter of having the right data or software.  Whether it’s intent data or BANT-qualified cost per lead (CPL) programs, demand gen has become a race to the next short cut.

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