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2020 is almost upon us – what’s the future for ABM?

Clive Armitage

December 05, 2019

Listening last night to some of the amazing ABM campaigns that have been delivered into the market, for a variety of B2B brands, I'm confident that a golden age is emerging for marketing.

Getting together with the inestimable Bev Burgess from ITSMA along with a selection of vocal senior marketing executives to talk ABM was always going to be enjoyable.  But it was especially so when it was over a fantastic dinner in a private dining room (hence the photo that accompanies this blog)!  Given that we are racing towards the end of 2019 and are starting to plan for 2020, we took the opportunity last night to discuss the state of ABM and to think about trends for the coming year.  It was a fascinating discussion which, if I’m honest, produced enough content to produce a small novel but dear reader, I appreciate how busy you are, so I’m simply going to pick my top three observations and then list the top three (collective) recommendations for delivering ABM in 2020.

  • The very definition of ABM is still up for debate (but does it actually matter?)

While there was collective agreement that targeting single accounts with insight driven, highly personalised engagement plans definitely WAS ABM, there was some debate about what constituted 1 to few ABM or Cluster ABM; how many accounts could truly be included in a cluster before we stray into broader targeted marketing?  Then in terms of that broader targeted marketing piece, there was agreement that 1:many account targeting isn’t true ABM; it’s just smarter marketing by using appropriate technologies to deliver a more personalised message at scale.  Several attendees also argued that, perhaps, the technology vendors playing in this space should stop claiming they are delivering ABM as they are ‘muddying the waters’ for what ABM really is.  But as one of our guests opined; our sales stakeholders would be bemused by a discussion around terminology because they are focused solely on outcomes, and not naming conventions!

  • Measurement remains a challenge

There was significant discussion about how we can prove value through ABM.  Bev had a plethora of statistics from ITSMA research which told us that ABM truly does deliver the benefits of faster and better pipeline progression, but it was clear that, around the table, agreeing the right metrics for success and then monitoring them was still a headache for many.  I sense this is one that will continue to run and run…

  • Technology is obscuring the wood for the trees

There was broad consensus that appropriate technologies can deliver real value when deploying ABM, particularly around the challenge of scaling campaigns beyond traditional one to one ABM to 1: few.  But simultaneously there was a definite sign of technology fatigue around the table.  And when Scott Brinker’s (excellently exhaustive) Martech landscapewas brought up, there was a collective groan about the availability of ever more technology products to solve marketing challenges!  Cutting through to find which technologies can be deployed and deliver value quickly, with minimal service support or reskilling, was therefore a desired outcome for many in attendance last night.

Now, in terms of tips for success in 2020, a number of points were made (but you have to have attended the dinner to hear all of them…) and so I’ll give you my top three takeaways

  • Get engagement from the right Sales Stakeholders, and get it early

Any discussion last night about successful ABM campaigns that had delivered for the organisation, had a common red thread; Sales was engaged at a senior level at the beginning of the program.  And this engagement ranged from account selection, through to shared insights on account opportunities and from agreed metrics for success through to consistent communication once a campaign was in flight.  Put simply, the collective view was that marketing alone can’t drive ABM and that Sales must be engaged.

  • Broaden your talent pool in order to maximise the shift to ABM 

A common headache for most of the people around the table in delivering successful ABM was the scarcity of people within their organisations to manage activity.  Asking people to shift from more reactive field marketing roles to being consultative ABMers on select accounts, with Sales executives was deemed a significant challenge.  In accepting though that ABM is only going to get more prevalent as a discipline within marketing, it was agreed that identifying new talent or reskilling your best people internally had to be a priority in 2020.  Huge plug here for ITSMA; they do deliver excellent training courses to help marketers embrace ABM!

  • Set expectations at the outset and stick to your guns

There was much debate about ‘time to value’ for ABM and the pressure of demonstrating ROI on any investment in it.  The commonly held view was that Sales is necessarily short termist in outlook while Marketing has to consider the longer term benefits of its actions, and that aligning the two posed a challenge.  Yet the solution appeared to be a simple one; agree outcomes before activity starts, confirm timelines and then hold firm around the strategy.   Pressure from sales for ‘quick wins’ was seen as inevitable but as one of our guests memorably put it, ‘great ABM can’t mitigate for a poor Account plan’!

As I reflect on last night’s dinner and think back on 2020, I’m reminded that it is truly an exciting time to be a marketer.  Candidly, for years, I’ve always worried about the impact that marketing’s efforts could really deliver in terms of driving pipeline for organisations.  But listening last night to some of the amazing ABM campaigns that have been delivered into the market, for a variety of B2B brands, I’m confident that a golden age is emerging for marketing.  One where we are the masters of the data that we collect, where we exploit the technologies that are available to us and we build creative content that really engages audiences.  The result?  The outlook for 2020 looks great from where I am sitting!

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