Everyone’s talking about ABM. So why do so many companies still struggle with it?

  • January 11, 2023
  • Reading time: 5 min

Five steps to ABM alignment

If you’re a B2B marketer, you’d have to have lived under a rock not to have heard about account-based marketing or ABM by now. The past few years have been flooded with the buzz, then came the events, the awards, the tech, discipline and the services around it. We’re now at the stage where ABM is a staple part of many B2B marketers’ arsenal. But still, the amount of businesses who are still relatively inexperienced with ABM can be surprising. 

Simply put, ABM is all about shifting from a broadcast ‘blast’ to a targeted approach, where marketers focus on their key accounts and tailor their efforts instead of throwing a big net into the sea with the hopes that something gets caught. Some would even argue there’s nothing new about ABM at all, it’s just a different name for good old fashioned relationship marketing. So why are so many businesses still struggling to get their ABM programmes up and running?

At Octopus, we help a range of different companies, across different sectors and geographies, make the most of what ABM has to offer. And in doing so, I’ve been directly exposed to some of the main challenges B2B marketers and businesses face in their journeys.

It all boils down to alignment, across five fronts:

1. Sales and marketing alignment

I know, I know. The sales-marketing alignment is a discussion as old as the hills. But I’ve noticed with ABM there’s a new dynamic. Because ABM involves targeted accounts. And that’s traditionally sales territory. Then again, the ‘M’ in ABM stands for marketing. Which poses the question, who owns ABM?

Purists say it’s marketing (it’s in the name, duh!). And I agree — mostly. Yes marketing should own ABM as a marketing strategy, but without a solid partnership with sales they’ll fall flat. No engagement, no follow-ups, no meaningful commercial impact. Then what’s the point? 

What I’ve seen is that sales buy-in is crucial for any successful ABM programme, with a real sense of engagement that’s borderline co-ownership with marketing. After all, both teams will reap the benefits of closing that new account, or growing an existing one.

2. Commercial alignment

This is an interesting one. ABM allows companies to have very tangible ROI and attribution models given the nature of the activities and the focus they have on key accounts. Yet more often than not, ABM budgets are completely disconnected from the commercial potential of the opportunities. It doesn’t make sense.

I attribute (no pun intended) this phenomenon to the fact that, especially in large organisations that are new to ABM, it all feels too risky, and they just want to ‘dip their toe in’ or join the ABM bandwagon to tick a box, rather than actually realising real value from it. No one likes risks, I get it, and it’s important to hedge across investments and tactics, but what we end up with is incredibly under-funded ABM programmes with little chance to make an actual impact.  

Is it even worth it then? Not sure. On one hand, one could argue starting small allows companies to build on it as they feel more confident and proof value. On the other hand however, if the programme is too small to even make an impact, it may cause leaders to think ABM just isn’t for them.

To avoid the negative outcomes, it’s important to consider an investment proportionate to the opportunity at hand. Or even to make a conscious choice to do a proof-of-concept first, going at it with eyes wide open about ROI and potential success, build a business case and treat ABM as a strategic business decision, not just another thing we do because everyone else seems to be doing it.

3. Priorities alignment 

Building on the point above, it’s always worth understanding how ABM fits within a wider sales and marketing machine. What are the key priorities and objectives of the business, and how are they informing the growth strategy? This will help determine how to best approach ABM within an organisation.

For example, if we have a niche and small addressable market, then prioritising 1:1 ABM activities over broader demand gen is a more intuitive, easier thing to do and might yield more results. But if the audience is broader and sales divided by sectors or geographies, then going for 1:Few might be the best bet. Or even if the focus is to grow existing clients rather than new logos, you’ll end up with a completely different programme.

Many companies fall victim to rushing ABM activations without considering the big picture and how ABM actually needs to be approached strategically.

4. Technology alignment

In the age of performance marketing and digital transformation, it’s impossible not to touch on technology when talking about ABM. Martech is an ABM enabler. From automation tools to dashboards, it provides the infrastructure to execute, track and measure ABM programmes. And then there are all the new tools and tech that were born of the specific needs of ABM programmes.

Intent data platforms can help identify leads who should be added to targeted accounts based on their propensity to buy. Bespoke digital experiences provide dedicated portals personalised for an account with all the tracking capabilities we can dream of. Tools that can churn mass-personalised content or sales enablement materials. The list goes on.

But at the end of the day, if the infrastructure is not there, it can hinder a company’s ability to see value out of ABM. It doesn’t mean every company needs to go into it loaded with marketing ops or martech big guns as this takes time, costs money and increases risk. There are definitely levels needed depending on how mature each business is and where they are in their ABM journey. But as with some of the other points made, ignoring the role of tech on ABM could kill a programme before it even started.

Understand where you are now, what tools you have available and what’s out there. If you have an agency partner you trust, work with them to evaluate what approach would make sense and build an initial roadmap that feels appropriate and realistic.

5. Organisational alignment

Lastly, when done properly, ABM will inevitably touch many departments and divisions within a business beyond sales and marketing. Which is why it’s imperative to have leadership buy-in and alignment across the organisation. In more mature instances, businesses will have dedicated teams to ABM, while working with agency partners like us.

Of course I’m conscious not every business can start there, it’s a journey after all. So what are the main steps to get there?

Start with your objectives, always – why do you want to do ABM, what are you hoping to achieve, how can it move the dial for your business? That will give you the business case to start gathering internal support and bringing others on the journey with you.

Agree a common language, there are so many acronyms and definitions in ABM-land, ensure there’s clarity in the organisation and everyone’s on the same page. Consider running training sessions to not only educate, but also energise different departments into the possibilities.

Get leaders excited. Get sales excited. Get everyone who’ll be involved excited. Think of the old ‘what’s in it for me?’ so people can really understand the benefit of embarking on this journey. Because let’s face it, it will be disruptive, and it will be time consuming, and we’re talking about very time-poor and risk-averse people, as we covered already. So without a strong reason to jump, why would they?

The light at the end of the tunnel

I know this can all feel very negative when looking at challenges, but I’d actually finish on a positive note. If you’ve read on until here, you’re now armed with the learnings of many other marketers who have walked this path before you. And you can do better.

I’m personally a big believer in ABM. I do think the buzz is justified, and that there’s a reason why so many businesses thrived around it — both companies who have embraced ABM strategically and others who build ABM-specific offerings. It’s because of the growing case studies out there that show what ABM can do.

ABM done right can bring wonderful returns. Will you close every single business you go after? Of course not. Will ABM increase your chances? Probably. Is it worth giving it a try? Absolutely!

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