With the convergence of demand and account-based marketing (ABM) accelerating and the two disciplines becoming increasingly indistinguishable, many ABM practitioners are wondering whether there will still be a home for “classic” one-to-one ABM.

Despite years of success with one-to-one ABM as a practitioner and guiding clients to similar results, I will confess to frequently advising clients to apply caution when considering one-to-one ABM, particularly where new logos are concerned. Here are some questions to ask yourself to make sure you’re going into a one-to-one ABM program with your eyes open:

  1. How are sales aligned against priority accounts? If sellers are managing a portfolio of accounts, even as few as five accounts per seller, you need to consider what will happen if a big deal lands in one of their other accounts that did not make it into the ABM program. In all likelihood, the ABM effort will grind to a halt as the seller’s focus is diverted to the non-ABM account. As a general rule of thumb, I tend to look for accounts worth at least $2 million in annual revenues to your company (and ideally more), since it is at this level of critical mass that a seller might be sufficiently dedicated to an account. A good rule of thumb here is not to have marketing spending more time on the account than the seller, and given that a full time ABMer can typically cover around five accounts in a one-to-one motion, you would want the sales/account coverage ratio to be lower.
  2. Are these new logo accounts? My analyst spidey-sense starts to tingle when I hear people asking if they should include new logos in a one-to-one ABM motion. Part of this connects to the point above. Generally speaking, sellers who are skilled in pursuing new logos will have a portfolio of accounts they are going after, and their attention will be on whichever account shows the most immediate promise (meaning their focus drops from the account selected for ABM support). But also, in my experience, new accounts are often nominated for ABM because there is a big deal immediately in sight and sales wants marketing to help accelerate it towards closure. In which case, marketing might be better placed to support with a deal-based focus rather than an account-based focus (see report; client access only). If going down this route, ensure that you check the expected close date of the deal and are confident marketing can be in-market in time to influence the outcome (see report; client access only).
  3. Have you done a really good job of communicating to sales? If sellers are asked to nominate accounts for an ABM initiative without full appreciation of what’s involved (and especially the timescales), misalignment can occur. This is because they will typically nominate whichever accounts show the most opportunity for them in the next one or two quarters, not realizing that ABM is a longer-term initiative. This particularly manifests when accounts are nominated on the basis of a near-term opportunity as noted above. Marketing needs sales attention at a time when they need to prioritize the deal, and by the time ABM tactics are live and in market, the opportunity may have passed. Avoid this by reinforcing the long-term nature of ABM in all communications with sales and — when accounts are nominated with short-term objectives — check when the opportunity is expected to sign. If the answer is in one to two months, ask if marketing can really change hearts and minds in that timeframe (or are they in reality more likely being used to help tidy up graphics and presentations?).
  4. What does the desired future state look like for ABM? Sometimes I see companies starting out with one-to-one ABM as novices because they believe it to be the ideal form of ABM, even though in their desired future state, they would want to target a hundred or more accounts. This is fine if you’re a $10 billion+ behemoth that can eventually sustain a team of over 20 ABMers, but not if you’re a smaller company. We always encourage people to start with a pilot (and call it a pilot), but the pilot should be vaguely representative of the desired future state — otherwise it is not a fair pilot. The lesson here is to check any biases about what form of ABM is “best” versus what is best for your company, and then pilot as you mean to continue. Don’t let the absence of technology influence your decision as many vendors offer pilot-friendly packaging, and agencies will often maintain a stack that you can effectively lease if you’re prevented from rolling out a platform.
  5. Is there a learning objective behind the decision? The one exception to the above rule about not piloting one-to-one ABM if that’s not the intended future state is when there is a learning objective. Taking a really deep dive into a few accounts and making the effort to gather deep insights and develop highly relevant content can help you derive valuable learnings that you can apply to other accounts that enter the program, especially if they are sufficiently similar such that insights and content can be easily customized and reused. If there is a learning objective behind the decision, ensure that this is captured, such that if the pilot does not produce quick financial results but learning objectives are met, it is still considered to be a success.

This is not to pour cold water on one-to-one ABM — it’s where I began my career in ABM, and I continue to advocate for it, providing it makes sense for your company and you’ve asked yourself these important questions. For more information, Forrester clients can reach out to our team and schedule a guidance session or inquiry.