Three Things ABM is Not

And One Thing it is

By Lindsay Frey, President, demandDrive, and 
Lora Kratchounova, Principal, Scratch Marketing + Media

Note: This article often references our new industry report, “2017 State of Account-Based Marketing” developed jointly between demandDrive and Scratch Marketing + Media. It is encouraged that you read that in conjunction with this article.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, the phrase “Account Based Marketing” should mean something to you. ABM has been sweeping the industry by storm, and you can bet that trend will continue throughout 2017. Companies everywhere are hopping on the ABM bandwagon and starting their own pilot programs — in fact, according to our own survey, nearly seven in ten respondents…are either currently engaged in, or are planning to launch, account-based marketing activities in 2017.”

Planned investment in AB is, at this moment, widespread (74 percent plan to invest in 2017, and 67 percent plan to invest more than in 2016).

That’s a lot, and with that number expected to rise as the year goes on you can bet we’ll be seeing a lot of different ABM pilot programs popping up. If you’re planning on dipping your own toes into the ABM waters this year, you’re going to want to avoid some of the common pitfalls we’ve noticed and focus on what the actual goal of ABM is: carefully choreographed Sales and Marketing activities aligned around penetrating the accounts that matter most to your business.

Forrester says that marketing and sales efforts remain misaligned. ABM provides the best opportunity to achieve real alignment, but today, only one in five marketers find ABM is very effective at improving how sales and marketing work together — Demystifying ABM, Forrester Research

With this in mind, here are three things that ABM is NOT…

1. ABM is not…something you can accomplish with just a piece of software.

Terminus, Engagio, Demandbase…these are all solutions that tout their ability to execute an ABM program. Unfortunately, they all fall short in some capacity. And that’s not knocking those tools — ABM works great when you have software like that to back it up. But they surely leave you hanging when you rely on them to represent your whole ABM strategy

Two of the biggest challenges our survey respondents mentioned were Delivering Personalized Content for each Account, and Account Selection. Technology like the tools referenced above are typically great at doing one, but not the other. They might say they help you select the best target accounts, but that’s coming from one side’s perspective (sales). They say they can deliver the best personalized content, but that’s coming from the other side (marketing). Until you see sales and marketing working together on this, one piece of the puzzle is usually missing. In turn, this skews the whole process, and the program as a whole will be doomed from the start.

Look at ABM this way — an alignment of sales and marketing is like mixing Art with Science. Too much science means you rely more on data and numbers to drive decisions. Too much art means you rely more on intuition and assumptions. In a perfect world you want both — your intuition should be backed up by hard data. If you only take numbers and science into account you’re missing out on key insights that your intuition could supplement. If you work on intuition alone, you’re not making fact-based decisions when selecting target accounts or personalized content. Either way, you’re missing out on a piece of the puzzle that could help you get a clearer picture of what accounts to target, and what content to target them with.

2. ABM is not…just picking target accounts.

Too often when a company hears “Account Based Marketing” they think of selecting target accounts. Which is a huge component of the ABM process (as stated above) — but it’s only a component. Selecting target accounts is sometimes the only thing a company will do, and to top it off they’ll do it without historical data to back it up.

This is where you see the sales side of ABM steer the ship. When asked to select target accounts, sales teams will often do it on “gut feel,” or their intuition. There’s often a recency bias that shows up here, where the sales team looks back at the past couple of closed deals and uses that data to pick a variable for selecting target accounts. Which isn’t ABM…it’s what you’ve been doing this whole time.

The most common challenges to launching AB initiatives cited by respondents reveal that organizations are struggling with defining and effectively reaching their ideal target accounts. Uncertainty around how to select target accounts in an ABFM strategy comes from poor communication and coordination between sales and marketing.

ABM is much more than picking target accounts — it’s the alignment of sales and marketing to make sure you have the RIGHT target accounts — ones that arise through careful research and historical data analysis. Then comes the challenge of what moves buyers within targeted accounts –the right content strategy and cadence that would turn them from somewhat interested to eager buyers. Selecting target accounts is just a cog in the overall ABM machine — a necessary catalyst to get the rest of your processes on track.

3. ABM is not…just a replacement for your lead gen efforts.

The most effective ABM programs don’t replace all of your current processes — they augment what you may already be doing. A lot of people think ABM will replace their inbound efforts, and target accounts will be the only companies you can interact with. Addressing the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) that accompanies a shift in your lead gen strategy is a necessity when it comes to implementing an Account-Based approach.

The account-based approach aligns sales and marketing activities across every stage of the sales and marketing funnel. In fact, we see that it is more appropriate to describe these full-funnel, choreographed Sales and Marketing activities as Account-Based Funnel Management, or ABFM. As such, it doesn’t make sense to throw inbound marketing away — it’s all about augmenting your current efforts and better aligning them to an Account-Based strategy.

Many mistakenly think of AB initiatives as requiring a clean break from the past, when, in fact, ABM (well, more precisely ABFM) can and should be a complement to other established marketing activities. ABFM is not replacing inbound — it needs both inbound and outbound for it to work.

Having the marketing and sales teams on the same page means the accounts you’re targeting AND the content you’re promoting are on the same page. This leads to higher quality inbound leads (through coordinated and personalized content) in conjunction with more targeted outbound efforts (through better account selection). Instead of replacing your typical lead gen efforts, the AB approach is putting them on steroids.

So…what is ABM?

It’s been well documented throughout this article, but in essence ABM is the alignment of your sales and marketing teams. To be successful with an Account-Based approach, organizations first need to align sales and marketing into an integrated account-based funnel management.

Account Based Funnel Management is the perfect alignment of the efforts of your sales and marketing teams, and should be the goal you strive for before kicking off an ABFM pilot. Coordinating efforts like what target accounts you pick and what content you promote is the bedrock of a successful ABFM pilot. Both sides need to be on board with the decision before anything is set in stone — an unstable foundation will lead to a collapsed program every time.

By understanding that you need more than a single piece of technology, backing up intuition with data, and eliminating the uncertainty of augmenting your lead gen efforts, a good ABFM program will rise.

Clear your calendars for our upcoming webinar on May 9th, 2:00 ET / 11:00 PT — How to Pilot Account-Based Funnel Management at Your Company.


Demystifying ABM:

2017 State of Account-Based Marketing: Industry Report and Roadmap to Account-Based Funnel Management Success, 1–35. (2017)