ABM: The Emperor’s New Clothes?

Posted by Maeve McDonald on August 11, 2017

Account-Based Marketing may be the New Big Thing, but it isn’t new.

Phew. Felt good to come out and say it. As I mentioned in another blog, in my opinion ABM dates back at least as far as the publication of the influential book ‘The One to One Future’ in 1993, and absolutely inarguably as far back as 2003 when ITSMA first named and defined ABM.  In other words, it has been gaining momentum over the last quarter-century.

But … every trend and movement deserves a tipping point, and having spent my career in PR and marketing it would be churlish of me to deny a hype-spike in interest.  When clients come to me and say – “Connecting marketing and sales?  Using insight to focus on target accounts on a specific level?  Isn’t that what you’ve been doing for years?” all I can say is: yep.  Read the book, got the t-shirt.

But but but…

Whether or not you call it ABM, it definitely has a part to play (at the right time, in the right circumstances, for the right accounts) as a key weapon in the modern marketer’s arsenal.

The Market of One

Customer-centricity (itself a marketing buzzword) is absolutely key in ABM.  One of the main distinctions between ABM and traditional marketing is that an ABM programme always starts with account level insights rather than broad industry or generic customer pain points.

So in practice, what might that account insight look like?  Here are just a few examples:

  • Understanding the account’s strategic goals
  • Identifying their technology stack
  • Mapping their supplier landscape
  • Undertaking an Account-Based SWOT
  • Stakeholder profiling and mapping
  • Industry sector profile

But there are many others.  Innovation and bravery, in identifying and accurately uncovering these is key to creative ABM.

The Three Types of ABM

Bev Burgess can lay claim to being the acknowledged guru of ABM, and is author of the current handbook for marketing insiders,’ A Practitioner’s Guide to Account Based Marketing’.  Her recent ITSMA Blog (well worth a read) contains a lot of food for thought including a compelling definition for ‘Three Types of ABM’.

Strategic ABM: Creating and executing highly-customised marketing plans for individual accounts

ABM Lite: Creating and executing lightly-customised programs for clusters of accounts with similar issues and needs

Programmatic ABM: Leveraging technology to tailor marketing campaigns for specific named accounts at scale

What I find particularly interesting here is that Bev doesn’t doubt that the emergence of these three types has been driven by the need to scale.  I agree completely – when it comes to making ABM fly, the ability to scale is centrally important.  This is exactly where technology plays an increasingly important part – not least of which is making ABM easier. I won’t however linger on that here as I will discuss this in separate blog.

The dish du jour

ABM is the trend of the moment, but that doesn’t mean that engaging with ABM alongside other new ways of thinking about marketing are mutually exclusive.  Another B2B marketing ‘trend’, which can sit well with ABM, is Content Marketing, nicely defined by the Content Marketing Institute as,

“… a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

ABM is the strategy.

ABM is part of the marketing stack.

It’s not the magic bullet.

Why don’t you?

ABM’s not new.  But it’s also not a flash-in-the-pan gone-tomorrow hype bubble.  In all likelihood most marketers are very familiar with the constituent parts of ABM.  Given that, it’s not too much of a leap to start thinking about ABM strategically, as part of an integrated, ongoing programme.

If you have already started your ABM journey, I’d love to hear about the challenges you’ve encountered.  Drop me a line.