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5 Key ABM Trends for B2B Marketers to Track Heading into 2020

I’ve attended two B2B conferences in the past few months – B2B Sales and Marketing Exchange in Boston, and MarketingProfs B2B Forum in Washington DC – and at both, account-based marketing was unmistakably top-of-mind. A majority of sessions and conversations evoked the term in some fashion, matching the trend I’ve noticed online and in client interactions. A look at the Google Trends trajectory for “account based marketing” over the past five years reminds me a bit of the trajectory for “content marketing” in the five years prior. Account-Based Marketing Google Trends Data Content Marketing Google Trends Data It’s only natural that B2B organizations everywhere are either adopting or taking an interest in ABM, because the strategy is founded on so many key pillars of effective marketing today: personalization, organizational alignment, and the focused pursuit of high-value customers. Understanding the state of ABM and where it’s heading is critical for any B2B marketing practitioner today. Based on what I’ve been picking up at these events, along with data shared in the newly released 2019 ABM Benchmark Survey Report from Demand Gen Report, here are five trends to focus on as we move into 2020.

5 Key ABM Trends to Plan Around in 2020

The fourth annual ABM benchmark study from Demand Gen Report, which surveyed more than 100 B2B business executives from various industries, ranging across several roles, serves to confirm and reinforce a number of trends we’re seeing in the world of account-based marketing.

1. ABM is B2B Marketing

Only 6% of respondents in the survey said they are not doing ABM yet in any form. Meanwhile, 50% said they’ve had their ABM initiatives in place for more than a year, while another 25% gotten started within the past six to 12 months.  When we covered Demand Gen Report’s 2016 survey on ABM benchmarks, only 47% of respondents said they had an ABM strategy, so clearly the practice has grown substantially in a span of three years. For me, this growth not only signals that B2B brands are increasingly conscious of creating content and experiences for specific buying audiences, but that those efforts are aimed beyond a singular buyer. After all, one of the major premises of ABM is acknowledging that different people with different viewpoints make up a buying committee, something that every B2B marketer needs to pay attention to on the go-forward.

2. Sales and Marketing Alignment is the Biggest ABM Challenge

Most companies report being in the earlier stages of ABM maturity, and it’s evident that sales and marketing alignment is a common barrier to progress, with a leading 46% of survey respondents citing it as their biggest ABM-related challenge.  Top ABM Challenge Data (Source: 2019 ABM Benchmark Survey Report) This struggle isn’t unique to account-based marketing, of course, but ABM is uniquely positioned to help solve it. A strategic and sophisticated ABM program is built on orchestrated account selection, outreach, and nurturing processes. These strategies also tend to measure success based on overall results rather than getting bogged down in credit attribution, helping reduce friction and internal contention. Better alignment between sales and marketing can contribute to a successful ABM program. But the opposite is also true. Creating unity around such an initiative might begin with changing the way we talk about it. In his session at B2B Marketing Exchange (B2BMX) back in February, Oracle’s Kelvin Gee explained that his team prefers to remove the word “marketing” from the phrase because it can feel isolating and disconnected. “We believe words matter,” he said. “We just call it ‘account-based’ because we’re all in it together.” [bctt tweet=”Rather than account-based MARKETING, we just call it account-based because we’re all in it together. @kgee #AccountBased #ABM” username=”toprank”] Certainly, successfully achieving sales and marketing alignment has been a top challenge for brands for ages. But B2B marketers can be the change agents here, as Shahid Javed of Hughes Network Systems shared during his B2BMX session. “Marketing is a service provider to sales—sales is our customer. We need to be able to empower them and enable them to solve problems. We need to make them the hero in the buyer’s eyes.” [bctt tweet=”Sales is our customer. We need to be able to empower them and enable them to solve problems. @shahidj #SalesAndMarketingAlignment” username=”toprank”] For a framework to actualize sales and marketing alignment, you might start with this three-phase approach from Shahid:

  1. Listening and Information Gathering (Engaging stakeholders and simply listening to what they have to say.)
  2. Finding the Sweet Spot (Analyzing your data to create a mutually beneficial plan that can bring everyone together—and get C-suite buy-in.)
  3. Empowering Execution (Making it easy for the sales team to get the marketing and sales collateral they need to be the hero for their customers.)

3. Sales Teams Are Driving Account Selection

When asked how they build and formulate their targeted account lists for ABM, a whopping 80% of respondents said this directive is led by the sales team. Here were the other responses in the report:

  • Firmographic: 68% currently using, 22% plan to use
  • Technographic: 35% currently using, 40% plan to use
  • Behavioral/Intent Signals: 55% currently using, 13% plan to use
  • Predictive: 26% currently using, 39% plan to use

It obviously makes a ton of sense for sales to be heavily involved with account selection – they know first-hand which types of accounts are easiest to work with and most likely to convert – but there is a clear opportunity for marketing to play a bigger role here, perhaps by taking charge with some of the other methods listed. Technographics (the analysis of potential accounts based on their current technology stacks) appears to be viewed as most promising.  As Ty Heath framed account selection during her talk on combining ABM and social selling at MPB2B: “It boils down to, what accounts do you think will be profitable long-term, will be pleasurable to work with, and do you think you can make a real difference for?” Several voices ought to be involved in reaching these conclusions. [bctt tweet=”It boils down to, what accounts do you think will be profitable long-term, will be pleasurable to work with, and do you think you can make a real difference for. @tyrona #ABM #SocialSelling” username=”toprank”]

4. B2B Influencers Aren’t Yet Being Widely Integrated

Speaking of clear opportunities, I was stunned by the graph below. Among six types of content and experiences listed for ABM usage, influencer advocate-related content was last in prevalence at only 29%.  Type of Content Experiences in ABM (Source: 2019 ABM Benchmark Survey Report) As I wrote earlier this year, B2B influencers and ABM are a powerful combination. The focused nature of account-based strategies lends itself well to collaborating with subject matter experts who are visible to, and trusted by, the prospects you most want to engage. When you know specifically who you’re trying to reach, you can confidently identify niche influencers that your audience is likely to recognize and listen to. Research shows that people are more likely to trust technical experts and peers in their field than brand-driven messaging.  Seeing this synergy and opportunity, I’m excited for our team at TopRank Marketing to keep expanding our world-class influencer capabilities in the ABM space specifically. 

5. Quantity Is the Primary Measurement Focus for ABM

How are B2B marketing executives measuring the success of their ABM programs? Here’s how the responses shook out:

  • Net-new accounts engaged (60%)
  • Number of qualified accounts (52%)
  • Contribution to pipeline revenue (50%)
  • Win rate (50%)
  • Pipeline velocity (46%)
  • Account engagement score (41%)

It comes as no surprise that bottom-line numbers are being prioritized over relative rate metrics. Business leaders want to see results, and considering that 69% of respondents in the survey report that their account-based efforts are meeting or exceeding expectations, it seems those results are there.

Find Your Perfect Fit with ABM

Buzzwords aside, account-based marketing is a very simple and natural evolution for B2B marketing. Whether or not you want to attach the label, virtually every business that markets to other businesses should be adhering to many of ABM’s core principles. Looking to learn more about ABM and its fundamentals? Check out this primer from our own Josh Nite: What You Need to Know to Get Started with Account-Based Marketing.

The post 5 Key ABM Trends for B2B Marketers to Track Heading into 2020 appeared first on Online Marketing Blog – TopRank®.

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About Daniel Rodgers

A lot of news that you will not see in the paper. A lot of technology that is coming out that will not see in the paper.

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5 Key Traits of the Best B2B Influencers

Traits B2B Influencers

Traits B2B Influencers

Marketers are still asking, what is B2B influencer marketing? Here’s a definition I’ve been using over the past 5 years or so:

B2B influencer marketing is activating internal and external subject matter experts with engaged networks to advocate and co-create content of mutual value that drives measurable business goals.

As the groundswell around influencer marketing rises and becomes a normal part of the B2B marketing mix, the volume of information and misinformation on the topic also increases.

One of the most popular questions people also ask about B2B influencer marketing focuses on what makes a good business influencer? By now we all know that popularity alone does not make someone influential. It’s certainly important, it's just not the only thing.

As B2B marketers mature in their understanding of the role influence plays and how the dynamic of brand content co-created with industry experts plays out with customers, they begin to realize that other factors matter. Topical relevance matters of course as well as resonance of the topic amongst an influencer’s community.

B2B Marketing Influencers

The intersection of individual expertise, how well that expertise resonates with followers and the size of network creates a baseline of characteristics when evaluating whether a certain influencer might be a match.

But there’s more than that. Understanding what makes a great influencer is both art and science, soft and hard skills. The success of identifying, qualifying and engaging influencers is also directly tied to how they will be engaged and to what end.

Some people reading this might think that influencer marketing isn’t the magic pill some are playing it up to be. There’s a reason for that, because it’s not magic. It’s more like alchemy.

The reality is, there’s no one formula for the perfect B2B influencer, but there are some common characteristics that B2B brands should look for in varying proportions according to what’s important to a program or activation. I call those characteristics:

The 5 Ps of B2B Influence

Proficiency - In B2B marketing, the vast majority of those considered influential possess deep expertise in the field they work in. This is a significant difference from many B2C influencers who are often self proclaimed as influential with clever media creation skills.

As B2C influencer content and engagement tactics evolve, some are crossing over into B2B with a trickle of opportunists successfully creating influence amongst B2B audiences not solely for their expertise, but for a combination of adept social media content creation skills and some expertise. B2B marketers who do their due diligence will be able to filter accordingly.

Popularity - While network size is not the only thing, nor is it the most important thing, it is definitely a metric to consider. Some marketers swing in the direction of ignoring audience size altogether because of lower engagement rates with popular influencers. This is simply foolish. All things being the same, I’ll take 2% engagement of an influencer with a million followers over 2% from someone that has 1,000 followers.

What matters is how network size factors in with the type of influencer you need. For example, popular influencers aka “brandividuals” are often best for top of funnel content. Niche domain expert influencers are better for middle and end of funnel content. Engaging a brandividual and expecting conversions is just naive.

Personality - If you’ve worked in B2C influencer marketing and been exposed to all the characters there, B2B is going to seem a bit dry. Now there are some colorful characters in the B2B influencer community, no doubt. But personality is often a trait that needs to be uncovered when you’re working with some types of business influencers.

The good news is that savvy influencer marketing practitioners know how to plant the seeds that can grow and blossom within an otherwise introverted influencer. You don’t need them to be a colorful character, ripe with personality per se, but you do want them to connect with the passion they have with their craft and how their expertise can help others be successful.

Publishing - Content is the media that conveys the ideas of influence and while B2B influencers are not expected to produce the same types and quantity of content as in B2C, it is ideal when there’s a platform where the influencer publishes. At a minimum, that would be social networks but to be a B2B influencer, it’s most likely that also includes articles contributed to publications if not research, books and presentations.

Promotion - The value a B2B influencer brings beyond adding expertise and credibility to brand content is the ability to share what they helped create with their network. Trust of brand content is at a low, especially with advertising. Customers yearn for authentic content and the right kind of influencer collaboration can give them that, delivered via the influencer’s own distribution channels. That means social networks for course but also potentially blogs, email newsletters, podcast, LinkedIn Live, contributed articles or columns in industry publications.

I know some people reading this are thinking there could be even more P’s like being Prolific, Persuasive or Passion. Yes, there could be so many more but we have to draw the line somewhere! It's important to be able to manage the data and insights necessary to factor these characteristics into selection, qualification and engagement.

Some of these traits will not fully reveal themselves until you work with an influencer on a few content activations. Others will fluctuate over time and that is normal. It's important to understand that influence is a temporal thing. It is not fixed or permanent. It’s important marketers realize that before they disengage an influencer in the short term due to lower performance. The same goes for high expectations after great performance.

Organic influencer engagement is a little dynamic and what you don’t spend on paid influencers like an ad buy you will (in part) need to invest in relationship management, education and even tips that will help the influencers be more effective.

B2B brands with high influencer churn or low performance often apply “ad buy” perspectives to a what is actually a relationship driven effort. Mismatched expectations are not helpful for anyone, so think about the 5Ps as you evaluate and nurture your influencer community. Consider where of each your ideal influencers need to score on the 5 Ps in order to be a good match for the kind of activation you have in mind.

When there’s 5P alignment, there's happiness: for customers, influencers and your B2B brand.

The post 5 Key Traits of the Best B2B Influencers appeared first on Online Marketing Blog - TopRank®.

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