The top 3 ABM challenges that B2B organizations struggle with (and how to fix them)

91% of businesses who use ABM increase their average deal size, with 25% reporting an increase of more than 50% (Forrester). Others, however, can’t get past the planning stage, often for 3 key reasons…

There’s an undeniable buzz around using account-based marketing (ABM) as a sales and marketing strategy within B2B organizations and it’s not going away anytime soon. Why? B2B businesses have realized that there are greater results to be generated by targeting the decision-makers within large revenue accounts with high touch, highly targeted messages. Technology has also caught up to make ABM more affordable and manageable to put into practice. There are more and more ABM experts and case studies available to help. And undeniably, ABM strategy executed effectively can lead to big rewards.

Top of the reward list is better alignment between sales and marketing teams as they work together to identify target accounts, develop campaign messaging, outreach tactics and outcomes. There’s also clearer ROI as ABM is highly targeted and so trackable with automated software and tools, resulting in a unified buyer experience as detailed knowledge about an account allows for personalized and highly relevant messaging.

“With account management, I think it’s a long-term strategic partnership. It’s almost like a marriage, and in this case, it’s with your account.”
Mike Green, Capita

All of this means that more B2B companies can see clear benefits in adopting an ABM strategy: 87% of B2B marketers say ABM outperforms other marketing investments in terms of ROI (ITSMA) and 80% of marketers say ABM increases customer lifetime values, while 86% say it improves win rates (Terminus). By 2025, Forrester has estimated that B2B demand generation efforts will focus predominantly on accounts and not leads.

While it seems it’s a ‘no brainer’ to use ABM, particularly if you’re selling long-cycle purchase solutions into enterprise or mid-market, for many companies, strategizing and setting up a campaign is not that straightforward – implementing it even less so, leading to many businesses falling at the last hurdle and not getting their campaigns off the ground.

We are finding that organizations today are facing three foundational challenges when it comes to implementing ABM. Let’s dig into them:

1. Finding true alignment between sales and marketing

Some companies believe that if they have a list of accounts to target, that’s ABM. This is only one step within a wider ABM strategy that first demands a fundamental shift in aligning sales and marketing. Successful ABM requires that the sales team is involved and has buy-in from the beginning to mutually set objectives, metrics and focus together with marketing on winning and growing key accounts as one team.

Many of our clients say that sales and marketing alignment is one of the most challenging elements in any ABM campaign, but it is possible. In the B2B market, the product or service being bought is often complex with a long sales cycle and many decision makers involved in reviewing and purchasing. And we know that today’s buyer is well informed and has access to white papers, blogs, reports, podcasts, review sites and every other conceivable piece of content to acquire information and make better decisions.

Using valuable sales insight for purposeful content
Marketing and sales must take this new reality and work together to define who to target, what the messaging is and how to deal with objections. Instead of marketing handing over the baton to sales at a singular point in the customer journey, both teams need to collaborate at every touchpoint. For example, sales are on the front-line, having high-value conversations with prospects using their expertise to decide who to target, while marketing will understand the kind of content that will engage them. In turn, sales can use this information to give answers to the questions the prospect is seeking.

Of course, the process of content creation is never complete – as sales are feeding back the insights they have from prospect and client conversations and marketing are using these to continually adapt content to feed the information request – ultimately content should be informative rather than sales orientated.

Continuous collaboration
Marketing can help sales tailor post-purchase communications and sales can report back to marketing on lead quality and how they see prospects moving through the funnel.

“Smart organizations are doing things to attract the right prospects to them, and then deliver the right message to those prospects at the right time. They are leveraging marketing to deliver the 1:1 experience that only salespeople could deliver before”
Kurt Anderson, Savo Group

When implementing ABM, sales and marketing need each other – marketing needs sales for its insights to create a unified buyer experience (UBX), and sales needs marketing to engage the buyer to provide solutions and emotional reasons to buy. In order for an ABM strategy to have a chance of success, sales and marketing must align.

2. A lack of dedicated resources

ABM requires dedicated resources to get highly targeted campaigns into market. Yet many organizations tack ABM onto existing resources so that marketing and sales teams find that they are expected to run these new campaigns in addition to continuing with their day jobs. In fact, 37% of marketers say a lack of budget and resources is their top challenge in account-based initiatives (Ascend 2 Account-based marketing approach report).

A scoping workshop where marketing and sales get together to define your level of ABM maturity is a good starting point. This will determine your ABM approach and show the scale of the challenge. Once you have these defined, your business can build an argument to recruit more resources – either by investing and recruiting into existing sales and marketing teams, or by outsourcing to an agency with experience in ABM who can be scaled up or down as required.

Investing time and budget is important to define the parameters of your ABM campaign, how you’ll go about putting it into practice and measure it. Once you have these it can be easier to work out how much value ABM will add to your organization and align your strategy with what you want to achieve, as well as using these insights to ensure you have leadership buy-in for an ABM approach. Ultimately, ABM is an organization-wide strategy that should be aligned to your business objectives and requires support from C-suite to operations. Without engagement across these internal teams, it can be very difficult to achieve the goals you’ve set for your account-based marketing campaign.

3. A martech stack and KPIs not set up for ABM

“For me, the real difference between ‘traditional marketing’ and ‘account-based marketing’, we no longer talk about leads. Right? MQLs, lead scores. We’re now talking the language of sales, right? It’s all about accounts and what we can do to win, nurture, cross-sell, up-sell, position our brand etc.”
Alex Olley, Co-founder, Reachdesk

From contact to account-focused
Many marketing departments within large enterprise organizations are structured and designed to focus on marketing qualified leads (MQL), pipeline and lead generation and have tools and teams set up to maximize these. But ABM is account-based and many businesses are simply not set up to execute, collect data and report at this level. The shift required from being contact-focused to being account-focused can often be very painful, but necessary.

One of the reasons for this is that even with an advanced tech stack of perhaps customer relationship management software (CRM), a marketing automation platform (MAP) and an ABM platform, business intelligence and analytics dashboards (where you can visually compare a variety of data simultaneously) are still not possible and much of the customer information is all on contact rather than account level, as well as being siloed.

Revising reporting
There’s also time pressure to show the ABM approach is working. Business KPIs are generally quarterly but ABM is a long-term strategy. If a quarter, and the next rolls around, it’s unlikely that your engagement levels will have hit their usual targets. ABM requires a radical shift in the way you’re being held accountable for core KPIs, and you need executive buy-in to allow this to happen.

With an ABM campaign you should kiss goodbye to vanity metrics. While they may show interest, they often have little to do with conversions, customer retention or loyalty.

How do you change marketing KPIs for an ABM campaign? In our experience, ABM is 18 months to 24 months of continuous activation over all channels. You’ll need to make sure that you touch each channel at the right time and have enough content to reach and engage your customer. Instead of relying on ‘vanity metrics’ such as email metrics, social media metrics and offline engagement, core KPIs should focus on reputation (brand perception, NPS scores, loyalty), relationships (account coverage and engagement), and revenue (opportunities, win rate, average deal size, customer lifetime value).

Target account coverage is also important, such as the number of contacts in each account, the percentage of contacts that have engaged, the number of contacts that you hold complete data on and your contact list growth rate in each account.

These KPIs take time to gauge as you slowly get into each account, understand them and build account intelligence. It’s important to stand your ground and think long-term when it comes to implementing ABM in your organization. Your leadership team will appreciate you – it may just take a little longer than usual.

In summary

ABM is a journey, and it takes time to get right. When it comes to planning and executing an account-based marketing strategy, covering all three elements of sales and marketing alignment, proper resources to support the ABM program for its duration (far longer than your usual campaigns), and rethinking data collection and reporting are essential elements to consider upfront. Get these right and you’ll be well on your way to winning, growing and retaining your most high-value accounts.