A couple of weeks ago, I went ice fishing for the first time. Four friends and I planned out how we’d get picked up, eat some food, and sit in a hut on Lake Simcoe for a few hours while we caught some fish and had some laughs. It would be interesting, fun, and we’d catch a ton of fish.
Well, we were right about the first two. I had a lot of time to think—five hours, in fact—as we waited for bites. We caught nothing. While I was trying to relax, I couldn’t help but connect some of the things that I was experiencing on Lake Simcoe to the B2B marketing and salespeople that I spend my days chatting with. Specifically, I kept likening our efforts to catch fish to the ABM campaigns that have become so popular in the B2B world.
That said, here are five things that ice fishing and ABM have in common:
1. You might do all the right things and still not hook your prospect
We felt like we prepared well, although none of us had been ice fishing before. To compensate, we enlisted the help of a fishing company to provide us with the right tools to make it happen. They set us up with a hut, ice fishing sticks (makeshift wooden rods rigged with a line), and a big hole in the ice. We meticulously set up our so-called fishing rods, dropped the lines to just above the bottom of the lake as instructed, and once in a while, checked that our bait was still there.
So what did this teach me about ABM? You can put together the greatest ABM play in the world and still come up empty-handed. You can create personalized messaging—to the person and to the business—unique direct mail efforts (Uberflip just partnered with PFL), and what you might think is the most valuable outreach of all time, but that doesn’t mean it will pay off. You’ll want to set yourself up for success, but that doesn’t mean success is an inevitability. We thought we did all of the right things to catch some fish. We didn’t. Sometimes the same is true for targeted marketing or selling. That brings us to lesson #2.
2. It’s about the journey as much as the destination
Even if your ABM efforts don’t pay off, the level of personalization required, at least for 1:1, can always teach you something. What I learned during my five hours on the ice: We should probably get a sonar next time. We didn’t do enough research before executing. We put all of our trust in the fishing company. They were adequate. But on this particular day, adequate wasn’t enough to catch anything. Some more research in advance—understanding what we were undertaking—would have helped us. A sonar, some better bait, and maybe a little more patience could have helped us out. This information will only help inform our next venture onto (and into) the ice.
ABM is no longer a buzzword or a trend, but rather a strategy serious marketers are putting into action. Still, there are innovations happening all the time, so the worst possible scenario when running a targeted campaign is that you learn something for next time. I remember one campaign I ran with our account-based marketer and ABMie winner, Heidi, where we made a highly personalized destination for a target account.
It didn’t work out. And we moved on.
We pinpointed a couple of things we could improve on the page and optimized our efforts for the next iteration. And just like that, we saw improved engagement and conversion. The first attempt didn’t work, but what we learned during that early campaign allowed us to generate impressive results in the future.
3. A bite doesn’t mean a catch
We didn’t have much action on the lake, except for one brief instant when my friend Matt’s fishing rod moved. “Grab it!!!!” we all yelled as he yanked up the rod and started reeling his line in. After a couple of seconds, it was clear that the fish had fled.
After you’ve identified your target accounts (or in this case, your big fish 😉), it’s important to differentiate between a temporary bite and someone who is really interested. You might end up hooking your prospect and run into issues later. As I mentioned earlier, you might do everything right, your future customer might be interested, but they may not have the problem that you solve for. We can only guess what our future customers are struggling with. Sometimes we’re right. Other times, we get that interest or that bite, and it falls through. And that’s ok.
Part of the reason why content experience is so important today is because of complex buying cycles that require a ton of education. But you can’t force someone to engage with you or your content if they’re not ready or not a good fit. In which case, it’s better to cut bait than waste your and your prospect’s time.
4. A-line-ment is the key to success
A-line-ment? Get it? I had to, sorry! Sales and marketing alignment is a necessary action and incredible benefit of adopting an account-based marketing approach. When everyone is on the same page, you get a feedback loop that creates better leads for sales and laser focus for marketing.
Out on the ice, our guide Billy told us that the white fish just above the floor of the lake were the best ones to catch.
We took his word for it, without doing any additional research or really knowing any better. I still don’t know if Billy was right. Had we spent more time with Billy, thinking through the best fish to catch where and when, what bait to use, and planning out our approach, maybe we would have had some bites. Billy is like a marketing team that runs ABM alone. We needed more buy-in between our teams to see success.
One of the best parts of ABM is that account-based marketing undoubtedly leads to account-based selling. When our marketing and sales teams work in tandem, we enable each other to catch the fish we both care about.
5. Don’t put all your bait in one area
Throughout the day, we kept hearing yells of glee from other fishers on the lake. While we had a great time, we couldn’t help but be a little jealous of the people in the other huts catching all those fish.
As it turns out, we had a small hole in the lake with all of our bait in the same place. And I couldn’t help but think that if we spread out across the lake, we may have caught at least one fish (or two!!). That was our fault for putting everything in one location; all our eggs in a single icy-cold basket.
As you embark on your ABM quest, don’t be afraid to try different areas, be it verticals, personas, or, like we failed to do, geographies. Yes, ABM is all about being targeted, but being targeted doesn’t mean focusing on a single target. That’s high-risk, high-reward, so it’s best to diversify.
It was a great day on the lake. We chatted, waited, and enjoyed the journey; however, we only had one bite and no catches. Next year, when we go back, we’ll take the lessons—in fishing and in ABM—and iterate on them while hoping for better luck. In the meantime, I’m waiting for the summer weather and a lake that isn’t covered in ice. There are probably some lessons to be learned there, too.