Account-based marketing: The tools and trends shaping the ABM landscape

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Account-based marketing (ABM) has become a hot topic in marketing technology over the last two years. Reporting on last year’s MarTech conference, Bertrand Hazard of TrustRadius noted that “nearly every exhibitor featured a reference to ABM, and many of the presenters touched on the trend as well. Across software categories like predictive analytics, sales & marketing intelligence, and ad serving & retargeting, ABM is impacting vendor positioning, marketing campaigns, and even product roadmaps.”

Bertrand and his research team proceeded to interview a number of vendors about their views on ABM, how it is shaping products and businesses, and what the hot categories are within ABM tools and tech. These are the ABM technology trends that they identified….

Background: What is account-based marketing (ABM)?

For anyone unfamiliar with the term, account-based marketing, ABM, is a B2B marketing strategy that involves aligning marketing with sales in order to increase the impact of marketing efforts on revenue.

It often begins with creating a target account list of prospects who are likely to buy, or likely to receive great value from your product. This list may be ranked in order of priority, urgency, or interest. The criteria for inclusion on the target list is a set of characteristics (firmographic, technographic, and sometimes intent or engagement-based details) called an ideal customer profile (ICP).

An ICP answers the question: what do your best-fit prospects look like, based on your past sales and your most successful customers currently? Beyond finding the right accounts to sell into, ABM involves targeting the right stakeholders and influencers (more than one person) at those accounts with personalised content. Thus, solutions that help you determine your ICP, create target lists, get account and person-level contact data, and personalise and distribute content to people at the right accounts may all support an ABM strategy.

Jon Miller, founder and CEO of Engagio and former CMO of Marketo, is one of the foremost thought leaders in ABM best practices today. The following illustration is Engagio’s visual overview of the stages of an ABM strategy and some of the tools that facilitate them, taken from Jon’s presentation Fishing With Spears: All About Account-Based Marketing.

[Click to enlarge]

ABM landscape

ABM tool category 1: Target account data

Vendors that provide contact and account data (sometimes called prospecting tools, data vendors, or sales intelligence solutions) are positioning themselves as the foundation for alignment between marketing & sales teams.

Having clean, robust data is the first step to understanding your best-fit customers and creating a target prospect list. Some intelligence vendors, like ZoomInfo and InsideView, position themselves as prerequisites for account targeting that connect marketing and sales teams.

According to ZoomInfo, data solutions are a staple in the ABM toolkit. Anna Fisher, Director of Marketing at ZoomInfo, explained: “ABM is a way to align sales and marketing initiatives to go after the same accounts. Both have to start with understanding their accounts. We help with that analysis and insights piece. We can do an analysis to determine who and where are your best customers, and determine the right types of accounts or persona accounts, as well as the specific contacts that you want to go after based on those that you’ve been able to sell to historically. We surface new contacts that match your target persona. Further down the pipeline, when you are targeting specific accounts, you need to find the contacts at those accounts — because companies don’t buy, people buy.”

ABM tool category 2: Predictive account scoring

There is crossover between vendors who offer data/prospecting solutions and vendors who offer predictive analytics to generate ICPs and target lists.

For example, LeadspaceEverString, and Mintigo are built with a view to the account level — in addition to generating predictions about what a best-fit customer will look like, they also pull in data from the web, adding net new prospects to augment the target list.

Predictive analytics vendors, which use machine learning to determine a company’s “ideal customer profile,” are surfacing best-fit accounts in addition to contacts. Some are also offering their own prospecting and data verification features.

ABM tool category 3: Content delivery & personalisation

One major tenet of ABM is that content should be personalised so that it is relevant to the specific target account, and sometimes even to a particular role at the account. This tactic is sometimes referred to as marketing to audiences of one.

In addition to creating personalised content that is relevant to specific target accounts, companies practicing ABM also need to think about how that content is actually distributed to their target accounts. Content delivery tools, such as ad-serving & retargeting software, are being shaped around the account-level to facilitate this.

Thus, martech vendors whose products enable content personalisation and/or delivery of content to target accounts have been talking a lot about ABM.

Terminus is an example of a personalised content delivery tool with an account focus — it’s ad serving and retargeting software that’s optimised for ABM.

Their CMO Sangram Vajre, said: “Today, I see marketers asking what else they can do besides a run of the mill email campaign. B2B marketers are starting to take ownership of interactions, with a more personalised customer experience. Advertising is a big aspect of personalised interactions. I believe in a combination of high-tech and high-touch interactions. The kicker here is: can marketers do it at scale? Any vendor who is able to help B2B companies do personalised communication at scale will win the war when it comes to ABM interactions technology. Personalized, scalable, account-based advertising is something Terminus can help marketers with across mobile, social, web, videos, and direct mail.”

ABM tool category 4: Measuring ABM success

B2B marketing analytics vendors — who provide cross-channel campaign metrics, MRM, dashboards, and/or ROI attribution — are also tying their offerings to ABM, although the underlying message here is that measuring the success of inbound and other marketing efforts is just as important as measuring the success of ABM.

Marketing analytics vendors say their solutions can put ABM to the test, to see if it actually does “deliver the highest ROI of any B2B marketing strategy or tactic” (as marketing research studies like one done by ITSMA have reported).

“If you think about ABM [versus inbound marketing], the pendulum is kind of swinging back. People are trying to figure out the best way to interact with the client, and in my opinion it will end up somewhere in the middle. To bring it back to Allocadia’s focus on analytics, it doesn’t matter whether you’re doing total lead-based marketing, or you’re doing account-based marketing, you still have these core tenets: plan, invest, measure.”
– Sam Melnick, Director, Customer & Marketing Insights at Allocadia

Conclusion: Old news, new buzz?

Vajre explained to us why so many MarTech vendors are rallying around ABM right now.

“Every 5 years something changes in marketing technology. It’s a series of causes and effects; we’re big solving problems, but new problems are popping up in their wake. In the 2000s, it was email, which was a great invention for getting your message out there, but it also created a problem: you’re touching a big audience, but you can’t capture leads. Marketing automation came about to solve that problem in 2005, and now it’s table stakes. Once we were using marketing automation, we had too many leads. In 2010, predictive came about to tell us which leads to focus on. But now, what do we do with that intel? Are we back to sending emails? This problem gave life to ABM in 2015. ABM is the promise that you can do targeted engagement with your highest value prospects to really get their attention in meaningful ways.”

However, perhaps surprisingly, given its almost fanatic momentum, several vendors across categories have also pointed out that ABM is nothing new. Rather, it’s a shift in focus from inbound to outbound tactics, an inevitable swing of the pendulum.

While the buzz around ABM is very real, and many marketing teams are starting to do account targeting in a new way (more akin to the way sales has long approached prospecting), these viewpoints presented a healthy dose of skepticism — a good set of checks and balances to prevent martech from getting caught up in trendy marketing terminology.

Anna Fisher, director of marketing at ZoomInfo, noted: “The whole idea of account-based Marketing is not new by any means. It’s a strategy that people are pushing right now. I think ABM is a big part of a strong marketing strategy, just like inbound is a big part of a strong marketing strategy, and we’re able to help in both fields. I see ABM as a response to the focus on inbound, where people are saying, ‘Outbound efforts are still just as effective, why have we been pretending they’re not?’ I don’t think it’s one versus the other. Any marketing organisation has to have both (and a little bit of everything else). Being able to play in both of those fields is really helping us as an organisation continue to grow.”

Looking for more information about account-based marketing? Read more about ABM and software for ABM on TrustRadius, which breaks down the component categories of ABM tools, explains ABM in relation to other marketing strategies, and lets you find and filter reviews of software products that help with ABM.

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