Account-Based Marketing (ABM) at Twenty: A Benchmark for Success in 2023 and Beyond
It’s now been 20 years since the team at ITSMA coined the term Account-Based Marketing (ABM). I was very fortunate to work with ITSMA (now Momentum ITSMA after their merger) during a good part of my nearly two decades with SAP Marketing (and beyond). Looking back, ABM has risen in parallel with key concepts and practices including Thought Leadership, Marketing Analytics and Data, Marketing Technology (MarTech), and Marketing Transformation. We’ve witnessed a convergence which has defined a set of competencies that all B2B marketers and organizations seeking to be leaders must now invest in. I wrote about that in “Momentum ITSMA Marketing Vision 2022: Next-Generation B2B Marketing in an Age of Convergence “ and the extremely positive feedback validated that others are seeing and experiencing the same.
“Elevating ABM: Building Blocks for Long-Term Growth” is the sixth annual survey done in partnership with the ABM Leadership Alliance. Rob Leavitt, SVP Advisory, and Adam Bennington, Head of Consulting, Momentum ITSMA, presented the latest ABM Benchmark Study results in a recent webinar “Building on ABM Success: Six Keys to Long-Term Success”. To quote Rob and Adam, ABM has evolved from a niche specialism to a critical and all-encompassing growth driver. ABM is no longer a “nice-to-have” – far from it. For many organizations, ABM isn’t just a program or an initiative — it’s a core component and pillar of their successful go-to-market (GTM) strategy.
I was fortunate to see a preview of the 2022 ABM Benchmark Study at the Momentum ITSMA fall “Marketing Vision 2023 event”. Not surprisingly, ABM is the top B2B marketing tactic. The research shows that among organizations with active ABM programs, more than one-fourth (28 percent) of the total marketing budget is dedicated to ABM (more for leaders). Nearly three-fourths (71 percent) will increase spending for ABM in 2023, with an average year over year (YoY) growth of 13 percent. ABM is NOT just for larger-sized organizations; smaller-sized organizations spend a greater percentage of their marketing budgets on ABM versus larger-sized organizations (typically 15 to 20 percent).
The business impact of ABM continues to be impressive: 90 percent of those surveyed experienced an uplift of engagement, 84 percent growth in pipeline, and 77 percent growth in revenue. The majority (72 percent) saw higher Marketing ROI (ROMI) with ABM and most (66 percent) experienced improvement in sales and marketing alignment. Having long espoused “modern marketing” and “next-generation marketing transformation”– this is the fruition of a vision we’ve worked on and planned for years (decades?). More than one-half (53 percent) have implemented one-to-one ABM account coverage (marketing to a universe of one) and nearly one-third (29 percent) that and one-to-few ABM. A portion of those surveyed (18 percent) do all three flavors of ABM (adding one-to-many) and mix and match their ABM strategy and execution accordingly.
A key concept championed by Momentum ITSMA is “embedded ABM” where ABM is central and strategic to the marketing and sales approach, embedded within the business and mainstream to the sales and marketing process. Not surprisingly, collaboration is key. Marketing is and always will be a “team sport”. ABM leaders work across functions, break down stovepipes, and invest in assets, tools, and enablement to bring this to market. Leveraged by less than one-fifth of those surveyed (17 percent), Embedded ABM is still relatively new and early in ABM adoption and experiences.
In the spirit of new year’s planning and execution, Rob and Adam discussed “six keys for ABM in 2023 and beyond”. Their recommendations are spot-on, and I encourage everyone to review the ABM benchmark research and view the on-demand webinar. They are:
- Make ABM your corporate growth priority: the majority (76 percent) of ABM leaders in the study have made ABM a companywide business initiative and NOT just a marketing program/priority. It drives strategic growth for the majority (74 percent) of ABM leaders – 3X more than the rest of the pack! To be a leader, make ABM a “central pillar” to your organization’s go-to-market strategy and embed ABM across your organization.
- Develop ABM account segment and prioritization and market down to the opportunity level in partnership with sales: if there was ever a great “secret sauce” (a term I learned from former SAP CEO Bill McDermott, now the leader of ServiceNow) it’s the criticality of working with sales on account profiling, prioritization, and planning and programs tailored for the sales team and accounts. Whether one-to-one, few, or many – leverage “hyper targeting” with focused marketing and resources based upon world-class segmentation.
- Invest in skills and team development: the theme of Momentum ITSMA Marketing Vision 2022 was “The Year of Enablement” and that’s not just sales enablement – cross-functional enablement supported by MarTech enablement tools, quality content, and training that enables best in class campaign planning and execution, effective sales and marketing alignment, and collaboration. That’s what ABM leaders do, and it pays off and has the added benefit of both increased employee retention and the attraction of new talent.
- Achieve alignment with sales and across the extended ecosystem: invest in an ABM Project management Office (PMO) or ABM Center of Expertise (COE) supported by governance, roll-out programs with the enablement described above, and above all, don’t operate in isolated stovepipes! Invest and participate in communities and make social selling part of your ABM campaign and program execution.
- Leverage data and insight for strategy and performance: we are in an era of data- and insights-driven marketing for better decision-making and ABM is squarely in the middle of it all. Momentum ITSMA’s ABM 3 Rs are Reputation, Relationships, and Revenue and we need world-class reporting and dashboards supported by Business Intelligence (BI), data, and analytics, data literacy and MarTech-savvy marketers at the helm. ABM leaders make these investments – the majority (75 percent) in account insights and more than one-half (56 percent) with engagement-level insights. ABM has its own category in Scott Brinker’s MarTech Landscape and leaders are investing in ABM platforms integrated with their MarTech stack and data. Despite leadership in campaign planning and execution and sales and marketing collaboration and integration, ABM leaders cite the need to gain greater competency in in data and analytics, having tailored value propositions, and ABM-specific MarTech.
- Tailor messaging and thought leadership for relevance and deliver value: decision makers don’t want to hear just what we are prepared to share as Thought Leadership (inside out) — we need to deliver value and establish ourselves as trusted advisors and share what they want to hear (outside in). The journey to being an ABM leader is also one of Thought Leadership marketing excellence. This requires not only understanding specific personas, but those specifically within our targeted accounts with personalized content and messages, especially as we embark upon a journey to one-to-one ABM.
I loved Rob’s and Adam’s recommendations to close the webinar – very pragmatic advice to ALL marketers who must address ABM in some capacity and ensure their teams and organizations have the right skills in place:
- Invest in ABM with adequate budget and resources – don’t go “partly-in” with a watered-down, ineffective program that’s ABM in name only. Budget and plan properly, assign resources, and stay the course with an effective cross-functional program with “execution as an art form” (to quote another Bill McDermott saying; as CEO of ServiceNow, they are among the premier leaders in ABM and Thought Leadership cited in this study).
- Become an ABM leader and make ABM a strategic priority through an embedded ABM strategy and execution that drives strategic growth. The Momentum ITSMA ABM Benchmark Study clearly showcased why this is important and the tremendous value and business success it creates.
- Invest in research and Thought Leadership to create value, provide the information specific accounts want, and stay the course with a program supported by a PMO or CoE with a healthy dose of governance and collaboration.
- Create personalized content and Thought Leadership for specific accounts and personas, with tailored value propositions. As my long-time colleague and friend Michael Brenner, the CEO of the Marketing Insider Group says, “Successful ABM campaigns are a B2B company’s best friend”. Michael is one of the world’s foremost authorities on great content marketing and his suggested best practices mirror the sage advice of Momentum ITSMA.
Rob and Adam also noted that while ABM may be hitting 20, it’s still a period of adolescence and growth. There will be much more to come and like so much else, it’s an exciting time to be in B2B marketing! Download and read the Elevating ABM: Building Blocks for Long-Term Success benchmark report, view the on-demand webcast, and be prepared to invest in ABM and reap the tremendous benefits to follow.