"There's nothing new under the sun," wrote the sage nearly 25 centuries ago, and it still holds true for B2B marketers today. Despite the current hype, account-based marketing is nothing new. Whether it's called company targeting or ABM, account-based marketing has been part of the B2B marketer's toolkit for more than 20 years. What has changed is how it's done.
Driven by gains in technology, reporting and data verification, ABM has surged into the mainstream. According to SiriusDecisions research, 87% of B2B companies say ABM has become extremely or very important to their overall marketing efforts. Suddenly, a practice traditionally used by sales is driving the marketing plan.
However, even as they recognize its importance, most B2B marketers haven't made the investment in ABM. More than half of B2B marketers do not have an ABM solution in place, according to a Chief Marketer study. For those that do have one, according to a similar study by Demand Gen Report (DGR), the majority have only been doing it for a year or less.
But the times they are a-changin'. ABM is now poised to dominate B2B marketing strategies, and will become even more widely adopted in 2017. We are already seeing evidence of this. The DGR study found that more B2B marketers are set to join the ABM ranks, with 32% of respondents stating their company has plans to jump on the ABM bandwagon within the next 18 months.
Marketing and sales can be friends, really
Marketing and sales have historically had a disconnected relationship. Sales needs to generate revenue from their account list, and marketing hasn't always been able to show how they are helping. But savvy ABM can change all that. To succeed, ABM requires a collaborative approach between sales and marketing so they can identify the specific accounts they want to target. By aligning itself behind a common list of accounts, marketing can demonstrate to sales how each tactic is impacting those accounts and moving them towards conversion.
Not surprisingly, Information Technology Services Marketing Association research shows that 84% of companies engaged in ABM say the return on investment is higher than for other types of marketing. It gives marketers an opportunity to work closely with sales to contribute directly to the revenue pipeline.
Account-level metrics can be healing
For ABM to really deliver on its promise, however, marketers must shift from aggregate metrics -- ones that depict a program's performance -- to metrics that demonstrate engagement with target audiences.
Rather than relying on metrics like impressions and CTRs, ABM encourages B2B marketers to measure influence on specific accounts. While marketers used to put a heavy emphasis on the former stats, their sales teams did not. The value of a click or an anonymous site visit is negligible at best. If you want marketing to look like a hero, tell your sales team that somebody from a target account visited your site after being exposed to your ad, or even better, that seven individuals from the same account visited your site. Combine that with the ability to tell sales exactly who from each account has downloaded your content, and sales just might hoist you onto their shoulders in celebration.
It is a brave new world that has such metrics in it. Account-level reporting is what will drive ABM through 2017 and beyond. You'll want to know, for example, the content that resonates with each account on your list, how long your ads are exposed to your target accounts, and the number of individuals at a specific account who are downloading and/or interacting with your content. This level of information does two things:
1. It helps you optimize at a specific account so you can optimize your ABM programs in real time.
2. It helps you prioritize accounts that are most engaged so you can pass "hot" accounts to sales.
This process shouldn't end. Your sales team doesn't stop calling prospects; why would you stop-and-start your account based marketing? An always-on ABM program, with this level of reporting, enables marketers to demonstrate the cohesive impact of multiple programs and channels on target accounts.
Unlike their B2C counterparts, B2B sales teams are strictly account-focused. When a sales rep calls on a prospect, they must be prepared to talk to multiple decision makers and influencers before they get the final signature. It's now time for marketing to stand up, deliver actionable account-based intelligence, and make a real impact on the business.