1: Strategy  2: Content.  3: Reach  4: Proven results

Many years ago, in the early 1980's, I was assigned to manage a small ”industrial advertising” (= B2B) agency in London. Compared to most major advertising agencies we had a very business-minded understanding of our customers’ needs, and a number of prestigious clients around Europe.

Our clients were very much aware of the distiguishing characteristics of B2B communication:

  • Relatively few potential buyers
  • Complex target groups, with many decision-makers and influencers, and extended buying processes
  • The need for fine-tuned interplay between marketing and sales
  • Limited communication budgets
  • Often huge order values
  • Deeply rooted scepticism towards conventional advertising
  • Customers tend to choose suppliers rather than products and services

We made clear distinctions between "corporate brand building", which in those early days was considered to take at least 3–5 years, and "sales support" which should generate tangible results over the next few months. A time frame that was often compromised by buying processes that could last a year or more, and it was generally very difficult to monitor and prove results in ways that made sense in the boardroom.

They knew, and we knew that B2B was different. The problem was that we lacked the means and tools to turn this insight into powerful, cost-effective strategies. To focus our clients’ limited resources where they were most likely to make a tangible positive difference, and to monitor reactions throughout the buying cycle.

Today we can do all that, and more. Account-Based Marketing is not only about marcom but the entire sales and marketing process. From the first touch point to the done deal, and way beyond that.

Still, many B2B marcom managers stick to the old ways. Sure, they proudly claim to “go digital”, but their fundamental strategic thinking remains the same as 30 or 40 years ago.

As for “content”, just about everyone seems to love the word these days. The question is what they mean: What’s new about offering attractive information of potential value to the target group? Customer-centered (account-based) marketing requires very specific content. And, if “inbound” means that you leave the smorgasbord wide open for anybody, your sales force will face a huge task sorting out the ones they really want to (and can afford to) work with.

So, what about “reach”? In the old days, we asked our media agencies to pick the most cost-effective media combinations based on reader statistics – a rather blunt instrument to say the least. You may hit the right industry segment or professional category, but without distinguishing XS from XXL and in many cases with little or no concern for geographical areas. And, at best, you would only reach a few of the relevant individuals.

Today we can steer our messages and content to all decision-makers and influencers in exactly the right companies. Paying for only that exposure, minimizing media expenditure. Again, are you still wasting your limited resources in the same way as you did in the 1980's?

Last but not least: Can you monitor the customers and prospects prioritized by your sales force – which ones are active right now and exactly what content they are most interested in? How much time they spend reading? If they are coming back for more? And continually share that precious info with the sales team?

If not, you and your advertising agency are definitely stuck in the 1980's, but it's never too late to do something about it.

Rolf Andersson
Senior Writer & Strategist at Freya News

Download: What is Account-Based Marketing?

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