In the wonderous realms of B2B marketing, Account Based Marketing (ABM) is absolutely everywhere. You can’t attend an event, open an email or flick through a copy of the beloved B2B marketing magazine without seeing at least 1 mention of ABM – I’ve tried, it’s physically impossible.
ABM has been carved out as its own discipline since the early 2000’s but it became a major talking point in B2B circles a few years ago and is showing no signs of fading away any time soon.
Which is no bad thing. Done right it can be an incredibly powerful weapon in your brands marketing arsenal. I’m a big fan of it.
However (and here’s where things start to get juicy) the way in which ABM is discussed in the main is, in my humble opinion, misguided and dangerous for marketers and B2B brands.
The commonly repeated theories, ideas and best practices that lead brands and marketers to just “do some ABM” can cause more harm than good.
I’m not just piping up for the pure thrill of it. I’ve got some reasoning to fall back. So here we go. 3 reasons why the current discourse on ABM is dangerous.
ABM by its very definition leads marketers to place their focus on accounts. The clue’s in the name.
But B2B is still P2P – person to person. People don’t buy from businesses; they buy from other people. So why would someone buy from a business if that business is treating them as just a node in an account?
We as marketers should always view who we target as individuals ensuring that we tailor, curate and personalise what we do to create an emotional engagement, driving people to take a desired action.
SIDE NOTE – This goes well beyond high level “personalisation” too. Just using some auto fills in an email so it pulls through a person’s name isn’t personalisation. Especially if the rest of the text of that same email stays the same.
But the majority of the ABM rhetoric seems to ignore people completely.
Various definitions of ABM can be found but most circle around ABM being “a strategic approach to business marketing based on account awareness in which an organisation considers and communicates with individual prospect or customer accounts as a market of one”.
No mention of contacts, job roles or anything like that. People get forgotten about.
If it’s done properly ABM should consider and communicate with individual PEOPLE within prospect or customer accounts, using the account they belong to as a means of positioning a message that is then tailored for them individually.
But leading with the ‘Account’ of ABM means that unfortunately people are at best an afterthought and at worst not thought about at all.
Anyone who’s come close to ABM and its theory will have encountered the ABM pyramid. Check out ITSMA’s overview of it here https://www.itsma.com/three-approaches-to-scaling-abm/
In essence the pyramid breaks ABM down into 3 separate layers.
The top layer is “1-to-1” ABM, where businesses focus on singular accounts and create stand alone marketing activity specifically for them. This to me is actual ABM (as long as you focus on the individual people, that is).
Layers 2 and 3 then go on to break ABM down into separate “1-to-few” or ABM Lite and “1-to-many” or Programmatic ABM layers, suggesting that you then group accounts based on whatever criteria you deem fit and create further marketing strategies for those accounts.
The inclusion of the second and third layers feels like someone’s looked at ABM theory and gone “Shit! we need a diagram to make sure people take this seriously” and they’ve then cobbled something together to bulk out what can be talked about under the umbrella of ABM.
1-to-few and 1-to-many is merely good segmentation and good campaign practice so you can create tailored and personalised activity, which any marketer worth their salt should be doing anyway – whether they’re running ABM activity or not.
Anyone who’s attempted ABM will know that when done right it’s a resource intensive approach that hoovers up large amounts of time, budget and energy.
A relatively small handful of enterprise size businesses will have large marketing teams at their disposal who can give ABM the attention it deserves in and amongst everything else. But what of those lowly mortals in SME type businesses?
When budgets are tight, teams are stretched and we’re constantly being tasked to do more with less, is ploughing your finite amount of resource and effort into a handful of accounts for ABM activity the best way forward?
Those who are exponents of ABM would suggest it is, but surely there is danger in putting the majority of your marketing eggs in one ABM shaped basket? What becomes of wider brand building activity, lead/demand generation and all the other top-of-funnel stuff that keeps your pipeline filled?
If all your effort is aimed at accounts (and their individuals – let’s not forget once again) who are already near the bottom of your sales pipe or existing customers what happens if things were to go south, they don’t convert or you part ways?
You and your brand could be left in a very sticky situation.
In closing I just want to reiterate that I’m a big fan of ABM. Done well it’s a very powerful thing and can generate significant ROI for a business. I’ve seen it used to great effect by a variety of organisations to drive much deeper engagement and put more revenue on the bottom line.
Just don’t take what you read about ABM at face value and think you need to implement it “by the book”.
Challenge what’s being said, think about how/if it supports the wider ambitions of your business, focus on people (not just at an account level) and ensure that if you do go down the ABM route make sure you do so because it makes sense for you and your brand, not just because you think you have to.