ABM and the Manufacturing Marketer: Back to the Future

Safe to say, I’ve been around awhile.

When I left business school to take my first “real” corporate job, the web wasn’t really a thing yet, my phone would balance a scale with a brick, and my “laptop” was a Franklin planner.

But guess what? We had ABM. In a real sense, it was all there was.

I’ll spare you the details, but we made very specialized products – stuff only a very few people in the world wanted or needed.

That meant we had an extremely narrow slice of prospective customers to sell to. We had a VP of Sales and Marketing, which mainly meant “Sales” because we did almost no marketing. Why would we? Marketing was selling, because there was no way to do much in the way of marketing communication with such a specific customer base.

So we tried to get in front of the target account list, and other than that we had to hang on ferociously to customers we already had and make sure they were happy at all costs.

Sound familiar?

For a lot of manufacturing companies today, despite all the new tools and methods we have to get in front of customers, the reality of their markets hasn’t changed. They are still serving narrow and specific audiences.

I recently had a philosophical discussion with Terminus CTO Bryan Brown about marketing automation. Specifically, is marketing automation a technology that will be usurped by programmatic ABM, or will the two technologies co-exist? If so, to what end?

One thing is clear: marketing automation’s original intent was to provide personalization to people at scale on a 1 to 1 basis, without necessarily taking an account into consideration. Indeed, while some of the MA systems out there acknowledge the existence of an account, there’s precious little you can do to make use of this fact. Anyone who’s tried to aggregate meaningful information or take action on the account level in a marketing automation system can probably relate.

That conversation with Bryan revolved around the use cases of programmatic ABM and marketing automation orchestration—what would they do if they worked together?

Reflecting since then, however, I’d like to propose another possibility: If you are a manufacturer in a narrow niche market, there’s a case to be made for skipping marketing automation altogether and jumping straight to ABM.

This is particularly true if you’ve been slow to adopt or slow to become proficient with marketing automation and feel like you haven’t gotten the value out of it. Truth be told, you might never get enough value out of it. Here’s why:

As we’ve established, the pool of prospects is just too small to justify elaborate automaton on behalf of an audience that may number in the tens to hundreds of accounts, which translates only into a few hundred to a few thousand people.

Most of the tools were designed around use cases of far more people than this. That’s why so many of the tools are tiered based on database size; even the smallest pricing tiers start at 2500 contacts and go up from there. These tools just weren’t intended for small audiences.

This is also why many manufacturers fail to get value out of keyword advertising and remarketing. The audience pools are just too small—which leads to the temptation to use ever more general keywords to chase a perceived audience that in reality isn’t really the correct audience at all.

Which leads us to ABM.

When I implemented ABM at a manufacturing company that had a rather broad use case and a large audience, we were constantly having to rethink the “larger audience=better” mindset, and curate ever smaller pools of accounts. These pools began to take on the appearance of those narrow niche markets that I’d dragged my Franklin planner into so many years ago.

Full Circle

The beauty of programmatic ABM advertising is you aren’t waiting for people to search for a term you think is relevant or show up on your digital doorstep—it’s the equivalent of cold calling without the despair or annoyance. You can put your message in front of those accounts and know exactly who you’re targeting.

Plus, when you orchestrate ABM touches with direct feedback to your sales process and activities (that’s why there are still VPs of Sales and Marketing, by the way, make use of it!), you have the opportunity to create real value for your account managers without the waste or the guessing.

Furthermore, since you know the accounts you’re engaging with ABM are the accounts you want, there’s no need for elaborate nurtures, scoring, grading or qualification. If the target account is engaged, it’s time for sales to engage.

None of this is to say that “doing” ABM makes the process easy. In fact, it’s even more crucial that sales and marketing are on the same page, and acting in coordination with one another. It also requires a lot more up-front planning and organization than some teams might be used to.

I’ve always been a fan of finding the right solution for the problem, not just using technology for the sake of it. With so many martech choices out there these days, the ability to make a good decision based on a well-defined need is challenging. The stakes for failure are higher than ever— mainly because a bad tech choice can waste a lot of time, and a bad programmatic ad decision can waste a lot of funds really quickly. That’s why more specific and focused solutions are much more appealing if you’re not in a mass market.

The Takeaway

If you’re a manufacturer and you’re feeling like the “obvious” choices in marketing technology don’t really fit you, then you’re probably not wrong. ABM fits with the ways that you’ve always gone to market, it’s just that it took more than 20 years for the technology to catch up with you.

Guess you’re not lagging behind after all.