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Is that *real* account based marketing?

Pascale Smith
by Pascale Smith - July 3, 2019

...or is it just good marketing?

To give you some perspective on why I'm tackling this as a subject, let me qualify my experience to you. We have observed, researched, actioned, piloted, rolled out account based marketing in large and small organisations; 1:1 ABM and 1:many account based approaches. And we were recently asked this question at an event and we bumbled through an answer because the question is quite large and fundamental.  You can not rely on the actual written definition of account based marketing to help answer it. "Marketing to a set of named accounts" is not a descriptive definition.
Without a descriptive definition, people judge whether it's account based marketing or not based on their own experiences and what they think account based marketing "looks" or "feels" like.

Is there a set of marketing tactics which is unique to account based marketing? 

Not really.  Personalisation and IP-based dynamic content, for example, is available at high volumes with most marketing automation platforms. Account-based LinkedIn marketing is available to all advertisers. Choosing a set of people to market to and marketing to them specifically is a well-worn path.  Direct mail - been around and has come around again.  These aren't defining features - but they can all play tactically.

Is it about the content created - that it's very relevant to the audience you are targeting?

No, that's not a defining feature either - that's just good marketing defined by budget.

Data is certainly important - choosing which accounts to target, finding out something about them (intent data, propensity modelling anyone?) is important to creating relevancy and scope of ABM.  Oh and isn't there great comfort in data? And as marketers we take too much comfort in data to drive our behaviour.  And why wouldn't we? It's the basis of how we make decisions - volume followed by the hope of ROI.

But there is a set of information - it's not quite data - but it is valuable to a business.  It is harder to quantify and it is variable from individual to individual. This is the "sales hunch". A set of mostly "felt" small, incremental, subconscious cues that an existing account could be grown - or that an initial engagement with prospect feels like it could be a good fit. A "Sales hunch" isn't a robust marketing metric - and marketers get very nervous just thinking about it.  We're just not incentivised or organised to market based on the sales teams' ways of working.

And that demonstrates the key essence of account based marketing. 

Account based marketing is not marketing working for marketing, it's marketing working for sales (there...I've said it) and sales being receptive to it.  When you read about account based marketing and people say "marketing and sales alignment is a critical factor" - it's not just a critical factor, it's sort of the defining factor. Repairing the reputation and performance damage of siloing those two internal organisations in terms of how they work, the language they use, the way they are incentivised, by bringing them much closer together. 

The definition of account based marketing is an attitudinal and organisational shift; it isn't a set of tactics, content or data, it's the drivers and motivation, it's the players and what the collaboration between marketing and sales "looks" like and "feels" like.  

That's why when you go to ABM events, like ITSMA's ABM forum - the content is much less about marketing tactics but instead it's about organisational structure, measurement and motivation - because that is what ABM is.

Making an attitudinal and organisation shift a reality starts small, it can be one person with an idea that marketing can be done better, it's a pilot with a small team.  It starts small and proves value both of what this new approach feels like and how it's shown in performance (and those two elements have totally different timelines and ways of being measured) and then takes hold.  The speed, structure, reach of account based marketing depends on the organisation and is balanced with cost and ROI (phew, look, we're back on more comfortable territory). 

(An aside; this is why we feel passionately that smaller organisations like the channel partners we work with, either work in this way anyway or have a far greater ability to embrace it.)

Is that *real* account based marketing? or is it just good marketing? 

Soon, there won't be a difference. It will just be how marketing is done. This organisational and attitudinal shift is a general direction of travel for forward-thinking companies; revenue driven marketing and sales incentivised together, breakdown of definitions of lead qualification, marketing supporting sales processes (deal based marketing), increased segmentation and personalisation, less reliance on content to qualify - it's all part of the same picture of marketing transformation - regardless of the banner under which it sits.  

So when people ask "is that real account based marketing" - don't bumble through an answer like I did. The answer is this: account based marketing is not a definitive set of tactics - tactics are important but there's something more important - it's being brave enough to step out of the siloes to transform your marketing organisation towards creating real value for sales - opportunities and not leads.

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