Should You Get Your MBA or Your ABM?

Last week, I was reading yet another ABM (Account-Based Marketing) article when I placed my phone down next to a window. In the window reflection, I noticed that ABM spelled backwards is MBA! I sat back and thought about the hype of both of these three letter acronyms as I gazed out the window at the storm clouds rolling in (if you’ve ever read an HBS case study, you’ll recognize that gaze!).

The MBA promise

13 years ago, I left a comfortable and successful career at Intel as a design engineer building enterprise servers to pursue an MBA. My career switch was fueled by a desire to catapult my career–I was completely bought in to the story that business schools were touting about the ROI of an MBA. As I look back, I am happy with my decision to head off to business school (I’d give it a 9 on the old NPS score) and would happily do it again. But, getting an MBA isn’t for everyone.

As I speak with prospective students who are considering b-school, I can’t help but feel that many are looking for a career silver bullet that they simply will not find it. Business school is an expensive way to switch industries or functions, and within some industries, it serves as a necessary credential. For many prospective students, foregoing b-school and actively pursuing new roles, additional responsibility or simply learning from the ubiquitous resources online could be the growth injection they are looking for in their careers without the expensive two-year salary hiatus and mounting tuition expenses.

The ABM promise

ABM has some similar attributes. ABM can be an effective way to align sales and marketing strategies to more effectively reach your target customers. Marketing influencers and vendors tout the ROI of an ABM strategy, encouraging marketers to leave a comfortable broader marketing strategy for a focused one that will catapult sales.

However, I worry that many marketers will not find the silver bullet they are looking for. For some it may help, but for others it will prove to be an expensive and time consuming lesson. As a marketing personalization vendor, Get Smart Content has a vested interest in seeing marketers adopt ABM–after all marketing personalization is a critical component of an effective ABM strategy. Despite our bias, I believe ABM is not the right answer for every marketer. Just as an MBA isn’t right for everyone, marketers need to weigh the pros and cons of ABM.

We’ve been here before

Try as you might, there’s very little being written or said about the downside of ABM. That strikes me as odd. There is no marketing panacea, period. Moreover, we’ve forgotten our short history when content was all the marketing rage. We quickly learned that while content did (and still does) have an important component in your marketing strategy, it alone was not the silver bullet. Nor was predictive a few years prior nor social before that.

We also learned that content came with significant costs in both content creation and promotion. The right answer isn’t to abandon content, nor is it to embrace content blindly. Like most things in marketing, it is finding the delicate balance. ABM is the same. Each marketing organization needs to evaluate what the right balance is for their organization vs. the significant costs.

I’ve drafted a quick comparison table to help anyone considering either an MBA or ABM:

Account Based Marketing

Has an MBA helped you?  Has ABM helped you?  What should folks consider when evaluating either?