The Fallacy of an Industrial Inbound Marketing to ABM Progression

Ed Marsh | Apr 13, 2017

industrial inbound marketing chasing the shiny tool of abm.jpg

Hopping from buzz to buzz...or ignoring change

Never content to dig in, refine and be accountable for their success (or failure!) the players in the industrial revenue growth world play a funny game. Tell me you haven't watched this movie in your company!

Industrial inbound marketing types tend to hop from one buzz worthy app to another. Often these aren't incremental improvements (e.g. integrating website landing pages with trade show booths) but radical "This is the Holy Grail" sort of hyper kinetic thrashing about between technologies that claim to do what the people have been unsuccessful in doing.

The industrial sales types - those who claim to be students of their B2B complex sale art - are often technology Luddites in contrast. CRM is a reach. You've heard "I've got a system and it works for me!" more than once from a moderately successful rep who thinks that they've forever earned them self autonomy based on a few years of historical success. 

These are just a couple examples of the Dilbert like dysfunction that exists between many silos - and part of the reason that a revamp of the revenue growth function is so desperately necessary in many industrial manufacturing companies.

ABM - the next fixation after industrial inbound marketing

Faced with the really hard work of consistent, effective inbound marketing, and often bereft of sound strategy and tactics, most industrial marketing folks are loathe to "look in the mirror" and instead chase the next tool like a miracle diet. The next one has arrived!

You've probably heard of ABM (account based marketing.) In fact you may have heard that it's the solution which has so long eluded your B2B marketing team. THIS is finally the KILLER APP!

You'll hear all the reasons:

  • industrial inbound marketing was a fad
  • creating content is too hard/expensive
  • you have to sell in person
  • etc
  • etc

In many cases it's being described as an either / or proposition. In other words "Because it turns out that inbound marketing isn't right for our business, we're glad that we've found ABM because that will be the right solution."

Alternatively it's being cast as a logical next step in a linear progression of industrial marketing maturity. A sort of "We started with inbound and now that we've mastered that it's time to take on ABM as our next step - replacing the earlier and less sophisticated inbound marketing we used to do."

Both are mistaken.

Behind both is the narrow perspective endemic to marketing departments which lack leadership that has actually sold and carried P&L responsibility.

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A solution for complex sales...and the real world

Inbound marketing works really well when prospects are in the market for a product (statistically only about 3% of any given market at any given time) or searching for help or insight to a problem.

The "They ask We answer" approach codified into a methodology by @TheSalesLion is perfect for those situations.

But in complex sales like capital equipment and process adaptations in multi-location manufacturing environments there's a lot more going on. 

  • There are departments with different resource constraints and operational priorities that often must allign in a team buying process
  • Projects face BRUTAL competition from the status quo
  • No matter how compelling the value proposition of a solution, the work of championing a change project is overwhelming for many overworked engineers who may have become jaded with a process that seems to stymie their innovations
  • No sales rep, no matter how good, is going to get face time or reasonable attention from all the players that can say "No" to their project
  • The project champion, in many cases, brings a narrow perspective to their attempt to sell internally. If sales enablement material is lacking, they'll probably stumble trying to engage diverse stakeholders

So industrial inbound marketing can work wonders to attract and engage the engineer looking for a creative solution to an ongoing problem.

But....we all know that one engineer's inquiry, no matter how insightful and well aligned with our solution, is a long ways from a corporate capex approval, PO & successful commissioning.

ABM isn't a new tool, nor an advancement. Rather it's a complimentary approach.

Understanding how ABM and industrial inbound marketing work together

ABM is sort of a cross between branding and awareness - and the inquiry driven nature of inbound marketing.

Get the whole team on board

In one application, in target accounts where there's an active project, an ABM approach seeks to subtly raise awareness of a large number of players to the high level value of a solution.

For example, if an engineer is investigating a solution to relieve a source of production downtime or inefficiency, ABM could be used to reach finance, maintenance and operations leaders that are likely to weigh in on the project, and introduce some material on the costs of that inefficiency, benefits to reducing it, and value to be unlocked by doing so.

Shape the awareness

In another application, target accounts which don't currently have active projects can be identified for similar attention. Based on industry knowledge and awareness you probably know, for instance, the key issues that impact their business that they may simply accept - unaware that there's a better solution. Concise, authoritative and impactful content (e.g. case studies) could be provided to influential leaders and managers in those target accounts.

LinkedIn targeting

How do you do this? There are some extensive and sophisticated solutions - which you correctly surmised, are expensive. LinkedIn, however, offers some incredible targeting options for digital content. They allow you to select specific roles, titles, geographies and specialties within specific companies.

In other words, if you have a specific solution (e.g. DNA tagging) to ensure that all ingredients in your product are indeed organically sourced, and you know that the pet food industry is struggling to satisfy customer expectations in that regard, you could target marketing, sales, operations, procurement, food safety, and production managers in Mars Petcare, Nestle Purina and Hill's.

You're goal isn't lead generation - rather to raise awareness that there is a potential solution. So you'll publish some articles on your blog, share them on your LinkedIn company page and then "sponsor" them to appear in the LinkedIn feeds of that very specific list of targeted pet food managers/execs.

You'd love to have the subject come up at a staff or planning meeting...and have folks start nodding and agreeing that it's something to work on...and by the way, they recently saw an article about that!

Bonus leads

Of course if you created some direct leads, that would be welcome as well. So you position your campaign to do that in case some of those individuals or companies have a particularly acute interest. In your promoted article you'd offer a downloadable guide of some sort that lays out the challenge, solution and outcomes. Those that were interested would land on a well crafted, dedicated web page that spoke with authority and specificity to the pet food industry manager/executive.

B2B revenue growth requires a comprehensive strategy

Here's the rub - and the reason you probably won't be able to make this work.

This approach straddles the traditional marketing and sales silos. This is traditional account management that many industrial sales people profess to do routinely but often let languish as they focus on project management in long sales cycle complex sales.

Therefore when marketing suggests this approach, sales may balk.

Further it requires savvy sales people who are willing to take some time to use technology and thought, to observe buyer behaviors and intuit buyer intent.

For many industrial manufacturing firms it's not just a question of the latest marketing gadget, or even marketing vs. sales - the real challenge is weaving a sophisticated, integrated revenue growth function.

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