I recently read an excellent article by Samuel Scott, in which he suggested that ABM could be fundamentally flawed. He raised two problems he believed were inherent to ABM:
Firstly, Scott suggests that by targeting and tracking individuals so that they can deliver personalised content, businesses risk alienating people by coming across as obsessed stalkers. Secondly, he argues that over-segmentation in ABM means businesses lose the ability to find commonalities, which is anti-scale and potentially anti-growth.
Scott makes some interesting points and his article is a great read, but I do not believe these are valid threats to true ABM. Irritated customers and a failure to scale aren’t a problem when you follow best practice. I’d argue that any business experiencing these issues is probably deviating from ABM practice in some way. And that’s where the real problem with ABM lies.
The ABM bandwagon is creaking under weight it wasn’t designed to carry
Unfortunately, we’re seeing more and more businesses ignoring ABM best practice. It’s a problem that’s exacerbated by many of the vendors entering the market.
In a desperate dash to jump on the bandwagon, these vendors are retro-fitting basic ABM options onto their existing solutions and rebranding to attract marketers hungry for anything labelled “ABM”. They’re overpromising and underachieving.
However, it’s not just vendors at fault.
We regularly see marketers trying to adopt ABM in ways that are comfortable for them. Often they lack the decisiveness (and data!) required for the account-selection process, ending up going after hundreds of accounts without prioritisation, simply because they’re not comfortable with the “fewer eggs, fewer baskets” mentality of ABM.
The result is inevitable: ABM fails to live up to expectations. Because at that point, it’s not actually ABM.We regularly see marketers trying to adopt ABM in ways that are comfortable for them. Often they lack the decisiveness (and data!) required for the account-selection process, ending up going after hundreds of accounts without… Click To Tweet
What will happen when the wheels fall off?
“It is just old wine in new bottles.”
“It was just a way for vendors to sell more software and marketing agencies to charge more fees.”
You’ve probably heard those words spoken about social, inbound, content marketing, and many other initiatives – I know I have. And unless businesses change their ways, you’ll soon be able to add ABM to the list as well.
Why? Because campaigns fail when businesses ignore best practice.
And – let’s be honest – it’s a lot easier to blame ABM (or any other initiative) rather than looking deeper for the true reasons behind the failure.
The solution? Get back to basics and follow ABM best practice
Not every ABM campaign will be a success – it’s not a magic bullet, nor is it right for every scenario. But, businesses can maximise their chances of a successful campaign by following ABM best practice.
To be clear, true ABM involves:
- Deep collaboration between sales and marketing
- Selecting, segmenting and prioritising the most important accounts
- Gathering insights and developing a unique perspective for those accounts
- Creating personalised content built around the above
- Manual processes – it should be a direct 1-1 conversation, even at scale
- Appropriate measuring, focusing on revenue and engagement
When these points are adhered to, you get a campaign that delivers relevant content that resonates with the audience’s problems and needs and adds value.
When this happens, the over-personalisation and segmentation that Scott suggests won’t be a problem. Personalisation only becomes a problem when businesses over-market – a practice that runs contrary to ABMs value-driven approach. And over-segmentation shouldn’t happen with proper account selection: we’re still focused on commonalities, just at a more detailed level.
What you should do if your current ABM campaign isn’t delivering
If you’re having problems and your ABM strategy isn’t delivering, you must take a step back and re-evaluate if you are doing true ABM according to the above list.
- Are you engaging the right accounts and people (how accurate is your data)?
- Is the content you’re producing relevant (is it based on account/role research and insight)?
- How valuable is the content (is it customer-focused and did you present a new perspective)?
- Are you still focused on volume (are you targeting too many accounts to get truly personal)?
- Is your communication direct or list-send/automated (does it feel authentic / one-to-one)?
If like many businesses, you realise you’ve been targeting too many accounts with too little focus on personalisation and value, you need to get back to basics. Choose the most promising accounts in your campaign (say, 20), and invest in a true ABM campaign for these accounts. Test it against your current campaign and see which is more successful.
What you should do if you’re about to invest in ABM
If you’re just getting started, the biggest danger is that you’ll choose vendors or strategies that aren’t aligned with best practice. Don’t choose a vendor just because you’ve used them before, or because their product sounds good: really question how their products will support you in delivering your campaign.
If it’s too cheap or too easy, it’s probably not ABM. The reality is ABM is not easy and, done properly, is rarely the cheaper option – but when it works (and, in our experience, it does) the returns are exponential.If it's too cheap or too easy, it’s probably not ABM. The reality is ABM is not easy and, done properly, is rarely the cheaper option – but when it works (and, in our experience, it does) the returns are exponential. Click To Tweet
Firstly, apply the principals of account-based marketing to your existing activities (including blogging, social, inbound and PR). Engage your Sales team and together pick a small number of key accounts. Run a proof of concept ABM campaign, alongside your existing activities, targeting these prioritised accounts. Follow best practice (read guide) and make sure the content is relevant, resonates and adds real value for the audience (more on that here). Don’t be tempted by quick-fix solutions or by going for scale. When successful, you can always rinse and repeat or scale. Have regular meetings with Sales to evaluate the success of the campaign and make adjustments where necessary. Following these steps you will see that ABM does deliver a higher rate of ROI than any other form of marketing.
Over to you
I return to Samuel Scott’s article and the two points he makes – over-personalisation being creepy and over-segmentation resulting in anti-growth – and whole-heartedly agree that ‘over-doing’ anything is never a good thing. Nor is it ABM best practice. What is best practice is making sure your marketing is relevant, resonates with the audience and adds real value. If your strategy measures up to those criteria, your audience will welcome the experience.
What do you think? Get in touch – we’d love to hear your opinion.