Not long ago there was a media drumbeat of “B2C and B2B marketing techniques are merging.” Or you might have read that “B2B and B2C are passé, marketing today has to be P2P” (person to person). This all made a certain kind of sense, as marketers of every stripe were heavily focused on lead generation. And lead generation is very dependent on brand awareness, so the strategies and tactics did look very similar for B2B and B2C. In fact, many were exactly the same.
That’s changing. You might even say we’re putting the “B” back in B2B. Here’s why:
Today’s B2B marketers have to move beyond the lead generation role of simply filling the sales funnel with individual, named leads. That’s a reasonable priority for consumer marketing; you just need one decision-maker to sell a hat, or shampoo, or organic beer. But once you get past attracting curious or motivated individuals to your brand, this buying road forks, with a deep divide between B2C and B2B.
B2B sales reps don’t close deals with people; they close accounts. B2B companies don’t bank cash from private citizens, but from companies. B2B churn refers not to lost individuals, but to lost customer accounts.
Research by CEB indicates that the average B2B decision-making group now includes 5.4 buyers, often from different departments and with unique concerns. That means that B2B marketers have to nurture their individual leads within a broad matrix of contacts inside a target account. When marketers understand how their product helps each of these stakeholders, they can build a strategic and integrated program that engages each one, on their own terms, through a lifetime of value.
This holistic perspective has fueled the resurgence of account-based marketing (ABM), an approach in which marketing works closely with sales to manage the complex process of targeting and nurturing companies, rather than lone prospects. It’s not a forsaking of traditional lead generation, but rather an expansion of it.
“B2B marketers have realized the limitations of traditional demand generation programs and measurements and instead are rapidly embracing the power of ABM,” said Peter Isaacson, chief marketing officer at Demandbase.
This effort is delivering results. According to ITSMA, 84 percent of B2B marketers say that ABM delivers a higher ROI than any other approach. And in a SiriusDecisions poll, 92% of B2B marketers worldwide said ABM was “extremely” or “very” important to their overall marketing efforts.
Smart companies are recognizing the power of ABM. They’re combining a traditionally B2C-style of building brand and cultivating awareness with an integrated approach to nurturing leads that reflects this new B2B environment. And they’re shifting their marketing philosophy – and the technology they implement it with – to leverage it.
Take for example SheerID, who helps clients such as Spotify and Expedia instantly verify consumers’ eligibility for special offers. Instead of focusing exclusively on driving leads with acquisition marketing programs, they began targeting prospects they knew would both benefit from their product and provide them with long-term revenue. And they identified and built individual relationships with everyone involved in the buying process, while simultaneously tracking and responding to accounts as a whole.
They also started using Act-On marketing automation software to drive this approach. Act-On serves as their command center, allowing them to precisely target all the decision-makers with relevant content, record individual responses as part of the big picture, and provide both marketing and sales with the account-wide insight they need to effectively lead a company to purchase. This allows SheerID to deliver a strategic and unified nurturing experience – and to enhance the overall value they provide customers after the sale.
The shift to ABM is accelerating, and SheerID is just one of the many forward-thinking companies embracing it. According to a 2016 State of Account-Based Marketing (ABM) study recently released by SiriusDecisions, more than 70 percent of B2B companies have staff that are fully or partially dedicated to driving ABM-specific programs. And in his blog post ABM’s Explosive Growth – What’s Next?, Isaacson notes a tremendous rise in both the amount of Google searches for “Account-Based Marketing” and the number of marketing professionals adding ABM to their skill sets on LinkedIn. ABM seems to be putting down roots – and bearing fruit.
But while ABM may be taking marketing’s center stage, it’s worth noting that effectively implementing it requires the same things as any approach: the full support of the company, a distinct value proposition, and the ability to clearly communicate it. “No matter how good your ABM or digital machine is, if you don’t have something differentiated to say and a culture that supports it, you will not break through the clutter,” said Rishi Dave, CMO of Dun and Bradstreet, in an interview with Engagio CEO Jon Miller.
SheerID is a shining example of how to do this right, and their success will be on full display at Flip My Funnel, a B2B Marketing and Sales Festival devoted to helping marketers understand how ABM can enhance the customer experience.
Simon Spencer, SheerID’s director of marketing operations, and Kevin Bobowski, Act-On’s chief marketing officer, will co-present a session titled Putting the “B” Back in B2B Marketing. Kevin will discuss how to successfully orchestrate a multi-channel ABM program, and Simon will share his ABM journey and the wins his company has seen since making the transition.