The brave new world of account-based marketing

Gyro x The Drum roundtable dinner at gyro's office in NYC

Account-based marketing (ABM) has blown up in the last two years, promising to recalibrate business communications to be more personable and contextually relevant, leading to better ROIs. But as with any shiny new toy, defining exactly what ABM is can be fraught with problems.

The Drum, in association with Gyro, on July 19th hosted a panel of experts to take a deep dive into the brave new world of ABM: what is it, what does it promise, what are its limitations?

For Adryanna Sutherland, Gyro U.S. chief operating officer, ABM is about providing helpful information to buyers and influencers to help them make informed purchase decisions, and therefore, mitigate risk.

“But most buyers and influencers have different needs and motivations, so the best ABM programs begin with rich audience insights, which inform highly-customized experiences, and then use data from in-market behavior to nurture audiences throughout the journey. Our job is to help, not sell. But we can’t help unless we know what would be helpful to our audiences, which is what humanizes the experience,” she went on to add.

ABM as a spectrum

“ABM is the goal and we need to think about the topic as something that is on a spectrum,” said Adam Cohen-Aslatei, VP marketing at Jun Group. “It’s always a positive when we can individualize marketing outreach to clients. We see the popularity and performance of people-based marketing on the consumer side, but the B2B segment can also realize huge ROI.”

ABM works best for those seeking to acquire specific high-value customers. Having been through a couple of years of A/B testing, many marketers are starting to find that they are better served with an ABM strategy rather than taking a broad-reaching approach. But that brings us no closer to an actual definition, which is why the panel agreed that ABM is a spectrum.

Chris Duffey, strategic development manager at Adobe, defines ABM as “somewhat elusive” but “the essence of ABM is treating individual accounts as markets in and of itself.”

A trusting relationship

But it’s not as simple as taking lessons of contextual, personalized marketing from the consumer world. It requires a cultural shift. “Companies need to break-down departmental silos, marketing and sales must be closely aligned,” added Aslatei. “It is through building these trusting relationships that ABM will realize its full potential and generate the greatest LTVs.”

“Account Based Marketing is better termed ‘Alignment Based Marketing’,” according to Paul Max Le Pera, president of the Global Surfacing Alliance. “The key driver to this marketing strategy resides in the alignment and synergy between Sales and Marketing,” said.

Again referring to ABM as a “spectrum”, Le Pera posited that it is “a multidimensional framework that co-exists on a broad marketing strategy spectrum with traditional B2B marketing. Therefore, ABM is merely a “local reality” on this spectrum whose “core values” of empathy, value, personalization, alignment and focus predominate its deliverance.”

The consolidation—or alignment—of sales and marketing can be “a heavy lift on resources if you have a small marketing team,” said Jennifer Gomez, director of product marketing, advanced media and advertising, at TiVo. “Organizing your profiles and ensuring you create separate marketing activities [events, messaging, social, email, etc.] for each one is essentially like building a little marketing team for each segment. It can stretch human resources thin.”

Humanizing ABM

Cohen-Aslatei agreed, but added that reconfiguring your marketing operation is only a start. ABM requires a total cultural and mental shift. “The question becomes,” he said, “how do you scale this approach, and how do organizations structure themselves to service clients in this fashion? The answer starts with a mental shift, from thinking about clients as dollar signs, to building meaningful and trusting partnerships.”

People, not data nor dollar signs, are at the core of successful ABM, the whole panel concurred. The cultural shift is not only essential, but overdue. Gomez added: “I see better results when I use ABM-based methodologies. It also forces you to think about your marketing in a much more people-based way – which frankly, good marketing always should. You can never underestimate the human connection and the emotional response.”

But, naturally, however humanistic an approach one might take, and however much the ‘core’ of ABM may be people, technology and data is the driving force behind its success. “A/B testing within marketing automation platforms and then using the success metrics to optimize is vital,” said Gomez. “Also a strong feedback loop with sales to ensure we really know our clients and prospects is also essential. The qualitative is just as important as the quantitative.”

“ABM is more of a dynamic or a malleable entity,” Le Pera insisted. “It’s a concept, a platform, a strategy, and a philosophy for whose very existence is “algebraic”.

“By having a deep comprehension of the business needs and putting those needs at the core, added Duffey for a final point, “ABM produces results that are extensive: the ability to connect sales and marketing efforts, expedite new channels for added value and innovation, scalability of personalization programs amplified via technologies, and ultimately market growth for both companies.”

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