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Like other marketing innovations, Account-Based Marketing is following a pattern of shifting priorities and a general sense of maturation as marketers gain best practice and success. There are many dimensions changing simultaneously: technology, buyer behavior and best practice are but a few. As all of these shifting dimensions start to resolve themselves we’ll see a stratification of marketing approach and capability occur.

Using history as my guide, I’d like to share a model that describes this maturing process as we will see it evolve within ABM:

Level 1 – List-Based Marketing: Outbound marketing narrowcast to predetermined accounts

Sales and marketing organizations have been conducting list targeted outbound programs for years. Consider Sales Development Rep telemarketing programs, field events, direct mail and list constrained content syndication. This approach uses target accounts as a means to generate efficiency in their outbound marketing as the selected companies are either existing clients with whom they would like to cross sell or upsell, are already engaged by the sales team, or are perceived as high value by either sales or marketing.

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Level 2 – Leads-Based Marketing: Non-targeted lead acquisition and nurturing programs

The advent of Marketing Automation brought about a massive movement in lead generation tactics, content marketing and an overall strategy of inbound marketing. For a decade now, marketers have been honing their skills in the efficiency of acquiring leads and nurturing them to a point of sales readiness. Volume of leads was the objective, targeting was contextual at best, and the ability to sort the “wheat from the chaff” via nurturing and lead scoring was the methodology to produce a smaller subset of higher value opportunities for the organization.

In a world where buyers were eager to research their purchase decisions and vendors provided a flow of new content to fuel their lead gen machine, the fit was perfect. However, as time passed, the quality of this fit has eroded: buyer processes have become more complex than the representation of a single agent lead model (todays’ enterprise buying influence extends to an average of 34 individuals) and their preferences and habits to secure content has migrated further from vendor hosted content. In this transition marketing automation systems have become less connected to buyer activity and new technology innovations are starting to augment this strategy. This isn’t an argument against marketing automation or inbound marketing, in fact, it’s absolutely critical and the insight hosted in these systems and their close cousins, CRM, are robust and will not be fully replaced by other technologies for the foreseeable future.

Level 3 – Account-Base Marketing: Account targeted programs designed to stimulate engagement across stages of the buying cycle

A foundational element of ABM is the ability to deliver relevance against the needs of each target account, in particular, as they evolve in their engagement with your organization. This approach brings marketing efficacy to the forefront, in addition to earlier maturity stages that focused on marketing efficiency. It is precisely this two-pronged outcome that delivers results that marketers are looking for. To this end, concepts like account level planning, segment targeted content, and dynamic account segmentation (adjust based upon engagement) are pivotal capabilities that are generally not present in list-based programs.

Recent research  from the Account-Based Marketing Consortium indicates that as many as 82% of self-identified ABM programs may actually be list-based programs. The missing element to their approach of these programs is the lack of focus or ability to pull accounts through a range of buying engagement stages. To evolve program content as individual target accounts gain momentum through stages of engagement. Instead, they deliver the same content and ads to fewer organizations, though now through new channels, to generate a flow of leads. Without the content adaptation to engagement stages, these programs are simply delivering generic or static messages to fewer people, the target account list. ABM programs stuck at this stage are still operating under a leads-based approach, focused now on generating a greater flow of leads, perhaps at a more efficient cost.

Level 4 – Account-Centric Marketing: Coordinated account targeted marketing, across all sales and marketing efforts, across the buying cycle

Now, consider the reality that most marketing organizations have multiple programs touching their audiences. The world isn’t as easy as one platform, one program. What is the likelihood that ABM target accounts respond to non-ABM programs? How many marketing organizations have more than one account targeted program in play? The answer to these questions is probably close to 100%. The transition to account-centric marketing will occur as marketers begin to realize the dependencies between these programs and the fact audiences don’t obey our contrived need to align stimulus with response. Without this unifying approach, marketers will face a growing data contamination issue and audiences will suffer from poor customer experience, both causing resulting performance to decline.

This stage is emblematic of concept of breaking down marketing silos and deliver focus on the target audience. To apply the learning of all systems to deliver intelligence at the moment of truth… when your company has one chance to deliver the best and most engaging touch point to a high-value audience member.

ABM isn’t a “silver bullet” and it’s not easy to accomplish at a high-performance level. As you start to define your path to ABM, we hope you consider ZenIQ. Our approach is new, you can consider us a marketing central nervous system that connects insights across other systems and uses that intelligence to stimulate the best possible outcomes to each target account touch point.