It’s Time To Redefine Account-Based Marketing As Account-Based Engagement

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Laura Ramos

Vice President & Principal Analyst, Forrester

Next year, ABM will begin to create long-term customer relationships — and many parts of the B2B company must play a part in reaching this goal.

In 2019, we expect B2B marketers’ thinking to evolve from seeing ABM as a way to foster tighter alignment with sales — to adopting ABM as a primary strategy for engaging customers across the buyer’s entire life cycle. In 2018, Forrester saw B2B marketers enjoy significant results from their ABM efforts: 53% now dedicate budget to ABM activities and 61% have amassed practical experience targeting and communicating with specific accounts. Tighter alignment between sales and marketing leads the list of notable accomplishments, with 37% saying they can demonstrate this result today.

Despite the progress our research tracked, most B2B marketers still face many impediments that keep ABM from becoming the new normal. More than half of respondents (53%) said they still find the term “ABM” confusing and lacking clear meaning because it is used inconsistently and can refer to strategies targeting a few, specific accounts or broader segments sharing common industry, market or use case issues. We see ABM programs try to tackle net-new acquisition and current-customer enrichment from the same vantage point — which is almost impossible to do well. One-quarter of those marketers we surveyed earlier this year said they are still challenged to measure ABM’s impact on pipeline and revenue and to demonstrate its value as an approach.

To demonstrate that engaging specific accounts or segments of accounts pays off, marketers have much work to do in 2019 to turn ABM into a conventional practice. Setting strategies that accomplish specific business objectives and prioritize accounts with the greatest likelihood of satisfying those goals requires more thought and cross-organizational collaboration than expected. Establishing these two objectives upfront is a sure path to success, but only if marketers appreciate that successful ABM involves more than just marketing.

Next year, ABM will begin to create long-term customer relationships — and many parts of the B2B company must play a part in reaching this goal. Now is the time to replace the “M” in ABM with a new letter, and we nominate “E” for engagement. Leading B2B marketing and sales teams will shift their mindset from ABM to account-based engagement (ABE) by adopting four key practices. They will:

1. Build account pyramids to balance resources and pursue their best opportunities. Marketers must determine which characteristics define the ideal customer profile for their business objectives. Predictive marketing analytics can help, but regular discussion between sales and marketing will become the best starting point and requires clean, rich customer data to get right. It also requires reinstituting often-neglected principles like fact-based segmentation and targeting based on both goodness-of-fit and the buyers’ behavioral signals. We see marketers adopting customer insight technologies and solutions to learn more precisely what’s happening inside selected accounts or within segments to engage those potential buyers with more relevant content and communications.

2). Use account insights to help sales become more human and helpful, not just hungry. In 2019, top marketing practitioners will help salespeople use account-specific research and approaches to find and interact with the right individuals associated with specific opportunities or buying centers worthy of pursuit. Simply put, marketing’s job will be to put sales in the best position to engage by using personalized outreach to increase awareness within specific accounts, capture the attention of key decision makers and increase their sellers’ visibility into and around key accounts.

3). Learn to choreograph more customer-centric interactions. ABM thinking will shift in 2019 from seeing marketing and sales as a relay race — with specific handoffs from one team to another — to viewing customer engagement as a dance ensemble. While one function may lead at different times, other groups remain involved in the process and stand ready to step forward when appropriate. Marketing will act as the choreographer to ensure every customer interaction stays in step with the brand promise. Orchestrating this customer dance will require seeing accounts as a shared company asset, establishing repeatable account cadences that tell a story or mimic a conversation and creating a deeper understanding of the buyer’s end-to-end journey.

4). Use technology to expand and scale your most successful account-specific efforts. The ABM tech landscape remains a confusing litter of vendors, with an overabundance of offerings all touting sure-fire results. We asked marketers about 37 ABM technology options and respondents added another 16 to our list. Our recent Forrester New Wave report focused on 14 of the most significant providers in the emerging platform category and found most currently deliver only a few key elements of functionality. In 2019, B2B marketers will put the brakes on ABM investment to first prove out their strategies before scaling technology up and out. We expect to see customer data management and integration play bigger roles in establishing the technology foundation upon which any account- or industry-focused approach will succeed.

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