Account Based Marketing (ABM): The CMO’s Silver Bullet
It’s no secret that today’s B2B CMO is under a full-scale assault to drive tangible, measurable revenue results. The CEO, executive leadership, the board and the firm’s stakeholders have had it with mega marketing budgets that show no business results. In this pressure-cooker environment, it is no wonder the CMO keeps looking for a “silver bullet” to drive revenue and growth. And, while we all know there is no such thing as a silver bullet, ABM might be the closest today’s CMO will find.
I was recently talking with a CMO discussing key metrics for CMOs who have financial accountability, along with the related strategies and technologies. He quickly began to discuss ABM and how it changed everything for marketing in terms of measuring quantifiable returns and in gaining alignment with the sales team. I’ve heard a similar refrain from other CMOs but I’ve also seen failed ABM initiatives. This sparked an interest in looking at why ABM works so well in some companies and not so well in others. It all boils down to one question – “Are you ready?”
Are You Ready for ABM?
While ABM can be a powerful element to add to any marketing mix, the elephant in the room must be addressed. Ask yourself – “Am I really ready to implement a successful ABM initiative?” Not everyone is and if you don’t have the foundational elements in place, you might be wasting time, money, effort and social capital. Based on personal experience and working with clients, these foundational elements include certain conditions in the sales process and certain conditions on the marketing team.
A Complex Sales Process
In the sales process, ABM works best with a complex sales cycle involving multiple stakeholders over an extended period of time. In addition, the customer is a client for life meaning ABM helps secure the first deal and nourishes the relationship over time for future revenue. Using ABM to expand opportunities in accounts is a major point because too often marketers only have experience in account acquisition versus account expansion. This is a powerful and too often overlooked element of a successful ABM plan. In this scenario, the sales team is organized around major account selling and all major accounts are known.
Marketing Has Sales Acumen
Time after time, I see ABM successfully driven by marketing leaders with sales acumen and credibility. They walk and talk just like a VP of sales. They have a quota. They have experience working with sales and they have experience in driving a revenue result. The most important takeaway is that this marketing leader has revenue and sales credibility as perceived by the sales team.
If you are a marketing team who never talks with sales, is never involved in sales meetings and reviews and are viewed as the “pens and mugs” department, this will be a challenging initiative for you to try.
Marketing is Aligned with Sales
An organizational chart speaks a 1,000 words. From my experience, the best ABM programs are run by marketing teams who are aligned closely with the major accounts team. This might mean they actually sit in the same area, attend the same meetings, meet the same clients, have the same goals and have the same quota to achieve. ABM is a program that considers one account a single market. This focus requires a tight alignment between sales and marketing in order to define, launch and optimize any ABM initiatives.
If you are the type of marketing team who does not have shared and common goals with sales and does not have some dedication to working with the major accounts team, you may not be ready for ABM.
The most successful ABM marketers use a variety of new ABM tools to fuel their ABM efforts. The core systems – CRM and MA – are in place and are optimized including integrations and personalization. More advanced ABM programs make use of predictive analytics, retargeting and AI tools. If you are a casual user of your MA system and it isn’t connected to CRM, ABM might be a stretch for you. Too often I see marketers use MA as a glorified e-mail system. If so, the advanced tools will not help. You have to optimize what you have.
A lot can be learned about the readiness of a marketing organization for ABM by looking at their current metrics. If you fall into a more traditional marketing mode and report metrics based on activity such as # of people who attended a webinar, # of visitors to the website, or open and click-through rates of a campaign, you might not be mature enough for a revenue-oriented ABM initiative. The further away from revenue, your current metrics are, the less ready you will be for ABM.
The Case for ABM
ABM drives results better than many marketing initiatives. Given the difficulty in achieving any of the foundational elements for ABM success, many CMOs see ABM as the way to get started and as a “silver bullet” to solve many problems of the past. And I believe it is if approached with your eyes wide-open. ABM is not about a piece of technology, having a single meeting to determine key accounts or continuing to work in a silo. It is a multi-faceted strategy that requires acumen in all the foundational elements. I don’t believe in silver bullets, but I do believe there is something magical about ABM that aligns sales and marketing as the revenue team. Be very aware of your starting point by conducting an honest assessment of our state of readiness for ABM.
As a consultant to marketers, a user of the marketing technology and an academic, I am fascinated with all elements of B2B marketing, but especially the change elements. Technology does us a big favor in that the implementation of a specific system is a concrete action that can drive change across an organization – but only if the organization is ready and capable of embracing and digesting the change.
Account Based Marketing (ABM): The CMO’s Silver Bullet
As previously posted in MarTech Advisor on 3/14/18.