Let me establish one thing quickly; I’ve been working on ABM programs for many years and don’t regard it as a recent phenomenon. In fact, way back in 2012, we were winning awards with BT for campaigns which targeted just six banks in a highly personalised, highly bespoke and highly measurable manner. For those six banks we built relationships maps where we actually measured the relationship quality down to each stakeholder. We built highly tailored content, and then worked out how we could broker meetings with senior customer stakeholders where this content would be presented and left behind in a highly personalised manner.
The result of this ‘true’ ABM came in the form of real commercial value and a request to scale the program. Everyone was happy. Kind of. Because here’s the truth; 1:1 ABM is really the truest form of ABM, and scaling it is actually very difficult. The only way to do so is to choose a theme or pain point that you know addresses the needs of small groups of accounts (either clustered by sector or by commonality of challenge they face). Despite this slightly scaled model, the end result, the content and the message still then must be account specific. Creating impact will not just be about timing engagement, it is also about the specific message addressing specific pain points in an account. I’ve been really enthused about the more recent development of Cluster (or one to few) ABM techniques and programs and I can truly see real value being delivered but beyond targeting the ‘few’ accounts in a cluster is where we start to hit very murky waters in relation to what true ABM actually is.
Now, one of my favourite movies is Network, which was released in 1975. You may not know the movie but you will likely know the famous line from Howard Beale where he shouts ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore’! Well, without being too over dramatic, that’s how I feel about the market for scaling ABM today beyond the Cluster approach.
Over the last few years there has been a constant flow of martec vendors launching platforms that they claim allows you to scale ABM. At best they are being disingenuous and at worst they are deliberately misleading their target audiences in order to piggyback off the market interest in ABM. Simply claiming that by improving the targeting of campaigns, you are deploying ABM is wrong; this is merely better demand gen. Plain and simple. I see some vendors claiming that they deliver ABM by driving advertising at lots of accounts, based on intent, with some rudimentary personalisation. Let me be clear, this is not ABM, it is, again, just better demand generation (for which there is most definitely a need!)
Why does this even matter I hear you ask? Well, if we want ABM to deliver to expectations we need to be honest about what it is. And what it isn’t. Intent data, IP based advertising and marketing automation are great tools for driving more efficient demand gen campaigns, but they are not the basis for an ABM strategy. Can they form tactical elements within an overall strategic approach to ABM? Yes. But just don’t claim they are in themselves ABM.
The appetite for ABM shows no sign of diminishing, which is highly exciting to anybody selling into the market! But for those that are trying to sell into the demand for ABM I say that we’re in danger of killing the proverbial golden goose if we don’t get honest about what constitutes true ABM. By failing to be clear that you cannot deliver true ABM to 1000s or even 100s of accounts, we risk creating market dissatisfaction and apathy for the impact that ABM can deliver. And this would be an incredibly frustrating outcome given the value that true ABM can create.