When SiriusDecisions first published its annual study about account-based marketing (ABM) in 2015, it painted a rosy picture about the momentum behind the marketing world’s favorite new buzzword.
In that first report, 91% of B2B marketing leaders said ABM was very or extremely important to their strategy. And that number increased to 93% in SiriusDecisions’ third annual report, released last year.
That interest in ABM makes sense. After all, in a world where buyers want to feel that sellers are building solutions for them, ABM encourages marketers to think beyond just funnel-filling demand generation and inbound marketing by focusing on how they can move the needle with targeted messaging and campaigns to specific accounts.
Sounds like nirvana, right?
There’s just one problem: Most marketing organizations aren’t remotely prepared to embrace ABM.
Why? Because ABM isn’t a tactic or a campaign.
It’s a comprehensive strategy that requires people, strategy, technology, and data. And that last piece is a particularly big challenge in B2B marketing today.
More Data, More Problems
Here’s what we know: Gartner predicts that by 2020 fully 85% of enterprise customer relationships will be self-service—driven by AI, conversational chatbots, and other digital experiences. And as more and more of the buyer journey becomes self-service, the data exhaust that buyers release and marketers have access to will only increase.
So, if you think it’s hard to reconcile all of the data you need to drive an effective ABM strategy today, it’s only going to get more complicated. That’s a pretty big problem.
Consider some of the findings from Dun & Bradstreet’s sixth annual B2B Marketing Data Report:
- A whopping 89% of B2B professionals believe data quality drives the right B2B sales and marketing campaigns, but 49% aren’t confident in the quality of their data.
- Even worse, 39% of B2B professionals describe their level of data integration with core technology systems (e.g., CRM) as “novice” or “beginner,” and 14% say they aren’t sure how well integrated that data is at all.
Ultimately, that has a direct impact on the ability to execute.
Because quality data is so critical to generating the actionable insight ABM requires, it’s not surprising that ABM adoption is relatively low. According to Dun & Bradstreet’s study, 62% of companies say ABM is not part of their go-to-market strategy, and 41% say they have no plans to change that in the next year.
Connecting Data to Ignite ABM Efforts
We know the B2B buying journey is complex and ever-changing and that the proliferation of data (and the tools we use to generate and track it) is creating unprecedented opportunity to segment and target messaging. But we also know that most marketers struggle to align their people, technology, and data in a way that can support and accelerate a true ABM strategy.
How can you change that? Let’s start with some key basic steps:
- Get data governance right. Most marketing organizations have no shortage of data. But troves of customer data are worthless if that data is neither clean nor complete. Although cleaning data can be an arduous process, getting buy-in and support to do so should not be such a problem. Everyone understands the role data has within the organization. Now it’s time to prove it.
- Focus on first-party data while augmenting it with third-party data. First-party data—essentially, any data you’ve collected yourself on your accounts—can be a real data goldmine. It tells you the most about how your target accounts have interacted with your brand. If your systems (CRM, ERP, etc.) are light on first-party data, work with a trusted partner who can help you augment it, make sense of it, and provide meaning that helps you better target and grow accounts. According to a recent study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Dun & Bradstreet, 65% of B2B organizations engage third-party partners to help them extend their data and analytics capabilities faster and more effectively than they could using only their own resources.
- Go deep with your data. With ABM (and in general), not all data is created equal. To execute an effective ABM strategy, you must get granular. Gather as much information as possible about the accounts you’re targeting so you can properly map out those organizations, identify the triggers that drive action, and properly assess how, when, and by whom decisions are made.
There’s a common thread through each of the above items: connection.
Simply put, the more connected your data is at the account level (across channels, campaigns, media buying/programmatic, etc.), the simpler it will be to understand your accounts, glean insight, and prioritize activities and investments. And, again, if you lack the ability to do that in-house, you can hire a partner to help stitch all of your data together.
Ultimately, ABM will never be as simple as it sounds, but putting in the work to get it right can certainly be worthwhile.
Research has shown that for many marketers the hesitation to move forward with ABM is largely a consquence of an inability to derive the right data to execute ABM programs, as well as an inability to effectively align sales and marketing resources.
But those problems are fixable. Provided, of course, B2B leaders are willing to roll up their sleeves, fix their data foundations, and—when it makes sense—partner with the right companies to augment and make sense of the ABM insight at their fingertips.