Over the last 10 years, more and more B2B firms have invested in account-based marketing: treating individual accounts as "markets" and devising focused campaigns just for them.
Back when my partners and I were developing some of the early methodology for account-based marketing in the early 2000s at ITSMA, it was a tough sell. We had seen strong results from ABM pioneers, such as Accenture, IBM, Xerox, and HP, but the costs of doing ABM were clearer to many marketers than the benefits. It is, after all, a pretty labor-intensive approach, and it requires a lot of negotiating with sales and account teams. Much easier to just spam the market with generic emails, webinars, brochures, and the like.
As marketers began to appreciate the value of more focused approaches, however, such as vertical industry marketing, as well as the critical importance of their top accounts, ABM began to take hold. By 2005-2007, many of the top B2B tech and IT service firms were experimenting with ABM. We were going great guns at ITSMA with research, workshops, an ABM Council, annual ABM awards, and, of course, direct consulting and training to help companies get started and succeed.
What many marketers realized was that developing highly targeted programs for individual accounts yielded a great many benefits, both externally and internally. Externally, ABM can generate substantial improvements in customer relationships, brand perception, solutions proof points, revenue, and profitability. Internally, ABM can help prove the value of marketing, improve relationships with Sales, and strengthen focus on core customer challenges and potential solutions.
New research from Alterra Group suggests that ABM has also gained traction in professional services. According to a recent survey, some 86% of consulting and other professional services firms are now using some form account-based marketing, and looking to further increase spending on ABM in the years ahead. Large majorities of survey respondents further suggest that ABM has a higher ROI than other marketing approaches, and provides significant benefits in terms of retaining clients, increasing revenue and profit, and attracting new clients.
Not surprisingly, the research also found that companies investing more in ABM and paying more attention to program metrics are achieving greater results. (One would certainly hope so!)
I know we're all focused heavily on figuring out how to "socialize" everything in marketing these days (with good reason) and, especially as the 4th quarter looms, on doing whatever we can to help close sales before the end of the year. If you've let your ABM efforts lag, however, or not yet begun to invest in the approach, the Alterra Group research should be yet another set of data points convincing you to keep ABM front and center.
From our own experience, I'd like to suggest four critical success factors that go beyond simply spending more money and measuring results:
Companies starting out in ABM often skip the hard work of preparation in favor of jumping right into outbound tactics, such as special events, collateral, and briefings. The real power of ABM comes from digging deep into an individual client's business situation, strategy, options, and operating environment as a precursor to really thinking through how you can help. Don't skip this step!
The best ABM programs are not only transparent to the client (i.e., you don't hide the fact that you're making a special effort) but developed directly with the client. Actively involving client executives in research, brainstorming, thought leadership, relationship building, and solutions development is a huge win-win. The client knows you're serious about investing real time and resources in understanding their needs and crafting customized solutions. You get the tremendous benefit of the client's insight, brainpower, and feedback to help keep you on track and develop solutions you might never have even considered.
ABM oriented to specific bids or quarterly results may be effective, but its greater potential comes in transforming the entire relationship with the client. Accenture, one of the first ITSMA award winners for ABM, turned a lot of heads in presenting its two-year ABM plans for top clients, but had transformative results to show for it. Thinking and planning longer term enables more ambitious strategies and much more substantial results.
I've mentioned the "S" word a few times already. One of the big differences between ABM and traditional account planning is that the latter typically focuses on selling more of whatever is on the shelf and doing it as fast as possible. Don't get me wrong; good account planning is incredibly important. But stepping back to do the deep research, collaborate with clients, and think about a longer term transformation of the relationship literally mandates that you also step back from current inventory, put yourself in the client's situation, and think anew about what really is going to make a major difference for them.
Is ABM here to stay? Let's hope so; it's one of the most effective approaches we have in B2B marketing. Making sure we do it the right way, however, is the real test, and shortcuts are not likely to show such great results.
What do you think? Are you implementing ABM? What's working for you?
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