Account-Based Marketing (ABM) is one of the hottest trends in B2B marketing. However, account-based selling is not a new concept and has been around since at least 1892, when Caterpillar marketed to large farmers via print and point of sale.
But digital ABM wasn’t possible even ten years ago. In the past decade we have witnessed the rise of the internet, the change in buyer habits towards anonymous internet research and the maturing of marketers’ digital tech stack, specifically website analytics, content management systems and, of course, customer relationship management (CRM).
These things have all have played a role in changing how marketers reach target buyers. In fact, all of these digital evolutions not only make digital ABM possible but a complete necessity for enterprise B2B marketing.
The Rise of Digital ABM
As we look to the future of ABM, the biggest revolution will come from the digital tools that go beyond the analog account-based selling tactics deployed by successful B2B companies for hundreds of years.
Today, digital ABM is mostly deployed in paid, owned and earned media, and specifically in display, social and corporate websites.
But as marketing clouds start to fulfill their promise of connected technologies, ABM practices will quickly spread into every technology used by B2B marketers.
Soon we will see account views in every major piece of the tech stack and activating the action layers such as, advertising, corporate website personalization, social listening and social distribution, email nurturing, sales development, sales consultation and customer advocacy. While full funnel ABM is technically available today, in the near future the best B2B Marketers will adopt and gain major competitive advantages in simply measuring and taking action on the right accounts across multiple channels.
Tapping Offline Customer Signals
While data and technology integrations are mostly in place for the wider adoption of ABM through the full funnel, the divide between offline ABM and online ABM is creating a huge gap in understanding the true status of a named account.
There is a blind spot in tracking the offline signals from an account such as, sales rep lunches, non-corporate baseball games or small dinners, all of which are intimate 1:1 connections between a rep and the relationships they have spent years cultivating.
CRM has the tools for an enterprise rep to track these high value 1:1 connections but culturally the high-powered rep wouldn’t be caught dead using them.
But envision a future where reps carry Fitbit-like devices, checking in and adding context to their meetings. All of this is technically possible with a smart phone today; however, culturally, we are not ready for it yet.
In a similar vein, there might be five employees on one account attending an annual event, some attending multiple sessions and tracks, others attending a customer dinner or party and others visiting partner booths.
The fingerprint of activity by a named account at a large event is a very rich signal and is not fully used by the average B2B Marketer.
Additionally, call centers deployed by B2B marketers might have a tendency to be account based, but the conversations had via call centers are not well stored and made available to other channels. This creates a problem in tying these activities to the appropriate accounts.
Digital signals are relatively easy to store, but where do we centrally locate analog signals from call centers, account executives and offline events?
Programmatic TV and ABM
When we consider online channels, programmatic TV is one of the hottest topics in the last year within online advertising. Yet there are very few B2B marketers testing this futuristic channel.
Why? Because B2B marketers are correctly prioritizing display and owned channels as there is more overlap with their offline and online customer.
When overlaid with true programmatic TV inventory, B2B first party audiences have a very small target universe. However, as data management platforms are deployed by enterprise B2B marketers and digital TV inventory increases, this channel will open up for B2B Marketers.
The analog TV budgets spent by large enterprise B2B marketers are not tracked at the account level . This creates misalignment in cross channel targeting.
In fact, there is often flat out incorrect targeting in analog TV at the account level. For example, while Intel has a large brand budget to influence consumers to desire the best possible chip in their next consumer device, there is a shocking lack of account level targeting in analog TV for all enterprise software TV advertisers.
There are billions of dollars spent by B2B marketers on analog TV, urban billboards, out of home screens in airports etc. But none of this analog activity is targeted/tracked at the account level, and none of these account signals are even visible until an account enters the digital matrix. Ironically analog TV is going d digital, so we may not have to store the Analog TV signal at all.
Where ABM Is Going
While ABM is redefining and improving digital B2B marketing, the real future opportunity with ABM lies in connecting the dots between analog and digital channels, not merely account views through the digital tech stack.
This will not be a trivial task: all digital signals are easily connected but analog signals, by their very nature, are much more elusive.
While it is true B2B marketers will have much higher adoption rates connecting the account views in their digital stack, the analog bread crumbs left in the real world are richly correlated and sometimes even instigate subsequent digital signals.
We’re already starting to see the convergence of offline and online channels changing how we approach ABM.
For example, I am at the beginning stages of ABM integration with an elevator ad company and an event tracking company that no doubt will prove valuable correlations between offline and online account signals.
Ironically, offline/analog account-based selling already occurs every day and online ABM is only at the beginning of its adoption curve.
The future is where both signals and actions are joined. While offline tracking and offline digestion techniques are still in their early stages, ABM marketers should drive forward their digital ABM efforts and know attribution and reporting will only improve as the B2B marketing industry continues to evolve.