Held March 7-8 in San Fran, Revenue Summit 2017 was a collab between Sales Hacker (a content site) and Terminus (a software company that also developed the #FlipMyFunnel idea). The buzz, and the organizing principle behind the event, was Account Based Marketing, or ABM. If you haven't run into this acronym, here's a handy definition from Marketo (a martech platform):
Account-based marketing (ABM) is an alternative B2B strategy that concentrates sales and marketing resources on a clearly defined set of target accounts within a market and employs personalized campaigns designed to resonate with each account.
ABM is basically the merging of marketing and sales. This is achieved by customizing marketing approaches to an audience of one—a prospect company—throughout the full customer journey, from lead to customer to cross-sell/upsell and account expansion. It is enabled by a boatload of new martech tools that give more targeted information about prospects, power individualized targeting and messaging, and track across multiple channels.
In my view, ABM is a natural reaction to the inbound marketing approach, which became an ideology with true believers (thanks, Hubspot), thus inviting a backlash. ABM proponents ask the question "why market to everyone when you only have 1000 target customers? Why not market to decision makers and influencers in those companies?" To be confrontational, they claim the content funnel is broke and/or dead, and that customer ‘conversations’ and ‘journeys’ will replace it.
A clear-eyed observer will note that this is not so much a revolution as a logical evolution of sales, now powered by technology. The divide between sales and marketing has always been an internal definition, one that your customer couldn’t give a shit about understanding.
If you clear past the jargon, ABM offers useful insights that can help many B2B sales efforts become more efficient and more effective. Here's a few specific insights pulled from the two-day event:
1. ABM isn’t for everybody
The Account Based approach works best for B2B businesses with a relatively small number (a few hundred to a few thousand) of relatively high lifetime value target accounts. This number of targets is small enough to build intelligence around the individuals behind the leads, while being large enough to support a percentage-based conversion model. The value of a converted customer (either initial or lifetime) has to be high enough to justify the cost and time of a multi-touch sales process.
These guidelines both rule-in and rule-out an incredible number of B2B companies. Just because ABM is hot right now doesn’t mean you should throw out inbound, channel, or strategic sales approaches if they are working well. ABM is a sales “lane” that may deliver a higher hit rate, more efficiency, and faster deal velocity. But, it will only be the fast lane for a certain type of company.
2. ABM is mindset first, capabilities second, tools third. Not the other way around.
Much of the jargon-izing of this approach is driven by tool sellers, who are either looking to break into the market or give their 10+ yr old platforms a fresh coat of paint. They're pushing content and conferences and webinars to promote the idea that the tool will make you successful.
Account-based approaches starts from a mindset (not a tool,) centered around this insight: I don't need to market to everyone, because most people who might encounter my content are not good prospects. I can make a list of likely customers and identify who the decision makers are at those companies. I can use better information and process to talk about my solution in a way they care about, which will give me a better shot at engaging and converting them.
If this insight applies to your business, then you need to build capacity around the mindset (again, still more important than tools). Your team has to buy into the mindset along with you, and get good at building targeted-but-repeatable campaigns to a well-identified list of prospects. No reverting to smile-and-dial or email blasts. No leaning on listicles or gated lead magnets or other tricks to clog up the pipeline with unqualified leads. And most of all, no split between sales and marketing teams, no blaming of each other for bad leads or weak closes. Sales and marketing must be ONE.
IF you adopt the mindset and build the capabilities, you can manage an Account Based approach with Google Sheets and Gmail. Buying the fancy tools first will not get you much if you haven’t cleared the mindset and capacity hurdle.
Having said that...
3. There are tools that make ABM easier, more scalable and more effective at driving growth.
If you put the right tools in the right place, they can be pretty powerful. I see two areas where the tools are most interesting:
- Lead sourcing and enrichment: farming LinkedIn to get buyer contacts that match a profile, converting visiting IP addresses on your site to company names, attaching social profiles and conversations to prospect names and emails, and even knowing if someone in a target company is searching for a solution in your product area. New tools are getting astonishingly good at gathering that digital exhaust to make better, richer target lists.
- Pervasive targeted advertising: This one kinda freaks me out. Companies like Terminus have developed tech that does pre-targeting/retargeting to specific buyers and influencers within a target company. Want the CIO from your target bank to see an ad on WSJ reminding them to sign the contract in their inbox? It is possible.
Many of these new tools have a high price tag and are aimed toward larger enterprises, so we'll probably see a second generation of tools come along to try to capture the SMB market (as happened with CRM and Marketing Automation).
4. Old school approaches are making a comeback.
Buyers are saturated with unsolicited requests and offers, overwhelmed with content, and exhibiting the same digital blindness that is impacting the consumer adtech world. As a result, high-value customized direct mail pieces are being used as door-openers to get to decision makers. From cookies, chocolates and cupcakes, to custom burnt wood boxes and personalized videos shipped on iPads, high-touch once again has a place to stand out.
5. I wouldn't want to be a new martech startup trying to break into the game!
There were 100 exhibitors at this conference, and there were maybe 3-4 that stood out to me. Martech has become overcrowded, and there is a danger that these new companies are really just features of a larger entrenched platform. The platform companies like Salesforce, Marketo and Hubspot are shying away from "tuck in acquisitions" because of integration failures, and are instead just expanding their own platforms when they see a smaller company that gets traction. This shouldn't stop you from trying products from new companies, but keep your eye on what the bigger players are doing in response.
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