Is Account-Based Marketing “The Next Big Thing” in B2B?
- Account-based marketing (ABM) focuses on the needs and opportunity in a single account or a group of named accounts
- Service companies are expanding their ABM capabilities to meet market demand
- Technology developments are erasing concerns about ABM as a manual, resource-intensive effort that can’t scale
I just read a great quote: “It used to be said that a fad starts in California, a trend in Connecticut.” (thanks @geekpreneur and, as a Connecticut native, I can attest that this is exactly right). But how do we know when a fad becomes a trend, and what makes a trend into an everyday practice? What makes something go from “it’s a thing” to simply “how it’s done”?
I think this metamorphosis from fad to trend to common practice is happening with account-based marketing (ABM), right before our very B2B eyes. Here’s the story: ABM has been around for a long time as a B2B marketing approach (not unlike being a vegetarian or juice cleanses in the food world). ABM is rooted in the basic idea that marketing works better when it starts by focusing on the needs and specific opportunity within a single account or a group of named accounts. This was the original promise of customer relationship management and one-to-one marketing. It’s still a great idea.
So, what’s different now? Why has ABM become so much more attractive? Three things: technology; data and analytics; and the willingness of sales to collaborate with marketing. All of these are a whole lot better than they used to be. From the technology angle, there are great tools available to enable scalable, targeted outreach to specific accounts and the right people in them, via both inbound and outbound interactions. These tools are designed to integrate with typical sales force and marketing automation platforms, and still more solutions are delivering the ability to link a broader set of tools and processes across the complete customer experience spectrum. Technology developments are erasing concerns that ABM must be a manual, resource-intensive effort that can’t scale. We see more tools being purpose-built for ABM, and services companies are expanding their ABM capabilities to meet market demand.
Data and analytics are fixing the problems of precision and scale as well. From the data side, companies are getting smarter about what information they gather and how it’s stored for use by marketing and sales, improving the opportunity to engage with more of the right accounts and contacts with less waste. Analytics has taken hold as a critical resource for marketing, allowing smarter and more actionable insights to drive planning and agile response to account- and contact-level triggers and changes.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, marketing has earned enough credibility with sales to avoid being dismissed when asking to help with target accounts. We often hear that a sales function is asking for marketing support for its highest-potential accounts, and is looking to marketing to evolve beyond email-based lead nurture and contact-level lead scoring. Sales wants marketing support that reflects the way sales sees account relationships, and that provides help through all stages of the buyer’s journey and into the post-sale customer lifecycle.
With all these positive changes in the B2B environment, it’s clear that we’ve passed the fad phase of ABM’s most recent comeback. Now, we’re solidly in the trend phase (remember, I’m from Connecticut, so I know these things). A growing number of SiriusDecisions clients are well into the second or even the third year of their ABM deployments, and the results are erasing any doubts about the impact of this approach. This is an important chasm to cross for ABM, because often B2B sales cycles are long, and marketing efforts take time to show revenue influence. Now the numbers are telling the story of ABM’s influence on pipeline and revenue, not to mention customer experience improvement.
Companies of all sizes are trying out ABM, from expanded efforts in very large global companies to laser-focused go-to-market models in lean startups. The next question is whether ABM will go from being a trend to becoming a dominant strategy, forever replacing “spray and pray” in the B2B mindset. Here’s hoping it’s here to stay, because ABM works (added bonus: It doesn’t require that you put all your raw food into a blender before you eat it).