You don't know when your potential clients will be in the market for the solution you sell. The more complex your product, the less you can predict buying patterns.
Of course, the companies offering you online advertising programs won't go out of their way to remind you of this. Their ad programs are based on timeframes. They'd prefer you made some sort of educated guess about when and where you should advertise, then place your order and pay your invoice.
An entirely new mindset is required
Media buying has a long history and its ways are well established. Whether the media was print, radio or television, ads were sold based on inventory. You bought space and time (and hopefully, an audience).
But now, the most important media marketers can buy are, of course, online properties. Unlike a magazine or TV program, inventory is hardly limited. In fact, it's infinite.
Oddly, this reality hasn't disrupted the media buying process to the degree it should. I propose it's time to understand it has to.
The goal is to cross the finish line
If your sales cycle is long, you need to think of it as marathon. You can't win a marathon by sprinting. You'll drop dead far short of the finish line.
The marathon metaphor is fitting for account based marketing. The end game is winning a contract and then start growing the account further. You need to keep chugging until you achieve it. It's not impossible you'd get a lead or win business by advertising in brief blitzes, but it's not likely.
Customer needs are unpredictable
I recently took on a new client, a Fortune 100 account. My client's plan called for targeting 50 accounts in each of the coming four quarters. I had to challenge the approach. This is not the way this large complex B2B company should be spending their marketing budget. I said, "Stop. You're selling products and services worth millions. A typical sale takes over a year. Your shotgun approach isn't working."
See, all they could do was hope that within each of the quarters, they'd take aim at the right company in their time of need. It felt like a game of roulette.
Most sales opportunities start with an event. Something triggers the buying process. It might be a catastrophic failure of some sort. It could be a new CTO takes charge. Maybe a new directive from the board. A takeover.
Who knows when these types of events might happen? You don't. Often, the client won't either.
If you advertise in three-month runs, all you can do is hope an event triggers interest during the short time span. If it doesn't, you conclude the company's not interested. However, they might become interested the day after your ad campaign run its course.
So back to my client;
I proposed we allocate the same ad budget to target all 50 companies year-round with a lower frequency. This way we could be sure when they do become interested - when the "event" happens - we are going to get you in front of them.
Then we'll see some interest and zero-in to focus on that specific prospect. When a buying process starts we intensify the Account Based-Marketing advertising focusing on the accounts that are in a buying mode.
This is a strategy for making account based marketing work in B2B markets and it calls for ditching the antiquated approach to buying media.
The objective needs to change
The new mindset I propose begins with revisiting the objective. Far too often, I discover the client's identified a specific volume of leads as the measure of success. Marketers' compensation might even be tied to the number of leads or MQLs.
This approach is the furthest thing from account based marketing and tends to deliver very weak results. Most of the leads are rubbish. In many cases, the sales team chooses not to follow-up on them.
Account based marketing is about targeting key accounts, the ones who generate big profits. You land these ideal accounts by targeting them.
You have to be goal-oriented. You must understand:
- You need to reach the right groups of people in the company
- The decision isn't made by one person but rather it's an unorganized web of influencers, users and decision makers
- It's going to take time
- The time it takes depends on the individual company - not media schedules
How do you budget? Many variables come to light, but you certainly need to be more flexible. You must examine:
- Where the target accounts are in the buying cycle
- The size of the audience (number of employees we want to influence)
- The amount of content that needs to presented over the course of the buying cycle
The truth is these accounts are the lifeblood of your business. It doesn't matter how much time it takes to land them.