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A Common Sense–Based Approach to Account-Based Marketing
ABM is often misunderstood, so marketers need to develop a clear definition of the practice before deciding whether it's right for them
For the rest of the July 2017 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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Account-based marketing is a hot topic for B2B marketers, with 27 percent of respondents to a recent SiriusDecisions survey saying they were devoting up to 30 percent of their total marketing budgets to it. That’s up from just 19 percent in 2015.

The rising interest in ABM is not surprising: When used correctly, it can “help grow revenue, strengthen connections between marketing and sales, and enhance interactions with customers and prospects,” according to Forrester Research.

Other benefits cited by a number of research firms include greater customer lifetime value, contract value, pipeline acceleration, close rates, and sales and marketing alignment.

Yet despite these benefits, Forrester found that 64 percent of business-to-business marketers either had no plans or were yet to initiate account-based marketing at the start of this year. Furthermore, as of late 2016, 73 percent of B2B marketers agreed that account-based marketing “is a term that lacks specific meaning and is used inconsistently today,” Forrester found.

Experts agree that this lack of understanding about account-based marketing is hindering its adoption. “Most people still don’t understand what account-based marketing is or how to execute on it. They think it’s about implementing a new technology, but that’s a small part of it,” says Manny Medina, CEO of Outreach, a provider of sales acceleration tools. “Account-based marketing is a paradigm shift. It’s a mind-set. It’s about marketing developing a keen understanding of what it takes to close deals and working with sales from day one to build and execute on a joint playbook.”

Account-based marketing is not a new idea. Earlier this year, Sangram Vajre, chief marketing officer at Terminus, a provider of an account-based marketing platform, tracked the underlying concept back to the early 1990s and credited ITSMA for coining the term in 2004.

“Sales has been selling to multiple stakeholders using an account-based approach for decades,” Medina says.

But among marketers, the approach remained virtually unknown until recently, when advances in technology made it more powerful and accessible. Account-based marketing “has historically been limited to larger, enterprise-level companies,” but “technologies like marketing automation have helped to bring account-based marketing downstream, making it less expensive, more efficient, and more accessible to B2B companies targeting midmarket and small-business customers,” says Michelle Huff, chief marketing officer at Act-On Software, a provider of marketing automation.

As marketers develop an interest in account-based marketing, they should first seek to gain a full understanding of the practice before determining whether it is right for their organization. That includes knowing the benefits of such a strategy, as well as the steps that need to be followed to ensure success.

DEFINING ABM

Colby Renton, senior marketing strategist at The Pedowitz Group, a revenue marketing consultancy, defines account-based marketing as “a strategy that targets high-value accounts” to “improve their positioning within an organization’s B2B strategy. It is a strategic effort designed to engage an entire organization or key people across multiple functions within an organization in the buying process to further advance the mission of the organization relationship.”

Medina lays out a similar view. “Account-based marketing gets all stakeholders in an account—decision makers and influencers alike—on the same buying journey. It helps build consensus and buy-in early so deals move faster and there are no last-minute surprises,” he says. “You avoid that situation of a new influencer popping up late in the sales cycle and derailing the deal.”

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