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AdTech Reboot

ABM marketing – the truth behind slick sales pitches.

Judy Shapiro

Judy Shapiro

Editor-in-Chief at The Trust Web Times
Judy Shapiro

Judy Shapiro

Editor-in-Chief at The Trust Web Times

Is the ABM juice worth the squeeze? The answer is simple.

The concept of ABM (Account based marketing) is simple enough. Decide which firms you want to sell to and go after that. In the old days, this was the job of sales people who did the heavy lifting and research to identify specific people within organizations they can try and reach.

Yet in today’s hyper tech platform world, many companies have packaged up ABM as a slick tech platform that can be templatized, automated and driven by AI.

These firms jazz up their pitches with slick images of complex customer lifecycle charts, endless images of inverted sales funnel and promises of measurement heaven to help organizations manage the rather obvious sales funnel process: Identify | Target | Engage | Convert. Then, to complete the look, all this is put into a slick dashboard for extra bling.  

Sign up with ABM platform du jour and BAM – just like that an organization has activated their ABM function. Except that is not how any of this works in the real world.

Once you dig in, you realize ABM offers are a confusing hodgepodge of disparate tactics, disjointed tech and a dash of hyperbole thrown in for good measure.

The telltale signs of something being amiss starts at the very beginning and cascade from there. Critical thinking marketers start realizing how much is left unaddressed such as:

How does a machine identify the right target when titles often have no relation to actual functional responsibilities or decision-making authority?

How does one target prospects ethically and accurately?

What content is useful that can engage to drive sales?

How does one know if ABM juice is worth the squeeze versus simpler, more traditional methods?  

What does “intent audiences” actually mean – exactly?

The questions pile up and tumble over each other leaving marketers seduced by the promises but baffled at the mechanics behind the slick sales pitches. Therefore, lets dig into some of most popular concepts to take the sales spin out and put in real-world practicalities back in.

1. Personalized Content.  

What is it?

Technically it means that a site has a content recommendation engine so that new articles are recommended to users as they move through the site based on their past behaviors.

The real-world realities.

We’ve all been on websites where articles are recommended to us. Sometimes they are helpful, mostly though they are not. Tech cannot know the mindset of the site visitor so most often the article suggested is off topic or irrelevant or just silly. Don’t over estimate how well content recommendation can perform since they misfire much more often than they hit the mark.

2. Dynamic Intent Audiences

What is it?   

Every company has its own flavor of it but it is way to enrich user profiles with behaviors, ie clicks on ads or activities on a website. These activities are then transformed into “signals” that enrich data profiles. Once a profile is sufficiently enriched and demonstrates the right “intent” signals, then that profile falls into the intent bucket. These profiles are then marketing to with retargeting via a variety of channels like eMail or digital ads.

Real-world realities.  

This area is fraught with issues.

First, these solutions depend on third-party data which will be a show stopper once Google stops supporting 3rd party cookies in Chrome. Apple is joining the anti-tracking debate so the data will become less and less robust.

Second, the privacy issues are obvious despite many vendors’ assurances these are opt-in profiles. Without any verifiable supply chain for data – caveat emptor should be your default mode.

Third, practically speaking behaviors are not reliable signals for intent, especially for B2B prospects.  There are so many variables to managing a B2B sale that  I believe it is an overpromise to promise these platforms can deliver truly qualified “intent audiences” for B2B.

3. Geotargeting/ Geofencing

What is it?

Geofencing has a few applications in the ABM world. For instance, one can target a large corporate campus or an event with location-based tech to target people in very specific areas using a range of techniques such as radio frequency identification (RFID), Wi-Fi, GPS, or cellular data.

Real-world realities. 

If the idea of this makes you twitch a bit, that’s commendable and understandable. Let’s remember, the tech is pushing notifications to people once they are in range. These people did not sign up for it and it is often unwelcome. Using this tactic runs the risk of tainting your brand as untrusted. The lessons we learned in kindergarten applies here – don’t do to others what you would not others to do to you.  

4. Automated Workflows

What is it?

B2B marketing requires a sophisticated approach to manage multiple touchpoints like: subscribe to a newsletter, download PDF, attend a virtual events. These events then have to calibrated to the sales funnel tracking process that goes from an unqualified lead to marketing-qualified lead (MQL) to sales-qualified lead (SQL), and, finally, customer. This is what AMB platforms proport to do.  

Real-world realities. 

ABM marketing can automate certain interactions, like emails or newsletter signups. That’s the easy part but the complications become obvious very early on. The hard part is integrating the automated communications side with the sales funnel dimensions. How does the system know when to an MQL is really an SQL? How the system evaluate the value of different interactions correctly? What is incremental value of more expensive touchpoints (like a virtual event) from less costly tactics to move a prospect forward in the sales funnel?

All these questions and more result in a continuous friction point between marketing and sales because there are a lot of gaps in the data. Sales says the MQL are not qualified and marketing complains that sales team are dropping the ball on MQLs. The truth is that no system can detect the subtleties of managing a lead through the sales funnel process. This requires a human assessment based on real world contact with a prospect. No amount of automated scoring can replace the human ability to interpret the signals.

5. A special mention for Machine learning and/ or AI.

What is it?

This term is used in virtually every ABM platform because, well, it sounds sexy. Here is an example;

“Machine learning algorithm refreshes targeting criteria automatically (e.g., ranking by account activity or priority) that previously could only be manually updated. Our machine learning ensures marketing dollars are spent efficiently and puts the sales team’s mind at ease, knowing that their top accounts are being targeted in the right manner.”

ML and or AI is touted everywhere in ABM – creating Intent Audiences, targeting intent audiences, creating personalized experience for audiences. It is pervasive part of the sales pitch of ABM that is the bread and butter of how ABM platform differentiate themselves from each other.

The real-world realities. 

Hyperbole aside, mostly, what they mean is that tech can optimize the targeting or engagement or the management of precisely the “right person.” That said, neither AI or MP can be objectively analyzed and vetted so it is virtually impossible to compare one company’s tech to another. It is yet another area where healthy skepticism is justified.

The upshot?

Given that, it’s reasonable to ask – are ABM worthless and pointless?

The answer is that they have some value as a framework or schema for what needs to happen but that framework can be duplicated using existing enterprise tools and platforms without the burden of taking on a new type of platform. ABM vendors do provide some nifty applications, like email automation, but let’s be clear that they don’t provide “game changing practices” their slick sales pitches suggest.

Winning in B2B marketing isn’t about platforms or automation or slick sales pitches but about hard work, consistency and recognizing there are no “tech-powered” short cuts.  It’s about sticking to clear and simple programs that can be measured efficiently like content that really educates, having excellent prospect case studies, good/ ethical email practices and being “present” in multiple channels from social to the trades with empathy and sensitivity to the needs of customers.

No machine can do that. So the next time an ABM sales pitch is before you, remember ABM marketing is not mainly tech, tools and beautiful charts but about delivering results consistently with hard won incremental improvements over the long haul.