Research: Account-based marketing (ABM) set to take off with B2B SMEs

Account-based marketing (ABM) as a concept for precision sales targeting while not new continues to generate buzz in the B2B marketing space. And with the Sept. 30 release of the “Account-Based Marketing Adoption” study by research firm Demand Metric in partnership with Demandbase, a leader in the ABM field, that buzzing noise seems to grow a little louder. In the study of 236 B2B marketers from mid-market up to Fortune 1000 companies, 96 percent report that ABM directly affects the success of their marketing campaigns, with 43 percent citing it as having a “significant impact.”

-Peter-Isaacson-CMO-Demandbase

“This data reinforces the conversation about ABM as a go-to strategy,” says Peter Isaacson, chief marketing officer, Demandbase. “B2B marketers are becoming (sure) of ABM, using it and getting great results.” For example, 83 percent of ABM adopters report greater customer engagement in the form of actions taken such as banner ad clicks, white paper download form submission or provision of email and phone information on the web site, according to Isaacson.

So far the earliest adopters of ABM remain large companies (i.e., $500 million-plus annual revenue) at 41 percent of the active user base. But those testing ABM most heavily (23 percent) exist in the small to medium enterprise (SME) bracket with top lines less than $25 million per year, according to the study.

What-is-Account-Based-Marketing-graphic-30Sep15
                                                                                 Infographics by Demandbase

Strategic relationships and named accounts
Returning to the idea that ABM has enjoyed a long lifespan, B2B pundits see it as an extension of the named accounts strategy from an earlier era, where sales management takes a prominent role in its implementation. “Sales leaders need to dictate a clear vision of what constitutes a strategic relationship,” says Doug Devitre, author of B2B books like Screen to Screen Selling, “or key account and change roles if needed in order to support these relationships.” But even with ABM, sales leadership requires more than envisaging the bottom line; it requires strategic preparation based on the best information available, according to Devitre.

Demandbase’s Isaacson concurs when he relates that Adobe used an analog version of ABM in the form of field marketing to target 20-25 accounts when he was there in 2002-2003. But now with digital marketing technology, strategic ABM methodologies can scale from 50 to 500 to 5000 accounts, according to Isaacson.

Aligning marketing and sales
Another promising benefit that the research details should occur with closer synchronization of B2B marketing and sales via ABM technology. According to Demand Metric, 70 percent of ABM practitioners in the study say that their marketing and sales organizations completely align compared to only 51 percent of non-ABM users. Other recent news of technology aggregating billions of buy signals from the Internet of Things (IoT) and more powerful ad data insights into of customer behavior seem to presage this conclusion.

“Another key reason behind increasing popularity of ABM is the growing awareness of how important it is to align marketing and sales,” says Michael Rooney, senior vice president and general manager, bpm’online, provider of process-driven CRM solutions. “By having the right process framework in place, enabled by the right technology, companies can better target accounts and deliver key messages about the real value that their products or services could bring to a particular account. Ultimately, the (marketing-sales) team that wins is the one that does its homework best.” But even ABM is not a panacea for marketing-sales peace because customer relationship management remains a critical path even after a targeted account closes, according to bpm’online.

Overall, as a “new” practice, ABM appears past the adoption phase, heading toward early majority status, according to Isaacson. “By marketing to the accounts your sales team wants to sell to and measuring the results, B2B companies are driving alignment across the organization,” Isaacson says. “As awareness of its benefits continues to grow, ABM is trending.”

by Derek Handova

Derek Handova is a veteran freelance journalist and corporate content marketer who contributes regularly to B2B News Network, Economy Lead and Intelligent Utility.