This article was first published in The Drum.
Joining the conversation around ABM is a little like opening the door to a loud and crowded room.
From one corner, you can hear some impressive statistics – “Companies with ABM in place generate 208% more revenue for their marketing efforts” – while across the way you hear a martech vendor loudly promise that their tool will “Unlock the power of ABM for you!”
Nearby someone claims ABM can be broken into three simple steps, but someone else says it’s five… You hear mutterings about “Ten Things You NEED to Know Before You Start!,” and “Seven Deadly Pitfalls You MUST Avoid!”
And, strangely, you’re pretty sure you just overheard someone compare ABM to dating… and fishing?
Let’s close the door and shut out the noise for a minute.
Building the relationships
Success with ABM isn’t about following the latest trend or investing in the latest tech. ABM is about people. You and your team. Your organizational goals and your communication and your internal relationships. If ABM can be compared to dating in any way, it’s like this: before you put yourself out there, the first person you have to work on is yourself.
Why is this so important? Too often ABM programs neglect the needs and wants of key internal partners like sales and miss out on the chance to establish true strategic alliances. But if you take the time to understand everyone’s objectives and priorities and define what everyone wants from ABM, no-one will feel like your ABM program is being pushed on them. Instead, you’ll build a joint set of goals that everyone -especially marketing and sales – is accountable to.
Good ABM programs achieve this through clear contracting – honest and open conversations that aim to understand the goals of each department in your organization and align your marketing goals accordingly. Clear contracting means constant communication – even over-communication – throughout the process to keep up momentum. It means making sure everyone in your organization knows what an ABM approach will mean and how things will change.
Why do all this work? Somewhere along the way, something will go wrong, and when it does your strong internal relationships, clear communication, and mutual accountability will mean that everyone shares responsibility for getting things back on track and is enthusiastic about doing so. If you’ve done the prework, ABM won’t just be the latest gimmick that flamed out. It will become a lasting part of your culture.
Testing the approach
When your internal work is done and you’re ready to get started it can be tempting to shoot for the stars. After all, there are some out-of-this-world statistics about ABM’s potential to generate returns.
We say, slow down. Start small. This is your pilot.
Your pilot is a time to carefully define your ways of working, both within and outside your marketing department, to build your core ABM team and find the right partners, to be smart, methodical, and thoughtful. It’s time to experiment, get results, tweak your approach, and try again.
You can’t think about this process too much and you can’t learn too much along the way. You need to watch every moving part, evaluate every piece of data. And not just the data you’re getting from customers. You need to keep a close eye on your team and on yourself. Checking back on your goals and relationships and adjusting as you go is critical to success and it can’t be replaced by technology.
The right tools for the jobs
Notice how we haven’t talked about martech until now?
There are thousands of tools, and each one pitches itself as the key to your success. But you can’t choose your tools until you’ve first focused on your people. Technology can support your initiatives but it can’t drive them.
When you have your internals right, the tools you choose will fit you and your project instead of you trying to fit yourself – and your campaign – to a tool. Your martech suite will do what you want, track what counts, and report what matters. Your tools will work with your strategy.
Tools cannot and never will be your strategy.
Taking it past the pilot
At this point, we’d love to tell you that success is just around the corner. Chances are it is, but we can’t promise that – no-one can. What we can promise is that when you do ABM right you’ll be as ready for the quick wins and huge opportunities as you are for the inevitable setbacks and temporary stumbles.
As your program grows and evolves you’ll be ready to scale your efforts and capitalize on your successes with new pilots. You’ll be prepared for 1:1,1:Few, 1:Many, or whatever else you can dream up because your team is steely-eyed, your system is oiled and running smoothly, and your tools are honed and ready to test your thinking and validate your approach.
ABM is complex. Anyone who says different is selling you something. Complex can be complicated if you aren’t sure if ABM right for you, how to do it well, or you’ve been burned in the past. But if you know what you’re doing the complications can be overcome and the complex can become intuitive.
And now we get to the part where ABM is (maybe) a little like fishing after all. The hard work is done before you ever drop a line in the water.