Three Keys To ABM Maturity

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Rob Leavitt

Senior Vice President, ITSMA

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Bev Burgess

Senior Vice President & ABM Practice Leader, ITSMA

As marketers continue to invest in ABM, they’ll look increasingly at blended strategies to provide both breadth and depth of coverage for their most important accounts.

The most important evolution in ABM thinking for 2019 and beyond is the increasingly mature and strategic approach that we see marketing, sales and business leaders taking in building out their programs.

If the last several years have been something of a land grab — ABM enthusiasts staking their claims and launching initial programs — the next several will highlight movement beyond the startup phase into a more substantial institutionalization of ABM as a core component of how B2B firms go to market.

Three initiatives in particular will characterize this evolution:

  1. Moving to a blended ABM strategy: Using different types of ABM for different types of accounts. Back in the early 2000s, ABM pioneers focused mostly on one-to-one ABM to help expand their most strategic accounts. Through the 2010s, a second wave of ABM focused on using technology and data to launch one-to-many programs, covering hundreds, or even thousands of target accounts. Most recently, marketers have “met in the middle” with one-to-few ABM programs that focus on small clusters of accounts with similar business issues.

    Over the past two years, ITSMA’s latest benchmark studies with the ABM Leadership Alliance have documented the rise of blended strategies, with almost half of all programs (46%) now including at least two types. As marketers continue to invest in ABM, they’ll look increasingly at blended strategies to provide both breadth and depth of coverage for their most important accounts. Companies focusing mostly on one-to-one and/or one-to-few will continue to extend coverage with one-to-many approaches; organizations now using broader-based approaches will see the value of going deeper with their most important accounts via one-to-one.

  2. Balancing coverage across new and existing accounts. The history of ABM shows that marketers have mostly used one-to-one ABM with existing accounts but one-to-many ABM for new logo acquisition. Newer one-to-few approaches have often been more balanced. But there’s nothing inherent about any of these approaches focusing one way or the other. The more important questions have to do with business strategy: what objectives are ABM programs designed to achieve, and to what extent can those objectives be achieved with both new and existing accounts? As more companies move to a customer success orientation, and more marketers appreciate the importance of full lifecycle marketing (vs. just brand and demand gen), a more balanced approach seems inevitable.

    Our latest benchmark study, in fact, showed a notable convergence compared with previous years. In 2018, more one-to-one programs now being applied to new account development (61%-39% existing vs. new), and more one-to-many programs are focusing on existing accounts (37%-63% existing vs. new).

  3. Strengthening the team. Skill and team development remain top priorities for many ABM program, especially as they continue to scale and move to more blended strategies focused on both new and existing accounts. Now that ABM is taking up an average of 28% of all marketing spend in companies with active programs, it’s moved well beyond the stage of having a few specialists or just shifting a few people from other programs onto the ABM beat.

    On the skills side, top competencies to build in 2019 include data and analytics, sales and marketing collaboration and content creation and tailoring. Most organizations rely on in-house training, but selective outsourcing and partnering can help fill essential gaps too. More broadly, the reality of ABM moving to center stage in marketing raises some larger questions about how the entire marketing organization is structured, as well as best ways forward in strengthening collaboration — not only with sales, but also finance, delivery, customer service/success and even R&D. These are challenges driven by ABM success, to be sure, but they are critical challenges nonetheless.

No doubt others will tout the importance of new technology and tools, and certainly ABM-ers will continue to benefit from more mature martech stacks and more effective point solutions. But strategy, focus and teams are always the prime factors in marketing success and ABM is certainly no exception.   

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