One of the unspoken benefits of attending industry events is the shared empathy in the room; there is always someone there in the same boat as you. And, at the ITSMA Next Generation ABM Forum I attended last week, it was quite literally a boat full of people looking to overcome similar challenges. Held on the Sunborn Yacht Hotel on the Thames, the event brought together C-level marketers to learn, share and exchange ideas about the impact and influence of ABM – and how this is changing the marketing landscape. Listening to the presentations and chatting to the attendees, there are five key takeaways that struck me:
- ABM is now mainstream. Often thought of as a flame-haired cousin of more popular marketing techniques, ABM has been a second thought and add-on element of many marketing programs. Officially coined in 1993, the methodology is now gaining ground as more and more marketers see the value in treating key accounts as markets of one. ITSMA research states that 43% of respondents say ABM is now influencing the way they do marketing. This takes ABM from side-line to mainstream and with budgets improving for ABM this will only continue to rise.
- Understanding how to scale ABM is a major challenge. Many of the people I chatted to were running highly successful and effective ABM programs – hitting their targets and getting noticed for driving real demand from customers. But by being so successful many were then asked by senior board members to replicate this success on a much larger scale, and this is where they were feeling the challenge. Without adding huge levels of resource and investment, how could they scale programs, treat more customers to personalized content, hold topic-specific conversations and arm sales with the right information? These were all front of mind for those in the room and dominated the conversation among attendees.
- MarTech is a minefield. One element of scaling ABM is knowing what technology is out there to help. Automating processes, gaining insights and gathering data are all areas where technology can help, but many at the event felt the MarTech landscape was so big, it was overwhelming to know where to start. Even once a technology decision has been made, installation and operational know-how then present further challenges.
- Conducting blended ABM is still a dark art. For many attendees part of the solution to scaling their ABM program is to use a blended approach. By combining strategic 1:1 ABM with ABM Lite and programmatic ABM, it enables them to maintain focus on their key accounts, while scaling the program to reach other targets. The challenge comes however, in deploying the three strategies operationally in unison. Everything from dissecting the accounts to decide level of focus, to content provision, to ensuring resource planning is accurate, was the source of much discussion.
- Sales and marketing departments are still siloed. According to an ITSMA survey, of the top eight marketing challenges, three are sales related; educating the sales team on ABM, keeping up with demand from sales for ABM on their accounts, and getting buying from sales on ABM programs. However, when ABM strategies are done correctly, it can drive much closer association between the two departments. In the same survey, almost 40% of respondents said that ABM has significantly improved sales and marketing alignment, proving ABM has wider benefits than just increased revenues.