ABM Skill Gaps: The Elephant in the Room

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:

Marketing Leadership:

  • Incentivize your team based on pipeline and revenue goals, and use those metrics as KPIs and then pay out when they are reached. It feels a little sales-y, but if we want to be aligned with sales, we need to be incentivized like them.
  • Build your budget so that you are investing more per account but only for accounts that are MOST likely to buy, and then scale backward from there.

Marketing Operations:

  • Build dashboards and reports that not only focus on account engagement and revenue, but also ensure that what you build spans the entire funnel—not just the top.
  • Audit your existing technology stack to ensure it supports an ABM strategy If you’re evaluating new technology, shortlist the tools that focus on accounts (instead of leads and contacts).

Demand Generation:

  • Your audience is already your most valuable asset—now it’s time to turn it up a notch and start upping your segmentation game. With ABM, data can make or break your efforts, so get ready for some data cleansing activities as well as some seriously sophisticated segmentation.
  • Think about where those target accounts are and how to effectively get in front of them. If you’re engaged in a marketing initiative that doesn’t contain a high density of your target accounts, then you shouldn’t be doing it. Take events for example, don’t sponsor an event unless there is a high concentration of your target accounts in attendance.

Field Marketing:

  • Build out your territories based on high densities of target accounts and be sure to prioritize them accordingly.
  • Try using funnel stages as a way to segment; this will help adjust your focus to pipeline acceleration rather than branding, which is a typical field marketing initiative.

Partner Marketing:

  • Partner marketing has a different audience, so these marketers will get to have an ABM strategy of their own to ensure investment in only the best in class partners.
  • While building out your ideal partners, make sure that one of the most important criteria you use to determine their value is overlapping target accounts.

Content Marketing:

  • It’s time for the content marketers of the world to start focusing on the funnel! In an ABM world everything is strategic and deliberate, including content dissemination. Start tracking which pieces and types of content do best at each stage of the funnel.
  • Also think about the segments that the demand gen team creates and how you’ll position the same piece of content differently based on their segment.

Social Media:

  • Build an influencer program! Identify influencers that are relevant and visible to your target accounts.
  • Track and monitor your target accounts closer than ever and learn as much as you can through the valuable and unique channel that is social media. Capture data around events they’re attending, content they consume, brands they love and how they engage with their own customers.

Customer Marketing:

  • Your focus on target accounts is critical because you want to get as many target accounts as possible to renew. Think about the tactics you can use inside of an ABM strategy for customers.
  • Identify customer advocates that are relevant and visible to target accounts who aren’t customers just yet. Let them tell your story for you!

Web Marketing:

  • In an ABM world, you’ve got to be watching your website traffic like a hawk. If you find a ton of really great traffic coming to your site, measure it and share it with the rest of the team so they can double down on the effort they made to get them there.
  • Personalization is a cornerstone of ABM and it doesn’t stop at emails— personalize your homepage so that when target accounts land there, it’s an experience made just for them.

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!