When ABM was first introduced to the B2B world, it sparked an industry-wide arms race to deploy the most successful, wide-reaching strategy that would engage the most leads, close the most deals and increase the most pipeline. However, recent Forrester research revealed that practitioners are starting to cool off and settle into their own ABM lane by operating the best program for their business.
“The State Of Account-Based Marketing In 2022: Deployment Types Decoded” identified the five most common ABM programs practitioners operate and explored key challenges and areas for expansion. According to the report:
- 18% of leaders practice “large ABM,” which targets small numbers of large accounts and uses less technology than its counterparts;
- 18% rely on industry ABM, defined as a scalable motion that sees large numbers of accounts segmented by industry vertical with all accounts in the segment receiving similar treatment;
- 17% deploy digital-first ABM, which features a highly data-driven approach using almost all digital tactics, the highest budgets and most extensive use of technology;
- 13% utilize hybrid ABM, which includes a mixture of different marketing approaches that covers large numbers of named accounts and adjusts personalization accordingly; and
- 26% pointed to non-ABM, which consists of programs that are the least mature, feature the lowest budgets and typically don’t use the best practices associated with ABM.
One of the survey’s more interesting caveats is that more smaller companies participated than in previous years, and many of those companies indicated they were still in the early stages of implementing ABM — 80% were under two years old, with 39% of those still in the pilot stages. Surprisingly, though, budgets didn’t drop as much as expected due to the influx of smaller companies and their more budget-friendly ways: Budgets only dropped marginally (16%) from 2020, down to $590K.
“A huge takeaway was how many smaller companies are starting to find ABM accessible in a way we haven’t really seen in the past, which is a good thing for ABM as a discipline,” explained Nicky Briggs, VP, Principal Analyst at Forrester. “You would think with a lot of smaller companies getting involved, you’d see the maturity drop off and budgets shrink. But they’re holding pretty well, which is encouraging because smaller companies have seen other firms be successful, and that empowers them to feel they could go ‘all in’ when ABM was a more experimental medium.”
Managing & Innovating In The Midst Of Insufficient Budgets
Many of the findings detailed in the report can be directly attributed back to the high amount of self-titled “smaller” companies that participated in the survey. On the budgetary side, the research revealed that the three ABM strategies that most commonly struggle with insufficient budgets include large, industry and hybrid. As a result, the research highlighted a reluctance to invest in the best practices or technology that would drive ABM success.
Briggs broke the lack of technology investment into two parts:
- Practitioners are streamlining the ABM platforms they’re using, which cuts down on technology investments; and
- When smaller companies adopt ABM programs, they’re more inclined to stick with their current tech stack and try to optimize it for ABM programs.
“When you look at the technologies being used, it’s typically the MAP, CRM, sales engagement platforms and web analytics and intent monitoring solutions,” said Briggs. “We’re starting to see people analyze whether or not they need additional capabilities, or if their current tech stack can manage it — and smaller companies are more likely to leverage their existing stack to save the budget.”
However, the Principal Analyst was “concerned” by the unwillingness to allocate budgets to improve best practices. She attributed this to misalignment of expectations, as practitioners often think they have to do ABM as quickly as possible to show results immediately instead of treating it as a long-term play. Instead, a major focus of the strategy is promoting top-down alignment, and Briggs suggested assigning the ABM program to an individual who can orchestrate top-down alignment.
“Demand gen and ABM are becoming more alike, so why not put ABM under the demand leader’s purview?” said Briggs. “We’re also seeing marketing operations leaders and CMOs taking the helm, as well, so there aren’t any hard or fast rules there. The main thing is to make sure you have a qualified individual leading it, because when you distribute ownership, everyone’s owning it, then nobody’s owning it, then nobody’s leading and, ultimately, nothing gets done.”
Learning How To Work Within Budgetary Parameters
Interestingly, the lack of investment in ABM isn’t stopping practitioners from trying to expand their global reach. The report highlighted that given how highly technological the world is, it’s smaller and more connected than ever before — inspiring companies to penetrate new markets. However, Briggs warned marketers to proceed with caution, as it’s often a bigger task (and investment) than marketers (and their budgets) can handle.
“I spend a lot of time with companies who’ve launched a pilot program successfully in North America, but they struggle to scale it out to the rest of the world,” explained Briggs. “There are always going to be limitations; most of the technologies that enable ABM at scale are built out of the North American market and optimized for use in the region, and many intent data providers are still English-only. I always encourage my clients to talk to their vendors, because they’re usually willing to invest in non-English speaking products. And don’t make it harder for yourself than needed.”
For example, Briggs pointed to a recent client conversation where the client wanted to pilot their program in Azerbaijan — a market neither Briggs nor the client had any sort of experience in — because the client heard there was a huge opportunity. However, Briggs explained they had no marketable data or any idea how to penetrate the Azerbaijan market, so she suggested they work with a channel partner.
Shifting The Focus Away From 1:1 Targeted Campaigns
The report also revealed that companies are starting to move away from 1:1 campaigns, as they are resource-intensive, feature several manual processes and typically don’t scale well. Briggs explained this was a welcome change in the industry, as 1:1 was seen as an aspirational goal — but the reality is it’s not feasible for everyone.
“The school of thought for a long time was 1:1 ABM is good ABM and ABM at scale was considered a ‘poor cousin’ or compromise,” said Briggs. “Some organizations wouldn’t touch anything that wasn’t 1:1. So, it’s promising that the messaging is starting to get through and people aren’t aspiring to achieve 1:1; they’re more focused on what would be best overall for their business.”
She explained that good marketing is simply taking a look at how sales is organized and lining up the right mix of demand gen and ABM approaches — there’s no specification for reach or scale. But Briggs did clarify that each company should independently evaluate what strategy would work best for them.
“Some organizations — such as big telecom and infrastructure providers — should only do 1:1 and not touch anything else,” said Briggs. “But then there are other companies who should never attempt 1:1, because they simply don’t have the resources or technology.”
In the rapidly-evolving ABM landscape, it’s no longer about keeping up with the latest and greatest; it’s about doing what’s best for each individual business.
“The industry is starting to get ready for a new taxonomy,” said Briggs. “There’s a lot of talk around the convergence of ABM and demand gen, and it’s definitely a rapidly accelerating trend. There’s definitely a change in the industry tides right now and some of the old nomenclature is not going to be appropriate moving forward.”