Should You Master Inbound Before Investing in ABM?
How we got here
B2B marketing has become a data driven science over the last decade. The modern marketer has to master multiple demand generation practices including branding, messaging and positioning, inbound, program marketing, lead nurturing, email, SEM, native advertising, web site conversion + usability—as well as a sophisticated data and tech stack including CRM, marketing automation, and analytics. These tactics focus on a single buyer persona that broadly fits the characteristics and motivations of your ICP (ideal customer profile) and can, when you’ve mastered a repeatable and scalable buying process, yield high conversion rates and predictable revenue.
But getting demand generation right takes many months or years because of the upfront investment in MarTech, funnel measurement and team alignment. Moreover, you've also had a chance at running a successful inbound program. You may be in the position of potentially building the more personalized campaigns and plays needed for account based marketing. But how do you know?
In our experience, because of this investment, you’ve been able to lay the foundation and framework for account based marketing and this is the best way to jump into ABM (account based marketing). You've been successful at attracting, nurturing and converting these high value customers and you have both expansion revenue at play and/or retention revenue at risk. You also have a targeted account list based on industries that you’ve penetrated using inbound.
What it is and is not
The good news is that ABM is a complementary strategy to your existing demand generation practice area—sharing people, processes and technology. Much like inbound, it takes a dedicated team to overcome the typical obstacles when it comes to getting started including lack of resources, strategy and technology.
TOPO outlines key characteristics that distinguish ABM from inbound and they include:
Directed—campaigns are structured to appeal to the ideal customer profile (ICP) of a strategic, high value list of accounts.
Personalized—campaigns are engaging individual buyers sourced from high quality data and intelligence.
Consecetive—campaigns are structured to trigger specific activities between marketing, sales development, sales and customer success with multiple stakeholders in target accounts.
Contextual—each role in the buying process has different motivations and pain points, is rewarded differently and evaluates your products or services from a different perspective which requires communications to be relevant, personalized, and valuable.
High Frequency—ABM requires continuous high touch, high frequency campaigns against the target account list requiring target account planning and tracking.
But it is fundamentally a different process.
Forrester Research reports less than 1% of leads will become customers. In a nutshell, ABM fills the gaps and overcomes the obstacles that exist with a volume and velocity, lead-centric approach including:
Eliminating the need for lead handling and qualification
Reducing the effort in connecting individual prospects to colleagues across the account
Mapping the relationship between end users, influencers, decision makers and procurement within the account
Measuring the level of engagement within an account It delivers a consistent message to the buying team which accelerates conversion rates
Here's a sample framework for a pilot ABM program that we've used to map what's required for a successful implementation. In this case, the client had the inbound, program marketing, team alignment, Martech required but needed to build and refine it's processes and plays.
Inbound Campaign Plan vs. ABM Campaign Plan
It’s clear that both inbound and ABM require significant resources, content and data analytics. But you can see that inbound casts a wider net of content beyond accounts and includes industry awareness internal comms and ABM requires more plays and coordination between marketing and sales to be effective.
The official definition—“The strategic approach marketers use to support a defined universe of accounts, including strategic accounts and named accounts.” SiriusDecisions
What you get beyond inbound
So why is ABM such a hot topic? It’s both the law of diminishing returns on and the building blocks of inbound...
Inbound is hard in complex accounts. Inbound is great at demand gen but once leads converting into opportunities, nurture campaigns are typically not targeted enough which chips away at LTV (Lifetime Value) and CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost) metrics.
Marketing + Sales Alignment is improving. Inbound and marketing automation has laid the foundation for team collaboration and pipeline management and created a transparency for both teams into the challenges they face.
The technology is available. Alongside CRM, marketing automation, and the improved analytics that inbound has created, there are new tools that make it possible to access account level insight including technographics, intent data and engagement analytics.
It’s outbound all grown up. An account-centric sales model has always been in place but technology has made it possible for marketing to leverage its messaging and content to help sales land and expand faster and better.
The risk of avoidance
There are powerful business dynamics driving the rapid adoption of account based marketing at high growth companies according to TOPO. Not considering them in the long run will put your business at a competitive disadvantage. These include:
You're leaving revenue on the table – it's hard to both land and expand into large, complex accounts. Gaining full visibility into these accounts, marketing and sales can gain the visibility they need to penetrate efficiently and effectively.
Inbound lead gen has dried up – for mature marketing organizations, they've peaked out at generating the volume and velocity models have peaked and they must now pursue targeted, account-based models to drive growth.
Proven results – Early adopters are seeing impressive results. TOPO reports having seen a 150% increase in metrics such as LTV.
Where to start
Without a technology backbone that CRM and marketing automation provides as well as a strong content marketing function, it’s been our experience that the investment in ABM should be extremely limited and involve choosing an ABM tool and a couple of strategic accounts. These can be named accounts, segments you want to target, a list of existing customers or a subset of customers (for example, those up for renewal). Source some dedicated resources (internal and/or external) to fill the gaps that may exist and focus entirely on identifying buying roles, their interests motivations, and nail the brand value proposition to increase the likelihood of engagement.
Always remember that branding, messaging and positioning used in relevant content still reigns supreme and without a compelling reason to be interested, your outbound efforts will go unresponsive. It is even more labor intensive with ABM because you're not just attracting leads but motivating buying behavior and tailored to specific accounts and buyer roles. We can't emphasize enough that beyond the Martech, the most significant investment you'll make running an effective ABM program is content/program marketing.
We’re quite bullish on ABM based on what we’ve experienced across a wide range of companies, and convinced this is the future for B2B marketing. But without having mastered inbound sufficiently, investing beyond a basic pilot in ABM would be futile.