Can we address the elephant in the room? Account-based marketing (ABM) is not just about marketing. It’s about accounts — and how to win, serve, and retain them better than your competition.

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In our new research on the state of ABM, we found that B2B marketers are enjoying more measurable, substantial results from their account-based efforts this year compared to last. When it comes to business value, 37% of those responding say they can demonstrate tighter coordination between marketing and sales. This coordination helps to deliver quantifiable outcomes:

  • Invoca used targeted direct mail to surpass its scheduled-meeting goal by 276% and to deliver a 28:1 return on pipeline-to-target account spend at Adobe Summit.
  • National Instruments sourced $12.6 million in opportunities from its ABM activities since beginning its program.
  • Contently grew its marketing-sourced pipeline by 33% and its sourced deals by 25%.

25 most-popular ABM vendors

This is not to say the road to ABM success is without its detours and potholes — 53% still feel that the term ABM is confusing and lacks clear meaning because it is used inconsistently. Vendors still attach the ABM moniker to a wide variety of capabilities and breed more confusion. We asked marketers to identify which of the 37 brands (that we hear about the most) that they use in their marketing tech stacks (see chart for details). Respondents added another 16 to the list that had yet to blip on our radar. Furthermore, by the time my colleague Steve Casey completed Forrester’s first ABM wave, two of the participants had merged and another acquired a fourth.

Don’t Let ABM Chaos Derail Your Ambitions

ABM can and should encompass every aspect of creating long-term customer relationships — and many parts of your company must play their part in reaching this goal. To emphasize this shift in thinking, we believe now is the time to replace the “M” in ABM with a new letter, and we nominate “E” for engagement.
B2B marketing and sales teams ready to move from ABM to ABE must see it as a customer engagement strategy, not a set of tactics or tools. We believe the shortest path to success starts by using account-specific programs to deepen relationships and increase wallet share with existing customers before diving into acquisition. Top marketers quantify what they are trying to accomplish for the business before they select accounts, gin up playbooks, or target specific roles with content that connects their value proposition to specific account challenges.
Beyond setting the right strategy, successful account engagers adopt four key practices. They:
1) Build an account pyramid to distribute and balance resources. This means defining an ideal customer profile (ICP), segmenting the market against that ICP and availability, and then using deeper account-specific intelligence to prioritize the results into tiers based on opportunity and objectives.
2) Use account-specific engagement to help sales become more human and helpful, not just hungry. Marketing’s job here is to blanket certain accounts with individualized touches to raise awareness and interest among potential influencers and decision makers outside sales’ current reach. Sometimes this means honing in on specific titles/roles with high-touch direct mail; other times it means using thought leadership, templates, and personalized messaging to help sales earn a starring role at their target accounts.
3) Choreograph the steps marketing and sales take to guide prospects around the dance floor to becoming customers. ABE is not a relay race but a dance ensemble, moving as a coordinated conversation between members of the buying center and customer-facing functions. Marketing acts as the choreographer to ensure that every customer interaction stays in step with the brand promise.
4) Adopt technology only after they prove out their account-based strategies and execution. Many successful ABEers use the technology they have on hand first to engage customers/potential buyers on an account-by-account basis. Once they learn what works, they invest by filling the gaps in their current tech stack first. To try ABM out, others turn to their agencies or services providers to gain the extra person power or resources needed to try alternatives out before settling on the core stack.
I hope I’m not making all of this seem simplistic. It’s not. It’s not easy to get it right the first time either. If you want to know more, take a look at the report, or join me on Wednesday, August 8, 2018 at 1 p.m. EST/10 a.m. PST for my Forrester webinar: “Turn Your ABM Into AB-Engagement To Drive Revenue And Results.” During this hour, we will dive deeper into why these four best practices convert ABM from a marketing program to lifetime engagement — and drive more revenue opportunities as a result.