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Marketing Automation vs Account-Based Marketing

We received so many questions regarding this subject during the last few months, that I felt the need to explain their differences with regards to strategies and objectives. 

The most important role of marketing automation (MA) is to, in advance, automate analogue buying journeys for individual buyers. Buyers that at some point have left their footprint, by showing interest and downloaded something, alternatively been “bought by a database”. In most organizations that use MA, the system stops working once a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) is delivered to the sales department. I myself have on multiple occasions recommended my customers to buy an MA system, because they have such a vast database of interested buyers, that oftentimes are not ready to buy. 

However, a lot of the time, B2B companies don’t have a need to automate buying journeys because: 

  • They only have a handful of contacts 
  • They have no engaging content
  • They aren’t strong when it comes to SEO or known for their business offer. 

In these cases they must first create content, and then look for their target group through different types of advertising, before they spend their money on a system that is costly and takes a lot of time to implement. If they succeed in this transformation in, say, twelve months, they can buy a system in ten months. However, this is for those who sell to the ”long tail”. That is, towards those thousands of potential customers, that you might not even know who they are, that buy simpler products or services and that involve few decision makers. In addition, you don’t have the time or strength to make larger sales efforts for such customers at an early stage. 

 It’s about creating a first contact with an individual persona that you want to convert and deepen the relationship with – and turn into an SQL or a deal. We should also remember that 50 % of all leads are never followed up by sellers and that the buying journey rarely are as as analogue as one thinks. But this is what it’s for. 

 So what and to whom is ABM for? Account-Based Marketing is a strategy, focused on driving and accelerating sales towards the biggest and most important customers or companies in the sales process. To put it into perspective: We recently worked with a customer that manufactures robots. An order value to them is anywhere between 100 million to 1 billion SEK. Last time they made a deal it took three years, 200 meetings and over 73 people involved in various interaction. And, apart from them, probably about a hundred influencers (users, technicians etcetera) they knew nothing about – and there were constantly new faces showing up for the different meetings. All of these are affected in their own way, at their own stage of the buying journey. They all have different initial values. A purchasing organization, a management or technicians view the purchase differently, depending on their own preferences. How could an MA system support businesses like these? (Note that this particular customer actively canvass ten companies per year over the world.)  

What ABM strategy does is that it makes marketing, sales, product development and management focus their resources together, toward individual accounts. You create specific strategies toward each company. In this case, they will buy their robots based on completely different pains and reasons. One of their targeted companies needs to upgrade robots because of the local environmental requirements – their pain/buying journey is all about who can solve this in the best way for them (they’re already efficient). Whilst another wants to streamline production, making it more efficient due to competition. This means that you need completely different content and strategies, because they are going to buy for completely different reasons. 

 So, implement a common strategy in the company, produce account-specific content (or blend content uniquely per account). Reach a wide range of employees in each targeted organization during several years and change the message depending on whether or not marketing or sales is experiencing that the account is moving forward. But be ready to take a few steps back – their buying journey is anything but analogue and will always involve new decision makers. Make sure that sales always re-use the content on the field and in social media. 

 I’ve seen many organizations succeed big time with a marketing automation strategy, but never companies with similar challenges as described above. So, if you have larger order values and need to influence a larger decision-making group, ABM is for you. Or, if let’s say, 80 % of your revenue comes from 20 % of your customers – use ABM towards them and implement another strategy towards the rest. Of course, marketing automation works as a tool and complements a wider account-based strategy (if you are already working with it), but it can not be the main technique.


Johan Sundstrand, CEO Freya News

Download: The complete guide to Account-Based Marketing

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