Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Operational Challenges That Come With ABM

The interest in account-based marketing has been growing dramatically for the past few years, largely because many B2B marketers believe that ABM will outperform other approaches to marketing. Not surprisingly, there is also  a great deal of hype surrounding account-based marketing, and this hype tends to minimize some of the challenges associated with building a successful ABM program.

The reality is, moving from traditional demand generation marketing to ABM can require companies to make some significant changes in how the marketing department operates, and these changes can be challenging for many companies.

Many B2B companies - particularly larger companies - structure their marketing operations by function (e.g. demand generation, product marketing, public relations, etc.) and/or by marketing channel (e.g. email, social media, etc.). As the name implies, account-based marketing requires marketing activities to be designed for identified target accounts, which can require staff marketers to take on new or different responsibilities.

How much change is needed depends largely on the overall size of the ABM program and on what specific type or types of ABM a company is implementing. Most ABM thought leaders and practitioners now recognize three "varieties" of ABM:

  • Strategic ABM involves a very small number of target accounts and is extremely resource intensive. It typically involves the use of marketing content and marketing programs that are customized for each target account.
  • ABM Lite focuses on groups of identified accounts that share similar business attributes and needs. It involves a larger number of accounts, but is less resource intensive than Strategic ABM. For example, marketing content and marketing programs may be customized for segments of target accounts, but not for individual accounts.
  • Programmatic ABM emphasizes the use of new technologies to apply ABM-inspired techniques to a large number of accounts. It is the least resource-intensive variety of ABM, at least in terms of human resources.
There's not a great deal of published research about how companies are implementing ABM at the operational level. However, last spring ITSMA published the results of a survey that addressed some of the operational challenges that come with ABM.

In the ITSMA survey:
  • The median number of accounts included in Strategic ABM programs was 10, while the median number of accounts in ABM Lite programs was 30.
  • In Strategic ABM programs, the median number of accounts per dedicated marketer was 4, and the median number of accounts per part-time marketer was 3.
  • In ABM Lite programs, the median number of accounts per dedicated marketer was 9, and the median number of accounts per part-time marketer was 10.
This one survey doesn't constitute the final word on the subject, but it does provide an indication of what human resources are required to run a successful ABM program. Suppose, for example that your company is planning to launch an ABM program that will have 10 Strategic ABM accounts and 30 ABM Lite accounts. Based on the ITSMA data, you will probably need to assign 2-3 full-time marketers to your Strategic ABM program and about 3 full-time marketers to your ABM Lite program.

Whether or not these numbers are exactly right, the important point here is that successful ABM requires a significant commitment of human resources. Much of the hype surrounding ABM has focused on how technology can enable companies to scale ABM efforts. While the right technology tools can automate certain aspects of ABM, it's critical to remember that effective ABM still needs a substantial amount of human time and skill. Therefore, marketing leaders need to think through what human capabilities will be required for their ABM program and then create a plan for supplying those capabilities.

Illustration courtesy of Till Westermayer via Flickr CC.

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