We are marketers, so we’re used to ever-changing marketing “buzzwords.” However, one buzzword popped up in 2016—Account-based marketing (ABM)—and I believe, it’s here to stay.
The Age of Inbound
Three years ago, when I joined Kapost we were out educating the marketplace on inbound marketing. Marketing automation platforms such as Marketo, Eloqua, and Hubspot had burst onto the scene. These tools enabled marketers to share interesting content and collect customer information regarding their interests and interactions—all at a scale that was never before possible. Lead scoring helped to prioritize and elevate active leads with firmographic fit to the sales team, which would go on to turn prospects into closed revenue.
Rightfully so, marketing started demanding real recognition for driving both sales opportunities and revenue with data to back up how their work had influenced the buying process.
Inbound is incredibly powerful, and it has produced extraordinary returns for pretty much every organization who has invested the time, energy, and dollars into getting it right. So what have the companies who have mastered inbound really figured out? An understanding of the types of people/organizations who purchase from them and what their interests are in their roles and industries. From there, marketing teams created a streamlined and integrated process in order to consistently produce, manage, and deliver the content that these prospects find interesting and informational in order self-educate the purchase.
Process and consistency are the tricks, and Kapost has helped hundreds of B2B marketing organizations get this process right. Being able to identify holes in content strategy across personas, buying stages, product lines, and geographies are key. Having one central hub for the creation, analysis, and distribution of all marketing content has become an essential tool for our enterprise and mid-market B2B customers alike to get the right content in front of the right people at the right time through the right channel.
But as much as we want to believe in inbound alone (who wouldn’t want all of our leads to come in fully self-educated and looking to buy!), the market has realized that it is not enough to fill our sales pipelines. Inbound is subject to the right people reading your content, the right seniority level, and of course the uncontrollable element of how much time it takes for a prospect to engage enough to flip over to sales. This is all in the context of a world where we are reaching content saturation in the market and getting your content noticed is harder and harder.
How ABM Operates with Inbound Strategy—and Runs on Content
Account-based sales (ABS) has always existed. ABS tactics are basically traditional outbound, and sale teams have always had accounts that they know are great fits for the product they sell and would ultimately become great customers. These are also the prospects that are most likely to take advantage of your full offering and to be most successful as a partner. Salespeople aren’t waiting around for one contact from that company to engage with your content organically to spark a conversation. They are reaching out with every tactic they can to earn a call and to establish the average seven relationships within an account that it takes to close a b2b deal.
As a former salesperson, I can tell you this process is extremely challenging… unless you have a strategy supported by your marketing team to reach out with the right message and content.
ABS + Marketing Content = ABM
This new, more targeted world (fishing with a spear instead of a net) requires content just as much as inbound. As Jon Miller, CEO of Engagio and former CMO of Marketo said at this past Marketo Summit, “In inbound, you don’t care which specific fish you catch, you just care ‘Did I catch enough fish?’… when you are going account-based, you are fishing with a spear. You have specific accounts you are trying to go after. You aren’t waiting around for them to swim into your net, you have to reach out to them with targeted tactics.”
So what does “targeted” mean? And how do marketers enable sales to be successful in this outreach?
Mature marketers are looking to equip their sales teams with the right content to spark interest within target accounts (industry and even prospect-specific content), as well as to enable movement throughout the entire sales cycle to improve conversion rates stage-to-stage (case-studies, proof points, etc). Unlike with inbound where you have to hope for organic engagement, providing specific content and a plan to reach out can provide immediate results. Your sales team will be ready to go to market, reaching out to the right folks with the right messaging at the right time.
As you can also imagine, the process of doing this is equally complicated to get right as inbound. Tailoring and repurposing content to a specific industry for outreach, or even creating content for ONE prospect takes a lot of research and organization. Keeping it process-driven and visible is the key.
The truth is you have to do both inbound—continuing to uncover real interest across a wide base—along with outbound ABM—filling your funnel with your target contacts/companies who could be crucial customers—in order to be a successful long term. Teams must find the balance between both needs according to business, market maturity, and availability of internal resources.
The key thing to realize is that the core of both of these strategies is having relevant and powerful marketing content to use as a strategic asset. Whether you are creating top-of-funnel content to attract leads with a “net” or more targeted content to help your best salesperson start a one-to-one relationship with the VP from his “white whale account,” well-researched and authoritative content continues to set your organization apart from all of your competitors.
As you figure out the balance between inbound and ABM that makes sense for your organization, keeping the process and methodology around content creation at the center will allow you to be successful at both and to blow your pipeline goals out of the water.