Oh no! ABM is resurfacing bad habits for B2B marketers
Columnist Scott Vaughan says looking to inbound marketing’s past can help B2B marketers avoid costly mistakes with account-based marketing.
One of my favorite stops when I come to our company’s headquarters is a restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona, called “Cold Beers & Cheeseburgers.” In my world, this is a winning combination. (Don’t judge!)
In the marketing world, “B2B & ABM” are quickly showing up as the magical combo on every menu in town. While account-based marketing (ABM) holds tremendous promise for B2B organizations, we’re quickly seeing signs of bad marketing habits taking hold as folks try to make ABM work.
There are valuable lessons to be learned from the previous generation of marketing that can help marketers avoid costly, time-consuming mistakes.
At the top of the list of undesirable techniques rearing their ugly heads again, heavily influenced by the shift to ABM, are:
- resorting to lists to find “contacts” within target accounts;
- creating and using product-centric content for engagement, rather than educational content focused on helping prospects; and
- banking on ABM to finally align sales and marketing.
Look to inbound marketing’s past to avoid mistakes when executing ABM
Before we dive into bad habits and how to avoid them, here’s a quick bit of perspective to frame the point.
Account-based marketing promises a focused strategy to generate revenue and develop new customers within a specific set of “target” accounts. It relies heavily on outbound marketing and a close working relationship between marketing and sales.
Hold on. Wasn’t it just a few short years ago that marketers were going to be revenue generators acquiring customers using revolutionary inbound marketing strategies?
In practice, this widely adopted B2B strategy contributes to sales pipeline and customer acquisition by driving people to the website and using marketing automation (and other tools) to sort through prospects by scoring, nurturing and qualifying prospects for sales.
On the contrary, an ABM approach, fueled heavily by outbound marketing, promises to be more efficient by focusing on and seeking out only the business’s identified set of target accounts.
Three B2B marketing habits to avoid in the shift to ABM
In the haste to shift strategies, many marketers are under pressure to figure out ABM and make it work immediately. This is why studying marketing’s mistakes from the inbound revolution can actually help B2B marketers avoid costly ABM errors.
To succeed with ABM as a core B2B strategy, here are the three tactics to avoid or stop doing right now.
1. Buying names and lists of contacts within your target accounts is a waste
During the inbound revolution and adoption of marketing automation, B2B marketers needed names to fill their databases. These “cold” contacts were warmed by sending emails in large volumes to try to generate “leads.” (This technique was affectionately dubbed “modern spam” using “batch and blast.”)
With ABM, we’re starting to see the same story repeat itself. Marketers are tempted by the latest data vendor promising large volumes of “contacts,” this time within specific target accounts. This effort is simply filling your database with names, the same way B2B marketers buy lists to fuel their shiny new marketing automation systems to nurture contacts.
The problem is that these lists of contacts are cold. They have had no engagement with your brand. Email blasts or cold calls are rarely effective at generating opportunities, so conversions and pipeline contribution are low.
B2B marketers must resist the temptation to buy lists and blast contacts when deploying ABM.
Rather, an effective ABM strategy starts with consistently identifying the right target account list, working with sales and using advanced martech tools and predictive and behavioral data to inform marketers of if and when contacts are open to a solution to the business or technical problem you solve.
This takes more time and a bit more work, but the results are much stronger.
2. Resist using product- and case study-oriented content as an ABM first touch
This sets up the next critical strategy to adopt for ABM — and another valuable lesson from inbound marketing. Educational and solutions-oriented content — ideally personalized to the specific account — is critical to properly engage and inform key decisionmakers at target accounts.
The identification of a contact who meets your persona (typical buyer) and that has engaged with your brand via high-value content is an opportunity to begin a relationship. Just as importantly, the content engagement generates information about your target account prospects and their companies’ needs.
In addition, because with ABM, marketers are targeting specific accounts, it isn’t an excuse to skip the educational stage about the issues and challenges the prospect and their company may be facing. Many B2B marketers jump in with product-oriented content and case studies as a first-step engagement.
The logic is that this set of target accounts appears to be an account similar to our other customers, so it’s OK to skip the broader educational steps critical for engagement. This is a mistake. Prospects typically want to understand the problems you solve versus how you solve them or who you solve them for.
3. Don’t Use ABM to chase the sales-marketing alignment myth
Sales and marketing are two different disciplines. To continually try to “align” these functions is futile, whether you are deploying ABM or not.
Rather, marketing and sales should be integrated around making customers successful, achieving business-driving metrics and establishing well-understood roles.
It may seem like a nuance (aligned versus integrated); however, in this case, it really matters for the short- and long-term health of your business.
For the short term, marketing and sales each bring a unique perspective to building the right target account list. Sales has first-hand knowledge, field experience and contacts. Marketing brings data and insights on the market and behavioral and performance information to target the best opportunities.
Integrating this into a cohesive strategy allows for a much more streamlined and united effort. I heard one CMO sum it up well: “Alignment is like watching seventh graders dance. You know that awkward position where the two students clumsily try to move to the same beat of the music.”
For the long term, sales and marketing must have different lenses. Marketing needs to be thinking about what the market will look like in six to 12 months, looking out ahead of the business and sales.
This team should be thinking about things like the total available market, market trends and initiatives that will impact your customers, and which products and services must be developed and brought to market. The sales team is focused on weekly, monthly and quarterly revenue and customer success goals based on what’s happening in the short term.
The bottom line is that ABM has a key role in the next era of B2B marketing. Marketers (and sales) can learn critical mistakes to avoid from the inbound revolution and lead-gen era, putting in a solid foundation to make ABM a winning strategy in generating and creating happy customers.