The premise of account-based marketing (ABM) is that we marketers should only expend valuable, scarce resources like time and money on the most probable prospective customers. Why spend on people who won’t buy? Properly implemented, ABM delivers significantly higher ROI than more traditional marketing methods, but its successes have largely been confined to B2B marketing. The future of ABM, however, looks very different.
Where ABM Doesn’t Work Today
One of the pitfalls of ABM is assuming that we know who the most likely buyer is. We make assumptions based on factors like industry, seniority, company revenue, etc. and filter out companies and prospects who don’t meet these criteria. Inbound marketing passively delivers prospects and leads who don’t fit the mold of what we want to accomplish, preventing us from losing all the revenue of non-conforming leads.
However, the assumption pitfall is why ABM has spread only to larger B2B companies. Smaller, more transactional B2B companies and most B2C companies don’t use ABM because there aren’t obvious, clear groups of extremely high-value customers. For example, what constitutes a high-value customer for a brand of chewing gum? The same 8 year old who buys a pack of gum a week?
ABM’s assumption pitfall is also a blind spot to new growth. If we only chase after the kinds of business we want (which is largely based on the kinds of business we already have), we blind ourselves to new opportunities. Suppose we are targeting CIOs at large healthcare companies who need to buy our new enterprise networking gadget. What if the most profitable segment of the market – one we haven’t discovered yet – is actually in finance companies?
ABM’s greatest weakness could be costing us growth by confining our vision to what we’ve always done to be successful instead of unearthing new successes.
Where AI Will Fix ABM
Artificial intelligence – specifically the technologies involved in unsupervised machine learning – promise to mitigate ABM’s greatest weakness.
Unsupervised learning is teaching machines to categorize and find connections in massive pools of data without a pre-existing model. Instead of telling a machine to look for X (supervised learning), we hand a machine a big pile of data and ask it to tell us what’s in the pile.
With ABM, instead of starting with an assumption about who our best customers are, we start by asking software to cluster and analyze the scope of our industry. We gather information about our customers, our prospects, our peer and aspirational competitors, then we feed that into our machine learning software. Thanks to the enormous amount of social media and online data, we have enough raw materials to build rich profiles of current customers, prospective customers, and nearly every company that participates in our industry. Our machines would find connections invisible to the naked eye.
Humans could not accomplish this task in a reasonable time to launch an ABM marketing program. It could take weeks, months, or years to analyze every scrap of data about our industry to find the hidden treasures. With AI technologies, that capability is within reach.
For example, a machine learning system might determine that job title matters in terms of viable customers, but also that the most valuable customers’ CIOs are all Alanis Morrissette fans, and two months before signing a contract, 82% of them bought a book on meditation. That’s not an insight we’d know to look for, but it’s one we could then construct a model around and then build a plan of action. Imagine if having a sales person send prospects a meditation book could trigger 50% more sales?
The Future Will Be Here Sooner Than You Think
This future, a future in which machines generate actionable insights we can use isn’t a far-off science fiction fantasy. We already have the data; marketers have been complaining that they’re drowning in data for over a decade. The technologies I mentioned above exist today. As more companies implement them, we’ll see AI infuse ABM with greater powers while democratizing its accessibility.
Today, we would need developers and data scientists to implement the latest and greatest AI technologies in ABM.
Tomorrow, we will just need a credit card to swipe for payment to a service that bundles these technologies together affordably.
The future is bright for ABM and AI. It will be here sooner than you think.
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Also published on Medium.