Why emotional intelligence is what your ABM is missing

ITSMA's ABM Benchmarking Study revealed the critical areas that make an ABM leader stand out. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is a clear winner

Adam Bennington

by Adam Bennington

January 19, 2022

Account-Based Growth

In late 2021, ITSMA released the fifth annual ABM Benchmarking Study — a deep dive into the state of account-based marketing (ABM) programs today and the critical areas that make an ABM leader stand out from the rest. 

The research was discussed at a recent webinar – “Realizing Ever Greater Business Value in 2022”  hosted by Adam Bennington, consulting director at Momentum, and Julie Schwartz, VP of research and thought leadership at ITSMA and co-author of the study.

The research found that 72% of companies believe ABM delivers higher ROI than any other type of marketing and is now a top marketing priority for 2022.

But what struck me as interesting from the study’s findings was the emphasis on people. Specifically, interpersonal relationships, so-called “soft skills”, and emotional intelligence.

We all know a personalized approach is a boon to B2B (and B2C) engagements. However, there’s a “personalization trap”, as Adam explained in the webinar. “Personalization isn’t necessarily the panacea to better business value and actually there’s lots of scope to reduce business value if you don’t execute personalization right,” he said.

Like Adam, I’m getting uncomfortable with what ‘personalized’ means. Slapping a company name onto your brochure doesn’t make a personalized campaign. But taking personalization to the next level – ‘I saw on LinkedIn that you liked a post about X, can I interest you in Y?’ – can feel at best weird, and at worst, desperate.

Marketers have to find the right balance between these two approaches, and that balance is fueled more and more by machine-generated data – e.g. intent data. But ABMers cannot afford to overlook human insight. Emotional intelligence, and emotionally intelligent campaigns, is in my opinion possibly the single most important yet undervalued aspect of ABM today.

The human league

In Spring 2021, Momentum released “The New Sales Playbook”, a guide to navigating the enterprise buying cycle and vendor-customer relationships based on a survey of CxOs around the globe. It found that three of the top five most desirable vendor traits – credibility and respect (70%); having one’s best interests at heart (67%); and good listening skills (63%) – are all fundamentally “human” characteristics relating to emotional intelligence and “soft” skills. These were ranked as equal to or of greater importance than more concrete aspects of selling such as accessing reports and data (ranked by just 47% of leaders as essential or very important).

ITSMA’s study reveals the characteristics that separate ABM leaders from the rest – like sales and marketing collaboration, cross-organizational collaboration, account relationship and strategy – all heavily involve people and interpersonal relationships. It’d be an overstatement to suggest that emotional intelligence is the key to becoming an ABM leader. But focusing on the four EQ domains (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management) when not only building programs and trust amongst stakeholders, but also when recruiting and training personnel, could well pay off.

Talent show

In the ABM Benchmarking Study, talent – attracting, retaining, developing – was a recurring theme. Julie Schwartz recalled several conversations with clients in which “they tell me that they can’t even find people to interview, let alone hire.” She highlighted that tools like the ITSMA ABM Competency Assessment can help hiring managers spot candidates that are proficient in leadership skills, collaboration and other ABM must-haves, but who may fly under the radar.

It’s not about hiring for experience but hiring for potential.

Julie Schwartz, VP of research and thought leadership at ITSMA

But for me, Julie was on the money when she said: “It’s not about hiring for experience but hiring for potential.” Adam expanded on that: “You’re looking for [the candidate’s] desire, their intellectual and emotional commitment and enthusiasm for the discipline and what it constitutes, as well as their cultural fit into your team and operations.”

Bringing that emotional intelligence and social awareness to the hiring process and looking beyond mere metrics and the length of an applicant’s CV could be the key to developing a strong talent pipeline and strong vendor relationships. In turn, leading to an even stronger balance sheet.

Click here to watch the full “Realizing Ever Greater Business Value in 2022” webinar hosted by Adam Bennington, consulting director at Momentum, and Julie Schwartz, VP of research and thought leadership at ITSMA.

You can also download the ISTMA ABM Benchmarking Study here.

Find inspiration, expertise, and creativity to help you grow your most valuable customers by joining our ABM community and receiving the latest news, views and insights from our team of experts at Momentum, sign up here.

Late last year, ITSMA released the fifth annual ABM Benchmarking Study — a deep dive into the state of account-based marketing (ABM) programs today and the critical areas that make an ABM leader stand out from the rest. The research was discussed at a recent webinar – hosted by Adam Bennington, and Julie Schwartz.

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