Feb 18, 2022

Account-Based Marketing Is B2B Marketing

By: Polly Yakovich

Innovation Strategy Market Strategy

The traditional marketing funnel has a lot of problems. Over the past few years, other models have emerged to replace it—from the Flywheel to Account-Based Marketing (ABM). If you’re still using funnel marketing for your B2B efforts, it might be time to upgrade into a more efficient and effective approach

In fact, a Forrester data point from a few years back says that fewer than one percent of all leads turn into customers. I mean, if that's not depressing I don't know what is. That means 99% of what we do in traditional marketing doesn't work for B2B.

ABM has been the darling of the B2B marketing world for the past few years. But where some see only promise, others see risk. Perhaps the biggest question on the minds of those who haven't yet adopted a full-on ABM strategy is simply: Is ABM really the future of B2B marketing?

Loosely, ABM is a philosophy of focusing on the most promising accounts, rather than spreading your efforts across a wide background of potential leads. And ABM is the future of B2B marketing, because this pivot efficiently produces the best results.

In their book, ABM Is B2B.: Why B2B Marketing and Sales Is Broken and How to Fix It, the authors argue that “ABM is transformative—the kind of change we haven’t experienced in more than a decade—because it’s about much more than the strategies and tactics within it. ABM is B2B. There’s no separating the two.”

An account-based approach can’t be fully adopted overnight, but if you’re behind the curve, you’ll want to think about how you can start moving that way as soon as you can. Think of it this way:

  • What if you closed 10% of leads, rather than 1%?
  • What if you upgraded your existing clients into an additional 2-3 products or services? Each?
  • What if you improved your client retention rate by 20-30%?

You can easily see how an account-centric mentality and approach could transform your entire business.


Marketing vs Sales

One unfortunate truth is that the value of marketing is really defined by sales. 

I know, it sucks.

But if it’s marketing’s job to acquire and warm up leads, sales has to close them. And if no leads can be closed, they aren’t worth anything. 

In order to pivot to an ABM model, or even to run a good pilot, marketing and sales have to be aligned. Integrated even. If there are any barriers between the two, it won’t work.

For decades, sales and marketing have operated in silos. Marketing focused on generating awareness and brand recognition, while sales focused on closing deals and making sure potential customers were aware of the product. But today, by working closely together and using the same playbook, sales and marketing are able to generate better results than they ever could apart.

Marketing has to be more account-centric. Sales has to be more collaborative and work together with marketing, rather than just taking a handoff and doing the rest themselves.

This is why you're probably going to want to start slow, prove a pilot project, land and expand. Because a true ABM effort means everything changes. Metrics, KPIs, measurement of success, how we work together.


What About Our Content Program?

Keep it! Kind of.

Website traffic and leads are going to be less important in an ABM, or ABM-first model. In fact, when you pivot into an ABM-first strategy, you could see the number of inbound leads drop. That's ok, that's intentional. When you're winning big clients you don't need the volume that they do on the B2C or D2C side. You're still going to be producing content but it's going to be individual and personalized first, and then you can make it more broad and post it on your blog for SEO and ranking, etc.

You also might ungate everything on your site. Because you're not trying to amass a huge email file, you're trying to reach key folks. You can already see what those key people are doing on your site because you're reaching out and watching their behavior 1:1. You want to be ridiculously helpful to them and build trust by giving them great information easily and quickly. When they're convinced you're the one, they're going to have a conversation, so you're not worried about each individual action.

The pandemic did a lot of things, including making digital places even more cluttered with content and voices. An ABM approach is actually a great opportunity to stand apart from other B2Bs in all this clutter with a highly targeted, human, personal, and helpful approach. 

Since ABM focuses on fewer accounts, and much more deeply, you can embody the essence of what we think is still true about content and inbound marketing. You can be ridiculously helpful to each person in a customized way, you can communicate authentically, your conversations will be more realistic, and you really can become that trusted advisor.

And I'm not talking about cheap ABM like an automated LinkedIn message that's written to look personal but you know is cut and paste. I'm not talking about mass outbound marketing dressed up and slightly personalized to look like ABM. I'm talking about real, targeted, one to one, focused ABM.  It's challenging, it's complicated. It requires a massive paradigm shift for the whole organization.



The authors of ABM Is B2B suggest using an acronym that they call TEAM and even assessing where you are on the B2B maturity curve by defining where you are on the following:

  • Targeting—are you disconnected or dynamic?
  • Engagement—are you looking at quantity or experiences?
  • Activation—are you reactive or prioritized?
  • Measurement—are you using the funnel or once scorecard?

Depending on where you are on the curve, you want to be working toward a system where “accounts are constantly moving up and down in priority based on real-time engagement insights provided by marketing. This allows you to develop more creative solutions and provide one-to-one experiences (not just communication) that resonate with customers and turn them into advocates.” (ABM Is B2B)


Change Is Hard

Your CEO or CMO is probably going to continue to ask where the leads are. And you’re going to have to be diligent to prove to them that they’re asking the wrong questions. All while earning their trust, because a shift to ABM is going to require a lot of leadership support.

Depending on your role, think about the best way to move your organization deeper into an ABM first, modern marketing approach this next year. Companies that continue to rely on the funnel will continue to fall behind.


So Now What?

I really encourage you to read ABM Is B2B. It provides a helpful roadmap and examples from other organizations that will help you find the best way for you to start.

Lots of software platforms offer ABM tools—this article from G2 provides an overview of some favorites. With such an organizational shift, starting small and proving yourself with existing tools is the best approach. If you are a client of any of these products already, you can check out their ABM toolkits:

Don’t forget to start small and with what you can control. Depending on your role, you might not have the authority to bring sales and marketing together, if they’re siloed, or to implement a new dashboard and KPIs. But you can still prove things with a small pilot. Use the land and expand strategy and grow as you go.

And your organization will thank you. 


If you want to learn more about how to win the right customers for your business, check out this free guide here (you don't even have to fill out a form to download it!).

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