Account-based marketing (ABM) may be the latest buzzword on every B2B marketer’s mind – but that doesn’t make it a new concept by any standard.
For years, companies have realized the importance of adopting an account-centric approach, concentrating their efforts on attracting target accounts that have particularly high strategic or financial value.
So, what’s changed? For one, the playing field is now largely digital. Long gone are the days where cold-calling and face-to-face meetings were the only option. Today, marketers have the opportunity to not only target, but also engage directly with the right people from the key accounts they’ve identified— and they are able to do this much earlier in the sales cycle.
A Quick ABM Refresher: Targeting Accounts That Matter Most
Before we dive into ABM’s digital transformation, here’s a quick refresher for anyone less familiar with the concept. Generally speaking, marketing strategies are often designed to reach and engage a relatively broad audience. Basically, marketers typically aim to attract as many leads as possible, and then move on to qualify them afterward.
ABM turns this approach on its head, and encourages marketers to map out strategic target accounts first, and then pursue those accounts using tailored content and personalized campaigns. Some liken this to fishing with net (broad-reach marketing) versus fishing with a harpoon (specific and focused).
The Evolution of ABM
Marketing and sales teams have been targeting lucrative enterprises since day one. The roots of ABM as we think of it today dates back to the 1990s, when companies started realizing the need to shift away from mass marketing and move toward customized campaigns that target individual customers.
Back then, it was nearly impossible to engage a prospect at the early stages of the buyer’s journey. For example, if a decision maker at a bank read an article in CIO magazine that referenced your company or they received a brochure from a friend recommending your software, you would never know. There was not the technology in place to capitalize on that expressed interest, or even know it was happening. There was no website for him to visit or, if there was, it likely didn’t have enough content.
At that point, companies often had to hope prospects would approach them independently. When it came to ABM in the 90s, cold calling, direct mail, industry events, or in-person meetings (which mostly revolved around sales, not marketing) were the only options. Although these activities are still very valid today, they tend to be more relevant for later stages of the sales and marketing funnel. Someone early in the awareness or interest phases likely won’t engage in these activities.
More recently, with the introduction and explosion of digital channels, a new world of account-based marketing options has emerged. Marketers now have the ability to know the company a prospect is from at the very first touch point—on their blog, website, or even ads. Now marketers can take that information and nurture this interest in real-time, using the most relevant content available.
Digital ABM: Harpoons? How About Laser Guns!
The concept of ABM, as we know it today, only began catching on in the 2000s, with the rise of demand generation and content marketing. Not surprisingly, the shift in marketing trends came hand-in-hand with another major change—the dawn of online product research.
Organizations began spending more of their time leveraging digital channels, such as websites, blogs, and videos, to educate visitors looking to learn about their products and services independently. If we fast forward to very recently, in 2014, the Acquity Group found that 94% of business buyers do some form or online research before making a purchase—with 84.3% checking business websites and 77% percent using Google search to learn more.
This surge of online research has led to the evolution of ABM and the transformation into its new digital form. This evolution has enabled marketers to implement real-time personalized account engagements as early as the awareness phases. The ability to directly engage with prospects at the earliest stages of their journey, while they’re just beginning to look into your product, is priceless. Real-Time Personalization can help identify specific individuals who belong to key accounts, and then effectively engage them by displaying the most relevant content, messages, and visuals to convert them, as well as alert relevant sales teams.
Unlike the early days of ABM, today, even if a prospect is anonymous and has never filled out a form or even visited your website, you can still know the details of their organization, based on reverse IP data, and target them with laser-sharp campaigns. Once they click through and reach your website, you can monitor which specific ads or channels they came from, and use this information to continue offering them content of interest.
The Future of ABM
The very fact that decision makers conduct research on digital channels has served as a boon for B2B marketers using ABM. It not only expands the number of options for connecting with prospects from strategic accounts, but it also enables us to engage with them from the very start of their journey.
In the past, ABM was primarily considered an outbound sales tactic; sales teams had no way to track the interest of their audience, and often relied on disruptive techniques to reach them. Digital ABM helps build a bridge between sales and marketing efforts, by letting companies pursue the “big fish” and target them with much more accurate laser guns, instead of the traditional nets, spears, or harpoons.
How have you taken your Account-Based Marketing to the next level? Share your experience in the comments section below.
Interested in learning more? Check out our webinar, Optimize Your Funnel With Account-Based Marketing.