There’s always a lag between professional services (PS) and the technology sector, which in this case for ABM (account based marketing), it’s close to 20 years.
The case for ABM is proven, there are plenty of case studies and award winners online that show the investment, strategy and sales ROI for ABM. Increased close rate, winning larger opportunities, shorter sales cycle, deeper client loyalty and advocacy, are but a few examples.
One statistic that peaked my interest was that of the companies investing in ABM, 84% are getting a higher sales return in investment (ROI) than from any other marketing activity.
Historically how hard has it been for marketing ROI to lead to sales? Very, even impossible.
Yet, still, it’s a pretty new topic for PS firms. I haven’t worked in a PS firm, yet, that’s managed to fully migrate from demand generation marketing to advanced ABM, so have been digging around.
So why is now the time for ABM?
PS firms are now much bigger and complex. Marketing budgets are smaller and resource needs to focus on the biggest growth bets, instead of trying to be all things to all people.
Digital advancement and PS realisation that a technology enabled strategy is the way forward.
Firms have been burnt by the traditional demand generation marketing, as it simply drowns prospects and clients alike in ‘noise’. Irrelevant content, that just gets pumped out without any real awareness of data driven interests at the individual level. The spray and pray philosophy certainly reigned dominant, especially as marketing just needed to crack on and produce brand profile.
Unfortunately the side effect is that this switched people off at the outset, especially when compared to how ABM 1-to-1 and 1-to-few strategies work. How many target groups have not even opened, let alone unsubscribed from what marketing pumps out? A lot.
More on this in a minute.
From what I can see, there are three aspects to carefully consider before embarking on a complex migration from demand generation marketing to ABM.
1) ABM has a complex technology stack and needs expert help to kick it off.
Marketing Technology (MarTech) means moving the stack away from traditional demand generation to ABM. This is more important than you can imagine. It can be confusing for marketing departments to utilise, especially if they are relatively technology illiterate.
You also need good quality data in the technology – ideally internal and external to make it reveal true insight. And your IT, legal and risk teams all need to get comfortable with managing GDPR alongside opening up the MarTech stack and connecting it as an ecosystem.
Then you need a MarTech experienced team or person who can ensure appropriate selection, implementation and usage of the ABM MarTech stack. This needs to be connected to the wider firm technology platforms and have an architecture strategy in place (not a piecemeal approach to buying bits and bobs sporadically).
Another vital component is to hire an ABM expert or bring in an ABM agency that knows it inside out, where to start, how to filter what does and doesn’t work, and how to position and roll it out to a firm for the first time.
This all needs financial investment, miss any of the above out and you will suffer in the long run.
2) Be aware of what is needed to scale internally from demand generation to ABM.
It means the people, process and systems need a new organisational design for teams (not just marketing departments). It also needs buy-in from the leadership and all departments to get everybody aware and on side for ABM.
This includes a clear idea of what marketing no longer supports and how centralised the marketing function needs to be in order to scale through the:
- 1-to-1 – the push strategy for immediate key growth clients or specific opportunities that need a highly tailored approach. It’s based on their stage of the buying cycle, individual interests and specific relationships. But this is also where the sales team needs to not fixate on singling out individuals to pursue sales opportunities, it’s about using design thinking to bring stakeholders together, to help them see a different way of achieving growth or mitigating issues, by collaborating and reaching consensus on the way forward.
- 1-to-few – the pull strategy for priority client clusters and hot sector verticals that are closely related. You are aware more generally of their needs by buyer persona but it’s maturing. It encompasses digital, in-person and efficient grouping of activity. You can certainly convert new business here, but you might not be as targeted or fully aware of their issues, they might come to you a bit more with a specific need that you react to. Or you might push out themes into these clusters and refine your approach as you go.
- 1-to-many – growth clients of the future where you’re nurturing new markets, verticals, product segments and customer types to gain a deeper understanding of how people consume information and on which topics. This is the typical place for marketing to focus with digital activities, but it should now be augmented to funnel deeper understanding into the other two approaches. This is cost effective brand building.
Everybody loves a pilot, right? Prioritise a small number of current growth client accounts and put them into a pilot programme, you 100% shouldn’t add prospects when you start out. Take a long term view and adjust strategies for each priority where needed.
Also decide if you have capacity to cover all 3 approaches up front, as biting off more than you can chew is likely, so baby steps. You could start at one-to-many and use it to build buyer personas, understand buying cycles, see hot topics, establish a content strategy. But that delays your core growth client initiatives so you could decide to start at the 1-to-1 (just be sure that your account team are 100% on board and willing to invest the time as the testing ground).
3) Take ABM implementation one step at a time and don’t ignore what worked in your previous demand marketing strategies.
Plan out the degree of change management and required path for change that’s needed to make ABM work. Decipher what the marketing priorities are across the firm so you can improve, reduce or cut what’s not working – start things that are not perfect but close enough with a degree of certainty to work – an innovate and fail fast approach. Proven and problem free is not a factor when trying something new.
Connectivity, education and tight involvement with sales teams should be at the core of ABM. The most strategic growth accounts typically have key account managers, an account planning process and established ecosystem – so ABM has to be aligned and operate in a cohesive environment.
Do more traditional marketing tactics still have a role within ABM? The short answer is yes.
One thing resonated in some of the things I’ve come across – don’t ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’ and go 100% digital. Progressing big ticket opportunities through the customer journey often takes high impact in-person activities for a lead to progress from awareness to engagement.
Also, if you consider a really traditional tactic like advertising, it can still have a place but more as a ‘halo effect’ activity alongside your digital and in-person elements. For example, if you’re at an industry conference where you’re targeting specific ABM clients, conference advertising could ‘drown out’ competitor brand presence and help increase meeting take-up.
Why? Because your ‘mind-share’ dominates.
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