During a presentation at the recent Forrester Consumer Marketing Summit about relevance and consumer marketing, George Sadler shared an anecdote that showed how easily an enterprise relationship can be upended by a data disconnect.
The story: A young college student had a negative experience with the customer service department of her laptop’s maker. That weekend, while visiting her parents, she shared what happened with her father—who happened to be the CEO of a company that had a huge enterprise contract on the table with the computer’s manufacturer.
“That enterprise deal went sideways because of the experience of a $2,000 laptop,” said Sadler, who was then a marketer at that computer company and is now Adobe’s senior director, marketing, and customer insights.
That was 10 years ago. Today, Sadler said, it would be possible to flag that call for special handling and follow-up. Connecting those data dots can make a marketer a “customer-intelligent company.”
Indeed, a growing number of enterprise marketers are connecting those dots courtesy of “account-based marketing.” ABM might not be the sexiest topic in the industry, but it is one of the hottest in B2B. And with that fast growth have come growing pains that will need to be addressed. Indeed, for CMOs who see ABM functions as yet another thing to do on top of their crowded schedules, ABM could wind up just another email outreach program.
‘What We Have To Do’
ABM is a strategic approach that aligns sales and marketing to target key accounts and prospects with personalized engagement. A result of the explosion of marketing automation and data analysis tools, ABM has increasingly become a priority for enterprise marketers who need to deliver tangible business results, break through the clutter of marketing communications, and get their sales teams a foot in the door of overwhelmed executives.
In fact, seven out of 10 marketers said they are planning or have adopted ABM, and 84% said they get higher ROI from ABM than from their regular marketing, according to studies by DemandMetric and ITSMA, noted Laura Ramos, VP, principal analyst at Forrester.
“The popularity is there,” Ramos said during a webcast about ABM. “Marketers are paying attention.”
A great number of B2B marketers said they believe they have to implement ABM to align sales and marketing and keep up with the new enterprise customer who, thanks to digital media, now has access to the same information as the salesperson calling them—or more. Many cited a Forrester study that found 74% of B2B buyers research online (PDF) and 68% find going online superior to interacting with a salesperson.
“You can’t live in a world where a salesperson is constantly going to an account,” said Kevin Sellers, CMO of Avnet, who became immersed in ABM during an earlier stint at Intel. Now, as the electronic parts supplier’s first CMO in 96 years, he plans to enact ABM at Avnet as part of the company’s transformation, he told CMO.com.
Sellers began by centralizing the marketing organization and launching a new corporate identity; phase two of the transformation will include applying ABM “because that’s what we have to do,” he said.
“So much of our growth is going to have come digitally, so we have to get smart about segmentation, [about] how we do account-based marketing,” Sellers said. “All those things are going to go into play because we’re changing so dramatically because of what’s happening in the marketplace.”
But for all its virtues, ABM is not without its critics. With its growing popularity has come complexity and debate. Forrester is predicting 2017 will be the year ABM will mature from fast adoption to a more disciplined function, measuring success and adding accountability. Yet Ramos noted that qualitative interviews for a Forrester study last fall found a lot of confusion; almost three-quarters of interviewees said ABM lacks specificity and can be applied to multiple approaches. Forrester also found only one in five marketers surveyed could say they have positive evidence that made them feel it increased sales and marketing effectiveness.
“People talk about it being broad and having too many things going on,” Ramos said.
Forrester is still bullish on ABM; a recently completed survey found more than 30% of marketers are planning to try ABM but haven’t started yet, Ramos said.
“There’s a lot of interest, but we’re still early-stage,” she said. Forrester says that ABM will help marketers increase their stake in the post-sale client relationships from a scant 1% of marketers to 10% having a stake in it this year, and that as more companies lean into advocacy programs that produce tangible results, ABM will gain momentum.
While sales and marketing alignment is one benefit of ABM, and automation is another, experts warn that neither should be considered the whole of the program. ABM is complimentary to marketing automation, Ramos said. A system must be put in place to target the right accounts, identify key insights, engage those accounts, and work with sales to track interactions, Ramos said.
“To operationalize, you have to be willing to change long-term habits,” she said.
‘Pickaxes And Spreadsheets’
The process can be extensive, said Tracy Eiler, CMO of martech company InsideView. Marketers need to choose among clients and insights, score leads, and clean data to know where to focus, she said.
“This isn’t (the) easiest work—it’s pickaxes and spreadsheets,” said Eiler, author of “Aligned to Achieve” (Wiley, 2016). “All of this work is messy and very hard, but it’s critical to set you up for ABM success.” Eiler’s book, co-authored with her VP of enterprise sales, Andrea Austin, drew on the experiences of aligning their own organization.
Marketers have a lot of data in different CRM systems and different places, and they must figure out how to get it all together before trying to adopt ABM, Eiler said. They must understand who their ideal customer is and the behaviors or signals that show they are ready to buy.
“ABM is really going to shift your marketing perspective,” said Eiler, especially for marketers who have come up around the marketing automation practice, which is mainly inbound-focused. ABM shifts focus to being more purposeful and more outbound-faced, she said.
Massive spending on automation is not a requirement, Eiler added. Marketers can get started in a “very basic way with the tools we have already,” she said. InsideView started by adding two fields in its existing tools for sales staffers to pick their client’s tier and the ABM play or messaging track to engage that account.
“We need to treat very differently the people we already know ... from the people who are complete strangers,” Eiler said.
Ramos compared ABM to the proverbial blind men touching the elephant. “You have to answer the question: If we’re doing ABM, what does it have to answer for?” she said.
Taking marketing and sales alignment beyond sharing dashboards is a priority, insiders said. Eiler noted InsideView sales and marketing meetings—dubbed “smarketing” in-house—bring together all the relevant groups regularly to check in.
Buy-in from senior management is also crucial. Many experts warned the results of ABM are not easily quantifiable with the available metrics or easy to see immediately. Eiler also said marketers have to be able to communicate the opportunities to senior executives who are focused on the pipeline and revenue.
“Stick ruthlessly to the plan,” she recommended. “You have to have the intestinal fortitude to look at the long game.”