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Ah yes, the match up of the decade: Demand-gen vs ABM. Two marketing approaches that are battling for B2B marketers’ precious marketing dollars.

Some say that account-based marketing is the way of the future. After all, 87% of B2B marketers have agreed ABM delivers a higher ROI than other marketing activities.

But, while this battle makes for great headlines, the truth of the matter is that demand-gen and ABM are actually more like marketing sidekicks rather than rivals.

The Double Funnel for B2B Marketers

A useful metaphor for B2B marketing is throwing a party. You put together a theme, get some snacks and beverages (aka your content), you invite the people you know, they invite people they know, and eventually you have a nice gathering.

This is what demand-gen typically looks like. You create something that people want and then they come over to your business to check it out. But what happens if someone way above average, maybe Elon Musk or Oprah or Justin Timberlake, walks through the door?

Would you treat them the same way as everyone else?

Of course not.

Chances are you’ll take notice and you’ll want to provide them with a VIP experience. You’ll probably want to talk to them yourself and you’ll want to introduce them to your closest friends.

This is the idea behind what we call The Double Funnel.

The Double Funnel by RollWorks

Demand-gen makes up the top of the funnel and brings in leads of all kinds into your pipeline. Then one of three outcomes can happen:

  • Good fit leads go into your demand-gen funnel

  • VIP leads get moved into your ABM funnel

  • Poor fit leads get disqualified

But wait, what about my target account list?

Most marketers who have already started running their account-based marketing programs started with a target account list, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem with creating a target account list from scratch though is that it’s very time-consuming to do.

It can take months to bring in the right stakeholders, get them all to sit down together, and agree on which accounts matter the most. In our own experience, this process is very painful and doesn’t always result in the best target account list possible.

A better way we’ve found to run an ABM program is by starting quickly with a few target accounts and then adding and subtracting from them as you learn best practices.

This flexibility allows you to take a much more data-driven approach and let the numbers guide you along the way.

So, what numbers and metrics should you look at to determine whether someone goes into your demand-gen funnel or ABM funnel?

Who Gets the ABM VIP Treatment

There are 3 metrics that you should use to determine who to pipe into your ABM funnel:

  • Are they on your target account list?

  • Predictive scoring models

  • Your sales team

Enriching Your Target Account List

One of the reasons that taking an account-based approach to marketing works is because of the nature of B2B deals. According to the CEB, the average B2B deal now requires 5.4 stakeholders to sign off before a purchase is made.

That means that in order to close a B2B deal you’ll need to gain the support of as many influencers at that account as possible.

If you have a target account list you’ll already be serving ads to that account, but most likely you won’t know every single person you need to reach. If you see someone from that target account come in through demand-gen, you should absolutely add them to your ABM program so that they can also get a VIP treatment.

As I’m sure we’ve all experienced, it’s not a great feeling when your coworker gets a direct-mail gift from a company and you, who are on the same team, don’t get anything. Make sure everyone who should be in your ABM program is included.

Predictive Scoring

A more automated way of filtering your demand-gen funnel is by using predictive scoring. Predictive scoring uses data from sources outside your own database to enrich the information of the leads coming in.

There are many vendors you can use to score your data, Mintigo, LeanData, and Infer come to mind, but there are many others. Your ABM vendor is another source of data enrichment that can help you filter your demand-gen leads. RollWorks, for instance, has over 1.2 billion profiles in its database that it uses to suggest leads and accounts for you.

Your Sales Team

When people talk about sales & marketing alignment, they usually speak in vague cliches without giving any concrete advice. If you want to know how you can get your sales team involved in the process then this is it: ask for their opinion.

Your sales team spends all day, every day, looking for prospects that could be a good fit to be your customers. They’ve accumulated thousands of hours of experience about what types of companies work and which don’t. (Some companies even put their sales development reps on their marketing team).

As your sales reps go through their leads, encourage them to bring up leads that they think could be a good fit for your ABM program. This not only brings sales and marketing closer together, but it also leads to some unexpected wins.

Who Gets ABM Lite

One insight we’ve gained as we’ve run our own ABM program is that it’s very hard to draw a line between demand-gen and ABM. There are a lot of accounts that aren’t quite big enough to put them into your full-fledged ABM program. 

These companies, even if they were to become your customer, wouldn’t spend enough with you to make a meaningful return on all the work you invested to add them into your ABM program. But, on the other hand, they also definitely have more potential than the other prospects in the pipeline.

Because of this discrepancy we decided to create an ABM lite program.

In our own ABM program we wanted to target companies with 300+ employees as a baseline. What we found, however, is that some companies bring in huge revenue numbers despite only having a few employees.

These companies are usually highly-funded startups that are growing at a massive rate. They tend to have 50-100 employees, but they’re still doing millions in revenue.

They are the equivalent of a rising star coming to your party, think Macklemore before he was a Grammy winner or Obama before he was president. You’d still want to give them some special treatment to make sure you recognize their potential.

In our own ABM lite program, this means we still serve these leads personalized ads, such as the one below, but maybe tone down the direct mail component to something more modest.

example of personalized ads RollWorks

This slightly customized approach works very well and still makes a big impression. In fact, our current highest spending customer at RollWorks used to be one of these upstarts that grew over the last year into a VIP.

Conclusion & Takeaways

Regardless of how mature your B2B marketing program is, nearly all B2B marketers can benefit from account-based marketing. The question you should be asking isn’t whether to run ABM or not, but rather how much ABM you should be running.

As we discussed above, there are many different levels of ABM that you can run. From simple automatic personalized ads to a completely hand-picked target account list, the range you can choose from is vast.

If you’re just getting started with account-based marketing, we recommend thinking of ABM as an add-on to your traditional lead-gen funnel. Rather than pitching your executives on a whole new program, you should position ABM as an enhancement to what you’re already doing.

After all, ABM means you’re simply being selective about who you target, and you’re providing those VIP prospects with a personalized experience that will make an impression.

If you’d like to browse how different companies have run their ABM programs, we recommend reading through The Big Book of ABM Campaigns, which was co-written by Bizible, Datanyze, LiveRamp, Radius and RollWorks. It covers how each company ran their campaign, what they learned, and how they would improve upon it if they did it again.

You can get The Big Book of ABM Campaigns here.