Why an ABM Pilot Campaign Might Be a Bad Idea


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When companies look to get started in Account-Based Marketing (ABM), the first step is very often a pilot campaign.  On paper, the logic makes sense:

* pick a handful of key accounts
* execute an ABM campaign against those accounts
* measure results
* determine whether ABM is “worth the investment” on a larger scale

Unfortunately, the pilot approach to ABM is inherently risky, and, as a result, many companies may fail to achieve anywhere close to the desired results and/or end up dismissing ABM as a viable strategy for their business. Here’s why:

ABM is not a campaign. 

ABM pilot campaign

ABM is best viewed as a strategic initiative, with a level of investment and planning appropriate for a fundamental shift in the way a company drives revenue. Pilot campaigns are modest in scope, and they cause companies to dabble in ABM without the lead time, personalized content, technology, research, data, and other key investments that a more thought-out strategy merits.

ABM is a long-term proposition.

It’s possible to generate quick results from ABM, but it’s unrealistic to expect them, or to conduct any proper evaluation of ABM on execution in a very tight window. After all, ABM has the most value for companies with long, complex sales cycles. If yours is 6-18 months, don’t expect to run a 3-month campaign and generate meaningful ROI.

ABM pilots often jump ahead.

The pressure to generate quick results from a pilot campaign can lead marketers to adopt expensive, highly-personalized, content-intensive tactics (direct mail, as one example.)  But these types of tactics are typically best reserved for accounts that have already shown engagement or intent, where the investment is more likely to pay dividends.  A pilot campaign rarely has the lead time to discern which accounts might be appropriate targets for a more high-stakes, high-impact approach.

As I wrote earlier in this space, companies looking to get started with ABM would be better served if they integrate ABM over time, based on a tiered account strategy:

* Tier 1 (One to One) – Highly personalized, “white glove” outreach to key accounts
* Tier 2 (One to Few) – Personalized and segmented outreach to key industries or other target groups
* Tier 3 (One to Many) – Broader demand generation to the wider market

In a tiered structure, a company can continue broader demand generation (Tier 3) but introduce more targeted, personalized outreach to higher-propensity industries or personas (Tier 2), perhaps via channels like content syndication or paid social ads.  Then, as specific, high-potential accounts show awareness, engagement and intent, those accounts can shift to a high-touch, Tier 1 strategy.

Adopting a phased, crawl-walk-run approach to ABM allows companies to optimize their strategy over time, as lessons learned from a broader approach – which messages, personas, content, etc. are resonating best – can be applied to the more high-stakes, Tier 1 plays. Early results can also inform target account selection (based on which accounts are showing engagement) vs. the standard pilot approach of “these are the accounts that sales wants to go after.”

A tiered approach allows a company to dip its toes in the ABM waters, and then scale investment based on proven success.  But it also reduces the overall risk, and improves the chances of ABM paying real dividends.

For a more detailed look at ABM planning, download our ebook: “A Pragmatic Guide to ABM Success.”

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Howard Sewell
Howard has worked in marketing for 25+ years, and is president of Spear Marketing Group, a full-service B2B marketing agency. Howard is a frequent speaker and contributor to marketing publications on topics that include demand generation, digital marketing, ABM, and marketing technology.


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