22 Reasons Why ABM Goes Wrong
In this post, we will dive into some of the reasons ABM goes wrong. This is based on conversations with our broad community of B2B marketers and hard-earned lessons helping companies adopt ABM.
Account-based Marketing (ABM) is hard to get right, and the risk of failure is a valid objection to investing in this strategy. The fear of messing up (FOMU) is greater than the fear of missing out (FOMO).
Reasons Why ABM Goes Wrong
- Lack of alignment on goals: If you don’t get everyone on the same page from the start, no one will agree on the results and whether ABM is working.
- Lack of alignment on expectations across the GTM team: The GTM team is made up of marketing, sales, and product marketing. Each of these different departments have different agendas and goals. With ABM, all three groups have to be aligned on common expectations on how you will use ABM and what impact it can make.
- Not having executive buy-in: You need “air cover.” You will inevitably run into challenges with your first ABM efforts. It’s important to know that senior executives have your back and will help the team work through issues. Even if you execute a successful ABM campaign, you won’t be able to scale it without executive buy-in.
- Unrealistic Goals: If you are just getting started with ABM, it is important to have attainable goals. For example, in a 90-day pilot, all you may be able to achieve is high account engagement without converting these into qualified opportunities.
- Goals are hard to measure: This may seem obvious, but you need to be able to measure impact. For example, brand awareness will take a lot of work to measure. Identifying in-market accounts and generating opportunities with these is clear and tangible to measure.
- Poor account selection: When you embrace ABM, you make an explicit decision to focus on specific accounts at the expense of others. If you pick the wrong accounts, you will be wasting resources, and you may even be baking in failure. Pick your accounts very carefully.
- Not determining the characteristics of best-fit accounts: The ABM-based notion of a best-fit account is a fundamental concept. It takes time to master and includes addressable criteria like firmographics and tech stack. It also includes intangible concepts like a bias towards innovation. It’s essential to have a hypothesis about what a best-fit account looks like when you start and plan to refine it over time.
- Not researching and segmenting accounts: When you have an account list, take the time to analyze these. Can you segment them into clusters? If you are doing a more targeted ABM program (1:1 ABM) and focusing on a handful of accounts, you need to research them very carefully and build a clear understanding of how to address these individually.
- Poor intent data: Intent data is a magical component of ABM. Good intent data, whether it’s first-party intent data from your website or third-party intent data like Bombora, can help you pinpoint which accounts are in-market. The problem is that there are many different sources of intent data. Some of these are unproven or not very effective. Pick your sources carefully. Do the due diligence and do a 90-day trial if you can before you commit to a long-term relationship.
- Not having the right topics available in third-party intent data: Third-party intent data works well when the source of data covers topics that are precisely relevant to your solution. If you are lucky, the topics may even include your competitors. The challenge is that with many complex solutions, the issues, benefits, and problems you address are so complex that the third-party source may need to include sufficiently relevant topics to be effective in identifying in-market accounts. Research this carefully in your review of intent data sources.
- Not being able to target individuals from buyer collective: One of the common frustrations we hear with ABM is when you engage accounts, this question arises – “Who specifically do we target at these accounts? Who is in the buyer collective?” It’s a valid concern. With a multi-billion account, there may be many possible champions and dozens of possible influencers. There are many options in building a target list of buyer collective contacts. The ABM platforms are starting to integrate contact data, so it is now possible to dynamically create buyer-collective contact lists for engaged accounts. You can then market to these precisely and see who individually engages. This starts to surface the buyer collective at an in-market account.
- Not being clear about what engagement means: Account engagement is an important concept in ABM. It means that people at an account you are targeting are engaging with your marketing (e.g., clicking through emails, clicking on your ads). There are many definitions of engagement. The most important one is the one you and your team align on. The key thing is to have a clear and agreed definition.
- Poor communication and collaboration: ABM requires that sales and marketing communicate a great deal especially when campaigns are running. This can be very meeting-intensive. Regardless, expect to meet and talk a lot; otherwise, things get off course easily. ABM is about ABC – Always Be Communicating.
- Frustration over time to achieve results: ABM takes time. Adopting ABM is a major change, and that can be a slow and painful process. It is very important that everyone involved and your executive sponsors have the same expectations about how long it will take to achieve success.
- Disappointment about lack of leads: Over time with ABM is that you may become less dependent on paid lead generation programs like syndicated content. The majority of the leads generated by these are often poor quality. A rule of thumb for many is that only 10% of leads will qualify as being worth pursuing. With ABM, you tend to move away from this type of lead generation to focus on engaging and converting a smaller number of in-market accounts. This takes a lot of getting used to. People get twitchy when there aren’t hundreds of leads to pursue.
- Just using One Channel: LinkedIn Ads are a great way to engage and identify in-market accounts. However, they are only part of the story. For some ABM campaigns LinkedIn ads may not been an appropriate cgoice.You have to plan different tactics that move an account through the process, including targeted programmatic ads, social selling, personalized emails, and many different types of content. Don’t just depend on one channel or tactic.
- Not connecting all your tactics: To that point, it’s easy to focus on different tactics in isolation. ABM works best when all your tactics are joined up. A common mistake is to run different campaigns to the same target without linking them. This is not that different from traditional B2B marketing, but this coordination between tactisc may be even possibly more important in ABM.
- Expecting one message to fit all: Personalization is another foundation of ABM. It’s tough to do well. One of the critical steps is to segment your accounts and the different stakeholder types, then determine the different messages, content, and tactics needed for each. You will most likely be unable to execute all of these ideas at once, but at least starting with this segmentation exercise will help you prioritize how to personalize your messaging.
- Not having a clear test-and-learn plan: Given the variety of new tactics that you will try out with ABM, you need to have a clear goal for testing what works and what doesn’t.
- SDRs, MDR, or BDRs are a vital part of the ABM team: One of my biggest frustrations is seeing ABM campaigns go awry because the SDRs (BDRs, MDRs, whatever you call them) are not intricately involved in the ABM program. They are the lynchpin in what my friend Karsten Russell-Wood, calls “crossing the shaky bridge” from marketing to sales. They MUST be deeply integrated into any ABM campaign focused on new customer acquisition.
- Not having a clear transition process from marketing to SDRs: Building on the previous point. It is very important to work out when SDRs should start engaging with accounts. Early on in a campaign, you start to indentify in-market accounts but it may be too early for your SDRs to reach out. These accounts may need more warming-up. The key is to involve the SDRs throughout so that they can make the call when accounts are more likely to be a receptive to their outreach.
- Not keeping sales in the loop: Last but not least is when to involve sales executives. With ABM campaigns, sales execs need to be actively involved upfront in agreeing on goals and account selection, but they may drift away as a program is in play as marketing and the SDRs are doing the majority of the work during this phase. Typically, sales execs re-engage when the SDRs have qualified opportunities and the account is ready to speak with a sales exec. The important thing is to keep sales execs informed, especially in making them aware of which accounts appear to be in-market.
After reading this, you may ask, why bother with ABM if it’s so hard? The short answer is that ABM is a better way to acquire and grow customers. Many companies have tried ABM, but few have mastered it. And these latter companies have built a strategic advantage over their competition.
I am confident I missed a bunch of common challenges. Please let me know if I need to include any additional ways ABM goes wrong. I would love to add to the list.
If you are interested or need help, we can help you on your ABM journey. Here are some ways to get started:
- Check out the book. Here is our page about our book on ABM, or you can buy it on Amazon.
- Check out more posts like this in the Healthtech MarketingLearning Center. It is chock-full of articles, use cases, how-to’s, and ideas to get you started on your ABM journey.
- Follow me or connect with me on LinkedIn. I publish videos and articles on ABM and healthtech marketing.
- Work with me directly. Let’s book a growth session and we can explore ways you can improve your marketing using the latest techniques in account-based marketing.