Last week I attended B2B Marketing’s Ignite 2019 conference for the first time – it’s been one I’ve had my eye on for a while and this year I was lucky enough to attend on behalf of Tribal.
In his opening keynote, Ogilvy’s Rory Sutherland urged B2B marketers to think differently, step away from rational thinking and proven outcomes. This may sound counter-intuitive, but he made a valid point; “A huge amount of B2B success is from random luck” and asked, is our need to be quantifiable preventing us from taking risks? Quite possibly.
It was a great way to open the day and a reminder that B2B marketing shouldn’t shy away from creativity and in such a data-led world, it’s important to still take risks.
The majority of the sessions I attended were around ABM – the room was always packed and ABM definitely seems to be the flavour of the moment amongst marketers! And after attending these sessions it’s easy to see why. One of the sessions was run by O2’s Zoe Hominick where she outlined the success of O2’s B2B ABM program which has generated £100 million pipeline and £22 million sales for O2. With potential results like these, it’s no surprise B2B marketers were flocking to the ABM sessions, I was one of them!
What was very clear after attending several ABM sessions from the various practitioners, is that it’s not something to be taken lightly, or something you can just decide to try out one day and see how it goes – a significant amount of time and resource needs to go in to researching, planning and executing an ABM program in order to make it a success.
Here are my 5 top takeaways on ABM from the day:
1. Account Selection
Throughout all the sessions that I attended, account choice was flagged as one of the most important factors in making ABM a success. Account selection needs careful consideration and you shouldn’t just look at potential revenue; having the right relationship is important.
In fact, the majority of practitioners recommended starting an ABM program with an existing account; identifying customers where there is an existing strategic relationship or where there is opportunity to enhance and build a long term relationship with an account rather than focusing on a short term, tactical win. Choosing the right account(s) can make or break an ABM program so qualification needs to be rigorous.
Zoe also warned that once you start seeing success with ABM, don’t let it go to your head (or the heads of the sales team!) It’s likely that as success grows, more people will want to get involved in the program, sales may approach you with accounts they want to target – stick to you account selection criteria and don’t get greedy! Taking on too many or accounts that aren’t the right fit risks diluting the program.
2. Start With Insight
As mentioned in my LinkedIn post following the event, ‘Insight’ was definitely the ABM word-of-the-day for me. This ties in with account selection; the more insight you have into an account, the more successful you’re ABM efforts are likely to be.
The best way to get started with ABM, is to roll out a pilot program using existing accounts because then you are starting from a place of knowledge and understanding. It’s likely you’ll still need to invest on sources of insight and data, but known accounts are low hanging fruit that you should make the most of. In addition to this, starting with existing accounts means you can use your understanding to win look-a-like accounts.
Not only do you need deep insight to understand customers, market, sectors and competitors, you need insight into your own value proposition, to really understand what it is about your product or service that you are offering and how specifically it will solve and/or deliver for a particular account. O2 did this by creating a report on their target account, outlining how much money O2 could save them; a bold move but one that resulted in ROI of 1229:1.
3. Collaboration Is Key
Could ABM be that secret glue we’ve been looking for to stick marketing and sales together? Yes, apparently. Another common theme was the importance of collaboration between the two departments to make ABM a success.
Sales should be involved from the start. And although, as mentioned above, they aren’t necessarily best placed to select accounts (they are likely to be difficult or aspirational accounts), they should certainly be involved in the planning process and help define the strategy to engage with an account. After all, they are likely to have a great deal of insight marketing doesn’t have.
Saying that, sales and marketing shouldn’t necessarily be the only sources of insight either – look across the business for information on a target account that can be used in the program.
But remember, alignment and buy-in are not the same thing. It’s no good to just get buy in from sales you need their involvement and shared objectives, once you have this there is a layer of trust between both parties and both are working towards a shared goal.
4. Strategic vs Programmatic
Did you know there are different approaches to ABM? This is something I found most interesting – the difference between strategic and programmatic ABM and the importance of recognising how they differ, it was B2B Marketing's own Andy Bacon that really hammered this home.
Strategic ABM is focused on engaging 1:1 or 1:few with the aim of building long term relationships rather than a way to fill your pipeline. Strategic ABM is more sales led and less focused around specifically using technology to leverage engagement – although MarTech can still be used, it should not take away from understanding the account/ customer’s needs.
Programmatic ABM on the other hand focuses on the relationship of 1:many. It is persona driven, it relies more heavily on marketing technology (marketing automation in particular) and it can be used to fill pipeline.
Some might argue this is not ‘account based marketing’, rather just ‘marketing’ however, there is a level of ‘account based-ness’ to it. In his session, Martin Simcock, CEO at Enigma Marketing Services, talked about using personalisation at scale and showed example projects of how ABM had been successful at scale. Technology had a more important part to play here but some things didn’t differ from the strategic approach:
- The importance of account insight
- Careful selection of target accounts
- The need to pilot first
- Human interaction is still key
- Have a plan/ blueprint to help you scale.
So even when talking to ‘many’, the foundational principles of ABM remain the same. As Martin said “Treat a target account as an audience of one but engage each buyer in a personalised way”.
5. Content - Personalisation vs Relevance
And finally, a quick note on content – and I think this is where ABM differs substantially from other forms of marketing.
Personalisation and relevance are two different things. Technology today allows marketers to easily personalise communications, whether that is a simple action like adding a recipients first name to an email, or tailoring the content a prospect views on a website based on their persona/ industry/ past behaviours. But that is not enough for ABM.
Content for ABM needs to be truly relevant to the target account – created to talk to their specific business issues and how your business solves those specific issues. Even with programmatic ABM content must be bespoke, existing content can be used but must be re-purposed to reflect the needs of the account.
Relying on generic content suggests a lack on insight and is unlikely to cut through the noise or differentiate your product or service, so make sure you are clear how your message is relevant to the customer/ account.
So there we have it, my 5 takeaways from the day – I hope you find them useful. Can’t wait to go back next year!