Sunday, February 26, 2017
Last week, Jason Stewart, the Vice President for Strategic Content at Annuitas, published a great article at LinkedIn titled "What the C-Suite Needs to Know About Account-Based Marketing."
In this article, Jason argues that ABM represents a major step in the right direction for many B2B companies, but he also contends that it falls short of being a comprehensive demand generation strategy. He writes, "ABM is an extraordinarily smart way to make the right tactical decisions when it comes to demand generation, but the elite Account-Based Marketers are still building personas, nurturing every step of the buyer's journey, and know exactly which activities and leads are driving revenue."
I would suggest that Jason's article is particularly on point when it comes to the issue of buyer personas. Most ABM experts say that account-based marketing involves a fundamental shift from "lead-centric" marketing to "account-centric" marketing. But does this mean that ABM diminishes the importance and value of buyer personas? The answer to this question is an emphatic "No," and I'll explain why momentarily. But first, a little historical perspective is in order.
Buyer personas have been a core element of B2B marketing for more than a decade. The origin of buyer personas is usually traced to the practice of creating user personas to help software engineers develop more user-friendly applications. User personas made their appearance in the late 1990's, and we started hearing about buyer personas a few years later.
In the B2B world, buyer personas are intended to help marketing and sales professionals better understand the people who influence business buying decisions, but the importance of this understanding was recognized long before anyone had ever heard of buyer personas. Consider, for example, the following quotation from Organizational Buying Behavior by Frederick E. Webster, Jr. and Yoram Wind published more than four decades ago:
"Although organizational buying is the result of organizational decision making, individual behavior defines this decision-making system. Each person involved in the buying process brings to it a set of needs, goals, habits, past experiences, information, attitudes, and so on which he applies in each specific situation. . .
An efficient and effective marketing strategy for organizational buyers must be aimed at specific individuals who have authority and responsibility for buying decisions, not at some broad conception of the 'organization,' for individuals, not organizations, make organizational buying decisions."
When you implement account-based marketing, the first two steps in the process are to select target accounts and identify the relevant contacts (i.e. buyers) in each target account. The third step in the process is to develop deep insights regarding each account. With ABM, therefore, you will identify the actual buyers, and you will develop deep account insights before you begin your marketing program. Doesn't this knowledge reduce the need for buyer personas?
In reality, buyer personas are still essential for effective ABM because every buyer at each target account will bring his or her individual perspectives to the buying process, and it's still important to have marketing messages and marketing content resources that address those individual buyer perspectives. Today, it is possible to learn more about our actual buyers than in the past, but even "big data" won't consistently reveal the goals, objectives, and motivations of individual buyers.
So, we still need buyer personas to fill those gaps in our understanding. As we interact with actual buyers, we can and should use those interactions to learn more about the specific goals, interests, and perspectives of our buyers. And we should use those insights to fine-tune our marketing messages and content. As we learn more about our actual buyers, we can rely less on buyer personas for insights about those specific buyers. But buyer personas still provide a critical starting point for effective ABM.
Illustration courtesy of Rick B via Flickr.
Sunday, February 19, 2017
Target Marketing magazine recently published the findings of its annual "Media Usage Survey," which was designed to identify marketing spending plans for 2017. The survey was conducted in December 2016 and produced 725 responses from members of the audiences of Target Marketing and subscribers to Total Retail and NonProfit Pro magazines. The researchers suppressed participation by list services firms and creative services/advertising agencies so that all responses would be from marketers.
Forty-two percent of the respondents were affiliated with B2B companies, 36% with hybrid B2B/B2C companies, and 22% with B2C companies. Most of the survey respondents worked for small and mid-size companies:
- 17% were with companies having $51 million or more in annual revenue
- 22% were with companies having annual revenue of $5 million to $50 million
- 50% were with companies having less than $5 million in annual revenue
Most of the respondents to the Target Marketing survey reported that their marketing budget for 2017 would the same or higher than in 2016. Thirty-seven percent said their 2017 budget would be higher, and 40% said their budget would stay the same compared to 2016. Only 15% of respondents said their marketing spending would be lower in 2017 than in 2016.
At larger companies, changes in marketing budgets showed greater variation. Fifty-one percent of respondents from companies with annual revenue of more than $50 million reported an increased marketing budget for 2017, while 20% of such respondents said they have a lower marketing budget this year.
Target Marketing also asked survey participants about the allocation of their marketing budget. The top four media categories identified by survey respondents were:
- Online marketing - on average, 36% of the total marketing budget
- Print (direct mail, magazines, newspapers, circulars, etc.) - 22%
- Live events - 19%
- Other - 13%
The report's authors noted that print experienced the biggest year-over-year change, falling from 29% of the total marketing budget in the 2016 edition of the survey.
The survey also asked participants how their spending on specific marketing methods would change in 2017. The following table shows the top six marketing methods slated for spending increases this year:
Survey respondents reported that email marketing produces the best ROI for both customer acquisition and customer retention purposes. They also said that "Other" marketing methods produced the second strongest ROI for both acquisition and retention, and that direct mail produced the third-best ROI for both purposes.
The survey report did not indicate what marketing methods were included in the "Other" category. Given that these marketing methods command a significant percentage of the total marketing budget and produce strong ROI, it would be nice to know what specific methods the "Other" category encompasses.
Sunday, February 12, 2017
One of the fundamental characteristics of account-based marketing is the use of marketing messages and content that are tailored for specific target accounts. When company leaders adopt an ABM strategy, they make a conscious decision to focus most of their demand generation efforts on a relatively small number of potential customers. In this situation, it's critical to make marketing communications as effective as possible, and the best way to do that is to use customized content resources that are hyper-relevant for each target account.
Many marketers believe that the need to customize marketing content for individual target accounts constitutes one of the biggest challenges associated with ABM. But it reality, the more difficult job is developing the insights about target accounts that are needed to make customized content truly effective. Deep account insights are required to customize content in ways that will resonate with the buyers in target accounts. Without such insights, any customization that's done will be superficial and largely ineffective.
So, what kinds of account insights are needed to develop effective ABM content? In The Clear & Complete Guide to Account Based Marketing, Engagio provides a "laundry list" of the things marketers need to know about:
- The target account's industry - The competitive structure, key trends, and growth dynamics of the industry in which each target account operates
- The target account - The account's stated business strategy, its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, its financial condition, its major competitors, its buying structure and process, its organizational culture and values, and the presence or absence of any recent buying triggers
- The buying group - The identity of the members of the relevant buying group, and their priorities and communication preferences
- Account connections - Any existing relationships or connections between the selling company and the target account and/or the members of the buying group
It should be clear that developing deep account insights is a significant undertaking, and it's a job that must be done primarily by people. Technology can play a role in developing deep account insights by making it easier to gather data about target accounts and perform the other research that's required for insight development. But you still need human creativity and judgment to translate the raw data and information into meaningful insights. Therefore, the ability to scale this component of ABM using technology is somewhat limited.
Many companies have addressed the "insight challenge" by adopting a tiered approach to account-based marketing. The top tier, also known as Strategic ABM, is reserved for those accounts that offer the greatest potential value. In a recent survey by ITSMA, the median number of accounts included in Strategic ABM programs was 10.
Companies focus most of their insight development work on these Strategic ABM accounts. They develop detailed account profiles, and they update those profiles frequently. This in-depth research enables companies to create and use highly customized marketing content and programs for Strategic ABM accounts.
The second tier of account-based marketing, often called ABM Lite, will include a larger number of accounts that have less potential value than Strategic ABM accounts. Therefore, companies typically perform less in-depth research and build less detailed profiles for their ABM Lite accounts.
For example, a company may have several ABM Lite accounts that operate in the same industry. In this situation, the company will probably conduct sufficient research to develop detailed insights regarding the relevant industry, but it will gather only basic information about each individual account.
Developing the appropriate level of account insights isn't easy, but it's absolutely essential for ABM success. As Engagio wrote in its ABM Guide, "The entire strategy [ABM] depends on doing your homework and learning as much as you possibly can about target accounts (and key buyers at those accounts) so you can maximize your relevance and resonance within each." (Emphasis in original)
Illustration courtesy of Nico Kaiser via Flickr CC.
Sunday, February 5, 2017
It's no secret that B2B marketers have become intensely focused on improving the quality of the experiences they provide to existing and potential customers. In the B2B Digital Trends 2016-2017 report by Econsultancy and Adobe - which was based on a survey of more than 1,000 B2B marketing, digital, and ecommerce professionals - respondents identified optimizing the customer experience as their most exciting opportunity in 2016 and for the next five years.
Over the past few years, there's been a significant amount of research regarding the benefits of improving customer experiences, but most of the research has focused on qualitative benefits, such as improved customer loyalty. Some research firms have addressed the issue of how much financial value a company can realize by improving customer experiences. For example, Forrester Research and the Temkin Group perform regular studies to quantify the economic value of improved customer experiences in several industries.
A recent study sponsored by Avanade and Sitecore provides some fairly compelling evidence that investing in better customer experiences can drive significant financial benefits. This study was based on interviews with 880 business leaders who have responsibility or influence over their company's customer experience efforts. More than 650 of the interviewees said their company "prioritizes" its customer experience strategy, and many of the study's findings are based on the responses from this group.
The most attention-grabbing finding in this study is that respondents said their company realized $3 in benefits for every $1 it spent on improving customer experiences. Four out of ten respondents reported increased revenues, 38% said they achieved better financial performance than their competitors, and 37% said they improved sales cycles. Where these benefits were seen, the improvements were substantial. Respondents reported an average improvement of between 18% and 21% in each of these dimensions.
Respondents also reported that improving customer experiences produced increased levels of customer satisfaction (58%), increased customer loyalty (45%), and increased levels of customer acquisition and retention (41%). Once again, these benefits were significant where they were seen. Respondents said they saw an average improvement of between 19% and 22% in each of these areas.
The Avanade/Sitecore research provides more evidence that improving customer experiences is a sound strategy for virtually all kinds of companies. While this study didn't focus exclusively on B2B companies, other research - such as the Econsultancy/Adobe study mentioned earlier - has demonstrated that customer experience is as important in B2B as it is in B2C.
Illustration courtesy of frontriver via Flickr CC.