Sunday, June 18, 2017

Why It's Hard to "Manage" the Customer Experience


Senior business leaders now recognize that providing outstanding customer experiences is a powerful driver of revenue growth and a critical component of competitive advantage.

In the 2017 Digital Trends report by Econsultancy and Adobe, which was based on a global survey of more than 14,000 digital marketing and ecommerce professionals, respondents said that optimizing the customer experience is their most exciting opportunity in 2017, and that customer experience is the primary way their company will seek to differentiate itself over the next five years.

In a 2015 survey of 1,350 B2B executives by Accenture, 79% of respondents said that a differentiated customer experience has a direct impact on business results, and 78% believe it produces a competitive advantage.

Several national consulting firms, such as McKinsey, Accenture, and Forrester, have made customer experience management a core part of their practice. And several professional societies, such as the Customer Experience Professionals Association, have been established to support the customer experience management discipline.

All of this demonstrates why customer experience (CX) management has become one of the most important and most widely-discussed topics in today's business world. I would suggest that CX management is also likely to be one of the most significant and persistent challenges facing companies for the foreseeable future.

CX management is difficult to master for several reasons. First of all, it is a complex, multi-faceted phenomenon. A recent article in the Journal of Marketing contains a detailed review of the academic literature relating to customer experience and provides an excellent introduction to the complexities of the customer experience "construct." If you have doubts about the complexity, just consider the definition of CX offered by the authors:  "Overall, we thus conclude that customer experience is a multidimensional construct focusing on a customer's cognitive, emotional, behavioral, sensorial, and social responses to a firm's offerings during the customer's entire purchase journey."

CX management is also difficult to master because no company can control all of the factors that produce customer experiences. At the most basic level, an "experience" has three components:
  1. The environment - This is the thing that is experienced. It can be a product or a service or a website or a call center (or for that matter, a theme park or a movie or dinner at a restaurant).
  2. The encounter - This is the interaction between an individual and a particular environment.
  3. The effect - This is the perception formed and held by the individual that results from his or her encounter with the environment.
A company can control the attributes and characteristics of the environments presented to customers, and it has some control over what happens during an encounter. But a company has no control over the effect component of an experience. The effect is largely determined by the context of the encounter and by the customer's mental state, and these are the last things any company can control or "manage."

Companies can increase the odds of achieving a positive outcome by understanding what the customer is trying to accomplish in an encounter and the context in which an encounter occurs. But, that's a far cry from "managing" the customer experience.

Illustration courtesy of Ron Mader via Flickr CC.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A Blueprint for Successful Account-Based Marketing

With account-based marketing sweeping across the B2B marketing landscape like an out-of-control wildfire, it was only a matter of time until we started seeing full-length books on the topic. One of the best is A Practitioner's Guide to Account-Based Marketing by Bev Burgess with Dave Munn published earlier this year.

Bev Burgess is a Senior Vice President and the ABM Practice Lead at ITSMA, and Dave Munn is ITSMA's President and CEO. ITSMA pioneered the development of account-based marketing in the early 2000s, and for the past 10+ years, it has conducted numerous research studies and educational programs regarding the practice. So, ITSMA has been a leading source of thought leadership and research data on ABM for more than a decade, and the authors draw extensively on that data and expertise throughout the book.

A Practitioner's Guide is designed for readers at all stages of the ABM journey, from those who have just heard about ABM and want to learn more about it, to those who have an ABM program in place and want to improve it.

The book is organized in three parts. Part One covers the basics of ABM, including how to determine which accounts should be included in your ABM program. Part One also describes a proven four-step process for implementing account-based marketing. Part Two of the book explains how to plan and execute an ABM program for an individual strategic account. Part Three focuses on the attributes and skills you need to be a good account-based marketer, and it provides advice on managing a career in ABM.

Throughout the book, Burgess and Munn emphasize the importance of treating ABM as a strategic revenue growth initiative, not just as a marketing or sales support initiative. The authors repeatedly state that successful ABM requires a high level of collaboration between marketing and sales, and can require the involvement of other business functions as well.

This may be the single most significant concept contained in A Practitioner's Guide because it constitutes the foundation that makes the other processes described in the book work effectively. What we now call account-based marketing is actually a business strategy that is built around maximizing revenue growth from a select group of target accounts. In retrospect, it would have been better if ITSMA had named this approach to revenue growth account-based demand generation instead of account-based marketing.

Another strength of A Practitioner's Guide is that it paints a realistic picture of the effort that's required to build a successful ABM program. Over the past couple of years, the hype surrounding ABM has been almost deafening. While much of the "positive press" about ABM is justified, the hype has also tended to obscure or minimize the work that's necessary to do ABM well. Burgess and Munn have brought a much-needed dose of reality to the ABM conversation.

If there is anything to criticize about A Practitioner's Guide, it would be that much of the material in the book appears to be based on the use of ABM by tech companies. For example, the book contains nine informative case studies, and eight of them are about companies that provide technology-related products or services.

The orientation of the book shouldn't be surprising, given that ITSMA is the Information Technology Services Marketing Association. Some readers may wonder whether the principles discussed in the book are equally applicable for companies that operate outside the tech sector. In my experience, the ABM principles laid out in A Practitioner's Guide are valid for any company where ABM itself is appropriate.

If you're thinking about adopting ABM, or if you're involved in developing an ABM program, you need to read this book.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Cracking the Code on Marketing Performance Management


A few days ago, VisionEdge Marketing, Hive9, and Valid USA published the results of the 2017 Marketing Performance Management (MPM) Benchmark study. The 2017 study consisted of an online survey that produced 418 qualified responses.

VisionEdge Marketing and various partners have conducted this study annually for the past 16 years. The primary goal of the research is (and has been) to identify the attributes and practices of marketing organizations that excel at measuring and demonstrating marketing's value and contribution to the business.

This is one of the annual research studies that I look forward to reviewing every year. Once again, this year's study provides valuable insights regarding a subject of vital importance to B2B marketers, and I encourage you to get a copy of the study report and read it carefully.

The 2017 study report is not currently available online. However, VisionEdge Marketing, Hive9, and Valid USA will be hosting a webinar regarding the study on June 14th, and all webinar attendees will be offered a copy of the study report. You can register for the webinar here.

Here are four key takeaways from the 2017 MPM study.

The Pressure is Still On

Marketing leaders are still under significant pressure to measure and demonstrate marketing's value and contribution to the business. Sixty-eight percent of the survey respondents said this pressure is actually increasing. Other recent studies have produced similar findings. For example, in the February 2017 edition of The CMO Survey (conducted by Dr. Christine Moorman with Duke University's Fuqua School of Business), 56.9% of CMOs reported pressure from their CEO and/or Board of Directors to prove the value of marketing.

A Select Few are Really Good

Only 23% of survey respondents said their C-suite would give marketing a grade of "A" (90 or more on a 100-point scale) on its ability to measure and demonstrate its value to the business. This indicates that most marketing organizations have significant work to do in this area to meet the needs of C-level executives.

Even the Best Can Get Better

The 2017 MPM study clearly shows that even best-in-class marketing organizations have significant room to improve. For example:
  • Survey respondents gave BIC marketing organizations a score of 7.4 (on a 10-point scale) on their use of marketing metrics that link marketing results to business outcomes. Middle-of-the-pack organizations received a score of 7.3.
  • Only 61% of BIC marketing organizations are using metrics chains, which the study found is one of the key components of an effective marketing performance management system.
  • Most high-performing organizations need to expand their use of data. Only 45% of BIC marketing organizations use data to make strategic decisions, and only 32% use data to improve effectiveness.
MPM is Challenging
Perhaps most importantly, the 2017 study makes it clear that designing and building a comprehensive and meaningful marketing performance management system is not a simple or easy task. The study identifies six key "ingredients" of an effective MPM system, and all six are necessary to achieve best-in-class results.
In addition, a comprehensive MPM system can easily become complex. For example, it's very common for a large or mid-size B2B company to have several strategic business outcomes that marketing has (or shares) responsibility for. In these circumstances, the performance management system will require more metrics, more performance targets, and multiple metrics chains.
Despite these challenges, it's vital to build an effective marketing performance management system because proving the value and impact of marketing is no longer optional for most marketing leaders.

Image courtesy of VisionEdge Marketing.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

More Evidence Regarding Small Business Marketing Practices

A few weeks ago, I published a post that discussed some of the major findings of a survey conducted by Target Marketing magazine regarding the marketing practices of small and mid-size companies. Recently, Clutch (a B2B market research firm based in Washington, DC) published the results of its 2017 Small Business Digital Marketing Survey. Because these two studies addressed similar topics, I thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast their findings.

Both of these studies focused on smaller companies. In the Target Marketing survey - which produced 725 responses - 50% of the respondents were with companies having less than $5 million in annual revenue, and 22% were with companies having annual revenue of $5 million to $50 million.

In the Clutch survey - which produced 350 responses - 46% percent of the respondents were with companies having less than $1 million in annual revenue, and 26% were with companies having annual revenue of $1 million to $5 million.

Both studies indicate that marketing spending by most small companies will increase or hold steady in 2017. In the Target Marketing survey, 37% of respondents said their 2017 marketing budget would be higher than in 2016, and 40% said their budget would stay the same compared to 2016. In the Clutch survey, 49% of respondents said their marketing budget would increase in 2017, and 33% said it would remain flat.

Both surveys also asked participants how their spending on specific marketing methods would change in 2017. The following table shows the percentage of respondents in each survey who said they plan to increase spending on each identified method or channel. (Note:  The Clutch survey focused exclusively on digital marketing methods.)




























The Clutch survey also provides a couple of additional data points regarding small business marketing practices:

  • Over two-thirds of the survey respondents (68%) reported spending less than $100,000 on marketing and advertising in 2016, and 41% said they spent less than $10,000.
  • About half of the respondents (49%) have 1 or 2 employees working on digital marketing activities, while 28% said they have 3 or 4 digital marketing employees.
Top image courtesy of Jax House via Flickr CC.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Marketing Best Practices Need Warning Labels


Business leaders of all kinds regard the identification and implementation of best practices as one of the most powerful management tools at their disposal. And why shouldn't they? It seems immanently reasonable to identify the practices of high-performing companies and then emulate those practices.

Marketing leaders are particularly enamored with best practices. After all, marketing success is difficult to achieve and even harder to sustain because the marketing landscape is always changing, and because it's incredibly hard to predict what marketing messages and methods will win the hearts and minds of potential customers. In these circumstances, it shouldn't be surprising that marketers are so fond of "proven" best practices.

Marketing best practices are often portrayed as effective and reliable tools for achieving marketing success, but the reality is somewhat more complicated. Best practices can be helpful when they are understood correctly and used appropriately. However, it's very easy for marketers to become enthralled with the purported benefits of best practices, and to forget about their limitations.

These days, many of the products we buy come with warning labels which highlight the bad things that can happen if we use the product incorrectly. Maybe marketing best practices should come with a set of warnings to remind marketers of their potential "dangers." I can think of several warnings that could be appropriate, but here are three that are particularly important.

Not Comprehensive

"WARNING:  Marketing success results from the interplay of numerous activities and conditions, not all of which are addressed in these best practices. Therefore, these practices may produce less-than-expected results if other factors required for success are absent."

Most marketing best practices are accompanied by an implicit or explicit claim:  Use these practices and your marketing performance will significantly improve. But here's the problem. Most collections of best practices relate to one aspect of marketing, while marketing success usually results from the combined effects of numerous factors, many of which the best practices don't address. Therefore, best practices never provide a truly comprehensive "formula" that will guarantee large-scale improvement in marketing performance.

And even if you assembled a comprehensive list of the marketing best practices that are relevant to your business, you still wouldn't have the magic formula because marketing success is affected by factors that are beyond the scope and control of marketing. These factors include activities in other areas of the business, economic conditions, the actions of competitors, and the unpredictable responses of potential customers. The bottom line is that best practices may be necessary for improving marketing performance, but they aren't sufficient to guarantee marketing success.

Widespread Use Reduces Effectiveness

"WARNING:  The widespread adoption and use of these best practices will reduce their effectiveness."

One of the most paradoxical characteristics of marketing best practices is that the more widely they are used, the less effective they become. Marketing best practices derive their effectiveness from several sources. A practice can be effective because it is based on sound business principles, or because it resonates with how potential customers make decisions, or because it leverages the capabilities of a particular medium of communication.

But best practices are also highly effective because they are usually exceptional. When a best practice is new, it tends to be used by a relatively small number of companies. Therefore, the practice stands out in the marketplace and more effectively captures the attention of potential customers. The distinctiveness also serves to differentiate the company using the practice from its competitors.

Unfortunately, as more and more companies adopt and use a best practice, it loses the distinctiveness that made it highly effective. Content marketing is a great example of a marketing practice that is now more challenging because it is so widely used.

Based on Hindsight

"WARNING:  These best practices have been identified by evaluating past results, and they may be less effective in the future. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results."

Best practices are always based on hindsight. We don't identify a principle or technique as a best practice until we have a fairly significant track record of performance. But as we all know, the marketing environment is constantly evolving. New technologies are appearing at a breathtaking pace, and many of those technologies enable marketing practices that were previously unheard of. Meanwhile, customer expectations are also rapidly changing.

Under these circumstances, marketers should view all best practices as "temporary" and always be alert for developments that may require a change of marketing methods or techniques. It's an overstatement to say that all best practices are obsolete by the time they are recognized as "best." But it's equally wrong to assume that today's best practices will remain unchanged for very long.

Use With Caution

Marketing best practices can help you improve marketing performance and achieve marketing success. But they must be used with caution.

Image courtesy of Travis Wise via Flickr CC.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Getting Started With Customer Journey Maps


Delivering great experiences to existing and potential customers is rapidly becoming a vital source of competitive advantage for many B2B companies. Recent research indicates that most B2B companies expect to be competing primarily on the basis of customer experience in the very near future.

The starting point for improving customer experiences is understanding what interactions are occurring with customers and potential customers, and how useful and satisfying those interactions are from the customer's perspective. A growing number of companies are using customer journey maps to create a visual representation of the interactions that affect customer experiences.

Customer journey maps can serve many purposes, and as a result, they come in a wide variety of forms. If you want to get a feeling for how much variety exists, just run a Google image search for "customer journey map."

There's a wealth of information about building customer journey maps. Over the past few years, customer journey mapping has been the topic of dozens, if not hundreds, of books, articles, white papers, and blog posts. These content resources often take different approaches to customer journey mapping, and that, combined with the many uses of customer journey maps, can make the process seem extremely intimidating.

There are, however, several things you can do to make the process more manageable, especially if you're just getting started with customer journey mapping.

First, it's important to remember that the mapping process - when it's done the right way - is actually more valuable than the maps themselves. Dwight Eisenhower made this point about military plans when he said, "Plans are worthless, but planning is everything." To create accurate customer journey maps, it's essential to gather and use customer input, and this gives you the opportunity to see your business through the eyes of your customers.

Second, customers will actually have several journeys over the course of their relationship with your company. Don't attempt to address all of these journeys in one mapping project. Work on one journey at a time, and focus on getting that one right.

When companies are just beginning their journey mapping efforts, I usually recommend that they focus on post-purchase journeys. There's a lot of buzz these days about using journey maps to support marketing and sales efforts. These kinds of maps cat certainly be valuable, but post-purchase journeys tend to be more concrete and thus easier to map. Plus, it's usually easier to obtain input from existing customers.

Finally, it's important to clearly define your objectives before you begin to create a customer journey map. To improve customer experiences, the most important thing to understand is what your customers are trying to accomplish when they interact with your company. Therefore, it's important to describe each journey in terms of the customer's objective. In other words, define your customers' journeys by asking:  What jobs are our customers trying to get done when they interact with our company?

Once you've answered this question, you can begin the process of improving customer experiences by answering a second question:  How can we make it easier, faster, and/or cheaper for customers to get these jobs done?

One final thought. Mapping customer journeys is not a one-time job. You will need to validate and possibly update your customer journey maps on a regular basis, at least once a year.

Illustration courtesy of Jenny Cham via Flickr CC.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Why Marketing Leaders Must Connect the Dots


In a recent article for dmnews.com, Mike Colombo, the CMO of Cloudwords, argued that many CMOs aren't ready for a seat at the C-suite table. According to Mr. Colombo, many CMOs aren't winning a seat at the "grown-up" table because they're still relying on performance metrics that are inconsequential to company leaders.

Recent research has confirmed that many marketers aren't doing a great job of communicating the value that marketing contributes to the business. In the 2016 Marketing Performance Management Benchmark Study by VisionEdge Marketing and Demand Metric, only 23% of survey respondents said their CEO would give marketing a grade of "A" on its ability to demonstrate its value and contribution to the business.

A disconnect between marketing and the rest of the C-suite can exist if CMOs don't clearly communicate the relationship between marketing programs and the business outcomes that matter to other C-suite executives. Most marketing leaders tend to focus on the programs they're running and the direct results of those programs (response rates, downloads, pageviews, etc.). The problem arises when these direct program results aren't linked to the high-level objectives that C-level executives really care about.

The ultimate mission of marketing is to drive revenue growth. Virtually all companies have a revenue growth goal as one of their top-line strategic business objectives. Many companies also have specific goals for new customer acquisition, customer retention and growth, and market share, but these objectives are all directly related to revenue growth. Therefore, every marketing activity is (or should be) designed to generate (or contribute to the production of) revenue.

To effectively communicate the connection between marketing activities and revenue, marketing leaders must develop a revenue growth strategy, which, at its most basic level, is a hypothesis that describes how the company will grow revenue. A revenue growth strategy is essentially a big if-then statement that says, "If we execute these specific marketing programs, then we will meet our revenue growth objectives."

However, many marketing activities don't directly produce revenue. Some marketing activities are several steps removed from the realization of revenue, but they are essential components of the revenue generation process. Therefore, a revenue growth strategy is a set of if-then statements, each of which describes a specific marketing activity and the anticipated results of that activity. These individual if-then statements are then combined to create chains of cause-and-effect relationships that connect individual marketing activities to the realization of revenue.

A simplified version of one of these cause-and-effect chains might look something like this:

  • If we publish a blog that offers readers access to compelling content resources, then more potential buyers will identify themselves and consume our content.
  • If more potential buyers identify themselves and consume our content, then we will generate more qualified sales leads.
  • If we generate more qualified sales leads, then we will create more legitimate sales opportunities.
  • If we increase the number of legitimate sales opportunities, then we will close more sales.
  • If we close more sales, then we will produce more revenue, and that will help us reach our revenue growth objectives.
In short, CMOs can fail to earn a seat at the C-suite table if they don't "connect the dots" between marketing programs and revenue growth. To create and sustain credibility with other senior company leaders, CMOs must understand the links between individual marketing activities and revenue growth, and they must make those links visible to the CEO and other members of the C-suite.

For more on this topic, take a look at Laura Patterson's recent article at MarketingProfs

Illustration courtesy of Lisa Plummer via Flickr CC.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Magic of "Job-Focused" Content


When Theodore Levitt taught marketing at the Harvard Business School, he frequently reminded his students that "People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole." The point Professor Levitt was making is that people don't usually buy a product or service because they want the product or service itself. What they really want is what the product or service will help them accomplish.

In The Innovator's Solution, Clayton Christensen built on Professor Levitt's idea to describe what is called the jobs-to-be-done framework. The basic idea of this framework is that when people become aware of a "job" they need to get done, they look for a product or service they can "hire" to perform the job.

Christensen argues that this is how customers "experience life." Their thought processes begin with an awareness that they need to get something done, and then they seek to hire something or someone to do the job as effectively, conveniently, and inexpensively as possible.

The attributes of the jobs that people are needing to get done constitute the circumstances in which they buy. Therefore, Christensen says, the jobs-to-be-done framework can enable company leaders to reliably predict what features and functionality will cause people to buy a product or service.

The jobs-to-be-done framework is often used to guide the process of developing new products and services, but it also has implications for marketing. What it tells us is that one key to effective marketing is to focus the majority of our marketing messages and content on the jobs our potential buyers need to get done. 

To create compelling "job-focused" messages and content, marketers need a thorough understanding of the jobs their potential buyers are trying to get done. Specifically, marketers need to know:
  • What the specific jobs are
  • Why the jobs are important
  • What happens if the jobs don't get done
  • How potential buyers are trying to perform the jobs - what tools and processes are they using
  • What is preventing prospects from getting the jobs done effectively and efficiently - what are the limitations and shortcomings of their existing tools and processes
Using content that is built around the jobs that your buyers are trying to get done provides several important benefits:

  • Content that can help buyers get an important job done is more likely to earn their attention and engagement because it provides meaningful value.
  • When you use the jobs-to-be-done framework to guide your content marketing program, content development efforts become more focused, and less time is wasted creating content that won't resonate with potential buyers.
  • Job-focused content typically has a longer shelf life. As long as the identified job exists, the content relating to that job will remain valuable and useful. While job-focused content does need to be reviewed and possibly updated on a regular basis, the longer shelf life can ease the content development burden.
  • In many cases, multiple members of the buying group will need to get the same job done. Therefore, job-focused content can often be used with several buyer personas. And such content can be easily customized for each relevant persona. Plus, by identifying the jobs that multiple buyers have in common, job-focused content can help the buying group reach consensus.
It's abundantly clear that content marketing success is becoming more difficult to achieve. Using content that buyers will instinctively see as meaningful and valuable will increase your odds of success, and the jobs-to-be-done framework can help you develop such content.

Illustration courtesy of Mufidah Kassallas via Flickr CC.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

What the Subscription Economy Means for B2B Marketers


One of the most profound business developments of the past few years has been the proliferation of companies using subscription-based business models. Of course, subscription-based businesses aren't new. We've been subscribing to newspapers and magazines for decades. What is new is that more and more kinds of goods are being repackaged as services and sold on a subscription basis.

The rapidly growing number of companies that offer "software-as-a-service" is probably the most prominent example of this phenomenon. Software applications that were once sold for a fixed price and distributed via CD's or Internet downloads are now sold on a subscription basis and accessed and used via the cloud. Think Salesforce, Office 365, and B2B marketing automation solutions. The media industry has also been disrupted by companies using subscription-based business models. Think Spotify and Netflix.

What really makes the subscription economy a profound business development is the range of products that can be sold on a subscription basis. GE offers a subscription model for its jet engines. Caterpillar is said to be moving toward selling metric tons of earth moved rather than earth moving equipment. I (and you) can "subscribe" to razors (Dollar Shave Club), groceries (Blue Apron), and even automobiles (Zipcar).

The subscription economy appears to be growing rapidly, and many subscription-based businesses are performing well. A recent study by MGI Research suggests that the subscription economy could exceed $100 billion by 2020. And a recent analysis by Zuora (a provider of software for subscription-based businesses) found that since the beginning of 2012, the sales of subscription-based businesses are growing nine times faster that sales of companies in the S & P 500, and more than four times the rate of US retail sales (including e-commerce).

So, what does the shift to subscription-based business mean for B2B marketers? First and foremost, it means that marketers should focus more of their time and attention on customer retention and growth.

In a subscription-based business, most of the economic value of a customer is realized in installments, over time, rather than when the initial "sale" is made. Because of customer acquisition costs, new customers are invariably unprofitable, and they will not become profitable until they have been "subscribers" for some period of time. So in essence, customer profitability depends directly on the length of the customer relationship, as the following diagram shows.
















Most marketers will acknowledge the importance of customer retention and growth, but most companies are still focused primarily on customer acquisition. In a 2016 global survey of more than 1,000 marketers by Econsultancy in association with IBM Watson Marketing, respondents said that, on average, 55% of their revenues are delivered by customer acquisition activities, and 45% are achieved through customer retention activities.

Delivering great experiences to existing customers is obviously critical for companies that have subscription-based business models because of the dynamics of customer profitability. But the same pattern of customer profitability is also found in many kinds of companies that don't use a true subscription model.

In many types of companies, for example, the first sale to a customer will not be sufficient to make that customer profitable because of the marketing and sales costs that must be incurred to acquire the customer. Most of the profits will result from the customer's subsequent purchases of additional or ancillary products. Epson may have earned some profit when I purchased a new printer about a year ago, but they've almost certainly realized significantly more profits from the multiple ink purchases I've made over the past year.

These dynamics of customer profitability mean that marketers in virtually all kinds of B2B companies should be more focused on nurturing relationships with existing customers.

Top image courtesy of Rob Enslin via Flickr CC.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

B2B Buyers Are Still Skeptical About Vendor Content


A recent research report by TrustRadius paints a rather sobering picture of the effectiveness of B2B content marketing. The B2B Buying Disconnect is based on the results of two surveys. One was a survey of 418 individuals who played a key role in a significant software purchase during the previous two years, and the second was a survey of 190 individuals who worked for software vendors in a marketing or sales leadership capacity.

Although the TrustRadius study focused exclusively on technology buyers and sellers, the results would almost certainly be similar in other cases involving complex B2B products or services.

In the buyer survey, TrustRadius asked participants to select which sources of information they used during their purchasing process from a list of 12 options. Then survey participants rated each information source in terms of helpfulness and trustworthiness. The table below depicts where each source of information ranked across these three dimensions.























There are three primary takeaways from these rankings.

Buyers prefer resources that provide direct experience with the product or service - Survey respondents ranked product demos and free trials as very helpful and very trustworthy.

Buyers value information from third parties - Respondents described referrals from friends, colleagues, or peers as very helpful and very trustworthy. Buyers also ranked user reviews and customer references as very helpful, and they rated conversations with analysts and recommendations by solution consultants as highly trustworthy.

Except for product demos, buyers place little value on most types of vendor-provided information - Survey respondents rated vendor sales reps and sales presentations fairly high in terms of helpfulness, but low in terms of trustworthiness. Respondents ranked vendor or product websites and vendor collateral (e.g. ebooks, case studies, webinars) as the least helpful and least trustworthy sources of information.

These research findings should be a wake-up call for B2B marketers. In the 2017 edition of the B2B content marketing survey by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, only 34% of B2B marketers rated their content marketing strategy as extremely or very effective. The comparable percentage was 30% in 2016 and 38% in 2015. The buyer attitudes captured in the TrustRadius study explain (at least in part) why only a minority of companies are achieving a high level of success with content marketing.

As marketers, we need to expect and accept that many potential buyers will view our content with a skeptical eye. To overcome this skepticism, we need to "go the extra mile" to create content that is objective and non-promotional, and most importantly, content that delivers real value to our potential buyers.

Top image courtesy of Terry Johnston via Flickr CC.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

How to Weaken the Grip of the Status Quo


Astute marketing and sales professionals have long understood that their toughest competitor is usually the status quo. In most cases, no sale can be made unless prospects are first willing to consider changing their current methods and practices. Given the importance of the issue, it shouldn't be surprising that many marketing and sales experts have proposed several techniques for "breaking the grip of the status quo."

Recent research by several firms has shown that what business buyers are really looking for is fresh insights about the issues or challenges they are facing and about how to improve their business. Therefore, compelling insights can be an effective mechanism for loosening the grip of the status quo and creating a willingness to consider change.

So, what qualifies as insight, and what distinguishes it from other kinds of information that is used in marketing and sales messaging? CEB defines insight as information that disrupts a prospect's level of comfort with the status quo. Like thought leadership, compelling insights are credible and relevant, and they teach prospects something new. But in addition, insights simultaneously reveal - either directly or implicitly - the disadvantages and/or shortcomings of the prospect's status quo. The objective is to cause the prospect to feel a sense of urgency to act.

Developing insights that will resonate with potential buyers is not an easy task. It requires an in-depth understanding of your prospect's business and of the important developments or trends that are affecting or will impact his or her business.

But what makes developing insights really difficult is the need to bring a unique perspective to these underlying facts and circumstances. If your marketing messages and sales conversations make the same points that your competitors are making, you aren't really providing the kinds of insights that will prompt your prospects to act or differentiate your company from the competition.

One fertile source of effective insights is what Corporate Visions calls unconsidered needs. Corporate Visions identifies three basic types of unconsidered needs:

  1. Unknown needs exist when there is a problem, challenge, or opportunity that a potential buyer is unaware of.
  2. Unmet needs exist when a potential buyer is aware of a problem or challenge, but believes that there's no way to effectively address the problem or challenge. In other words, the buyer believes that the problem is just a "fact of life" that he or she must live with.
  3. Under-valued needs exist when a potential buyer is aware of a problem, challenge, or opportunity, but doesn't understand or appreciate its importance or how quickly its impact will be felt.
Insights can be developed around unconsidered needs in several ways:
  • They can describe the causes and effects of a previously unrecognized problem.
  • They can describe a new or innovative solution for a "fact of life" problem or challenge.
  • They can make the full ramifications and timing of a known issue or problem visible.
The status quo is a powerful competitor, and no technique will win with every potential buyer. But providing insights that disrupt a prospect's comfort with the status quo will give you the best chance to trigger a willingness to consider change.

Illustration courtesy of R/DV/RS via Flickr CC.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Attributes of Winning Thought Leadership Content


Two recent studies provide several important insights regarding the role and importance of thought leadership content in the marketing mix. Thought leadership content is often the primary means of creating the initial engagement with a potential buyer. Therefore, it plays a critical role in the marketing efforts of many B2B companies.

The Economist Group Study

Thought leadership disrupted:  New rules for the content age by The Economist Group was based on a survey (conducted in association with Hill+Knowlton Strategies) of 1,644 global marketing and business executives. This survey included both marketers (those who plan, develop, or manage thought leadership content) and executives (those who consume thought leadership content). The results discussed below are based on the responses of executives.

More than two-thirds (68%) of surveyed executives said they consume thought leadership content at least weekly, and almost as many (63%) said they had increased their consumption over the 12 months prior to the survey. However, 75% of executives also said they had become more selective in their content consumption over the preceding 12-24 months, and the executives reported that, on average, they engage with only about 25% of the thought leadership content they see every day.

When executives were asked why they consume thought leadership content, the top three reasons chosen were to encounter thoughts that go beyond current thinking (42%), to identify new business opportunities (34%), and to address existing business problems (28%).

When they were asked what qualities made thought leadership content compelling, the most popular attributes identified were innovative (40%), big picture (36%), transformative (36%), and credible (35%). In contrast, the adjectives most frequently associated with poor thought leadership content were superficial (34%), sales-driven (31%), and biased (28%).

The Grist Study

Last year, Grist, a B2B content marketing agency based in London, commissioned a study to better understand the views of business executives regarding thought leadership content. The Value of B2B Thought Leadership Survey was based on interviews of more than 200 senior executives at FTSE 350 companies.

When surveyed executives were asked why they consume thought leadership content, the three most frequently chosen reasons were to keep me informed of emerging trends (66%), to enable me to make better business decisions (60%), and to help me understand best practices (52%). When they were asked what qualities were most valuable in thought leadership content, the three most favored attributes were fresh thinking (46%), forward-thinking (30%), and evidence-led (29%).

The interviewers also asked participants what caused thought leadership content to fail. The top three attributes identified by executives were too generic - not directly relevant to me (63%), lack of original insight or ideas (58%), and promoting the advisor, rather than addressing my problems (53%).

The Grist study also sought to obtain data regarding the impact of thought leadership content. Surveyed executives said they consume 31% of the thought leadership content they encounter and that 28% of the content they come across has an impact on their decision-making.

The Takeaway

The results of these two studies provide important pointers for marketers who use thought leadership content in their marketing efforts. They demonstrate that effective thought leadership content must be objective and authoritative, and most importantly, it must provide unique and in-depth insights for the target audience.

Illustration courtesy of Abhijit Bhadurl via Flickr CC.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Multiple Studies Reveal the Growing Adoption of ABM


Unless you've been very out of touch for the past couple of years, you're well aware that account-based marketing has become one of the hottest topics in the B2B marketing world. The hype surrounding ABM has been almost deafening, and based on the hype, it would be easy to conclude that ABM has already been widely adopted by B2B companies.

It does appear that a growing number of companies have implemented (or are at least piloting/testing) account-based marketing, so I thought it would be worthwhile to share the results of several recent research studies that provide insights regarding ABM adoption.

The 2017 Marketing Benchmark Report - North America by Marketo was based on the results of a Q4 2016 survey of contacts within the Marketo customer base (which includes both B2B and B2C companies). The survey produced 1,363 responses. Although the report doesn't provide detailed demographics for the respondents, it's likely that most were marketing leaders or practitioners. In this survey, 34% of the respondents said they were practicing ABM. Marketo also found that the ABM adoption rate was similar for companies of all sizes.

The 2017 State of B2B Digital Marketing Report by DemandWave was based on a survey of B2B marketers in the United States that was conducted in November and December of 2016. The survey produced 179 responses. In this survey, 37% of the respondents said they had tried or were currently using ABM.

In the 2016 ABM Benchmark Survey by Demand Gen Report, 23% of survey respondents said they had been using ABM "for some time," and another 24% said they had "recently launched" an ABM strategy. Demand Gen Report did not provide a description of the survey methodology or demographics for the survey respondents.

The 2016 State of Account Based Marketing (ABM) Study by SiriusDecisions provides some indirect evidence regarding ABM adoption. This study was based on a survey of 200+ B2B companies. In this research, 71% of respondents said they had staff that is fully or partially dedicated to ABM.

Collectively, these studies indicate that account-based marketing has made significant inroads among B2B companies. It's important to remember, however, that none of these surveys used a random sample of all B2B companies. I suspect that the overall ABM adoption rate is somewhat lower than these studies report. That doesn't mean that the shift to ABM isn't real. It just means that the adoption of ABM is still in its early stages.

Illustration courtesy of ccPixs.com via Flickr CC.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Have We Really Improved Marketing Productivity?


The recent pace of change in B2B marketing has been nothing short of breathtaking. Over the past 10-15 years, new marketing technologies, channels, and techniques have appeared in rapid succession, and many of these innovations are now in widespread use. B2B marketing automation, content marketing, inbound marketing, and social media marketing are just of few of the technologies and techniques that have changed B2B marketing over the past decade or so.

By all indications, the pace of change is not slowing. During the past couple of years, many B2B companies have adopted account-based marketing, and many have begun using predictive marketing analytics technologies to support ABM and other marketing efforts. And just within the past few months, we've started to hear that machine learning and artificial intelligence will have a major impact on B2B marketing in the near future.

All of these innovations have promised to improve marketing effectiveness and efficiency, and numerous research studies purport to show that they are delivering a wide range of benefits. But have these innovations really improved the bottom-line productivity of B2B marketing? Can we show - in a credible and convincing way - that B2B marketing is more financially productive today than it was 10 or 15 years ago?

Obviously, these questions must be answered on a company-by-company basis. Some B2B marketers may be able to show that their marketing efforts have become significantly more productive over the past several years. But there is evidence suggesting that some aspects of B2B marketing performance haven't improved as much as we might have anticipated.

One indicator of B2B marketing and sales productivity is the efficiency of the demand generation process. Efficiency is usually measured by the percentage of potential buyers or leads who are "converting" from one lead stage to the next.

Many B2B companies use the Demand Waterfall model developed by SiriusDecisions to describe the stages of the lead-to-revenue process, and from time to time, SiriusDecisions publishes "average" and "best-in-class" conversion rates that link to the Demand Waterfall. The following table shows the conversion rates reported by SiriusDecisions for 2008 and 2014:

















What is most striking about this data is that it indicates there was essentially no improvement in conversion rates - particularly the overall lead-to-revenue conversion rate - between 2008 and 2014.

The 2008 conversion rates largely reflect marketing productivity before many of the marketing innovations mentioned above had become widely adopted. But research has shown that by 2014, a significant number of companies were using these technologies and techniques.

Of course, lead conversion rates aren't the only relevant measure of marketing productivity, and there may be a reasonable explanation for the lack of improvement shown in the SiriusDecisions data. For example, the 2014 conversion rates would not have captured the impact of the shift to account-based marketing that's occurred over the past couple of years. Nevertheless, this data should be a wake-up call for B2B marketers.

Senior company leaders are increasingly expecting marketers to demonstrate that their activities and programs are creating economic value for the enterprise and improving enterprise financial performance. Many senior leaders are no longer satisfied with the tactical performance indicators (campaign response rates, content downloads, etc.) that marketers have traditionally used to describe marketing performance. What senior business leaders really want to see is proof that marketing is delivering financial results and that the dollars they are investing in marketing are being spent as efficiently as possible.

The important point here is that the value of any marketing technology or method must ultimately be judged by whether its use improves marketing productivity. So that's what marketers must be prepared to demonstrate.

Top image courtesy of Kelly Teague via Flickr CC.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

ABM Success Requires "Unnatural" Teamwork


One of the most formidable challenges related to account-based marketing is the need to build and sustain a high level of teamwork among business functions that have historically operated more or less independently. ABM obviously requires a tight alignment between marketing and sales. And when ABM is used to expand relationships with existing customers, the need for alignment will also extend to the customer service/customer success function of a company.

Some ABM experts now speak in terms of account-based everything to make the point that ABM actually encompasses far more than marketing.

Unfortunately, some company leaders don't fully appreciate how much and what kind of teamwork is required for ABM success. For example, most ABM thought leaders and practitioners agree that marketing and sales should jointly:

This level of collaboration is necessary to create a solid foundation for a successful ABM program, but it's really just the starting point. To reap the maximum benefits from ABM, marketing and sales must jointly develop an engagement plan for each target account. This account plan will usually span several weeks to several months, and will likely include marketing and sales activities that must be closely coordinated to produce maximum results. 

In addition, marketing and sales must be ready to make on-the-fly adjustments to their account plan based on actual buyer responses and changing business conditions at each account.

Therefore, successful ABM requires marketing and sales (and in some cases customer service) to work collaboratively on an ongoing basis. This level of coordination is challenging for many companies because it represents a major change in how they have traditionally managed sales leads.

In many B2B companies, the demand generation process involves a series of "hand-offs" from one business function to another. For example, marketing passes leads to business/sales development, which passes leads on to sales. The metaphor often used is a relay race in which each member of the relay team runs for a specified distance and then passes the baton to the next runner. This approach makes it relatively easy to manage demand generation within traditional organizational structures.

The relay race approach has never been the optimum way to manage demand generation, and it won't be effective in an ABM program. To address this challenge, some companies create cross-functional account teams to manage and coordinate the activities relating to their ABM accounts. To use a sports analogy, an ABM account team functions more like a basketball team than a 4 x 100 meter relay team. In an ABM account team, every team member is involved (in one way or another) throughout the entire game, and their roles change on a fluid basis.

The important point here is that successful ABM requires an exceptional level of cross-functional teamwork that isn't "natural" for many companies. Some ABM pundits contend that account-based marketing will create better alignment between marketing and sales, but this just isn't so.

The decision to adopt ABM can be the catalyst for creating better marketing-sales alignment, but ABM won't cause such alignment to magically appear. It's more accurate to say that good alignment between marketing and sales is a necessary prerequisite for successful ABM. Therefore, company leaders must be prepared to create and implement the structures, processes, and culture that are required to make the necessary teamwork a reality.

Illustration courtesy of Katlene Niven via Flickr CC.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Solving the "Dry Well" Challenge of Content Marketing


Consistently producing content that connects with potential buyers remains one of the greatest challenges facing B2B marketers. The need to make content relevant for individual buyers at every stage of the buying process, to publish content in multiple formats across multiple channels, and to publish new content frequently have combined to strain the creativity and resources of B2B marketers.

In the early stages of a company's content marketing efforts when marketers are focused on "building out" their content library, it's relatively easy to identify good topics for content resources. But after the initial build-out phase is completed, it can become more difficult to identify content topics that are relevant and fresh.

Of course, some topics need to be addressed more than once. It's important, for example, to update your content when the capabilities of your product change, or when new research about a topic becomes available. But sooner or later, many B2B marketers will feel that their well of relevant and meaningful topics has run dry.

To address this challenge, marketers need to think more broadly about the kinds of topics that can be effective in their content marketing program. From a topical perspective, there are four basic types of content (shown in the following diagram).






















Product Content - This is just what it sounds like - content that describes the features and functionality of a product or group of related products. In a 2015 study by LinkedIn, business buyers ranked product info, features, functions as their most preferred type of marketing/sales content.

Product Category Content - This is basically "educational" content that discusses issues or needs that a type of product or service can address. When a provider of account-based marketing software creates content that explains why ABM is a more effective approach to marketing, or describes what capabilities buyers should look for in an ABM solution, that's product category content. Good product category content usually doesn't promote a specific product, but it does "evangelize" the product category.

Most of the marketing content created by B2B companies (excluding pure brand advertising) falls into one of these two categories, and these are the types of content topics that marketers focus on first. This is a valid approach, but these two categories will only provide so many good topics for content resources.

There are, however, two additional types of content that can complement product and product category content, and thus provide a valuable source for good content topics.

Business Function Content - This type of content addresses issues relating to the job responsibilities of your potential buyers, but which aren't directly related to your company's product or service. For example, suppose that your company offers a sales enablement solution to financial services firms. Your buying group will almost certainly include chief marketing officers and chief sales officers. Once you've developed enough product and product category content, you can create content resources that address more general marketing and sales issues. This type of content could include topics such as:

  • How to win business from millennial investors
  • How financial advisors can use social selling to attract and win new clients
Industry-Related Content - This type of content discusses issues that are related to the industry in which the prospect operates. To continue with my financial services example, the sales enablement provider could create content around topics such as:
  • The impact of "robo-advisors" on traditional financial services firms
  • New (or pending) governmental regulations affecting financial services firms
You may be wondering why you should create content that isn't closely related to your company's product or service. One of the objectives of content marketing is to demonstrate that you understand the issues and challenges that your prospects and potential buyers are facing. Product category content helps you achieve this objective, but so can business function content and industry-related content.

Top illustration courtesy of Paani Program via Flickr CC.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Does Account-Based Marketing Make Buyer Personas Unnecessary?


Last week, Jason Stewart, the Vice President for Strategic Content at Annuitas, published a great article at LinkedIn titled "What the C-Suite Needs to Know About Account-Based Marketing."

In this article, Jason argues that ABM represents a major step in the right direction for many B2B companies, but he also contends that it falls short of being a comprehensive demand generation strategy. He writes, "ABM is an extraordinarily smart way to make the right tactical decisions when it comes to demand generation, but the elite Account-Based Marketers are still building personas, nurturing every step of the buyer's journey, and know exactly which activities and leads are driving revenue."

I would suggest that Jason's article is particularly on point when it comes to the issue of buyer personas. Most ABM experts say that account-based marketing involves a fundamental shift from "lead-centric" marketing to "account-centric" marketing. But does this mean that ABM diminishes the importance and value of buyer personas? The answer to this question is an emphatic "No," and I'll explain why momentarily. But first, a little historical perspective is in order.

Buyer personas have been a core element of B2B marketing for more than a decade. The origin of buyer personas is usually traced to the practice of creating user personas to help software engineers develop more user-friendly applications. User personas made their appearance in the late 1990's, and we started hearing about buyer personas a few years later.

In the B2B world, buyer personas are intended to help marketing and sales professionals better understand the people who influence business buying decisions, but the importance of this understanding was recognized long before anyone had ever heard of buyer personas. Consider, for example, the following quotation from Organizational Buying Behavior by Frederick E. Webster, Jr. and Yoram Wind published more than four decades ago:

"Although organizational buying is the result of organizational decision making, individual behavior defines this decision-making system. Each person involved in the buying process brings to it a set of needs, goals, habits, past experiences, information, attitudes, and so on which he applies in each specific situation. . .

An efficient and effective marketing strategy for organizational buyers must be aimed at specific individuals who have authority and responsibility for buying decisions, not at some broad conception of the 'organization,' for individuals, not organizations, make organizational buying decisions."

When you implement account-based marketing, the first two steps in the process are to select target accounts and identify the relevant contacts (i.e. buyers) in each target account. The third step in the process is to develop deep insights regarding each account. With ABM, therefore, you will identify the actual buyers, and you will develop deep account insights before you begin your marketing program. Doesn't this knowledge reduce the need for buyer personas?

In reality, buyer personas are still essential for effective ABM because every buyer at each target account will bring his or her individual perspectives to the buying process, and it's still important to have marketing messages and marketing content resources that address those individual buyer perspectives. Today, it is possible to learn more about our actual buyers than in the past, but even "big data" won't consistently reveal the goals, objectives, and motivations of individual buyers.

So, we still need buyer personas to fill those gaps in our understanding. As we interact with actual buyers, we can and should use those interactions to learn more about the specific goals, interests, and perspectives of our buyers. And we should use those insights to fine-tune our marketing messages and content. As we learn more about our actual buyers, we can rely less on buyer personas for insights about those specific buyers. But buyer personas still provide a critical starting point for effective ABM.

Illustration courtesy of Rick B via Flickr.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

How Small and Mid-Size Companies Will Practice Marketing in 2017


Target Marketing magazine recently published the findings of its annual "Media Usage Survey," which was designed to identify marketing spending plans for 2017. The survey was conducted in December 2016 and produced 725 responses from members of the audiences of Target Marketing and subscribers to Total Retail and NonProfit Pro magazines. The researchers suppressed participation by list services firms and creative services/advertising agencies so that all responses would be from marketers.

Forty-two percent of the respondents were affiliated with B2B companies, 36% with hybrid B2B/B2C companies, and 22% with B2C companies. Most of the survey respondents worked for small and mid-size companies:

  • 17% were with companies having $51 million or more in annual revenue
  • 22% were with companies having annual revenue of $5 million to $50 million
  • 50% were with companies having less than $5 million in annual revenue
Most of the respondents to the Target Marketing survey reported that their marketing budget for 2017 would the same or higher than in 2016. Thirty-seven percent said their 2017 budget would be higher, and 40% said their budget would stay the same compared to 2016. Only 15% of respondents said their marketing spending would be lower in 2017 than in 2016.

At larger companies, changes in marketing budgets showed greater variation. Fifty-one percent of respondents from companies with annual revenue of more than $50 million reported an increased marketing budget for 2017, while 20% of such respondents said they have a lower marketing budget this year.

Target Marketing also asked survey participants about the allocation of their marketing budget. The top four media categories identified by survey respondents were:
  1. Online marketing - on average, 36% of the total marketing budget
  2. Print (direct mail, magazines, newspapers, circulars, etc.) - 22%
  3. Live events - 19%
  4. Other - 13%
The report's authors noted that print experienced the biggest year-over-year change, falling from 29%  of the total marketing budget in the 2016 edition of the survey.

The survey also asked participants how their spending on specific marketing methods would change in 2017. The following table shows the top six marketing methods slated for spending increases this year:




















Survey respondents reported that email marketing produces the best ROI for both customer acquisition and customer retention purposes. They also said that "Other" marketing methods produced the second strongest ROI for both acquisition and retention, and that direct mail produced the third-best ROI for both purposes.

The survey report did not indicate what marketing methods were included in the "Other" category. Given that these marketing methods command a significant percentage of the total marketing budget and produce strong ROI, it would be nice to know what specific methods the "Other" category encompasses.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

What You Need to Know About Target Accounts for ABM Success


One of the fundamental characteristics of account-based marketing is the use of marketing messages and content that are tailored for specific target accounts. When company leaders adopt an ABM strategy, they make a conscious decision to focus most of their demand generation efforts on a relatively small number of potential customers. In this situation, it's critical to make marketing communications as effective as possible, and the best way to do that is to use customized content resources that are hyper-relevant for each target account.

Many marketers believe that the need to customize marketing content for individual target accounts constitutes one of the biggest challenges associated with ABM. But it reality, the more difficult job is developing the insights about target accounts that are needed to make customized content truly effective. Deep account insights are required to customize content in ways that will resonate with the buyers in target accounts. Without such insights, any customization that's done will be superficial and largely ineffective.

So, what kinds of account insights are needed to develop effective ABM content? In The Clear & Complete Guide to Account Based Marketing, Engagio provides a "laundry list" of the things marketers need to know about:

  • The target account's industry - The competitive structure, key trends, and growth dynamics of the industry in which each target account operates
  • The target account - The account's stated business strategy, its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, its financial condition, its major competitors, its buying structure and process, its organizational culture and values, and the presence or absence of any recent buying triggers
  • The buying group - The identity of the members of the relevant buying group, and their priorities and communication preferences
  • Account connections - Any existing relationships or connections between the selling company and the target account and/or the members of the buying group
It should be clear that developing deep account insights is a significant undertaking, and it's a job that must be done primarily by people. Technology can play a role in developing deep account insights by making it easier to gather data about target accounts and perform the other research that's required for insight development. But you still need human creativity and judgment to translate the raw data and information into meaningful insights. Therefore, the ability to scale this component of ABM using technology is somewhat limited.
Many companies have addressed the "insight challenge" by adopting a tiered approach to account-based marketing. The top tier, also known as Strategic ABM, is reserved for those accounts that offer the greatest potential value. In a recent survey by ITSMA, the median number of accounts included in Strategic ABM programs was 10. 
Companies focus most of their insight development work on these Strategic ABM accounts. They develop detailed account profiles, and they update those profiles frequently. This in-depth research enables companies to create and use highly customized marketing content and programs for Strategic ABM accounts.
The second tier of account-based marketing, often called ABM Lite, will include a larger number of accounts that have less potential value than Strategic ABM accounts. Therefore, companies typically perform less in-depth research and build less detailed profiles for their ABM Lite accounts. 
For example, a company may have several ABM Lite accounts that operate in the same industry. In this situation, the company will probably conduct sufficient research to develop detailed insights regarding the relevant industry, but it will gather only basic information about each individual account.
Developing the appropriate level of account insights isn't easy, but it's absolutely essential for ABM success. As Engagio wrote in its ABM Guide, "The entire strategy [ABM] depends on doing your homework and learning as much as you possibly can about target accounts (and key buyers at those accounts) so you can maximize your relevance and resonance within each." (Emphasis in original)

Illustration courtesy of Nico Kaiser via Flickr CC.