3 Mistakes Companies Make When Starting ABM and How to Avoid Them

June 18, 2019

ABM Mistakes

Every year, Account Based Marketing gains more excitement, and for good reason too. In the latest ABM benchmark survey, the ITSMA and the ABM Leadership Alliance reported that 45% of companies are seeing 2x the ROI on their ABM program than all other types of marketing.

But that doesn’t mean getting started is easy. In fact, it’s really hard.

We’ve worked with hundreds of customers, and we’ve seen how ABM can go wrong any and every which way possible. We’ve laid out our blueprint for ABM success in a book we released earlier this year, Clear and Complete Guide to ABM, however, we’re still noticing that many of the common mistakes are preventable if you do a few things correctly in the beginning.

In this post, I want to cover the 3 biggest mistakes that, if you get right, will make everything you do later much easier.

Mistake #1: Thinking that ABM Buying Technology Means You’re Doing ABM

ABM is not a tactic, tool or campaign, but rather an entire go-to-market strategy.

A tool doesn’t make a strategy. You must put strategy first, then figure out which tools, tactics, and campaigns will best support that strategy.

ABM is very hard to do without certain technologies. Recently, Jon Miller unveiled our all-new ABM Market Map, updated with everything we’ve learned in the last few years.

Jon explains, “You don’t need to buy technology from each category to do Account Based Marketing! You can dip your toe in the water with a relatively modest investment in new technology, and then add more solutions to help scale over time.”

Here are the foundational technologies you need for ABM:

  • CRM
  • Marketing automation
  • Lead-to-account matching (L2A)
  • Engagement measurement

The other ABM tools in their respective categories will enhance your ABM, but don’t think that if you don’t have them, you can’t do ABM. You can still send direct mail, hold executive events and even launch targeted ads without ABM technology.

Use the tools and technologies that you already have, but create a more targeted message and deliver it to a more targeted list.

Before investing on ABM technology, you must answer these questions to ensure your readiness:

  • Why is ABM the right strategy for your business?
  • Is there executive alignment and organizational buy-in on ABM as your go-to-market strategy?
  • What criteria makes a good target account? How will you decide on your target account list?
  • What does success with ABM look like? How will you measure your progress?
  • What are the roles and responsibilities of the players on your ABM team?

Mistake #2: Jumping Right into Account Selection Before Defining Your ICP

Your ICP is a prototypical company that fits the profile for the solution or service offering that you are selling. It’s the ideal customer that would benefit from your offering and provide you with significant value in exchange.

Before we dive into how to do this, it’s important to note that you need the right people involved. ICP definition and target account selection isn’t just a job for Marketing – you must get buy-in and participation from your Sales and Customer Success counterparts. One person or department alone will not be able to answer these questions. It takes the collective wisdom of your entire customer-facing team. The added benefit of including other departments is also buy-in for the ICP, which is critical.

We recommend that Marketing owns and leads this exercise, as they are likely the most familiar and comfortable with it. However, it’s important that leadership from both Sales and Customer Success is involved as well. Each part of the org must have buy-in, give their sign-off and take ownership of the key accounts.

Here are some factors to consider when defining your ICP:

  • What sector or sectors are you winning in?
  • Are there ‘look alike’ segments similar to those you have success with now?
  • Alternately, what new markets are most important for your company to develop?
  • Are these markets growing?
  • What accounts will deliver the most value (including strategic value, advocates, referral sources, geographic presence)?

The output of your ICP should be a one-page document that clearly represents the type of companies you are targeting in your ABM efforts.

Mistake #3: Not Building an ABM Alliance within Your Organization

An alliance is an association formed for mutual benefit, in this case moving to an account-based strategy. Why is an alliance so important? Because if you don’t have buy-in from each and every one of your stakeholders, you’re going to have a hard time getting your program off the ground.

Before diving into the fun aspects of ABM (launching ads, sending direct mail, creating content, etc.), take a step back and think about the critical pieces of change management.

We can't automatically assume that every team that touches a target account along the journey is on the same page or will support the change. You must get buy-in from each team leader individually. What you say to your head of Sales is going to be different than what you say to your head of customer success (yes, they must be involved too!). Educate each of them on ABM, then get their feedback.

I love the advice from Nicole DiNicolel, head of ABM at Qualtrics — put five slides together to align on ABM and ensure success.

  1. Your definition of ABM: What does ABM mean to your and your organization. It’s going to be slightly different for every org.
  2. Your process and framework for building out your ABM strategy: Everyone needs to understand the underlying systems and infrastructure of your program.
  3. Roles and responsibilities across the team: At a high-level, each person on your team must know what actions the team is relying on them to take.
  4. Your execution plan: This is your playbook. Now, you’re taking it one level deeper and making it real for the team.
  5. Success metrics: You need a way of knowing what working and what’s not.

It’s Time to Take Control

Executing a seamless ABM strategy in enterprise markets is never going to be easy. You’re selling complex solutions into big organizations. No single person can simply pull the trigger on a deal without consulting an interconnected matrix of people, each with his or her own perspectives, problems and prejudices.

However, you’re not simply a victim of these forces. You can and must take control of your ABM outcomes. There are concrete, measurable steps that dramatically increase your chances of winning the biggest, most attractive deals in your market.

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