What is ABM?: A Global Perspective Beyond the Hype and Hyperbole

“Account-Based Marketing.” Shouldn’t this be the name and definition all in one package? Caught by the daily drumbeat of catchy phrases, tweets and blog articles, I once found myself drowning in confusion. Is ABM a technology or strategy? Is it old or new? Is it… fill in the blanks.

Over the coming weeks I will share a professional journey. Out of this confusion was born the idea of a global movement, driven by an amazing collection of top thought leaders and innovators: The Account Based Marketing Consortium. Our objective is simple, to provide marketers with fact-based best practice and enabling tools. Today, we start the process of sharing this insight.

Is there a reason for the hype?

Yes, the approach really works. The folks at Demandbase laid out the case quite well in an infographic a few weeks ago (source: Demand Metric, 2015):

  • Traction: 71% of B2B organizations interested in ABM are testing or using it.
  • Success: 96% of B2B marketers say ABM is key to their success.
  • Top benefits cited: 83% find increased target account engagement, 70% report better alignment between sale and marketing, 67% find more qualified leads, 59% find greater understanding of program performance, and 55% gather more pipeline opportunities.

ABM delivers a competitive advantage. Done really well, it delivers a game-changing advantage.

Peter Isaacson, CMO at Demandbase, the marketing cloud purpose-built for Account Based Marketing, puts it this way, “Account-Based Marketing is gaining momentum because B2B marketers are recognizing that the old model of demand gen is broken. Generating thousands of inquiries while hoping for a few hand raises wastes marketing dollars and a sales rep’s time.”

So, what is ABM?

At its core, ABM is a strategy that’s enabled by a range of new technology. It presents B2B marketers with a shift in marketing strategy, from the focus of acquiring and nurturing individual leads to building relationships with specific businesses. These relationships are driven by engagement throughout the purchase and customer journey. New technologies create the ability to narrowcast very specific messages to achieve very specific objectives.

Jon Miller, formerly co-founder at Marketo and now founder of Engagio, a platform for account based marketing automation, has seen B2B technology evolve. In his book, the Clear and Complete Guide to Account Based Marketing, he sums up the difference saying “Traditional demand generation is like fishing with a net for leads. You don’t care which specific ‘fish’ you catch, you only care if you catch enough. But Account Based Marketing is more like fishing for named accounts with a spear. You reach out to the right people at the right accounts with targeted, relevant messages.”

To make the concept more digestible we conceived the ABM Capabilities Framework. Understanding that ABM is more than one activity begins to erode the confusion and fuels the way to higher performing deployments.

6 capabilities that determine ABM success

1. Account Selection – Obviously, you need to pick accounts, the key issue is how it is done. Communication with sales counterparts and reliance upon external data tends to produce the best results.

2. Insights – Since accounts are varied in the issues they need to solve and stages of engagement they have with your firm – your planning needs to feature these differences and result in marketing plans to achieve specific objectives.

3. Content – As varied as your account objectives and desired marketing channels, so must your content be. Focus on speaking to specific needs, creating engagement. If you need to reduce workload, reduce segments of selected accounts and focus on the ones you really need to win.

4. Orchestration – As you succeed at engaging a target account, you need a means to shift content to reflect the new state. Orchestration is the process of continually staying relevant in your ABM program.

5. Distribution – Consider how different channels play in your mix. ABM is more than display ads, it is about engagement and that requires consistency across channels.

6. Measurement – Your analytics need to reflect an entirely new dimension to marketing, shifting the primary concerns from campaigns and channels to accounts, from leads to engagement, from lead acquisition to full-funnel marketing.

This isn’t an argument to boil the ocean, it’s realistic to start with a few of these areas. Having said that, find focus. Reach into your selected accounts and group them into buckets of similar needs and stages of engagement. Select a bucket that you really need to win. Become expert at it!

If you would like to read the latest primary research on ABM, check it out here!