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TOPO declares that 86% of account-based organizations report improved close rates, and 80% say account-based strategies are driving increased customer lifetime value!

TribalVision channels the ITSMA when it reports that companies implementing account-based marketing (ABM) strategies typically see a 171% increase in annual contract value!

Really? Wow — huh, haven’t seen that way from where I’m standing.

From my (tenuous?) perch atop Forrester’s ABM research pile, it looks like FOMO* (more than anything) is driving marketers to take up the ABM banner. Our research, trends studies, and customer interactions show that ABM continues as a popular topic among B2B marketers and sellers. But many claims hit an almost hysterical note: Do this now or be left behind!

For example, we found that 61% of B2B marketers surveyed were in the planning and implementation phase at the start of 2018, compared with only 36% who said the same about a year earlier. Despite this big leap in implementations, 26% say they have yet to substantiate an ROI on their efforts, claiming it’s “too soon” to tell.

For every success heralded by industry observers, we see more folks struggling to make ABM pay off in shorter sales cycles or more engaged customer experiences. In the spirit of learning from others’ mistakes, let me share some common missteps we see ABM planners and practitioners take in their pursuit of more account-focused marketing.

Top Five ABM Mistakes To Avoid

1) Starting without a precise strategy. We’ve said it for a while now: ABM is not yet another marketing approach; it’s a strategy. And not a new one, either: My colleague Lori Wizdo argues convincingly that ABM is simply good marketing: segmenting, targeting, and positioning your solutions so that target audiences will care. ABM programs are diverse today, and taking an account-specific approach requires prioritizing along two dimensions: number of accounts and whether the focus will be on new or existing customers. If the answer is “many,” does your total available market suggest that you will have more success finding look-alikes, or do you need to move into a new/adjacent space? Regardless, the math needs to work to ensure that you can reach your business goals and revenue targets — so dig into your data to understand your ideal customer profiles and what the potential in additional business might be for each.

Do some analysis to decide your strategy first, then pick accounts, look at technology, and all that jazz.

2) Letting sales lead the account selection process. Yes, account selection is a team sport that both marketers and sellers need to play. But marketing needs to bring data and analysis to the party and not just ask sellers, “Who should we target?” Without a marketing game plan, sellers are likely to give you a list of tough nuts to crack: accounts in which they have yet to gain a foothold. To help scale marketing’s account engagement efforts beyond the first few, agree that subsequent targets must also follow a similar pattern. Miss this point, and marketing gets to start the process of sizing the opportunity, identifying the decision makers, researching key issues, and targeting buyers with the right inbound and outbound content/messages all over again.

That doesn’t scale well.

3) Failing to analyze the market opportunity available based on your strategy/account selection choices. You can pick the absolute right accounts based on firmographics, fit, life-cycle progression, industry maturity, vertical industry type, correct size, and a dozen other factors. But if those accounts don’t amount to a significant opportunity for your business specifically, then you will fail. To size your total available market, you must consider several key factors, including number of similar/look-alike accounts; which accounts have a potential need; which are working with competitors; which don’t have a dime to invest; and the question of whether you can even identify and reach the right decision makers in each. In many cases, you will need to look outside your internal data/insights to really know which accounts might be likely to purchase in a reasonable amount of time.

A back-of-the-envelope calculation is better than nothing and helps you prioritize your choices.

4) Banking too much on finding ready buyers. OK, I’m going to say it: Intent is not a buying signal — it’s a somewhat tenuous suggestion that certain observed activities may have a link to a potential buying decision. The ability to use “intent” data to help you find ready buyers is like sonar to commercial fishing; it tells you where the fish might be but not if they are willing to bite. Intent is a prioritization tool, and it can provide insight into the buying stage — use it as such. It’s a starting place, not a destination.

Intent signals do not mean that an account is ready to talk to sales — so act like it when you try to engage them.

5) Not realizing that you need to build a following among accounts not yet ready to buy. There may be some great accounts that are not your customers and should be; they just aren’t ready to buy. Does that mean you cross them off your list? No, it means you need to invest in thought leadership, content marketing, and thoughtful education. To get key members of the buying team to engage, you need to deliver value before asking for something in return (such as a phone call or a meeting). Remember, building a following means creating broad engagement across the buying team and deep engagement with certain marketing assets that align with their business issues.

Keep your inbound activities vibrant and relevant so that those assets can do double duty targeting named accounts as well as unknown buyers who come along from elsewhere.

If you’ve gotten this far, congratulations — here are two more pitfalls you should avoid on your ABM journey.

6) Failing to recognize that ABM execution no longer functions like a relay race. We’ve raised a generation of marketers who are skilled with marketing automation but drunk on leads — they want to simply hand off leads to inside sales or business development managers like hot potatoes. Experienced marketers spend more time planning their approach and coordinating with sales — like a dance ensemble, with all the steps carefully choreographed. This new level of collaboration requires more transparency into account activity, such as creating a common dashboard or workspace to keep everyone on the same page.

Whether targeting many accounts (in a specific market) or a few, let your marketing make sales the star of the show.

7) Measuring leads, not account-based engagement. Yes, you still must measure lead production, but now you should measure it within the context of specific accounts. Top ABM marketers track how well their programs engage: 1) key decision makers on that elusive buying committee; 2) unknowns who are interested (i.e., showing intent) that you have now uncovered (so sales can pick up the conversation); and 3) activity levels inside the account as a whole (trending up or down?).

Look at measuring behaviors, interactions, and emotion to build a comprehensive set of engagement metrics.

Avoid these issues, and you will be ahead of 90% of ABM practitioners today. More importantly, you will be able to show that ABM is having a positive, measurable impact on your business.

* FOMO = fear of missing out