“As more marketers adopt ABM strategies, they’re finding that top-funnel marketing is the weak link in the chain, and that it too must be optimized with tech to generate full ROI from their ABM investments.”
In a TechCrunch article published last month, Ajay Agarwal provided a great overview of the state of marketing technology (MarTech). Comparing MarTech’s more tumultuous rise against the rather smooth ascent of sales technology (specifically Salesforce’s domination), he wrote:
“B2B will continue to be a strong market for martech startups with plenty of demand from CMOs; we expect to see several new $1 billion-plus companies emerge in categories like top-of-funnel marketing, account-based marketing and predictive analytics.” (Italics are my own)
With regard to predictive analytics and ABM, this isn’t too surprising; ABM is now a widely accepted B2B strategy for its efficiency and effectiveness. And predictive analytics – for those organizations with the means and database requirements – is probably the best way to inform ABM programs. Top-of-funnel (TOFU) marketing tech, however, hasn’t received nearly the same degree of attention.
This is mostly due to the fact that TOFU MarTech has, until recently, been nearly synonymous with advertising tech (AdTech) – a black box that most marketing orgs have traditionally handed off to their agencies to deal with (hence why AdTech’s pricing structure is often so different than that of MarTech). Yet, this is changing as companies recognize how much they’re investing in top-funnel activities: identifying and engaging target audiences, and creating prospective customers.
The rise of MarTech and its consumption of AdTech
Ten years ago, marketing technology capabilities and data availability were nothing near the levels of today – it was all more of a vision than reality. And marketers struggled with learning their newly adopted marketing automation systems, let alone trying to manage advertising tech and myriad paid lead gen sources.
But as MarTech solutions have proliferated over the past few years, marketers have had to take it upon themselves to ensure working integrations between systems and tools. And such DIY efforts spurred technological expertise among these practitioners.
This has given marketers a taste for control (and customization). And they’re now less willing to give up control of any aspect of the marketing process – even the top-funnel engagement and prospect acquisition tools that were once only the purview of search specialists, agencies and trading desks.
Consequently, TOFU technology is gradually being consumed within the greater MarTech landscape, and therefore it’s just now beginning to receive wider coverage as a necessary tool within the marketer’s stack.
Such recognition is sure to increase as the industry begins to see top-funnel technology’s ability to bring efficiency and transparency to paid lead acquisition efforts, thereby paying off on growing ABM and predictive investments.
The relationship between ABM, predictive and top-funnel marketing technology
We marketers love (and need) to categorize all our tech – the landscape has simply grown too big not to do so. Scott Brinker’s latest MarTech landscape supergraphic of more than 3,000 vendors illustrates the need well. And, in fact, many more TOFU tech providers have entered the landscape in 2016.
But when it comes to ABM, predictive and TOFU, we must remember: none of these ideas work well in a vacuum – they’re each highly dependent on one another.
ABM is a strategy (not an individual technology) – one that’s becoming increasingly sophisticated by the inclusion of a greater number of software and data providers that are developing capabilities to cater to such strategic needs. No one ABM tech can fulfill all ABM requirements.
A major subset of ABM strategy is predictive analytics, which leverages numerous sources of data – internal (e.g., CRM and marketing automation systems) as well as external (e.g., government databases and third-party data providers) – to inform ABM strategies. It tells marketers and sales teams where and how to focus their efforts.
This makes sense to most marketers by now. ABM is all about working smarter rather than harder. And predictive analytics tells us where the smart plays are. But it’s not enough to know where the smart plays are – marketers must be able to act on this information.
TOFU technology is the “play” button for ABM and predictive analytics
Once your ABM strategy is set (whether informed by predictive analytics or more manual processes), you still need to execute it; that is to say, you need to engage those identified accounts and high-quality personas and get them into your sales pipeline. This comes down to various B2B advertising and demand generation methods.
Traditional B2B advertising and demand gen, however, lacks the refinement needed to orchestrate and execute highly targeted ABM strategies. In fact, a recent survey from Wakefield Research showed that 96% of B2B marketers believe that B2B advertising reaches a large volume of people outside target audiences. And 71% believe that B2B ads frequently fail to meet expectations. This isn’t good.
There’s little point in investing in ABM programs or predictive software if you can’t properly engage the accounts and decision-makers likely to buy your product – i.e., the targets identified in your ABM strategies and predictive models. This is where top-of-funnel marketing technology comes in, by:
- Serving ads only to targeted account IP addresses;
- Tracking account activity on your website;
- Activating and automating demand gen processes to acquire contact info on decision-makers at such targeted accounts that are showing buying signals; and
- Verifying, standardizing and injecting that contact info into your lead nurturing and sales processes.
Account-based advertising and account-based demand generation hasn’t yet received as much attention as predictive analytics. Yet, as more marketers adopt ABM strategies, they’re finding that top-funnel marketing is the weak link in the chain, and that it too must be optimized with tech to generate full ROI from their ABM investments.