Tech Line

Leadership Alliance 2021 Report: ABM Gets Personal

There’s no longer any debate about the value of personalized and relevant marketing. It’s an essential element for establishing trusted relationships with customers and building long-term brand affinity. Nevertheless, organizations of all shapes and sizes continue to struggle with the concept.

What separates the winners from everyone else? Successful account-based marketing (ABM). It focuses on account awareness and taking communication and interactions to a market of one. The approach depends on a more tightly knit and highly integrated marketing and sales structure along with rich data to understand customers in broader and deeper ways.

The ABM Leadership Alliance’s 2021 report, Embedding ABM: Next Steps for Market Leadership, offers a blueprint for how organizations can take marketing to a higher level. ABM Leadership Alliance surveyed 300+ leaders and practitioners at major companies. It identified several key elements that lead to content that customers value—and act on.

The ABCs of ABM

The alliance found that organizations that set themselves apart focus on five critical areas:

  • Strategic Alignment. This includes a framework, governance, and strong and diverse leadership.
  • Sales Collaboration. Marketing and sales work in lockstep with each other.
  • Staff Development. Top-tier businesses invest in skill development and build teams that have a wide range of ABM competencies.
  • Process Excellence. Best-in-class organizations have essential tools, templates, and processes to support an initiative.
  • Technology and Data Leverage. Leaders take advantage of technology and data in ways that elude others.

The good news is that organizations recognize the value of ABM. Nearly three-quarters (70 percent) of marketing leaders say that ABM principals influence how they approach marketing. In addition, 72 percent recognize that they achieve better ROI through an ABM-centric approach. The framework helps them boost their reputation, relationships, and revenues. In fact, 84 percent report higher revenues through ABM.

The bad news is that getting to successful ABM isn’t easy—and many businesses have themselves to blame. Nearly two decades into ABM as a strategic discipline, only 27 percent of business leaders report that their organization views ABM as a company-wide business initiative rather than a marketing-centric activity.

Organizations struggle with several critical issues, including educating sales team about the value of ABM; tracking and measuring results; developing campaign assets that are mass-customizable yet scalable; personalizing and tailor marketing; and providing sales teams with what they need to manage ABM. In addition, fewer than 10 percent of companies have formal career paths for professionals in the ABM arena.

Beyond the Basics

A starting point for navigating ABM more effectively is to recognize that it isn’t an ad hoc bolt-on or quick fix for marketing challenges. ABM results improve over time with active engagement, feedback loops, and evidence that pipeline and revenue growth are taking place.

Interestingly, the report found that tossing more money at ABM won’t necessarily improve results. ABM leaders and the rest of the field spend a nearly equal sum on their initiatives. A key distinction is that top-tier firms build out systems that support a one-to-one (59 percent vs. 50 percent) and one-to-few (72 percent vs. 59 percent) framework. Not surprisingly, laggards remain mired in legacy one-to-many and deal-based marketing methods.

ABM leaders outperform all others in working more closely with the sales department (42 percent vs. 27 percent), working directly with sales reps (47 percent vs. 30 percent), and building strong collaboration between the two entities (20 percent vs. 9 percent).

Top performers create account specific content, establish executive-to-executive programs, hold webinars and virtual events, create microsites focusing on ABM, and use paid social media to amplify efforts.

They also identify broader objectives and focus on stakeholder alignment. This includes growing the business through existing accounts, focusing on strengthening their reputation through targeted accounts, and supporting specific major opportunities.

Finally, best-in-class firms recognize that there’s still work to be done. They continue to focus on attracting, retaining, and developing ABM talent while further aligning marketing and sales, measuring results, and using data to standardize programs and processes across business units, geographies, and divisions.

Leveling Up

Even ABM leaders can improve, however. Remarkably, the report found that only 9 percent of firms have formal career-development paths for ABM specialists, and a mere 13 percent believe they have all the necessarily mechanisms in place to fully support marketing and sales. In addition, only 34 percent report that they have an ABM program-management framework in place.

So, what does it all mean? Marketing executives must approach ABM in a more systematic and holistic way, for one. They must treat ABM as a strategic corporate-growth engine rather than as a tactical tool. When a business has strong governance, metrics, technology, and processes in place, it’s possible to link and transform marketing and sales.

Only then can a business blend digital tools and more conventional resources, such as direct mail, telephone calls, and personal meetings for maximum results. In this more highly evolved world of hybrid marketing, signal-to-noise ratios drop, engagement skyrockets and brand loyalty grows.

Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology. His latest book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2021).