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TL;DR

MarTechExec Takeaway

“While Account-Based Marketing isn't exactly a new concept, it's more powerful than ever with the technology and data we now have available. Moving forward, the key will be to ensure alignment happens between the marketing and sales team and that data is used wisely and efficiently.” — Lana Moore, Executive Editor at MarTechExec (@martechexec)

Definition

Account-Based Marketing (ABM) is an insight-driven B2B marketing strategy that focuses both sales and marketing resources on targeted accounts within a specific market.

In contrast to broad-reaching campaigns that take a “spray and pray” approach, ABM tailors messaging and sales programs to meet the needs of key influencers within companies.

Guiding principles for ABM

According to The State of Account-Based Marketing (ABM) Study conducted by SiriusDecisions, ABM adoption is rapidly accelerating and has gained fast acceptance. In fact, 70 percent of B2B companies are dedicated to driving ABM-specific programs.

What are the traits of high-performing and successful ABM program teams?

They remove silos

Alignment between the sales, marketing and customer service teams is a critical component to ABM. The identification and agreement of key accounts, strategic processes and revenue goals are essential for a successful ABM program.

“In the past, marketers built content in silos, without data on the needs of their target market to back it up.” — James Regan, Chief Marketing Officer at MRP

They reverse the funnel

Whereas inbound marketing strategies begin by selecting a set of channels, ABM turns the traditional funnel upside down,  identifying a list of best-fit customers from the get-go.

They target and stay laser-focused

Focus your energies on the accounts that fit your ideal company profile. Don’t waste your time on companies that are not in your sweet spot. Because you are focusing on the few, make the time to get to know the decision-makers and influencers. Learn their specific business challenges and needs in order to personalize their customer journey experience.

What is Account-Based Marketing (ABM)?

Account-based marketing has changed the way B2B marketers build their strategies in recent years and it’s taking the industry by storm.

“But wait,” you say, “isn’t ‘ABM’ just a new buzzword for something we’ve been doing for over 30 years?”

The short answer — yes.

However, recent advancements in technology have helped B2B companies open a 1:1 dialogue to understand a customer’s goals, ambitions and pain points like never before.

Know your ABM terms

  • Strategic ABM — functions in a 1:1 model where one marketer handles a single account with a customized approach, based on extensive research and personalized content for multiple decision-makers along their unique journey.
  • ABM Lite — a one-to-few model where one marketer takes ownership of a select group of accounts that share common characteristics and challenges.
  • Programmatic ABM — process is automated to hundreds or sometimes thousands of accounts, giving marketers a much broader reach on the account list using fewer personnel resources.
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM) — software that automates much of the tedious work involved in mining customer data and personalizing messaging to target the specific needs of select accounts.
  • Target accounts — revenue-generating accounts based on verticals, company size, and named account lists.
  • Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) — a description of the company, not the individual buyer or end user, that’s an ideal fit for your solution. Your ICP should focus on relevant attributes of your target accounts.
  • Firmographic — refers to company characteristics such as the number of employees, industry, annual revenue, geographic location, etc. Think demographics, but for companies and firms.
  • Coverage — measures the completeness of the research you’ve done—how much you know about a given account.
  • Multi-channel — the implementation of a specific strategy across various channels or platforms, therefore maximizing opportunities to interact with potential customers with consistent messaging.
  • Marketing automation — the use of software to automate marketing processes such as customer segmentation, scoring leads,  customer data integration (CDI) and campaign management. Automation enables marketers to do ABM at scale. 

Let’s go back to the beginning

Despite recent hype, ABM has actually been practiced for years. It started in the 90s when B2B and B2C businesses realized a need for personalized marketing.

In 1993, Don Peppers and Martha Rogers published The One-to-One Future, which predicted a shift from mass marketing to the 1:1 model we know today.

The phrase itself was coined in 2004 by the IT Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) and has recently taken off due to an industry focus on demand gen and ROI.

Since then, there has been a significant influx in the adoption of ABM. According to an ITSMA study, 48 percent of B2B marketers say they will increase their ABM budget by 15 percent or more in 2017.

Why marketers and brands love ABM

ABM offers one of the most effective frameworks for unifying the entire buyer journey. Whether augmenting or replacing old demand gen tactics, marketers who transition to ABM see a notable increase in revenue and key indicator metrics like leads, engagement and sales opportunities.

In a SiriusDecisions study, 92 percent of B2B marketers worldwide consider ABM “extremely” or “very” important to their overall marketing efforts.

“With more than 5,000 marketing technologies and more than 500 sales technologies (most of which are still silo'ed by a team), it is overwhelming to try to execute ABM effectively and to consistently have visibility into what's working and not working.” — Katie Bullard, Chief Growth Officer at DiscoverOrg

Relevancy is the key to an engaged audience

ABM is all about the customer. Using it right means you personalize every message your target accounts see. By creating content and crafting experiences for particular people from specific accounts, consumers benefit from messages that are customized just for them.

Today’s ABM technologies allow personalized marketing across personas, sales stages and campaigns. You can provide relevant, high-quality content like:

When you give the consumer the information they’re looking for, they begin to trust and rely on you. This opens the door for meaningful relationships to form.

And those relationships are what drive conversions.

In a Marketo study, nearly 85 percent of marketers said ABM provided significant benefits to retain and expand existing client relationships.

“The ultimate goal of ABM is 100 percent personalization.” — Sam Hurley, Founder at OPTIM-EYEZ

“Leads and acquisition are important but engagement, ensuring that all customer needs are fulfilled is equally, if not more, central to the overall success.” — Mordecai Holtz, Chief Digital Strategist at Blue Thread Marketing

“Thanks to machine learning, the personalization and customization of ABM will become even more important that it is now. This will help marketing and the sales create the perfect message, on the perfect channel, for the perfect account at the perfect time.” — Jonathan Aufray, Chief Executive Officer at Growth Hackers

Better return-on-investment (ROI)

ABM uses marketing and sales spend efficiently. In an ITSMA study, experienced B2B marketers said the ROI for ABM was significantly higher — at 55 percent — than for traditional marketing initiatives.

Why waste your team's energy on low-level, low-profit clients, when a single deal can potentially account for half your revenue? ABM targets only the accounts most likely to close, therefore the right leads generate more revenue than hundreds of the wrong leads combined.

Nixing unqualified prospects early in the game allows company-wide resources to be preserved.

Efficiency all around

When you can market directly to the accounts that your business knows are prospects, you can improve the cost-efficiency of your marketing efforts.

Even more than that, you can make more efficient use of your time. You already know that the accounts you are targeting are likely to convert. By strategically targeting your efforts to those already likely to convert, you can cut down on the expenditure of your resources because you’re no longer focusing on those who are much less likely to buy.  

“With the rise of AI comes a huge potential for ABM. It provides a layer of prediction, enabling sales and marketing teams to be more efficient and effective in their prospect and lead engagement.” — Nate Skinner, Vice President of Marketing at Salesforce

Challenges marketers and brands face with ABM

In the past, an ABM strategy was pricey. It demanded countless hours of work, and many components had tasks that required manual effort. With the introduction of technology today, many of the processes are expedited with automation.

Still, issues remain, frustrating marketers as they strive to implement strategies.

Aligning sales and marketing teams

Both sales and marketing departments must keep each other accountable on specific goals. Collaboration is a must. Some of the best ways to align your sales and marketing teams include having them collaborate on:

  • Strategy
  • Coordinating outreach
  • Establishing processes
  • Exchanging feedback

Issues within sales or marketing arise when assigning attribution for opportunities. Working on commission, sales teams are motivated to close deals and generate revenue. Marketing teams are incentivized to drive demand with a MQL or opportunity goal.

Not seeing eye-to-eye leads to division and inefficiency. Ensuring teams are aligned with the same goals and incentives, then measuring those goals is necessary for success.

“[As] some of these tactics from early ABM adoption mature and become widespread, ABM will transform demand creation and redefine the way marketers and sales teams work together.” — Jason Jue, Chief Marketing Officer at Triblio

The data-dependence is real

ABM strategies are only as great as the data that informs them. According to an Ascend2 survey, 54 percent of B2B marketers believe that “lack of data quality/completeness” was the most challenging obstacle to marketing success.

Most marketing databases aren’t as refined as we need. Targeted company lists created to match present customer accounts or lead characteristics won’t reflect the best chances of winning new accounts or upselling current customers.

SiriusDecisions found that 60 percent of marketers consider the overall health of their data as unreliable. In order for ABM strategies to pay off, databases need to be accurate and updated.

“As more marketers make personalization a core component of their ABM programs, it will be important to find the right data sources and technology to understand and connect with target accounts in a scalable way.” — Andy Zimmerman, Chief Marketing Officer at Evergage

Targeting the wrong accounts

While the idea of targeting accounts already likely to convert sounds like a dream, the nightmare is that many marketers select the wrong accounts.

A recent survey shows that the number one challenge marketers face is the ability to identify the decision makers of the target accounts. Marketers still need to think beyond just establishing the account and find the proper contact level within the account and establish a relationship.

How do you select the right technology for ABM?

ABM was heavily spurred on by the use of technology. As its popularity has grown, more tools and technology have surfaced.

If you’re going to leverage ABM for your marketing strategies, you need to know how to see through the clutter and find the right tools for your campaign.

Keep things unified

Account-based marketing requires coordination and collaboration. That’s where a unified platform comes in.

You need to be able to manage your accounts through a selection process using criteria that is important to your business.

You can then optimize the program and measure the success of your marketing efforts by tracking pipeline and revenue.

“MAPs, CRMs and ABM platforms may eventually consolidate beyond the next 3-5 years, but in all cases key elements of ABM will already become embedded in marketing automation platforms.” — André Quicheron, Head of Field Marketing at Colt Technology Services

Integrate with other solutions

If you know your digital marketing needs you can select tools that can integrate together and allow you to achieve success. Determining your:

  • business model (industry, in-house vs. partner)
  • go-to-market strategy (customer vs. prospect, campaigns)
  • organizational needs (scale, sophistication)
  • and integration requirements (single vs. multiple vendors, IT support)

allows you to discover the right solutions.

Find cross-coordination benefits

You also need to consider technology that will allow for the cross-coordination of departments. When you use ABM, you work closely with sales, professional services, customer success and more.

You’ll need technology that can give not only your marketing team but these other teams real-time, account-level views in order to coordinate outreach and drive alignment.

How can we expect ABM to change over the next 3-5 years?

Account-based marketing is driven by the technology we have available currently. So in the coming years, when new technology develops and emerges, how can we expect ABM to change?

ABM technology will be more predictive and insightful

We grow closer to better customer insights every day, thanks to predictive analytics, which are continuing to mature.

“ABM technology will be able to seek out potential clients that are not in your database that you can use to target with your marketing materials. This will help companies find better fit customers to work with which will improve both relationships and retention over time.” — Guido Bartolacci, Director of Demand Generation at New Breed

“Predictive marketing finally happens with AI — being able to identify the ideal customer, who has the highest likelihood to buy, and then determine the most appropriate way to engage.” — Kathleen Glass, Chief Executive Officer at Oinkodomeo

More sophisticated tool integration

Like we mentioned earlier, tool integration is important with ABM. As we move forward, we’re expected to see better integration.

“Tools will become more integrated and adopt common denominators, such as account engagement and orchestration...Technologies are becoming increasingly integrated and you're seeing multiple vendors whose products are complementary go-to-market together.” — Charlie Liang, Director of Marketing at Engagio

“We'll also see an evolution in predictive technologies. Getting a comprehensive view of your target accounts across their array of touch points, and having the ability to derive insights - and take action - from it, is incredibly valuable.” — David Bruhman, Chief Product Officer and Co-Founder at Folloze

“ABM technologies will consolidate to address more use cases and be easier to apply across marketing, sales, support and other functional areas.” — Srihari Kumar, Chief Executive Officer at ZenIQ

Greater breadth of marketing technology to support alignment

In general, marketing technology is growing rapidly. That’s going to open a lot of doors for ABM in the near future.

“I see ABM maturing first off from a people perspective, with a much needed migration to shared operations of sales and marketing operations into a centralized "Revenue Ops". This will add much needed alignment and efficiency across your ABM strategy, but will require a new skill set of operations leaders to understand a greater breadth of marketing technology and workflow to support both teams.” — Shari Johnston, Senior Vice President at Radius

Orchestration technology adoption

ABM is so tied to the growth of marketing technology, that if you want to succeed with it moving forward, you’ll need to be able to adopt a strong martech stack.

“Today, a company needs a substantial technology stack to execute on ABM, including database tools, predictive analytics, event management, marketing automation, CRMs, content management, digital ads, personalization and more...I expect a well-funded vendor like Demandbase or Engagio to quickly expand their portfolio through acquisition and ultimately become the platform of choice, potentially offering a separate enterprise and SMB offering.” — Michael Waldron, Vice President of Marketing at NewStore

Conclusion

Mastering ABM starts with fully understanding your options and how the strategy works. You need to know who you want, how to communicate to key influencers and be prepared to redirect your course when necessary.

The potential value for your bottom line is clear with 80 percent of marketers saying that ABM outperforms their other marketing initiatives. If you’re willing to commit, ABM can turn your business into a thriving, well-oiled machine.