As Account-Based Marketing (ABM) is increasingly adopted by B2B marketing and sales teams, you may wonder how ABM differs from a traditional sales process.
Is ABM really a new concept, or have existing techniques simply been rebranded? This post explores what ABM is, and why it’s such a unique strategy.
What is ABM? Old School vs. New
An ABM approach allows organisations to precisely target high-yield prospects, by focusing efforts on key individuals, or on a combined panel of decision makers (the Decision Making Unit) within that account. Unlike a persona-focussed, inbound approach, ABM is highly specific, allowing you to treat an account as a market of one. As such, it is an approach reserved for higher value sales opportunities; ABM is more labour intensive, but with a focus on select high propensity target accounts, ABM works to ensure solid ROI. Here, using account segmentation to split accounts into high, middle, and low propensity will help to ensure the right accounts, and enable a scalable, effective ABM strategy.
So is this a new strategy? While key account marketing was previously used by larger companies to target a handful of major accounts, developments in technology and strategy have refined the process, allowing for the emergence of ABM. Although not entirely a new concept, ABM is less labour-and-cost intensive than it used to be, especially when combined with an inbound strategy. However, the technologically-enabled strategies behind ABM are what make it fundamentally different to old-school sales strategies.
ABM Today Vs. Pre-Internet ABM
So what are the main differences between traditional sales methods, such as Key Account Marketing, and ABM?
Over the last decade, the evolution of the internet has been a major influence on buyer behaviour; marketing and sales processes have had to adapt to meet this change. Pre-internet, the B2B Sales Cycle was seller-centric, with organisations cold calling, using interruptive ads and a static pitch. Now, organisations attract customers with more inbound methods; by creating buyer pain focussed content (rather than product focussed), and, crucially, leveraging buying context to deliver a buyer-centric sales strategy. The focus has shifted away from simply selling a product to building a relationship with customers; to be successful, this relationship must deliver value to the customer by advising and providing them with solutions to their problems.
So how does all this work in a modern ABM process? Looking at key components:
Technology is crucial. It provides greater insight into buyer behaviour, so it’s easier to predict the prospect’s propensity to buy. Data on buying intent and engagement allows organisations to be more intelligent about account selection and more timely in their interactions with customers as they move through the buyer’s journey. Correctly leveraging data from your CRM results in a more customer-centric sales approach and therefore ABM success. Digital tools enable easy and tailored communication with prospects. For example, CRMs such as Hubspot allow marketing and sales teams to organise, track, and nurture leads and customers in a single application, while social tools like LinkedIn enable instantaneous and personalised communication with prospects - as well as functioning as a valuable research tool.
ABM is highly personalised, with pinpoint focus on the buyer. As strategic accounts are treated as markets of one, all touch-points are customised for that specific account. Rather than treating all leads alike, using generic content, the nurture process for ABM is proactive; seeking quality engagement through content that’s specifically personalised to resonate with the pain points of the chosen account. ABM aligns with an inbound rather than an outbound marketing strategy; it’s important to earn the trust of today’s empowered buyers to nurture a long-term relationship. Therefore hyper-personalised content should be used to spend a specific message to a specific account.
It requires increased alignment between marketing and sales. If sales and marketing teams are working in silos, the account selection process will be ineffective. In an ABM 1-2-1 process, target accounts and the specific decision makers within them should be selected with input from both marketing and sales; with the teams aligned on strategy, and marketing passing MQLs on to sales to nurture further or close the deal. This relationship building should be on the prospect’s terms and timescale, with the continued refinement of content and messaging as they move through the funnel.
Quality matters more than quantity. ABM takes the buyer persona focus of Inbound up a notch; rather than targeting a wider persona audience as a whole, ABM pinpoints a specific key account as its foundation, which means that ABM can work as a brilliant supporting activity when you’re running Inbound activities. Fundamentally, both ABM and Inbound are about generating relevant relationships rather than scores of irrelevant leads through disruptive tactics, as traditional outbound processes would. And again, thanks to advances in technology, we now have the data and intelligence to drive quality, highly relevant strategies.
So, while the basic structure of key account marketing has been in place for decades, modern ABM has evolved for the digital age. As a result, today’s ABM strategies enable an organisation (and its specific sales reps) to position themselves as trusted advisors and industry experts, who solve client problems to stay front of mind.
Ultimately, digital enablement is responsible for the evolution and scaling of ABM; it has become a unique and valuable lead generation strategy in its own right. As such, we believe ABM is only set to grow in 2018; run in conjunction with demand generation and inbound marketing campaigns, ABM provides that additional layer of personalisation required to start more valuable sales conversations.