Four Problems with Account-Based Marketing

Account-Based Marketing (ABM) is experiencing a bit of a renaissance right now. Events and technologies focused on ABM are springing up, and my feeds and inbox are peppered with success stories, blog posts and sales pitches. It has lead to a lot of spirited debate at here at ANNUITAS and in my professional circles — and not everyone is a fan. I have long been a supporter of Account-Based Marketing, but I cannot deny the validity of some of the arguments I have heard against it. A lot of very smart people are still on the fence about ABM, but I think that much of the backlash is due to the fact that many marketers are still not thinking strategically about ABM, and are simply utilizing account-based tactics. And that is where the trouble lies.

shutterstock_252565711Here are the four most commonly cited criticisms I have heard about Account-Based Marketing, and my take on how these are tactical issues rather than strategic ones.

Account-Based Marketing Only Supports Outbound
When I was at the Flip My Funnel conference in San Francisco, I was shocked by the fact that Account-Based Marketing seems to have reinvigorated the direct-mail marketing industry. It seemed as if most of the case studies involved tales of some sort of direct mail-based outreach to executives at targeted accounts that resulted in impressive returns and engagement within those accounts. What I didn’t hear much about was leveraging an account-based strategy with inbound tactics. As a result, it may lead some to believe that ABM doesn’t play well with inbound or a content strategy — and that is far from the truth. Truly strategic Account-Based Marketing folds account-based considerations into the development of a content strategy, which is what will best fuel your inbound marketing efforts.

The outbound content most tactical account-based marketers are using is typically product-focused and does not serve to educate and establish trust with buyers. The result? Lots of impressions, but low engagement.

Consider the foundation of a good content strategy — the development of personas for all of your buyers, including influencers as well as decision makers across the buying committee. Adding an ABM layer to this means that you need to figure out what types of companies are in your sweet spot, zero in on the specific needs of buyers from those types of companies, and prioritize the development of personas from “premium” account types. Creating the content that speaks to the needs of buyers from target accounts, across the entire span of their buyer’s journey, will create the complimentary inbound component to the obvious outbound tactics that can be applied to ABM.

Account-Based Marketing Alienates Prospects and Customers
Maria Pergolino from Apptus recently posted a few articles that shared some stories of targeted, account-based campaigns that that were unsuccessful (hereand here). The campaigns left some potential buyers and existing customers feeling either left out or unappreciated as they were excluded from opportunities that they felt they should have been a part of. The mistakes made were largely tactical in nature:

  • Existing customers were largely excluded in favor of landing new logos

As Justin Gray said in the comments of Maria’s post, “Customers should always be the first VIP’s.” It is much easier (and less expensive) to support an existing customer than to land a new one. In fact,the origins of Account-Based Marketing are often traced back to expanding your presence across key accounts that are already customers. Recent applications, however, seem to be exclusively focused on new logo acquisition. Ignore existing customers at your own peril. Excluding them from your marketing strategy means you will lose market share, strategy or not.

  • Targeted campaigns focused on specific accounts left buyers feeling underserved and excluded

If these efforts are extreme and visible, such as at an event or on social media, you run the risk of losing potential buyers due to insensitive messaging or “elitist” tactics. Tread lightly and consider carefully how your marketing efforts will be perceived. Never alienate a viable buyer simply because they are not “on the list.” Truly strategic ABM accounts for buyers that might fall outside the parameters of your target list, while still focusing on the companies that are the most likely to buy.

Account-Based Marketing Puts Sales In Control of the Marketing Process
Marketing has come a long way over the past decade, largely due to the rise of marketing technologies that allow us to better measure the return on our efforts and investments. Marketers are now able to prove what is working, what drives leads, which leads turn into opportunities, and which marketing programs drove the most revenue. However, poor visibility into turn-backs (marketing “qualified” leads rejected by sales) and perceived problems with lead scoring and closed-loop reporting still hurt us when it comes to establishing value and measuring performance.

Account-Based Marketing proponents (like myself) often cite that highly scored leads get ignored by sales because they are coming from companies that they don’t feel that they can sell to. The establishment of a target account list and adoption of an Account-Based Marketing strategy that leverages that list can serve to solve that problem. However, there is a tendency to take this too far — giving sales control of the list and a license to reject qualified leads that are not “target accounts.”

To remedy this, marketing needs to work with sales to compile the list, but needs to own the list and the strategies and tactics used to market to that list. These tactics need to be both inbound and outbound. We also need to account for qualified buyers coming from outside “the list,” establish clear and precise lead scoring and lead management practices, maintain service-level agreements with sales detailing responsibilities that account for qualified leads coming from both inside and outside the list, and build our Demand Process to focus on supporting a buyer’s journey and engage buyers with the tactics that drive revenue.

It is Difficult to Measure and Monitor Account-Based Activity
As I have written before, there are some inherent limitations in the technologies we are using that do not support an Account-Based Marketing strategy. “The problem though is that most (if not all) marketing automation platforms don’t offer … visibility into account-based activity … Why can’t marketing automation offer the ability/option to operate the same way, providing visibility into account-level interest and activity in our programs?”

Some new technologies have come to the fore seeking to address these difficulties. Engagio, for example, works to supplement your existing marketing automation platform with an account-based view into engagement and activity. And Demandbase has long offered tools that work within your web analytics to monitor account-based activity across your web properties (among other account-based outbound marketing offerings). As popular interest in ABM has grown, technology vendors are rising to the challenge with some impressive technologies to add to the stack.

Technology is not a silver bullet, however. It seems too easy to lose sight of the simple fact that incorporating account-based considerations into content strategy and lead management process are what will best serve to bolster any Account-Based Marketing strategy and drive revenue. The best technologies fail without a solid Demand Process strategy to drive them.

The most effective Account-Based Marketing programs take a strong demand generation strategy and build upon it by folding account-based considerations into the tactics that drive the best returns for your company. And the truth is, a strategic Demand Process that incorporates content strategy, inbound and outbound engagement tactics, and lead management process can trump any sort of Account-Based Marketing strategy. This is not to say I am not still a proponent of Account-Based Marketing. I’m just saying that you need to master the fundamentals first. Once that is done, adding some strategic account-based components is what will take you the next level.

*This post first ran March 31, 2016 in LinkedIn.

Author: Jason Stewart @jstewart_1 is Vice President, Strategic Content, ANNUITAS