Marketing B2B Marketing B2B

The real ROI for ABM is in account based management, not marketing

By Scott Gillum | Carbon Design

November 3, 2022 | 8 min read

Regardless of what the economists are saying, companies are acting and behaving as if the country is in a recession. Carbon Design’s Scott Gillum explains what B2B marketers need to do to prepare.


The fourth quarter looks like it’s going to be a very difficult one. As a result, organizations are taking a hard look at what they are getting for their investments.

And you know what’s not producing? Account based marketing. Traditional ABM is not providing the real ROI the vendors promised, here’s why.

Right now, most of the value of ABM tools is their ability to track engagement and add new contacts to an account. This assumes that both of those activities contribute to either increasing awareness within the account and/or interest in an offer or solution.

But is that really true? The best way to determine that is to ask sales. And if you do this, you might find similar result to what we discovered. After recently accessing over two dozen close opportunities across three industries, we found only four deals that we could match key contacts involved in the sales process that also engaged in some type of marketing outreach, and two had already started the buying with sales.

Even more interesting, we found on average, six or less contacts actively involved in moving the buying process to close. Gartner’s research says that on average 17 contacts are involved in the buying journey. And while that may be true in some respects (contacts may be advisors or consulted, they may help push through the purchase order, etc), we have found a core group of contacts (often only three to four that push the deal through to close).

Let’s now take that information and look at growing the number of contacts within that account. Although increasing awareness in the account is generally thought of as a good thing, it’s only true if you increased awareness with the right people.

What is Account Based Management and how does it improve results?

Traditional ABM increases contact and tracks engagement, Account Based Management filters those contacts into categories of behaviors and identifies the movers of the buying process. Additionally, it can help reps understand how to use the group to advance opportunities.

The first, and one of the most important, things it can do is improve your return on effort. This is accomplished by identifying key contacts that are not important to you. Using AI personality profiling tools allows us to eliminate those personalities that are not likely to either start or drive the buying process. It can get you very quickly to the core group of individuals mentioned above that drive the business.

We have found that there are four areas represented by the core group that drives the buying process inside the organization:

  1. The business requirements driver: this is typically a functional area head

  2. The knowledgeable user: typically, this person sits in the functional area and may either start or advance the research on the issues, solutions, and vendors. They are also often the project owner.

  3. The implementor: whoever needs to be involved from an implementation or integration standpoint. It’s often IT, but it could also be HR, ops, etc.

  4. The closer: this is not the ’closer’ of the sales kind, it’s the closer of the buy, often procurement, the person that runs with it after approval. It could be the user or the implementor.

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These players come in and out of the process as it progresses. The key to success based on what we found is that you need one or two of them to stay with the process. This is why you don’t need to hit all the account contacts with your ABM program, only the handful that move the process.

Now for the second drawback of traditional ABM. Although they are very good at distributing, for the most part, relevant content, to contacts within the account, content alone is not enough to move the buying group.

It is not sufficient for motivating someone to take action on their own, yet we rely on it almost exclusively. Moving the group forward requires understanding the individuals involved in the buying process and their motivations. It also requires knowing how to use the individuals in the group to move other members of the group.

If you understand buyers at a personal level, you’ll know that some people like to share information and sell others on new ideas. Some buyers like to champion new ideas because they see an opportunity in it to advance their careers, while others just like just being a part of a team. All of this critical to moving groups forward and all of it can be known through the understanding of personality types.

You don’t need everyone in the account and can’t rely solely on content to successfully sell. What you do need is insight into the core buying group and an understanding of their motivation, that is called Account Based Management.

And in a recession, the best place to get a return on investment is with your existing customers, and the best place to invest is in your biggest and best customers. Welcome to the real ABM.

Scott Gillum is the founder and chief executive officer of personality-based marketing agency Carbon Design.

For more, register for free for B2B World Fest Nov. 9-10.

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