Understanding and Applying ABM, an Agency’s Perspective

In today’s B2B marketing environment, it’s difficult not to be aware of account-based marketing (ABM). Many tout the advantages of Marketing’s implementation of an account-based strategy. And, of course, there are clear advantages to such an approach, but why has this idea taken hold now and what place does it have in a successful marketing mix?

In sales ecosystem, the concept of ABM – identifying and pursuing a specific list of ideal companies – is not a new one. Named account development has been around nearly as long as selling itself. For Marketing, however, the ability to “scale” ABM has occurred more recently. As Shashi Upadhyay, CEO of Lattice Engines, puts it, “Predictive analytics and big data collection solved the issue of scaling ABM“.


The Great ABM Gold Rush

As a direct result of these new data capabilities, we’ve all witnessed what I call the “Great ABM Gold Rush of 2015-2016.” We’ve seen countless solutions vying for their place in the marketing technology stack, from those that better monetize inbound traffic, to those purporting to predict the intent of prospects and buyers, to those who would automate lead scoring and nurture, and so on.

The Great ABM Gold Rush has generated broad MarTech budgeting and adoption by B2B brands. In fact, a recent SiriusDecisions study reported that 92% of B2B companies called ABM “extremely important” to their marketing efforts, with 60% planning to invest in ABM in the next year.


One Too Many Trips to the Gold Mine

Yet, for most clients, the promise of ABM is limited by that which makes it desirable in the first place – the finite universe of targeted accounts. Marketing departments have acquired great tools for better converting prospects and prolonging customer lifecycles, but, in most cases, they still need external sources for lead generation of any scale.

It seems natural for client marketers to expect B2B agencies to support their investment in an ABM tech stack. As an agency that fulfills both ABM and traditional campaigns, we have observed the following concerning ABM:

  1. Higher campaign execution costs than for non-ABM programs.
  2. Longer-term outcomes not sustainable due to the limitation of overall prospect counts and available/budgeted client content.
  3. When multiple agencies aggressively prospect the same target accounts, negative client outcomes can be a result.

Allow me to explain. ABM programs involve a variety of added steps to successfully execute. Chief among those steps is the creation of a target group built from named accounts. The resulting target group will likely have demographic filters applied as well, such as title, geography, and so on. ABM programs typically require the creation of customized content and tend to make more extensive use of personalization as well. All of these items increase campaign execution costs.

Achieving sustainable lead gen outcomes for a client is a special challenge when pulling from such a limited contact pool. This challenge is often exacerbated by the client’s unwillingness to budget, create, or acquire requisite content that could drive longer conversations.

A client willing to invest in lead gen budget but unwilling to invest in the accompanying content creation is a worst-case scenario for an agency. In fact, a client with too much lead gen budget can be much worse than one with no budget at all. When a client uses multiple agencies to aggressively prospect the same named accounts, negative outcomes can result for both the agency and the client. On the one hand, the participating agencies can damage their own professional standing. On the other, the client can experience damage to its brand equity.


Variety is the Only Way to (Reliably) Strike Gold

ABM’s goals are laudable, from evolving the B2B buyer’s journey, to measuring Marketing’s impact on revenue, to aligning those efforts with Sales. ABM has the potential for an unprecedented level of prospect intimacy and an unprecedented degree of targeted buyer education. ABM goes beyond typical marketing strategy in that it seeks to control not just the entire purchase process, but the buyer identity as well.

As is the case with any single tactic, it should be just part of a client’s marketing mix. While properly executed named account campaigns can be a boon to both Marketing and Sales, it’s important that both departments remember their original remit(s) – cultivating interest, establishing value, and ultimately closing business.

For both named accounts and non-named accounts, Marketing fills a crucial role in raising brand awareness, building interest, and generating leads. Agencies, like HiP, play an important role in complementing these efforts. Driving sustainable lead volume must be the first priority. Only then can Sales to best do its job – closing business. A mix of named and non-named accounts is the only way to ensure that Sales has the best mix of potential conversions and quality opportunities.



Let us know what you think?

  • Do you think ABM is sustainable?
  • Have you tried ABM?
  • Do you plan to include ABM in your future efforts?



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