When Roman emperors paraded in triumph, a slave called an Auriga was employed to whisper periodically in his ear the words Memento homo (“remember, you are only human”).
Marketing today is so dependent on technology that its practitioners could do with their own (imagined) Auriga. This voice-on-the-shoulder should remind them that their job is ultimately about influencing people, and also give them the courage of their convictions rather than relying exclusively on the clever software that underpins our industry.
Essential as programmatic advertising and analytics are, today’s technology-first mindset threatens to hinder the implementation of new initiatives such as account-based marketing (ABM). Instead, marketers must find the courage to jump into new projects and learn through trial and error.
This was the message from two of the world’s technological giants at the ITSMA Next Generation ABM Forum in London earlier this month. I chaired a panel discussion with Oracle’s Michael Avis and Shelby Torrence from Google which examined the companies’ approaches to ABM and the success they have achieved through a willingness to experiment.
In my introduction, I highlighted the huge untapped potential of ABM: while 84 per cent of marketers says it delivers higher ROI than any other approach, only half of organisations have an account-based marketing pilot in place.
One of the problems, said Avis, is that ABM requires very close cooperation between sales and marketing – two business units that traditionally have not communicated well with each other. Instead of pushing a particular set of products, marketers must understand customers’ needs and sales cycles, and this requires sales and marketing to work hand-in-hand. Marketers should therefore be courageous in pushing the benefits of ABM to their partners in sales, since cooperation is essential to the process of researching and crafting strategic deals for “markets of one” – the essence of account-based marketing.
Avis pointed to Oracle’s large and complex product portfolio, which has always necessitated face-to-face relationships. Like many large technology firms, Oracle is famous for its giant gatherings such as OpenWorld, but these are unsuitable for influencing high-value individuals. Instead, Oracle’s ABM campaigns have focused on developing closely-targeted, highly-researched and emotional communications that identify customers’ particular pain points and focus on the needs of their individual business.
Google’s Shelby Torrence gave some great insight on the central role of research in making ABM a success. Account-based marketing is often misunderstood, said Torrence: it is not the same as events and meetings, but rather depends on gathering deep insight into key accounts, and using this to build pilot ABM programmes, then testing and iterating them. She discussed how Google works with MomentumABM to conduct this research, then sits down with the sales team to priortise key accounts and verticals, and brainstorms with sales to identify priority accounts and what approaches will work best.
Torrence stressed that ABM requires patience and expectation-setting, and that it takes longer than traditional marketing methods. Done correctly, however, the ROI is obvious to all.
Our discussion made it plain that we are not Luddites: we acknowledge how technology has transformed the world of marketing, and given reach and accountability that would have been unimaginable only a few years ago. Yet too often marketers can feel like slaves to technology, unable to implement an initiative until a full strategic plan – algorithms and all – has been worked out.
As I mentioned in my closing remarks, we live and work in the real world, and ABM is an intuitive, evolving process where success comes through a process of trial and error. Rather than worrying about getting every detail of a pilot ABM campaign right, marketers should jump in and identify quick wins; adopt, test and evolve their approaches; get sales on board and set a common agenda with shared goals and simple metrics. They should then evangelise the value and ROI to sales teams, whose cooperation is so critical to success.
It seems an odd thing to say, but marketers should eschew perfection if they want really want to get started on the path of ABM. It is, after all, the most ‘human’ tactic in our increasingly technologically-dependent profession, focused as it is on communicating one-on-one with named individuals.
After all, to err is human; to learn lessons and constantly refine our approach – that is sublime.