Some say that ABM, or Account-Based Marketing, originated as far back as 1993. Others suggest that it was first used in anger in the early 2000s. Either way, it is now far from a new marketing programme. Chances are that if you are reading this, you either use it, tried it or are thinking of trying it. Ask any B2B marketer what the big focus is on for 2024 and they will likely say ABM or customer experience (CX). For prospects and customers alike, they are mostly aware by now of the game. More than 80% of tactics include email marketing with events and advertising following behind. Some statistics suggest a click-through rate (CTR) of just under 3%. Since 77% of marketers appear to plan to invest more in email marketing, we ask: Are B2B customers getting tired of Account-Based Marketing?
To the uninitiated, B2B customers might seem like any other. Send them an email, push them an advert or post content where they read and they may click and buy. Similarly, the kind of B2B customer that might follow such a ‘happy path’ are looking for simple solutions. For example, a B2B customer looking at a new platform to send electronic invoices might by chance receive an email from you. Your company sells an e-invoicing solution and you built a mailing list from various opt-ins from your own or partner websites. Since your solution is in the cloud and requires only a small monthly fee payable by credit card, a small business could sign up right now. There, job done.
However, the B2B customers that we are talking about are corporates and blue chips. Some may be large enough to have presence in multiple jurisdictions. Most will have robust approval chains for investment and creation of purchase orders. Worse still, most don’t operate to a short-term time horizon, taking many months to assess needs and scour the market for solutions. Once you find potentially willing customers, you may find that a whole gaggle of executives take part in your meetings. After a lengthy pre-sales effort, multiple stakeholder engagement, involvement and approval, you are ready to deliver and reap the reward. Will your Account-Based Marketing strategy work? (FYI, I received 5 spam emails in the time it has taken to write up to here).
B2B Account-Based Marketing
So, most people involved in B2B sales and/or marketing know what ABM is, or at least, they think they do. In the good old days, ABM involved taking a small selection of high-value target accounts and trying to ‘nurture’ them down the sales and marketing funnel. This involved a lot of research, good relations between sales and marketing, plus a highly-personalised and relevant content plan. In layman’s terms, this was called one-to-one marketing, such was the tailoring of messaging and content to buyer personas. Then, enlightened souls figured out that you can also apply similar techniques to key existing customers. Hoorah! Not only do we increase our conversion rate and average deal size but we can increase the wallet share of existing accounts. Trebles all round!
Over the last few years, ABM appears to have veered more towards a one-to-many model. This means that there is less personalisation in the content and less need for research. Leveraging the many automation tools available, it became possible to personalise an email without the need to labour away on research and bespoke, relevant content. This approach suits many organisations that want instant results. The lead time of a B2B customer who does convert is shorter without the research, planning and tailored content approach of the past. Some businesses flew straight by one-to-few ABM, preferring to scale a more programmatic approach to many. Others have simplified solutions that suit a one-to-many client base. It really depends on the size and scale of your target accounts versus the complexity and disruption of your solution.
Tired of account-based marketing?
As with anything, people get tired of too much of the same thing. Many people know that the best time to email a B2B prospect is from 9am to 12pm, which is when they receive the bulk of their spam. Similarly, most organisations have pretty good spam filtering nowadays, so it may be a challenge to even get through if you are in the awareness phase. Some statistics suggest that 84-85% of all emails sent globally are spam. Yes, that’s the majority of all emails sent by everyone. It makes sense that the importance of events and advertising have increased over the years. After all, if people have seen your brand or attended your event, they are more likely to open your email marketing. Similarly, the telesales component of the mix has increased in importance, similarly priming prospects ready for your email.
Now, let’s quickly reflect. The proliferation of ABM and the year-on-year growth in email marketing has increased the competition for quality reach. There is mostly a need for technology in one-to-many and scalable programmatic campaigns. Additionally, there are events to book, organise, prepare for and deliver, often including hospitality. The advertising, mostly paid posts, pay-per-click and display advertising costs continue to rise. Finally, telesales isn’t getting any cheaper with salaries (and rents if applicable) increasing along with costs per call.
So, we have progressed from one-to-one ABM with research, planning, sales and marketing alignment, personalised messaging and bespoke relevant content to ABM at scale. That scale brings with it a cost and a more ‘blanket’ approach. You also run the risk of prospects and customers getting tired of account-based marketing. Just remember that one-to-one ABM still works for large, high-value accounts and is perhaps not as expensive as it used to be.
Don’t get tired of account-based marketing
Here at Think Beyond, we get called upon to support B2B organisations with their market research and go-to-market efforts. Sometimes, B2B marketing is a patchwork quilt of technology layered on top of technology. For others, it is a brand awareness effort and a sales team. At either end of the spectrum of ABM sophistication, there is room for improvement. Some will spend way more than they need while others fail to give ABM any oxygen at all. So, if your lead generation needs a health check, why not reach out to a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing? It turns out that you can teach an old dog new tricks and that the old dog remembers the ones that worked.
Finally, why not read about our sales and marketing lead services.