As B2B marketing teams strive to make a greater measurable impact on their company’s sales pipeline and revenue, more and more teams look to account-based marketing (ABM). As a core marketing technology (and buzzword), understanding and effectively harnessing ABM is quickly becoming a top priority for many B2B marketers.
So, where does your marketing team stand on the ABM adoption curve, and how can you utilize it to make an impact on your objectives?
The landscape of B2B marketing has changed. Gone are the days when sales and marketing worked as separate silos with different business goals and operations. While sales teams have always been thinking in terms of key and strategic accounts, companies, and logos and marketing teams have always been thinking in terms of leads, people, and email addresses, today’s B2B marketing landscape requires a strategic and collaborative approach to grow the sales pipeline. In the vast majority of cases, the buying decision for any B2B product or service involves more than one person. It involves a buying team or group with different roles, perspectives, and opinions. Yet as marketers, we have been engaging with these people one at a time. This is where account-based marketing comes in.
The shift to account-based marketing is a move closer to sales
Historically, marketers have defined a business card, phone number or email address as a single person and thus, a single lead. Persuading three people within the same group to opt in meant counting them as three separately generated leads. However, this doesn’t properly encapsulate what is happening here. It’s not three leads, it’s just one. Or possibly not a lead at all, if they’re not at a company we can or should sell to.
Instead, our focus should be on working harder to connect sales with the accounts that we can and should sell to. These are typically defined by sales as key accounts. A more fruitful, strategic approach involves marketing targeting the accounts that provide the most value to their organization’s marketing efforts. At Brainrider we call these accounts “ideal” and “next-best customers” and we go through a profiling exercise with clients to define the common attributes of those key accounts clearly.
What if we filtered our marketing investments like event participation, campaigns, and content development through the criteria of garnering meaningful engagement with people in the buying groups at the companies that matter? We might end up reallocating our budget and resources to different, or even fewer, programs with a greater focus on reaching and influencing key accounts.
When you approach pipeline marketing with the goals of attracting, acquiring, linking, and qualifying buying groups instead of individuals, you’ll be thinking in lockstep with your sales team (and your sales team will be thinking you’re awesome). And here’s the best news: ABM tools and technology have made it much easier for marketers to think and execute this way.
The good news: adopting ABM is an evolution, not a revolution
Account-based marketing and advertising tools continue to push B2B marketers out of their comfort zone and into new opportunities and challenging areas.
Much like the marketing automation tools and website content management systems before them, ABM tools have quickly ascended from sandbox status to prime time. Early adopters have already started using these tools to target digital advertising more precisely, and some marketing organizations have started to overlay account-based marketing strategies onto their entire lead pipeline.
Despite what you may have heard or read over the past year, incorporating a marketing focus on your company’s strategic and/or target accounts doesn’t mean you need to invert your funnel, throw away your marketing automation platform, delete your lead database or cancel everything on your event calendar.
The bad news: you will deliver fewer ‘leads’
Don’t worry, it’s not actually bad news.
With an ABM approach, you’ll be focusing on attracting, acquiring, nurturing, and qualifying real leads in a smaller marketable universe that’s defined by the specific accounts your company wants to sell to. These will be people who are part of the buying groups in key accounts your company can and should be selling to.
Instead of driving as much traffic as possible, regardless of who those people are, you’ll be focusing your efforts on attracting more of the right kind of traffic. That means no more counting unqualified email addresses, phone numbers or anyone with a heartbeat as leads and being more selective.
More of the right people means more of the right leads, which translates to higher conversion rates through every stage of your marketing and sales pipeline. An increased focus in your messaging, targeting, and offers will result in increased relevance with the people on the other side of your communication efforts. And we know that higher relevance leads to higher engagement.
The key is to prepare your internal stakeholders for the shift and set the expectation that traditional marketing metrics like traffic, raw leads or visitors will drop as a result of focusing on quality over quantity.
Is ABM right for your business?
If your marketing team already plans, executes, and measures in the context of a marketing and sales pipeline or funnel, an account-based focus is likely a logical next step.
Don’t go head first into buying new technology without a solid plan, though. The real questions to start asking are things like how to structure your team and budget around an ABM approach, how you’re going to measure success, and how to start with a pilot that you can build on. Start small with a sales partner who is willing to test and learn with you, and leverage your early success into a scaled plan that impacts pipeline.
– Nolin LeChasseur, Co-founder and CMO at Brainrider
*A similar version of this article was originally published on Forbes.com.