Both demand generation and account-based marketing (ABM) are as old as marketing itself: after all, somewhere around 90 percent of marketing is generating demand. However, while demand generation has been knitted into MarTech for years now, ABM software, as a category, is newer to the scene. It’s only over the last several years that software vendors have tried building platforms to help marketers deliver an end-to-end ABM program. Thanks to these vendors, and increased targeting capabilities across platforms, most B2B companies have made the transition from traditional campaigns to an account-based marketing (ABM) approach, with varying degrees of success. But, have traditional ABM platforms delivered on their promise? And what is the best way to execute ABM for demand generation in 2020?
To level-set, we define demand generation as a specific marketing function dedicated to identifying, creating, and nurturing demand for your product or service. Demand generation is not one particular activity or kind of program, but instead an umbrella term that many of your existing marketing tactics, programs, and strategies fall within.
ABM, on the other hand, is a tactic that, when executed properly, can feed your demand generation engine. If you think of demand generation as basically everything you have to do, ABM is one vital component on that list. It’s a specific lifecycle and account-based approach within the broader, ever-churning cycle of demand. As a refresher, that cycle looks like:
There are some businesses — your potential customers — that have already identified their challenges and are doing something about them (maybe with a competitor). You want to get your product in front of them so they know you also have something that can solve their problem. Additionally, there are other businesses that are having the challenges your product can solve — but they don’t even know they’re having those problems yet! Figuring out how to get these businesses to identify the challenge will ensure you’re top of mind for a solution: that’s creating demand.
There are also businesses that are struggling through challenges that your product solves — and are actively searching for something to help them with these challenges. This component of the cycle is about finding those people where they’re looking and bringing them into a funnel.
Demand generation isn’t an on or off switch. Nurturing demand is about taking the initial demand and increasing the pull toward your solution. It’s your job as a marketer to make sure your would-be customer has the exact information they need, when they need it, so that they can feel empowered in choosing your product over others (or over doing nothing). Nurturing demand also includes supporting the brand and customer growth.
Within this broader cycle, you can zero in on account-based marketing techniques. You can think of demand generation in a grid. On one axis, there are the tracks and programs that always need to be running in marketing. On the other axis are the activities and tools that a marketer has to work with to apply to those tracks and programs.
That toolkit is vast, and includes: analyst relations and public relations, your website, executive outreach, paid display, paid social, paid search, organic search, content creation (everything from static blog posts to on-demand videos), content syndication, organic social, target account lists, intent data, technographic data, outbound techniques, social proof (via G2 or customer advocates), email, and events, whether in-person or virtual.
You can combine any number of tools together to create a marketing program that fulfills a portion of the demand generation cycle. Examples below.
For example, say you’re Slack, and you want to identify existing demand for enterprise collaboration software. You could run paid social to target ideal customers in market via a demo campaign, which would involve using the target account list, LinkedIn, and Facebook tools from your toolkit.
In another example, your goal is to create demand. You decide to run a cold outbound campaign to prospects who are already using a competitor’s product, using technographic data, outbound techniques, email, and maybe a few other things from your toolkit to execute.
How ABM fits into this
ABM is one of the ways you can use the tools at your disposal toward the aim of demand generation. Think of it as a lifecycle within your broader demand generation engine. In marketing, we’re always trying to drive demand for a product or service. ABM is one of ways we drive demand: First, you partner with sales to determine your target accounts within your ideal customer profile (ICP), then you figure out who at those target accounts to go after, where they hang out — which is where you want to put your marketing — plus what message and offer will be compelling to them based on what kind of pain they’re having. Finally, you decide what tactics you’re going to employ, from digital, social, direct mail, to email, to get that perfectly crafted message in front of that target account.
Though there are important parts of demand generation that are not inbound marketing — sales enablement, customer referrals, or PR, for example — one steadily successful demand generation tactic, inbound marketing, can help lay the foundation for a strong ABM strategy. ABM builds off of inbound tactics by allowing for efficient, targeted resource allocation for high-value accounts. But if we look more closely at the traditional account-based marketing cycle, we’ll find a hole at the end of it.
Here’s the traditional ABM cycle:
Identify your ICP and ensure you understand your total addressable market (TAM)
Develop a target account list that includes companies within your ICP, that have some other attributes that makes them more likely to buy (e.g. they already use your competitor’s product)
Prioritize and tier the target account list into cohorts for which you can personalize experiences
Develop the unique content and experiences to pull each cohort through the buyer’s journey
Leverage multiple channels to deliver the personalized experiences (e.g. digital, email, events) and engage target accounts
Test, learn and optimize toward what works
So what’s missing? Step 5 gets you to account engagement, but then all too often step 6 optimizes that engagement to vanity metrics (i.e. impressions, view time, CTR, CPC and CPL). But what about opportunities, pipeline, and ROI? This is exactly where traditional ABM platforms are missing half of the picture — there’s engagement, but no direct-tie to the results we all care the most about.
That’s why if you really want to do account-based marketing for demand generation in 2020, you can’t stop at engagement. You have to instead deploy programs and tools that actually allow you to tie and optimize your marketing efforts to the pipeline and revenue they generate, so that you can determine the ROI of your efforts. You have to have a foundation in testing and experimentation at scale to truly understand the specific aspects that lead to revenue. Engagement is a signal, but it isn’t going to necessarily make your company any money or bring in a set number of new logos. If you stop at engagement, you’ll have a harder time explaining to your boss how you made a difference in your marketing efforts. ABM software stops being a luxury product and becomes a necessary one only when and if you can tie ABM efforts to pipeline, new logos, and revenue – and show a positive ROI.