Talk to the average marketing executive, attend a digital marketing conference, and you're going to hear about advanced lead generation, which uses technology to score and nurture online leads. It's one of the hottest trends in marketing, and it explains why companies who provide these online services have scored such big wins in the capital markets. Back in May, for example, marketing automation software company Marketo raised $78 million in a highly successful initial public offering, and about six months earlier Eloqua was bought by Oracle for $871 million.

SourceMedia currently employs Marketo as part of the multi-million-dollar web seminar business we manage for our financial services clients. One of the things it helps us track is which registrants are most engaged with related content, which is important when determining how and when to approach leads. Intuitively, a customer who registers for a web seminar on disaster recovery software and then reads four stories on that topic is a better lead than the average registrant.

And while that behavioral data is incredibly valuable in scoring levels of engagement, the same marketers who have invested in automation software don't always identify whether their engaged prospects actually work at companies that are likely to buy. John Doe may be frantically reading articles on the same topic, but if his company is too small to afford your product, Mr. Doe isn't worth any dough.

So the question isn't whether demographic and behavioral data are important (they are), or whether advanced lead generation is a sustainable trend (it is). The question is whether you're half-committed to target marketing or whether you're fully committed to identifying all characteristics of your ideal customer. Yes, I'm talking about big data, but the point I want to drive home in this column is the value of account-based marketing.

Late last year, my team created a program for a large technology consultant that wanted to reach banks within a specific asset range. The consultant gave us its list of target clients, we looked at the email domains of banks that fit into its sweet spot and we developed a custom content marketing program sent only to those banks. The end result was a series of custom newsletters with decent open rates and exceptional click-through rates, driven in part by the specificity of the content.

So why don't more marketers incorporate account-based marketing? My view, which is influenced by marketers I've spoken to, is that it's still safer politically to focus on quantity over quality. Telling your boss that the web seminar you spent $15,000 on generated 800 leads sounds much better than saying it generated 35 leads from key prospects. The other problem is, the smaller your sample size, the more it may be scrutinized. Failing to convert any of those leads would be a double whammy.

But the reality is that most organizations can't readily handle 800 leads and work them effectively anyway. Marketers often complain to us that once they collect the leads, the sales reps simply can't get to all of them. In other cases, the client has conceded that "no one bothers calling the leads," but because they inflate the company's database, it plays well with the chief marketing officer.

Another reason marketers shy away from account-based marketing is that it requires a sizable investment of their time, and that time really isn't available.

Perhaps a full commitment to account-based marketing requires too many resources. If that's the case, don't be afraid to start small. If you're doing a generic effort for 10,000 names, create a specific campaign for 100 and see what your return on investment is. You might be surprised by the results.

Subscribe Now

Complete access to real-time information and analysis of news and trends in the industry.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.