I’m no stranger to the B2B hype cycle. I’ve witnessed the birth of e-mail marketing, Web marketing, social media, mobile and content marketing. My buzzword antenna is pretty well attuned, and these days it’s receiving one signal over and over:
ABM… ABM… ABM… coming in like transmissions from a Cold War numbers station.
The bloviating and palaver around account-based marketing (ABM) reminds me of the genesis of social media marketing. The early adopters (and a few snake-oil salespersons) promised us not only that social media would change the way companies communicate and market and perform customer service, but that Twitter and LinkedIn (and probably Plurk and Friendster) would be a source of high-quality sales leads.
They laughed at social media… and some are still laughing
I was in a roomful of B2B marketers a few weeks ago when someone mentioned those predictions and promises of sales leads from social. Everybody laughed. Guess what? In five years, marketers will be laughing about ABM. They’ll say it was a waste of time. They’ll have a story about the ABM consultant they hired who took their money and gave them nothing.
Nearly every marketer I know has a social media story like that. Social media may not have lived up to its peak hype, but that’s not social media’s fault. And there’s no doubt it has changed the way companies communicate, market, serve customers and yes, sell.
Hype comes in waves
Social Media Wave One was made up of visionaries and pioneers. Wave Two had the forward-looking early adopters. Wave Three were the implementers, as well as the imitators and people afraid of missing out. Subsequent waves included the opportunists, the cynical exploiters and the people who were adopting social media because their boss told them to.
The people who didn’t care about social media and didn’t understand the underlying shift in philosophy it represents were mostly the ones who never saw the ROI. The First Wave was starting a revolution. The Last Wave was checking a box. And like pretty much everything in life, if you don’t care about what you’re doing, you’re not going to get much out of your efforts.
The people who did care about social media and understood what it represents transformed the business world forever.
Sometimes ideas become popular because they’re good
The ABM early adopters and evangelists I’ve met, people like Jason Seeba at BloomReach, Jon Miller at Engagio, Craig Rosenberg at TOPO and the folks at the ITSMA are smart, experienced marketers. If you listen to them, it’s easy to see that ABM—hype or no hype—is a common-sense approach to targeting and engaging with high-value accounts. Why wouldn’t you consider the needs of all the buying influencers in your target accounts? Why wouldn’t you create content and messaging specific to them? Why wouldn’t you align the sales and marketing teams to make your outreach consistent and effective?
I find myself saying the same things about ABM that I said about social media:
“You don’t need an ABM strategy. You need a marketing strategy that incorporates ABM.”
“Don’t stop doing what’s working. Find ways to add ABM to your marketing mix.”
And because they work
Leadspace has customers, like Jason at BloomReach, who are seeing real, measurable ROI from ABM. Adoption is on the rise, and we will see more and more companies grasp the fundamentals, implement the right tools, use the right data and predictive analytics and see real value.
There will also be marketers who phone it in, who skim the surface, who try a few half-hearted ABM efforts and decide it doesn’t work. They’ll be the ones laughing about ABM in five years, because it will be easier to dismiss it than to admit they never really understood it in the first place.
The marketers who approach ABM in a sensible way, who glean what works, who use it as a framework to improve their engagement with prospects, might not be talking about ABM in five years. Not because they’ve given it up, but because it will be an integral part of what they do, the same way social media has become an integral part of what successful marketers do.
And they won’t be laughing.
image by Nicolas Vigier from Flickr