October 2020

The World of B2B

ABM – the heretic’s perspective

The appetite for conversations, presentations and white papers on ABM seems insatiable. But this doesn’t seem to have translated into wholesale adoption. Many are curious, but not necesarilly brave enough to jump in. Perhaps it is not that surprising. ABM is time intensive and expensive, certainly if you want the full tech stack driven vision of ABM. But there are perhaps other reasons.

For the strategy to be both valuable and successful certain conditions have to be in place.

  1. High-value opportunities exist and can be identified.
  2. Dynamics of the decision-making unit are understood
  3. Audiences can be discretely targeted
  4. Cost of differentiating marketing is relatively low
  5. 1 and 4 satisfy ROI thresholds
  6. Audience (and organisation) needs are sufficiently different to warrant differentiated messaging
  7. Organisation offers more than one or two solutions/products
  8. Sales are aligned with marketing

The premise of ABM, at its simplest, is different messages (and different resources) aligned to different high-value audiences. But this is in some ways inconsistent with our experience. Often, clients are unable to commit to the fundamental tenets of an ABM strategy. They have limited budget. They are skeptical about fragmenting their messaging. And if we can clear those hurdles, they then struggle to align personalised messages with the value proposition.

Keeping it simple

Obviously, it is not that these organisations are incapable of articulating a value proposition. It’s more a case of ABM becoming an obstacle rather than a route to success. B2B propositions are inherently complex and multi layered. Add to that multiple stakeholders, perhaps multiple products or solutions, and multiple views of what success actually looks like, and you will inevitably struggle to align yourself behind a singular, proposition, elevator pitch, brand. Let alone manage to coherently craft it into personalised messaging for each potential customer.

Because ultimately, that’s all ABM is – differentiated messaging. And now I’m going to go right ahead and slay the sacred cow. Is there really a need to differentiate the messaging in marketing, before you get to sales conversation? If not, then ABM is an unnecessary complication.

There I said it.

“Ultimately ABM isn’t a question of targeting and resource allocation, it is primarily a question of differentiated messaging.”

ABM and ROI – unhappy bedfellows?

Some reading this will be shaking their heads vigorously right about now, having executed successful ABM campaigns in the past. But think about it –  have you? Have you really?

Consider this. If you are metaphorically underlining different benefits to different stakeholders that isn’t ABM, it’s direct marketing. The same can be said of targeting different market segments with different messages. Its just direct marketing.

Perhaps you are investing more in certain prospects, inviting them to events, offering consultations. It’s debatable whether that is ABM or just a smarter allocation of marketing and sales resources. Tactical ABM, at best. Targeting via linkedin, IP and behavioural retargeting, content strategies are useful components of ABM but not ABM strategies in themselves.

We have all seen ABM maturity models and the end game sounds exciting. One integrated sales and marketing team. Integrated CRM martech stack. A clear attribution model. End-to-end customer journey. Clearly defined MQL and SQL. Exciting, but also difficult to operationalise.

We have 20 or so B2B clients. I would argue this sort of ABM vision would suit the few, not the many.

At this point I suspect disciples of the church of ABM will accuse me of naivety and ludditery, as well as making up a word. However if you are diving into ABM just ask what version of ABM does the business need and what return do you need to pay back? Building a martech from scratch can cost anything up to £2m, and that’s without ongoing costs. That’s before you work out what you want to say, and what content you want to distribute.

When you consider that most organisations struggle to justify incremental marketing spend, that’s one hell of a break-even number.

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