Account-Based Marketing (ABM) has long been used, chiefly by service organisations (or departments), to gain closer relationships with their most important accounts and maximise their value. Recently, however, because of ever-more educated and demanding B2B buyers, growing competition and the increasing complexity of markets and propositions, it has become essential.
To put it bluntly: there are more competitors around after your key accounts, many of whom are faster, more innovative, and often, more commercially flexible than you. Fighting back to retain and win the accounts on whom your business future depends requires insightful, strategic marketing support from the start.
Marketers need to be able to offer true end-to-end ABM support more than ever before. They need to support their businesses proactively to prove flexibility, innovation and reliability, because real growth, revenue and, in the end, brand and share value depend on defending, deepening and developing relationships with critical accounts.
Creating ABM best practice requires a dramatic change in thinking. Major shifts in your brand’s overall behaviour may be required before buyer understanding, alignment and enablement can be adopted effectively. Are you currently thinking and acting in the right way to respond positively to the changing needs of your clients? The ability to rethink your approach is crucial to sustaining growth and positive relationships.
In order to achieve this, it’s vitally important to obtain a clear understanding of your customers - including all stakeholders and end-users - their landscape and their ultimate ambition. Creating and sustaining positive experiences in key accounts depends on close relationships, shared vision and an instinct for growth: showing all of these in a cohesive strategy is the key to transforming the nature of client interactions.
ABM Can Deliver Far More Than New Business Wins Can
Right now ABM tends to be seen as one of two things. First, as consolidation activity that follows on only after successful wins of new business; second as something that is, in effect, done through schmoozing: chatting over a long lunch with clients. However, as the market becomes saturated with competitors, your clients are frequently looking to you to provide genuine innovation as they compete and seek to deliver more to their end users; they will switch to others if you can’t provide it. This means that ABM can deliver far more revenue than new business wins – and it means that a real strategy is necessary to deliver your message across a complex client organisation, rather than a surface level temperature-checking.
Towards An Account-Based Strategy
A strategic approach is the only way to deliver ABM in today’s dynamic market – and because of this, it’s more accurate to say that what’s missing, and what must be delivered, is not ABM but ABS – Account-Based Strategy. This allows for marketing activity to be seen in context and measured against a broader, more strategic relationship that grows and delivers you and your key accounts far more value and revenue. Reframing ABM – which is often overlooked and seen as an inessential – into ABS underlines its importance and requires you to engage far wider interdependencies involved in running and growing an account (reaching beyond marketing into sales, brand R&D, and across the entire organisation). If ABS is applied and the account team are regularly supported by strategic development, the opportunities to upsell, maintain positive relationships and create experiences within the account are far higher and will lead to sustainable business and growth within that account.
So far, so good: but how can you communicate that effectively?
To engage key accounts in the right way to deliver a true ABS approach, you need to appeal to their needs both rationally and emotionally. Rationally, you need to clearly define a differentiated strategic offering – one that aligns your vision and capabilities with the purpose and strategy of their business. Showing that you know them and have real intelligence about how they can go forward is part of building a strong brand proposition within the account, and defending it. Knowing their strategy inside out, actively challenging and adding to it, can put your support way ahead of anything to do with most marketing involvement – and can make you uniquely valuable.
Emotionally, you need to convey absolute determination to help your key accounts to win. Every communication and discussion needs to show that to you, this is about more than merely delivering what they need: that you have the talent, passion and culture that fits them – and are fanatical about supporting their needs and putting them at the centre of your business. Emotional and rational approaches are, of course, part of a single overriding story – that you are different, you are an innovator in every way, and you have the solutions, drive and determination to help them win.
The Strategic Challenge
Performing high-value ABM for your key accounts, and turning it into an ABS model to deliver the best ongoing value is a major challenge. It demands not only empowering sales and marketing teams within the account to work together; it requires a new understanding of technology, Big Data, sector insights and lessons from other territories; it means becoming as expert on your key accounts as your own contacts, and potentially more so.
The world of business has changed and ABM is becoming a necessity: but it’s also taking a step up to becoming something far more. It’s time to see ABM strategically, turn it into Account-Based Strategy, and focus it on the accounts that matter if your business is to fight off competition and achieve long-lasting results.