Have marketers “flipped” their lids over account-based marketing (ABM)? It’s a timely question.
Bringing a stronger account basis into the targeting and execution of B2B marketing is a tactical best practice of effective demand generation, no doubt. There are also immense benefits to finding tactics to better align sales and marketing resources. Yet, instead of a dialogue about how to improve demand generation by integrating some of these ABM best practices, some proponents of ABM seem to be focused on what I believe to be a rather radical proposal: positioning it as an alternative to demand generation.
Proponents of ABM argue the reason to “switch” to ABM is that the current state of demand generation is inefficient. They cite data on aggregate lead-to-revenue conversion rates that hover in the 0.3% (SiriusDecisions) to 0.75% (Forrester) range. There is no question these conversion rates are inefficient, but they represent average — not best-in-class — demand generation, and they also represent the majority of organizations that are taking a one-and-done, tactical campaign approach.
Transforming our B2B marketing and sales outcomes requires thinking in strategic terms, not the type of tactical mindset ABM embraces: How can we get to the right buyer — at the right organization — in the right place, at the right time? How can we build an optimizable lead-to-revenue process across both live and digital, marketing and sales interactions? And how can we make this a repeatable, scalable process, delivering results 24/7?
We’ve seen Annuitas clients transform their end-to-end demand process by embracing Perpetual Demand Generation with results that are five to 10 times the mean.
Perpetual Demand Generation Vs. ABM
What is Perpetual Demand Generation, and how does it compare with ABM?
Buyer-behavior foundation: We can desire to target accounts, but the truth is we still need to connect with and influence buyers. People are still buying our products and services. ABM advocates a top-down and interruptive approach to generating demand (i.e., “These are the companies we should be doing business with.”). The reality is that relationships and accounts are more successfully built bottom-up and often start with multichannel engagement focused on buyer needs and pain points — which leads to a dialogue. It is this bottom-up mindset that forms the foundation for Perpetual Demand Generation. We need to read the buyer’s body language and build a relationship — not just cold call. And we need to consider buyers who are showing the right signals, even though they aren’t on our target list. Perpetual Demand Generation is driven by the buyer.
Content-rich, multichannel and always on: Buyers consume content across many channels. We need to be in the right channel at the right phase of each stage of buyer dialogue — in a targeted, not “mass” way. That is the goal of Perpetual Demand Generation. We define ethnographic personas and conduct content consumption journey research — which leads to building a Buyer Dialogue Logic, the core of Perpetual Demand Generation. Recent ABM thought leadership ignores the fact that a majority of the buyer journey is being organically initiated — frequently through digital channels — and that our best opportunity is, in fact, to intersect and influence this process (i.e., right place, right time), versus just trying to interrupt it. ABM proponents also fail to acknowledge that you can, in fact, have targeted inbound engagement — that content and channel selection can ensure you still connect with the right buyers at the right organizations, 24/7. Perpetual Demand Generation is targeted at a buyer’s always-complex path and is “always on.”
Nonlinear lead-to-revenue process: Unfortunately, too many B2B organizations have taken the SiriusDecisions waterfall and implemented it as a linear process. We know buyer journeys are not linear, but there remains a critical need to qualify buyers based on behaviors and intent — and to do so iteratively. That’s where we need to think in terms of a nonlinear lead-to-revenue process and lead qualification that is more multifaceted. ABM focuses heavily on title and organization as a qualifier, but we should give equal weight to buyers who exhibit sustained engagement and lower-funnel or later-buying-stage intent. The truth is that failures with the current state of demand generation are frequently rooted in lead management frameworks that are sales-centric, not buyer-centric, and that fail to successfully qualify buyers based on their journey. Perpetual Demand Generation enables a nonlinear lead-to-revenue process that aligns to the buyer.
Closed loop across all elements of people, process, content, technology and data: Too often the criticism gets leveled that qualified leads coming out of demand generation are little more than people who have downloaded a single white paper, and also too often marketers qualify successful marketing in terms of the volume of interactions. That’s where embracing an outcome perspective changes everything. By closing the loop across all elements of demand generation — including down-to-the-point content or point channel engagement — we can change our perspective on successful demand generation. Perpetual Demand Generation aligns content and channel interactions to the buyer’s critical path and optimizes against successful outcomes.
The more I dig in, the more it seems like ABM really is just tactical sales enablement by another name. It’s an integral component of B2B marketing and sales programs, but that should be a component of Perpetual Demand Generation and not implemented ‘instead of’ it. That also speaks to the type of collaboration that should exist between marketing and sales — working together as peers around a common demand process, not repositioning marketing as a sales-enablement function. Perpetual Demand Generation provides a critical, strategic framework that helps rationalize marketing and sales interactions, and ensure there is balanced alignment around both buyer needs and revenue outcomes.
Adam is a passionate B2B marketing change agent — helping companies build successful, modern, buyer-centric demand generation programs and transform their lead-to-revenue demand processes to drive profitable revenue growth and build sustainable brands. At Annuitas, Adam drives the company strategy. Prior to joining Annuitas, Adam was Chief Strategy Officer for Silicon Valley-based digital demand generation agency Left Brain DGA, and prior to that he was the B2B Marketing Evangelist for Silverpop, a marketing automation technology vendor.