The Content Strategist

The Rise of Account-Based Marketing, in 7 Charts

There are a lot of buzzy trends in marketing that turn out to be little more than hot air. People-based marketing. Micro-moments. Conversation marketing. I could go on. (In fact, our editor-in-chief managed to pull together about 40 of the worst of them.) But account-based marketing—ABM for short—seems like one buzzword that’s here to stay.

ABM is a marketing strategy in which the marketing and sales teams focus on courting specific clients, rather than determining their sales pipe based on whatever companies come to them.

In traditional B2B marketing, marketers move prospects through the funnel toward a sale. The top of that funnel is usually very wide. There may be a specific target vertical, but the marketing machine is built to attract as many prospects as possible and then filter away the bad ones.

ABM, on the other hand, is much more focused. A B2B company that sells location-based marketing software likely looks for clients in the retail space, so it’ll identify brands that make the most sense—let’s say Macy’s, Walmart, and Walgreens—and build a strategy to attract those specific brands.

The usual metaphor is that traditional marketing is hunting with a net, while ABM is hunting with a spear. So just how big is this ABM thing going to get and how exactly are marketers using it? Let’s take a look at a few key charts.

Most ABM programs are relatively new

As eMarketer points out, the concept of ABM has actually been around for more than a decade. It is only because of recent technological changes, however, that ABM has really become viable.

Thanks to sophisticated marketing platforms, business intelligence technology, and advanced targeting features, it’s easier than ever for B2B companies to find their ideal clients, apply those findings to the sales process, and lock in on specific accounts.

In the past year, 59 percent of B2B marketers surveyed by EverString and Domo have implemented ABM. That’s a remarkable shift, demonstrative of just how quickly the practice has taken over the B2B space.

Only 20 percent of B2B marketers are not implementing ABM in some fashion—and that number may decrease as the technology improves.

Martech is key for ABM success

Not surprisingly, sales- and marketing-automation tools are the most used software when it comes to ABM. Marketo, for example, recently launched a suite of tools under the banner of “Marketo Account-Based Marketing.” Other products like Salesforce perform the critical task of managing targeted sales prospects. There is also a new breed of tools specifically for ABM, such as Infer, Terminus, and DiscoverOrg. These offerings generally integrate into one of the larger tech clouds and provide in-depth information on targeted accounts and industries.

Predictive analytics and similar technology like AI are also seen as potentially disruptive forces. Predictive analytics promise to help automate and optimize the ABM process, which if done right, could lead to massive improvements in efficiency.

Most ABM content isn’t individualized… yet

This could change as technology improves, but for now, most ABM still casts a relatively wide net. For example, that hypothetical location software company will probably create content tailored to the retail industry as a whole, rather than Walmart specifically. That makes sense since such focused content requires a lot of time, which may not be feasible if there are too many accounts or too few marketers. The other risk is that such narrow efforts could potentially waste a lot of money if the account doesn’t convert.

Email is the most popular delivery tactic

Email’s dominance should be expected. For one, it’s free for a sales person to send an email with account-based content to a prospect. Email has proven itself to be one of—if not the most—effective channels for B2B marketers thanks to its intimate nature. It’s also easy to use.

While email will likely remain a key ABM channel, many other channels are quickly catching up. Personalized website content is worth mentioning in particular, since it’s relatively new and has the highest numbers for “plan to use.” Personalization uses previous browsing behavior and consumer profiles to serve targeted content. If you were an executive at a finance company, you would see content related to finance on TCS first, rather than an article about ABM.

The technology driving this innovation is still relatively unproven, though the companies offering it—Uberflip, Optimizely, and most of the big cloud suites—have been pushing the idea more and more.

ABM isn’t a miracle worker

Like most things in marketing, ABM won’t solve all of your problems. According to a study from Uberflip, Heinz, ReachForce, Radius, and Bizible, most practitioners believe their ABM efforts are only moderately effective. More marketers believe their ABM is entirely ineffective (6.7 percent) than extremely effective (5.7 percent).

Considering that “extremely effective” marketing tactics are few and far between, these aren’t exactly condemning numbers for ABM. They do suggest, however, plenty of room for improvement. One of the reasons marketers may be unsure of ABM’s effectiveness comes back to an age-old problem: measuring ROI.

Incredibly, 50 percent of marketers surveyed did not measure how implementing account-based marketing affected ROI. In other words, instead of doing their jobs, many marketers are just guessing that ABM is having a positive effect. At least 22 percent admitted they simply don’t know.

For ABM to succeed, marketers have to carefully track if it’s actually working. Otherwise, an exciting practice that could change how marketers do their jobs may just become another buzzword.