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Countering Common Misconceptions About ABM In The Channel

  • Written by Sangram Vajre, Terminus
  • Published in Demanding Views

Sangram VajreImagine a marketing approach that values quality over quantity, cares more about conversations than sales pitches and — oh yeah — is said to achieve higher ROI than other activities by 97% of marketers.

Well, there’s no need to imagine … because this approach is real. As you might’ve guessed by the title of this piece, the answer is account-based marketing (ABM). Most B2B marketers, especially those who deal solely in channel sales, understand and appreciate the basic principles of ABM.

But, despite its widespread fan base, there are still a host of misconceptions floating around that could be limiting you in your ABM exploration and adoption. Let’s tackle them, so you can get a clear, realistic picture of what ABM in the channel really looks like.

1. ABM Is Not Marketing Automation

If I had a nickel for every time someone referred to ABM as marketing automation (MA), I’d retire tomorrow. Ok, not really, but to make sense of ABM, many well-meaning people try to think of it in terms of MA. The reality is that they’re not two sides of the same coin. The goals with each are different, the execution is different and the experience each creates is different.

Most prominently, MA has taught us all to believe that more equals better. Get more leads, pack your CRM chock full, email your network en masse to save time — and so on. There are benefits to MA, to be sure, but the overall mindset behind it has led us to interactions that often feel disingenuous. It’s led to overly spammed inboxes, email fatigue and, in a lot of cases, more emotional distance between the customer and company than there had been before.

All of this directly opposes what ABM stands for. With ABM, you want folks you already know are highly interested in what you’re selling; you want conversations and one-to-one connections; you want long-term relationships and loyalty.

2. There Is One Scorecard For ABM

{loadpositiong GIAA}I’ve heard people talking about ABM as if it’s practiced by a select few within a company, and either succeeds or fails in a vacuum. This probably stems from the fact that businesses sometimes end up accidentally structured in a segmented way; this team is responsible for these metrics, this other one is responsible for these wins, and so on. But this couldn’t be further from how ABM is supposed to be implemented and operated.

ABM not only unites both the sales and marketing departments; it requires them both to thrive. And it doesn’t stop with those two teams. ABM’s success is measured by its impact on every department, partner, supplier and beyond. As a result, what is reported within the scorecard is a shared report. Anyone with skin in the game has a role in reporting on the ABM metrics such as accounts, engagement, created opportunities, closed deals, etc. It's one team, one scorecard and one goal.

3. ABM Is A Strategy, Not A Set Of Tools

Yes, you read that right — coming from a guy who co-founded an ABM platform — I’m telling you that the strategy side of ABM is the most valuable part of it. Sure, tools are important, even vital. But the heart of ABM is about engaging the customer. And in the channel, engaging the customer usually means equipping the partner seamlessly at each stage.

When you align yourself to the strategy of ABM, you’ll naturally use the tools at your disposal to document the process, optimize your efforts and track results. But the strategy must always come first and play the lead role for any of this to work.

4. Awareness Should Be Your First Goal

There can be a variety of goals pursued by companies engaging in ABM, but those in channel sales should seek awareness from the get-go, above all else. The fact that channel partners often sell an array of similar (and even competing) products means that B2B companies who can gain mindshare among them are already winning.

Think of it like this: most people don’t remember more than a handful of brands at any given time for anything (shoes, coffee, etc.), and the same is true for channel partners. So, B2B companies who sell in the channel must have awareness as their number goal for ABM. When it comes down to it, a partner thinking about them now can mean millions of dollars in deals for them in the long term.

Gain awareness, and you’ve laid the groundwork for success in the channel.

5. Engagement Is The New Measurement

For years, marketers have been told (and told again) that leads are what matter. How many MQLs do you have? SQLs? Is the top of your funnel wide enough? It’s hard to switch gears so drastically, but ABM demands that we do. With ABM, it’s about engagement, not leads.

In fact, effective ABM requires that you flip your funnel upside down, so only the most qualified, ready-to-buy channel partners are getting your attention. Instead of focusing on lead numbers, figure out what your engagement goals are. Will five phone conversations with targeted, interested folks mean you’re succeeding? To some, it absolutely will. Know your goals at every stage of the ABM process, and measure your success in terms of engagement rather than misleading metrics.

B2B companies, especially those who engage in channel sales, face unique challenges that can be incredibly hard to overcome. But when you chip away at the misconceptions and get down to the heart of ABM, you realize what a goldmine is at your fingertips.

As a colleague of mine, Jason Katz, has said that the ultimate goal of ABM is to “increase revenue, decrease churn and build lasting relationships with your clients.” I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of many things that are more powerful than that.


Sangram Vajre, Co-Founder and Chief Evangelist of Terminus, is a passionate marketing geek at heart and loves to solve problems, both analytically and creatively. In today’s marketing world, when companies need to rapidly adapt to changing buyer-centric communication, Sangram finds comfort in all things technology to keep pace with this challenge. You can follow him on Twitter at @sangramvajre.