How Are Strategic ABM & Opportunistic ABM Different?

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Using traditional marketing tactics is like fishing with a net. Account-based marketing (ABM) strategy, on the other hand, is like fishing with a spear: highly targeted.

Rather than cast a wide net where you may or may not attract the right kind of “fish” (AKA customers), ABM does the opposite — selecting target accounts and then going after them intentionally. However, choosing the right accounts is easier said than done. 

If they’re not careful, marketing and sales organizations can find themselves at odds when enacting an ABM strategy. This happens when instead of using a deliberate, cross-functional approach to choose target accounts, ABM marketers rely on a large list of accounts that meets the ideal customer profile on paper, but in actuality is full of cold accounts that aren’t ready to buy.

This is called opportunistic ABM and could be compared to spear fishing in a school of fish — your focus is more targeted than casting a net, but you still might not end up with what you want. On the other hand, strategic ABM means targeting fewer accounts that are predetermined to be a good fit. 

While these two ABM approaches can and do work together, it’s important for any organization trying to win with a B2B ABM strategy to know the difference between opportunistic and strategic ABM. Here’s how to tell the difference, and a few tips for adjusting your strategy if needed.

Opportunistic ABM: Pros & Cons

ABM has never been hotter. According to Garter, ABM programs demonstrate improved conversion rates, web traffic, advertising, and email performance for marketers, and higher win rates, faster sales cycles, and increased deal sizes for sales teams. 

In light of ABM’s success, Gartner estimates 70% of B2B marketers have launched either a pilot or full-scale ABM program to target and engage buyers. But how many of these newly minted ABM programs are using an opportunistic strategy as opposed to a strategic one?

Opportunistic ABM strategy leverages a combination of digital marketing and intent monitoring to gauge whether or not an opportunistic account transitions from out of market to in-market. When it does, the opportunistic account then transitions to a strategic account in order to move the needle further. 

Opportunistic ABM involves less time and resources, more digital touch-points, and can be defined as the middle ABM approach before accounts transition to strategic. 

The key word here is intent. Opportunistic strategy monitors and discovers intent while strategic ABM already knows it. This can be a worthwhile strategy for some, but it’s often a watered-down version of true strategic ABM — costing the same time, money, and resources for a smaller ROI.

Strategic ABM: Pros & Cons

Strategic ABM, on the other hand, is all about selecting the right target accounts from the get-go — accounts that look good on paper and also constitute warm leads. Strategic ABM focuses time and resources on deliberate, coordinated activities designed to make inroads and create opportunities with potential customers. 

In other words, it all comes down to account selection — possibly the most important part of any ABM strategy.

“Get account selection wrong and there is no engagement strategy, content or tactic that will right the wrong, often leading to a poor experience for the target customer, your sales team and you,” writes Stephanie McCredie, Senior Director ABM at Salesforce. “On the other hand, the right accounts matched with personalized messaging and touchpoints will lead to better engagement, faster deal velocity and larger deals.”

Strategic ABM also involves measuring different metrics. Instead of focusing on discovering intent, strategic ABM is more about delivering the right tailored experience in order to influence action.Indeed, real-time buyer enablement within ABM depends on understanding your buyer (and buyer groups) completely. Instead of driving clicks, ABM marketers with a strategic mindset focus on capturing and defining the most relevant signals that determine buyer behavior and activity. That way, ABM can work as it was truly meant to — leading customer groups down a personalized journey and into the sales funnel.

How to Make Opportunistic ABM & Strategic ABM Work Together

Making opportunistic and strategic ABM sync together is all about determining a way to transition some accounts in and out of the high-touch treatment reserved for strategic plays. You may have a very large list of target accounts that meet your ideal customer profile, but it isn’t reasonable to spend the same amount of money, time, and resources on all of them.

Gartner recommends these three steps:

  1. Formalize your account selection process. This means identifying which accounts are warm and cold and making sure your pool of candidates is the right fit from the start. Remember: A broad list is an opportunistic strategy; a tailored one is true strategic ABM.
  2. Coordinate across teams to create a pipeline strategy. Both sales and marketing should give input on when and how to engage accounts, as well as determine when accounts progress down the sales funnel.
  3. Use the right tech to track and analyze your work. ABM is about delivering the right message at the right moment, and less about measuring intent (but you already knew that). Monitoring the right engagement metrics will require third-party tools and data, and a feasible way to interpret that data. 

Too often, companies approach ABM as a one-size-fits-all strategy, instead of seeing that there are different campaign strategies to use for certain groups of customers. An ABM approach that tries to reach all potential buyers is just opportunistic. An ABM strategy that doubles down on the right customer group is truly strategic. 

At Inverta, we help companies take a strategic approach to ABM by collaborating, vetting, and verifying target accounts, as well as defining KPIs and monitoring. Learn more about our ABM offerings here.