6 common mistakes when implementing ABM

By Chuck Leddy

Account-based marketing has consistently been shown to increase marketing return-on-investment compared to traditional marketing approaches, but ABM is anything but easy to implement. ABM is not a technology but a mentality, a strategic approach that seeks to go deeper into fewer, key accounts/customers with more relevant messaging. A recent B2B Marketing webinar, led by ABM specialist Andy Bacon (ABM Lead Advisor, B2B Marketing), explored the right ways and the wrong ways for organizations to implement ABM. Rushing into an ABM program simply because it’s trendy or because your competitors are doing ABM is not the right way. As with all strategic investments, organizations should perform due diligence and planning in advance of implementing any ABM program.

ABM, defined . . .

Bacon began by defining ABM as “a strategic marketing approach jointly implemented by sales and marketing that focuses on key, targeted accounts.” He then described an “ABM competency model” that includes 5 steps for successful implementation: (1) aligning marketing and sales; (2) defining and selecting the key accounts; (3) accessing and leveraging data to drive account-related insights; (4) selecting and deploying the right technology stack for your ABM needs; and (5) executing campaigns and content. 

There are multiple types of ABM program. Bacon categorized them as either “strategic” or “programmatic,” depending on the number of accounts selected for the ABM program. For example, if an organization has one customer who buys 55% of its volume (a massively strategic customer indeed) or 3 customers who buy 65% of its volume, then using ABM in either scenario would be strategic (1:1 or 1:3). Marketing and sales would need to be aligned around the key purchasers or influencers within that single account or 2-3 accounts, targeting messages to influence their buying decisions via the ABM program. 

In “programmatic” ABM, marketing and sales might focus on all customers within a specific vertical or market segment. So maybe a software company sells to mid-sized manufacturers, who represent 20% of its overall revenue, all of whom have similar needs and pain points. In that case, the software company’s ABM program might develop and use “buyer personas” to target messaging to those manufacturing companies (say, 1:15) and customize content for that vertical’s needs and pain points. 

6 common mistakes in ABM programs

Bacon sees a lot of mistakes when organizations “do” ABM, and he shared some of the most common:

1. Beginning without a clearly-defined strategy. Most important journeys require a clear roadmap, and ABM is no exception. That roadmap needs to include a plan for how marketing and sales will coordinate and align, how the targeted accounts will be selected, how technology will be deployed to support ABM, how campaigns will get executed, and much more. Ad hoc, let’s-see-what-happens ABM is worse than no ABM, because it destroys trust in an approach that has been consistently proven to work when it’s done right, with a solid strategy.

2. Not defining the aligned team. Marketing cannot “do” ABM by itself, but must closely align with sales to define the key accounts, implement strategy and tactics, measure progress, and more. Alignment won’t happen by accident, so the leadership and members of both departments must closely collaborate to plan and structure shared communication and coordination. Alignment never happens by happenstance, but must become a strategic and structured priority.

3. Poor account selection. If marketing goes to sales and asks them to select targeted accounts for a new ABM program, both departments must define a selection criteria in advance. Without a clear selection criteria, sales might simply put “underperforming accounts” into an ABM program, which is a certain recipe for failure. The goal of ABM is to focus, coordinate, and customize resources on fewer accounts or on accounts with similar profiles and pain points. Tossing a hodgepodge of underperforming, unrelated accounts into an ABM program is not ABM. It’s just a waste of resources.

4. Too many accounts in an ABM pilot program. Bacon recommends that organizations start small with ABM, so they can learn how to do ABM programs well before scaling them up across the organization. Thus, he suggests putting one or a few key accounts into a pilot ABM program, rather than 25 accounts. It will be easier to measure success and learn lessons at smaller scale than at larger scale. For ABM pilots, building capability is the prime goal while results are secondary (those will come later).

5. A lack of deep insight into accounts. ABM success, especially when a program focuses on 1-3 key accounts (i.e., is strategic), requires deep, almost personal insights into the account’s purchasing and decision-making. It’s not enough to map out the purchasing process on a flow chart, but you’ll also need to engage the key decision-makers and influencers on a personal level. What motivates these people psychologically, what do they want in the future? How do they feel about your organization and offerings? ABM programs thrive on pooling and leveraging deep, personal insights. Doing so takes both the right technology and an ability to develop long-term human relationships.

6. A lack of bespoke offerings, propositions, and content. As the previous pitfall makes clear, your ABM program needs to “get personal” with key account decision-makers. Once you have personal insights, you’ll be leveraging them to inform the development of bespoke, personalized offerings, proposals, and content that connects directly with the decision-makers and pain points within the key account(s). ABM should never be generic or “off-the-shelf” with its messaging, although existing messaging can be tweaked and “creatively re-purposed” for your ABM accounts.

As these 6 mistakes described above make clear, getting ABM right is harder than it looks. If you want to learn more about planning and executing a successful ABM program, and avoid the common mistakes described above, feel free to reach out to us today. 

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