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ABM in Asia – The Partnerships, People and Platforms

Roger Marshall

December 13, 2019

We should consider the role of ABM as a new way of linking sales and marketing teams, merging corporate and agency roles to deliver commercial returns

Reflecting recently with an old marketing colleague on my first few months expanding Agent3’s services across Asia Pacific, I was asked: “How has marketing in Australia and APAC changed since you first arrived here nearly 20 years ago?” I didn’t have to think for long before saying three words: “Data and Technology”. 

The biggest – and in many ways most exciting – change for Asia’s marketers over the past couple of decades has been the meteoric rise of integrating data and insight with rapidly evolving marketing technology stacks, and engaging personalised content. This has enabled marketers to manipulate large amounts of data to understand specific audiences, to use digital and offline channels to engage those audiences effectively and measure responses, and to deliver great content to drive a desired business reaction. In other words, Account Based Marketing (ABM).

The conversation went on to ask how this all translates in Asia and here were some of our early observations:

Winning the Marketing and Sales ‘Partnership’

Looking back to almost a decade ago, I spoke at a marketing conference in Asia and posed a challenge: “As someone who browses mostly in private mode; has only one friend on Facebook (my wife); and has only Tweeted on the day my daughter was born, I’m digitally invisible. I’ve also held roles with significant budget at my disposal so, how can a sales and marketing team ever find me to sell to me?” The discussion was mainly about sales and marketing teams working better together but little did I realise then, I was talking about the rise of ABM’s magical mix of Data-Technology-Content.

Today, ABM’s lead body and Agent3 global partnerITSMA reports 87 percent of marketers around the world see ABM as delivering a higher return on investment than any other B2B marketing activity.

ABM in Asia is delighting Sales and Marketing teams with Revenue, Relationship and Reputational outcomes. However, probably one of the greatest challenges we share with our global counterparts, is getting Sales and Executive team buy-in and alignment from the outset. That’s certainly not the case for all organisations but it’s a common thread.

Revenue and the associated return on marketing investment is key to this partnership. In a market that typically represents 10-20 percent of global revenues, Asia’s marketers have to show ROI on every marketing dollar spent if we’re to secure ongoing and growing support from the global budget holders. ABM is no different.

Asia’s ABM ‘People’

In my experience, Asia’s marketing talent ranks as some of the best in the world. The ability to work across multiple channels in multiple dialogues and across multiple cultures requires a specific skill set. Asia’s ABMers are driven, creative, digitally savvy and ambitious with a full suite of content, marketing automation, and marketing strategy skills but they can quickly hit a crossroads in deciding to take a corporate or agency career path.

The corporate ABMer can find themselves as a small cog in a big system, expected to ‘play nicely in the corporate sandbox’. The opportunities and budgets can be large but in-house ABMers can face a challenging maze of internal dynamics that conflict with the ABMer’s desire to ask tough questions, burn down sales and marketing bridges, and push the boundaries.

Agency roles may not follow a textbook career path but they offer ABMers the chance to be heard, think freely and test the norms every day (sounds Millennial when you say it out loud!) True ABM agencies typically allow a higher degree of entrepreneurialism, the ability to switch mindsets quickly between programs and sectors and the ability to manage programs effectively by balancing client expectations with available budget and time (I’ll declare a bias and flag that Agent3 is recruiting in Australia now!) 

In the long term, I believe ABM in Asia will challenge the age-old marketing career conundrum of in-house vs agency. ABM requires a healthy mix of both teams and Asia is well poised to take advantage of this. In-house is critical to access the sales perspective and in-house resources and support while the agency brings an ability to challenge, add perspective and a variable tech stack, experiment with new approaches, flex and scale. All of these are critical to realising ABM’s promised ROI.

ABM ‘Platforms’

While ABM is much more than marketing technology, one of its greatest attractions for Asia’s marketing community is the combination of marketing technology and data analytics. We delight in all the digital marketing tools and their varying applications across different geographies – from the prominence of LinkedIn in B2B markets like Australia and Singapore to the role platforms like WeChat and Facebook play in the business markets of China and Japan. 

On the data side, Asia’s access to 1st party customer data is pretty similar to other (Western) markets but access to meaningful 3rd party data from Asia Pacific’s websites, social networks, etc can differ dramatically between markets. Whether it’s a blog, microsite, Facebook, Twitter, WeChat, or Instagram the variances can be significant. The good news is that Asia’s marketers have been dealing with this for decades so, nothing new here!

One word of caution. As more and more marketing technologies emerge and simultaneously, more and more tools consolidate, Asia’s ABMers need to be mindful not to get into a martech ‘arms-race’. ‘Right tools, right time’ remains paramount and the scale and diversity of Asia’s ABM opportunity is perfectly placed to embrace this. Let’s also not forget the need for great content to drive the conversation and engagement with our target audiences; content remains king.

Elevating the ABM discussion in APAC

While Asia does have some nuances around the interaction of ABM people, partnerships and platforms I see these as huge opportunities, not challenges. Rather than viewing ABM in Asia as an evolution of marketing practices, we should consider the role of ABM as a new way of linking sales and marketing teams, merging corporate and agency roles to deliver commercial returns.

These are only early observations but I’m keen to know if you agree or disagree. 

In the meantime, and to help elevate the ABM discussion in the region, Agent3 is launching the first ‘ABM Council for APAC’ in 2020, bringing together Asia’s leading ABM thinkers from B2B corporate marketing heads, to agency leads, industry bodies, and leading marketing platforms and channels. 

It’ll be a small group but if you’re interested in being part of this discussion, please let me know. We have some very exciting ABM ahead…

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