ABM or B2B Marketing?

For as long as the term “Account-Based Marketing” (ABM) has been around, there has existed a debate about its name, history, and quite frankly, its legitimacy.

People say, “sales has always been account-based, and marketing is just now catching up” or “it’s just the acronym du jour” or even “it shouldn’t be called Account-Based Marketing because it’s not just for marketers.”

It’s correct that B2B sales reps have always focused on accounts. After all, salespeople never talk about how many leads they’ve closed; they talk about how many accounts they’ve closed.

It is true that ABM is the hottest acronym in the last decade in B2B marketing. But it’s an example of what marketers do best – they package something up, give it a new, fun name, then create buzz around it (for better or for worse).

And yes, it’s also true that ABM isn’t just for marketers. Calling it Account-Based Marketing can be misleading to describe the process. What’s most effective in B2B marketing and selling is close alignment and collaboration across your entire revenue team.

To continue the debate seems pointless, and I don’t know if we’d ever come to a definitive conclusion. Call it ABM. Call it B2B marketing. Call it whatever you want. What I hope we can all agree on is that ABM is just good B2B marketing. And, it’s as much a mindset as it is a go-to-market strategy.

The market will continue to evolve. New technology will enable new tactics. More terms and acronyms will be dreamt up. But here’s what we do know. ABM isn’t a one-and-done campaign. It isn’t a tool or technology. It isn’t a tactic. It isn’t something just one person can do. So, what is it?

What smart B2B marketers do

Let’s take a look at what smart B2B marketers do.

They focus on accounts: Great B2B marketing is based on a fundamental shift from a lead-centric to an account-centric perspective. Everything that you’re doing is through the lens of the account as a whole, and what you can do to help progress that account through the buying journey.

They focus on landing and expanding: The old style of demand gen is focusing on marketing efforts on generating net-new leads and opportunities. In fact, many marketing departments don’t even get ‘credit’ for campaign responses from existing leads and customers. In ABM, marketing and sales work together not only to land the account, but also to expand it over time after they’ve become a customer. Marketing continues to work with sales after the initial deal is closed.

They focus on selling to a buying committee: There’s been a shift from a single decision-maker to a group of people within an organization who collectively make the business decision to purchase a product, service, or software. The buying unit is comprised of stakeholders, decision-makers, and influencers across the account, and many of them have their own agendas that you have to keep in mind when communicating.

I’ve just described what smart B2B marketers do, but it also sounds like the definition of ABM, right?

And that’s the point.

For this reason, the term “Account-Based Marketing” can be misleading when fully describing the process. There’s a danger that it perpetuates the same siloed marketing habits that hold B2B organizations back. Don’t get caught up in deciding if you should do ABM or not. If you are in B2B with complex deals, longer sales cycles, and multiple decision-makers, then this is for you!

The essence of both ABM and good B2B marketing is that success comes from orchestrating relevant interactions that span multiple personas (on both your team and theirs), across multiple channels to land new accounts and expand existing customers. When a business can achieve this, the results will always be greater than traditional demand gen or individual departments working in isolation.

Elements of B2B marketing

So, when we’re looking at good B2B marketing, here’s what to strive for:

  • Account-centricity: As I mentioned before, everything you do must be through the account-centric lens. In order to do that, you must have your foundation in place with things like lead-to-account-matching.
  • Actionable insights: There’s no shortage of data because platforms are overflowing with it. But what B2B teams need are insights that they can act on. They have to be able to see if the people they care about are engaging with them, then answer the question, “What should I do next?” Data is useless if it doesn’t tell you how to act.
  • Orchestrated interactions: Since B2B cycles are longer and involve multiple stakeholders, you must be able to deliver relevant interactions based on the previously mentioned insights. That could mean launching a direct mail campaign based on the account becoming marketing qualified.
  • Measurement: The cornerstone of marketing is the ability to measure and demonstrate results – and the metrics for your account-based efforts are different than traditional lead-based marketing. There’s a shift from quantity to quality.

Sound like ABM? Once again, that’s exactly my point!

It just makes sense

Part of the reason the ABM trend has gained so much traction in B2B is because operating with an account-centric lens, actionable insights, orchestrated interactions, and account-centric measurement makes so much sense. But more importantly, it yields results for sales.

This is what smart B2B marketers are doing.

I don’t care whether you call it ABM or B2B marketing (though I personally will continue to call it ABM), what I do care about is that you are applying these principles so that you are successful in your marketing endeavors.

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