The Marketing Strategist:

ABM: The Revolution is (Almost) Here

November 5, 2018

  • Account-based marketing

Practitioners of account-based marketing (ABM) can be passionate advocates of its ability to transform the effectiveness of their B2B marketing. As our latest research shows, they have every right to beat the drum.

According to our Raising the Game with ABM: 2018 ABM Benchmark Study, done in conjunction with the ABM Leadership Alliance, 77% of respondents saw a 10% or more return on investment (ROI) from their ABM programs compared to more traditional marketing activity. For some, it had an even bigger impact: 45% replied that ROI had more than doubled. 

ABM also seems to improve with age. Eighty percent of those with three or more years under their belt said the ROI from ABM was ‘significantly’ higher compared to conventional marketing. So it is unsurprising that investment is continuing to grow: more than a quarter of the marketing budget is now being allocated to ABM, and that ABM budget has doubled over the last five years.

The study finds that implementing ABM produces broader business benefits as well, including greater customer success, more advocates, and a surge in innovation. For example:

  • 67% of respondents declared that ABM accounts have achieved greater customer success than other accounts.
  • 66% said that ABM accounts are more likely to provide positive references and advocates than other accounts.
  • 57% agreed that collaborative innovation with individual ABM accounts has led to the development of valuable new solutions for the company to take more widely to market.

In other words, we can believe what some have said is the hype about ABM.
 

Quick reminder: what is ABM?

As ABM’s success grows, so do the number of definitions. For the record, it is a strategic approach to designing and executing highly-targeted, personalized marketing programs and initiatives to drive business growth and impact with specific, named accounts. It’s about treating accounts as markets of one. Four core principles underlying ABM are:

   ●   Building reputation and relationships along with revenue.

   ●   Basing everything on deep and contextual client insight.

   ●   Tailored and customized campaigns.

   ●   Collaborating closely with sales

 

It’s all in the blend

When ABM was pioneered back in the early 2000s, it was designed to drive growth with existing clients. Over time new variations such as one-to-few and one-to-many have emerged as ABM teams focus on scaling up programs and broadening their reach, enabled to a large extent by technology.

One-to-few is, in fact, now the most popular form of ABM. Our report finds that 60% of marketers are using it by aligning with specific sales teams to focus on a small group or cluster of accounts with similar business imperatives.

This year there is a marked increase in the number of companies adopting at least two, if not all three, types. For instance, last year 65% of respondents said they were concentrating on a single form of ABM, with only 35% adopting a blended approach. This year the respective figures are 54% and 46%  –  a marked change.

Additionally, we have found some areas of convergence between the different types.

  • The balance between new and existing clients. Until recently one-to-one was used for existing clients, one-to-many for existing and new clients, and one-to-few aimed at new logos. Now, increasingly, one-to-one is also being aimed at winning new clients and one-to-many at existing ones.
  • As well as win rate, pipeline growth and revenue growth, measures of engagement are playing a bigger role across all types of ABM.
  • Where there is still a difference, it is with online vs offline tactics. Only half of campaign activity is conducted online with one-to-one, compared to 61% with one-to-few and 74% in one-to-many.
     

Raising your game

Despite the great strides made by ABM in a relatively short time, many companies are just getting started. Of those surveyed in our report, about half had been doing one-to-one ABM for less than a year, while almost a third had only been involved just for up to two years.  In terms of one-to-few, a significant 63% were less than a year into their implementation.

The respondents identified a number of key challenges their organizations faced in improving and extending their ABM programs. The top four were:

  • Getting the data and reports needed to track results.
  • Personalizing and tailoring marketing to the key contacts at each account.
  • Getting adequate budget to support programs and resources.
  • Developing campaign assets that could be mass customizable to allow scale.

For ABM-ers who are several years into their program, the challenges alter somewhat, with ‘keeping up with demand from sales to scale the program’ ranked the top challenge they face.

To address these challenges, our respondents singled out what they believed would be the top three competencies for 2019:

  • Leveraging technology will be a key enabler to exploit data and analytics capabilities.
  • Collaboration with sales as well as other teams to position the entire organization as client-centric.
  • Content creation and tailoring will put a premium on master storytelling in all its forms.

And in each type of ABM, there are ways that ABM-ers can keep raising their game.

  • One-to-one marketers should be leveraging executive engagement and co-creation / innovation initiatives.
  • One-to-few practitioners need to adopt needs-based clustering and create buyer personas.
  • Those doing one-to-many should create ideal customer profiles and deliver curated, customized content.
     

ABM not M2A

Finally, a word of warning.  As ABM matures into a mainstream strategy and revolutionizes B2B marketing as a whole, it will be essential to understand and apply its four core principles if you want to achieve maximum ROI. This is no longer about simply taking a list of named accounts from sales and targeting your marketing collateral at buyers on the list – that’s just marketing to accounts. As ABM becomes business as usual, marketers will have to prove they can make the grade.

 

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