State of ABM for 2020 and beyond: 7 big trends in Account-Based Marketing

By Chuck Leddy

Account-based marketing (ABM) is a highly-effective approach to driving revenues that focuses marketing and sales resources (budget, people, technology, etc.) around a pre-defined set of target accounts. While ABM has clearly been shown to boost return-on-investment and revenues, doing ABM “right” requires significant maturity in your marketing operations, especially around data management.

Many organizations struggle with where to begin implementing ABM. It starts with analyzing your existing tech stack, your existing accounts, evaluating the skillsets/capabilities of your team, and then working to (1) understand and (2) close your existing gaps, especially around data management capabilities. Setting up the right infrastructure to support ABM is challenging, but once you do it ABM can deliver increasing levels of ROI and revenues.

“ABM programs have been shown to result in significant improvements in pipeline growth,” says Todd Berkowitz, Practice Vice President at Gartner, “[and] If economic uncertainty continues, these programs should remain a core element of marketing strategy.” To get a better sense of the state of ABM in 2020, DemandBase conducted a survey of 900 companies. The survey and resulting 44-page report, called 2020 ABM Market Research Study (free download with registration), is a comprehensive look at the state of play for ABM right now. Let’s explore the report’s many findings.

Who is doing ABM?

More than 6 in 10 companies surveyed (61%) had a full ABM program in place or were in the midst of a pilot program. Among the remaining 39% of companies without existing ABM programs, most were thinking about starting an ABM pilot within the next 6 months. That leaves only a small sliver of “ABM laggards” who aren’t either doing ABM now or thinking about doing it soon (only about 10% of surveyed companies are such “ABM laggards”).

Large and mid-sized companies are leading the march to ABM. Doing ABM right takes marketing ops maturity and a supportive data infrastructure. Companies making the fastest progress with ABM programs are those with over 1,000 employees, with nearly 3 out of 4 (71%) of them having either a full or pilot ABM program in place. The top industries that reported full ABM programs were: (1) computer software, (2) IT and services, and (3) marketing and advertising.

The #1 Challenge to ABM, by far . . .

The top challenge reported for every stage of ABM, whether a full program, a pilot, or in the consideration phase, is data quality and data management. The key success factor in nearly all approaches to marketing, but especially with ABM, is (1) knowing your customer(s) and (2) leveraging what you know (i.e., data) in order to send relevant messaging that facilitates the buying journey.

Your CRM is necessary, of course, but doing ABM right requires accessing and leveraging even more customer data, having the capacity to transform data into actionable business intelligence, and then acting upon that relevant data in a timely manner that enables conversion and supports the buying journey. Like all marketing, ABM must be fueled by the right data, the right metrics, the right reporting, and the right technology/automation to fuel the whole program.

7 major trends in ABM

The DemandBase report lays out 10 major trends in ABM. Let’s examine some of these trends in-depth:

  1. ABM budgets are rising. As companies see strong results from either full programs or pilots, more investments are being made into ABM. Investments increased by an impressive 40% year-over-year, from 2019 to 2020. That momentum will only grow as more ABM programs get off the ground and show positive results, attracting even more investment.
  1. ABM measurement remains problematic. The report shows that companies are strongest in driving marketing-sales alignment to support ABM, but weakest in ABM measurement. Obviously, measuring ABM performance is key for driving success and going to bat for more ABM budget, but data management and attribution (i.e., connecting ABM activities to revenues) remains problematic for most companies now “doing” ABM.
  1. Traditional lead-based habits remain an obstacle, making ABM measurement harder. Measuring ABM ROI is proving difficult because so many organizations maintain a historic overreliance on lead-based metrics that don’t fit their new ABM models. ABM programs need ABM-appropriate metrics, which seems obvious enough until you realize that only 29% of companies that use ABM are measuring Marketing Qualified Accounts (MQA), according to the report. Measurement matters, but isn’t being done well enough. What was the #1 content topic requested by respondents to the ABM survey? You guessed it: content about ABM measurement.
  1. More budget for content and account selection. In an era of social distancing and everyone working from home, more marketing budget is going towards ABM-related digital content and away from live events and live meetings. More money is also going towards better selection of accounts for ABM programs, as a way to optimize targeting and resource allocation. If done badly, account selection can sink an ABM program faster than almost anything.
  1. ABM revenue growth is coming from existing accounts and net-new accounts. Great news here: the ABM survey shows that a focus on strengthening existing account relationships is a great revenue-booster. The surveyed companies seeing the highest returns from ABM programs “expect their revenues to come equally from net-new logos and existing customer expansion,” says the report. So whether the account is brand new or as old as the hills, ABM works to boost revenues.
  1. Poor data quality is limiting ABM efforts. “Account data quality is an issue that has plagued the success of [ABM], and it remains a constant focus for our survey respondents,” says the report. “Data quality issues were named the #1 challenge for executing ABM in 2020 while improving data quality landed in the top three list of priorities” for next year. Data is what fuels ABM effectiveness, at both the account level and the individual/stakeholder level. Putting “garbage data in” your ABM program means getting “garbage results out.”  Quality data and data management maturity remain, by far, the single biggest drivers of ABM success.
  1. The tools for ABM success: CRM, MAP, and Martech. When the survey asked “what tools B2B companies can’t do ABM without,” respondents led with CRM (83%) and Marketing Automation (73%). Any martech tool or app that enhances data quality, helping transform data into real-time, actionable business intelligence, is also a must-have for ABM success.

Want to learn even more about setting up an effective ABM program, especially getting your data management maturity right for ABM? Reach out to us here.

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