The popularity and adoption of Account-Based Marketing (ABM) grew over the course of 2017 and is increasing as we begin 2018. It’s so popular, in fact, that marketing technology companies all over the US are changing up their value propositions to include ABM language and even going so far as to alter their products to include ABM features or functionality. Couple that with the multitude of articles and other content published, which is rising year over year, and you’ve got a market of people practicing ABM, trying to practice ABM, creating ABM products, creating ABM content, and a large portion of people are just plain confused. But the folks scratching their heads are right to be confused, because despite all of the ABM resources available, there’s an element sorely missing from it all.
We all know we should be practicing ABM, but we’re at a loss when it comes to actually executing on the “how,” which leads me to elephant in the room…most marketers can’t figure out the “how” because they lack the fundamental skills needed to strategize and execute an ABM program.
This isn’t a bad thing, and it definitely isn’t our fault. Take a moment to think about what you were hired to do in your current role. The vast majority of B2B marketers were NOT hired to have a strong account focus, to partner tightly with sales, to be incentivized on pipeline and revenue metrics, or to generate only a few leads that close at a high rate. Now just because you weren’t hired to be this kind of marketer doesn’t mean it’s your boss’s fault either. We’re in the midst of an industry shift—a transformation from an old marketing methodology into a new one—and for that reason, there’s no one to blame. But it does mean we have an opportunity to learn and succeed (because ABM works when executed properly). The sooner you accept there are some gaps in the way you were taught how to market and how you actually should be marketing, the sooner you’ll be able to achieve the benefits of ABM.
At a high level, the ABM skill gaps that exist for marketers are around account-centricity and a strong focus on revenue and pipeline. Consider any marketing activity you’d like to implement or employ. If you can connect the activity to targeted accounts that are most likely to buy, measure the engagement of those accounts with said activity, and then tie that back to how it impacts pipeline or revenue, then you’re off to a good start. The hard part is breaking the nuanced patterns of the old model of marketing. Traditionally, as marketers, we’re conditioned to think about reach, volume and high quantities of return. But in an ABM world, quality trumps everything and wastefulness is the enemy and efficiency is the output.
It’s also difficult for traditional marketers to think deep into the business objectives and revenue goals of the company because we’ve never been incentivized on those metrics and oftentimes. Our primary goal as B2B marketers has traditionally been to focus at the top of the funnel and fill it with as many leads as possible, moving onto the next top of funnel campaign. If we’re going to be measured and incentivized on revenue metrics in an ABM world (you 100% will be), then it’s in your best interests to focus on the entire funnel and the entire buyer’s journey. It’s even important to understand and market through the customer lifecycle journey. Focusing on the funnel can only be effective when done in a partnership with sales. What’s that you say? Partnering with Sales? Yes. You have to be in lock-step with your sales counterparts to be successful with ABM. This is another crucial skill gap for most marketers—we aren’t conditioned to play nicely with sales. Times have changed though, and if we want to hit our ABM goals, we have to be tightly aligned with sales. And speaking of goals, incentivizing marketing and sales similarly is a great way to help force the alignment a bit. Sales professionals have really been doing ABM for years; reps have had account lists, kill boards, target lists, etc. to keep them focused on what matters most to the business: revenue. There isn’t a huge shift for Sales in the new world of ABM, this is what they’ve always been doing, but for Marketing, this is a totally new world and sometimes it feels just plain weird to execute in this fashion.
Here are some tips specific to each major marketing function, which can help you and your team hone those ABM skills:
Despite the skills gaps you may have, what’s happening is pretty darn cool; we’re in the middle of a transformation of marketing methodology! We have an incredible opportunity to learn and address the skills gaps we have, making us smarter better marketers. See this as a positive exercise and a learning opportunity…you can do this!