ABM In The Fall of 2020: From Getting the Message Right to Getting the Message Real

September 29, 2020 Randi Barshack, CMO

In the spring of this year, I penned a similar byline for the 1H2020 version of this report. Filled with contemplative thoughts in the wake of several weeks on lockdown, the essay began: 

“I write this from a makeshift desk in my living room. My son is at ‘school’ 10 feet away in his bedroom and my husband is pittering away in the kitchen; 5 feet to my right.” 

ABM In The Fall of 2020: From Getting the Message Right to Getting the Message Real

Seven months later and I’m still in the same damn chair, my son has matriculated into his sophomore year from the same desk in his bedroom and (seriously) my husband is,once again, in the kitchen as I write….blending himself a smoothie as I attempt to concentrate on writing. 

On this lazy Sunday, I’m feeling a bit melancholy; our world just lost the notorious RBG - yet another straw on the camel’s back of grief along with the losses of John Lewis, Chadwick Boseman, Kobe Bryant and - from COVID-19 specifically; 200,000 Americans. 

Back in March, I mused over my struggle to put an article on ABM into perspective. Today, as well, finding perspective feels like a tall order.  This time, however, I’ve the benefit of 6 months watching our industry in action amidst what is arguably the most challenging business circumstances we’ll ever face. And some of the rare silver linings are chock full of account-based strategies.   

Despite its name, ABM is really less about marketing to an ‘account’, but understanding that B2B sales are made by buying committees of individuals who work together at specific companies. These individuals work at the same company, so their collective actions constitute an indicator of interest, intent and engagement. Further, the characteristics of the organization or firmographics are the best possible indicator of which accounts are likely a fit in the first place. It’s what we call at RollWorks a Fit-first approach. 

A significant part of the promise of ABM is the ability to personalize messages, content and programs to fit prospects by firmographic information, stage in a sales cycle or role of any given individual. In buzzword speak we say ‘the right message at the right time.’ While this relatively will always be of value, 2020 has opened doors for us to take the relativity of personalization to a new level. It’s all about embracing the imperfect marketer and leading with empathy.  

As we settled into our makeshift home offices, as we furiously pounded out our fear and frustrations via the kneading motions of sourdough loaves, communed over binge-watching The Tiger King and traded in our business casual wardrobes for extremely casual...something transformational happened. We were finally allowed to admit our humanity. No makeup, kids interrupting, dog barking and dirty dishes in view behind us, a freedom to embrace our imperfections within the professional realms. It’s not that we all suddenly become more human, but 2020 has given us permission to admit it. 

As a marketing team at RollWorks, we embraced this ‘new normal.' Our call to arms was a determination to market to our prospects and customers as ‘people.’ Our mantra became ‘empathy first’ and as a result, we experienced record-breaking quarters. In a Demand Gen world, ‘people’ may feel like the antithesis of ‘accounts’ (you know, the whole ‘Leads vs. ABM’ rhetoric), but in our case an account-based strategy and people-led programs proved to be the best of bedfellows.  

At the heart of our Account-based strategy is a core list of Target Accounts. Thousands of companies smack, dab in the middle of our ICP sweetspot. Each account is scored, giving us a tiered list of accounts. While we market extensively to our entire TAL, dollars, more manual programs and higher priority SDR outreach are reserved for accounts at higher tiers. 

This account-based backbone gave us the infrastructure upon which to drive these people-led micro-programs. The payoff extended well beyond ROI and into great personal satisfaction. Turns out the ‘Real message at the right time’ is even better than the ‘right’ one. Rather than sweeping broad campaigns, we attacked super real pain points (that went well beyond our own solution)  speaking to the whole person of our audience. 

Three guides we published spoke to the ‘real’ challenges faced by our B2B marketing brethren. One addressed challenges in filling the Demand Gap of Cancelled Events. One assisted in turn-on-a-dime rewrites of our 2020 Marketing Plans. And when a strawman poll we conducted revealed that 15% of marketers would rather have a root canal than attend another webinar) we put out a guide addressing webinar fatigue called ‘Not Another Webinar.’

While the content was gobbled up by many, we used our account-based strategy to drive incremental investments. We negotiated with pay-per-lead syndication vendors to deliver only leads from relevant roles at priority accounts. Highly targeted ad campaigns touting the guides were served up to this same, high-value audience.

More substantial budget was reserved for accounts with the highest fit scores or those most likely to deliver the highest lifetime value. Most notable, a no-strings-attached dinner delivery gift card touched a nerve with once engaged prospects who had gone silent. Our offer, no doubt, spoke to the exasperation many are feeling juggling stay-at-home work with stay-at-home life.  

A more recent campaign speaks to an even more primal pain point of our audience. After multiple meetings where our own team had trouble remembering the day of the week, we decided to run PSA ads simply reminding our target account audiences of the day of the week. Targeted, efficient investment of our dollars, 30% of our targeted accounts reached 10 hours into the campaign (as I write) and (hopefully) goodwill to that will last long beyond the days by which I’m tethered to this chair. 

Turns out marketing to humans is significantly more satisfying than marketing to ‘prospects.’ Turns out even account-based strategies can be about connecting with people. Imperfect, humans struggling to remember the day of the week.  

Originally published in The 2020 What's Working in ABM ReportWant the full report? Get it here.



About the Author

Randi Barshack, CMO

CMO @ RollWorks

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