Last Friday, I attended the ‘Account Based Everything’ conference in London’s County Hall. The conference was a great gathering of B2B thought leaders, innovators, and account-based marketing practitioners that highlighted how marketing and sales professionals are winning with ABM.
Much has been written about ABM – it is a hotly debated topic within the industry. Our very own James Myers, Head of Strategic Services, wrote an article on ABM last year, in which he covered both its opportunities and challenges.
The conference was split into keynotes exploring why ABM should be the ‘new normal’ for b2b marketers, how to do ABM the right way – we heard examples from companies like Oracle and Fujitsu who have been using ABM for over two years, and break-out sessions where agencies gave a detailed look into the strategic and creative approach to ABM.
So, what has changed since Ogilvy first wrote about ABM?
Over the last year, more and more marketers have agreed ABM is a no-brainer. To quote Zoe Hominick, Head of Business Marketing at O2: ‘ABM is just good marketing’.
However, while we’re hearing more people say that ABM is common-sense marketing, the adoption numbers seem to tell a different story. B2B Marketing recently shared research that revealed only 11% of B2B marketing teams have a fully developed ABM plan in place today. This may seem a little concerning, but promisingly, the research also showed 63% of B2B marketers see ABM as an important part of their strategy, with 80% planning to increase their focus on it, in the year ahead.
So why have businesses been slow to deploy ABM?
Mainly, this comes down to the challenge of implementing a company-wide approach. To do it right, you need time, budget and senior level buy-in. I should mention here that marketers are moving away from calling the concept Account-Based Marketing, to instead calling it Account-Based Everything. This new name acknowledges that ABM is not just a Marketing initiative; but one that requires the alignment of Marketing and Sales. If we continue to call it ABM, there is a danger that sales (and other departments) may be out of sight and out of mind. A clear and important message at the conference was that interdepartmental alignment is crucial to the success of an account-based strategy, so there is a strong case to be made for changing the name of the game.
Indeed, ABE is now influencing not just the wider sales and marketing teams, but all other disciplines as well. ABE can, for example, make a partner and channel relationship much more valuable; it can also make industry marketing more valuable and demand generation more effective. It shouldn’t be just a column in marketers’ budget sheet; it should be central to their overarching marketing strategy.
When it comes to ABE, and how it is managed, as James mentioned within his article, the responsibility shouldn’t fall solely to the advertising agency. Surprisingly however, B2B Marketing’s recent exclusive survey of ABM adoption showed that 4/5 of marketers aren’t collaborating with advertising agencies on its deployment. Are businesses perhaps misjudging the role an agency should play?
An agency can help in picking the best approach, gathering insights, helping to shape the business perspective (value proposition) and helping to create the right communication assets. However, crucially, an agency can’t make the sales and marketing teams align on ABE as it is a third party. This business alignment is fundamental to the success of ABE, but needs to come from within the company itself, to fully see the benefit. In fact, survey from Bizible recently found that “marketers doing ABE are about 40% more likely to report alignment with their sales team, compared to marketers not doing ABE.”
Beyond this, the quality of knowledge on prospective clients, the quality of content produced to engage the target audience and the processes in place to enable the delivery of content, are all key factors. ABE is about building new relationships and trust based on a deep understanding of what the target audience is thinking, their objectives and their relationships. All the right targeting, alignment and automation in the world is meaningless if we aren’t telling human stories that drive significant conversations. And this is where an agency adds significant value.
To summarise, for businesses, ABE will be about putting data and insight centre stage, aligning teams behind a joint, focused strategy, and stimulating more relevant, creative and personalised marketing. ABE is the new normal, so let’s get right.