The Marketing Strategist:
Notes from the ABM Field: ITSMA’s NextGen Forum
ITSMA’s 2nd annual Next Generation ABM Forum brought ABM leaders and practitioners to Victoria Dock in East London in early July to listen, network, and debate with experts from Cranfield, Dell EMC, Google, NTT Data, Oracle, the UK National Health Service, the UK Parliamentary Digital Service, Demandbase, agent3, and MomentumABM.
Account-based marketing has continued its dramatic rise over the past year, and delegates from a wide range of technology and services firms discussed recent progress, emerging best practices, critical trends, and the ongoing challenge of differentiating in increasingly competitive markets.
Amid the incredibly rich and wide-ranging discussions, five specific points rose to the top of my list.
Outside-in is non-negotiable
Marketers have talked about being customer-centric and taking an outside-in approach, but too many, even with ABM, continue to push a vendor-centric view into the market. The more ABM grows, however, the more that our own customers and prospects will expect an outside-in approach as a matter of course.
A panel of end users, with representatives from LanguageLine Solutions, NTT Data, and the Parliamentary Digital Service, amplified the point. ABM is effective, the panelists noted, to the extent that vendors do their homework, understand our business, and address us as human beings.
Craig Redbond, CEO of the Executive Change Group, works regularly with a network of C-level executives. From his perspective, vendors regularly risk negative reactions by overselling their capabilities and failing to address critical shifts in client priorities. Many CIOs, for example, are reversing years of previous strategic intent by moving back to a “build, not buy” approach, according to Redbond.
ABM value propositions need to be sharper
Professor Malcolm McDonald from Cranfield University and Grant Oliver from 90 Day Action Plan cited the stark fact from McKinsey research that only 5% of companies have financially quantified value propositions. This means that, regardless of ABM-based research and focus, most vendors have great difficulty fully articulating the value they can deliver to prospective customers.
The potentially good news for ABM-ers is that those marketers who take the trouble to develop credible, quantifiable propositions for their offerings will surely stand out. But doing the work on an account level is no simple task. As McDonald and Oliver stated, clients are ultimately looking for clear, credible, and quantified answers to two critical questions:
- What problem are you, the supplier, going to solve for me?
- What do I need to change to make your solution work?
Technology is critical but still early
Despite the tremendous buzz around new, specialized tools for ABM, most programs still rely mainly on foundational tools like CRM and marketing automation—and many are still struggling to gain full value from them.
Looking ahead, though, a majority of ABM-ers are indeed looking to add new technology to automate and gain more leverage with existing resources, according to new research conducted by ITSMA and the ABM Leadership Alliance (join our August 17 webcast for research highlights).
Applying artificial intelligence (AI) to ABM is one of the most exciting new approaches. Although we’re just beginning to understand its full potential, according to Peter Isaacson of Demandbase, early adopters are already using it to select the most promising accounts, respond to purchase intent signals in real time, and guide highly personalized marketing and sales initiatives throughout the buyer’s journey.
Moving to a blended approach is the next big thing
With ABM programs gaining experience and success, it’s not surprising that almost three quarters of ABM-ers are increasing investment, according to our latest study.
As above, adding technology to help cover more accounts is one popular approach. At the same time, two-thirds of our survey participants are also planning on adopting a blended approach to ABM by developing more than one approach (learn more about the three types of ABM).
Currently, only about one third of organizations have even begun to experiment with more than one type. Echoing the findings of our research, however, participants at the forum cited the importance of moving to a more sophisticated strategy that supports a more segmented approach to different types of accounts.
The ABM bar keeps rising
“ABM has given marketing the kick it needed,” according to Jacqueline Gummer, director of enterprise marketing at Oracle.
Talking through Oracle’s ABM journey and lessons learned over the past few years, Gummer highlighted its central role in elevating the whole function of marketing and building much stronger ties with sales. With that progress, however, has come greater accountability for results, as well.
Forum participants echoed Gummer’s point, and noted that it’s a welcome sign of the broader maturing of marketing. In fact, some 43% of our survey participants agreed that “the principles of ABM are influencing the way we do all our marketing today.” Only 22% agreed with this statement in our similar survey last year.
As expectations from both our customers and our own business leaders continue to rise, though, it’s hardly time to rest on our laurels!
Mark Baker is not your usual marketer, but I’m giving him the last word. Mark is an Executive Vice President at NTT Data, with responsibility for finance, procurement, and IT, along with marketing for all of EMEA. As such, he’s both a director of ABM and a recipient—and he fully expects the company’s suppliers to deploy ABM tactics to understand his needs even as he moves the majority of his marketing budget in that same direction.
For Mark, ABM is truly inspiring a more personalized future for the whole organization, and I suspect many of us will not be far behind.
What do you think?