Account based marketing at tipping point – five key takeaways from ABM Innovation Summit

720 405 Timo Sorri

Once again ABM Innovation Summit presented by Demandbase and sponsors was a great event packed with cutting edge content, brilliant discussions with fellow abmers, great food, beautiful San Francisco weather and lots of new ABM ideas and tools to take back home.

On stage: Peter Isaacsson and Ghris Golec, Demandbase

This year’s summit with over thousand participants proved that ABM is not just a fad, but it´s here to stay. It also gave the participants glimpse into what the future of B2B marketing looks like. Here are my five key takeaways from 6th annual ABM Innovation Summit

1. ABM is a validated category

Term ‘Account Based Marketing’ was coined by ITSMA as early as in 2003. For a decade it was mostly confined to strategic accounts and one to one approach. The level of investment of marketing money, resources and time to individual accounts was only justifiable if the return was expected to be measured in millions of upselling or cross-selling. It did not make much sense to do ABM for smaller accounts.

In the 2010s marketing and ad technology has evolved to the level where the principles of ABM can be scaled to clusters of tens, hundreds and even thousands of accounts. ABM has been unlocked for a growing amount of B2B sales and marketing organizations.

Forrester New Wave ABM platforms 2018

Year 2018 marked a new milestone in the development of ABM category as Forrester Research published its first ever ABM platform Wave. The category in itself is still at a very nascent phase as there are only few end-to-end platforms and mostly point solutions. Many acquisitions and mergers took place in 2018 and will continue to take place as the category develops towards end-to-end solution capability.

2. ABM is about seeing your way to revenue

One of the most memorable things for me out of my three days at ABM innovation summit was something that Rob Leavitt from ITSMA said during ABM expert certification: “ABM is about seeing your way to revenue”. So far, that is the best way of capturing what is different about ABM as opposed to typical demand generation marketing.

ABM planning starts from sales target and you work your way backwards to marketing budgets, resources, plans and metrics. Sales and marketing alignment is inherent as there is no starting point without a due dialogue with sales about sales targets.

During the ABM expert certification, we applied this thinking into a fictive case study, where a company sales target needed to be interpreted into an ABM strategy. Difficult as it was again to get started (this was my second time doing the certification), this time I found it easier than year ago to deconstruct an overall sales target into a blended ABM strategy (blended meaning that you apply ABM on three levels one-to-one, one-to-few and one-to-many)

By the way, according to studies (Demandbase and ITSMA) companies with blended ABM strategies get better ROI from the programs, so therefore it made sense to practice a blended approach at the certification training.

3. ABM will be a B2B core success factor along with CRM and MAS

The image below captures nicely how ABM is the logical third member of the marketing and sales tech stack of any B2B company aiming for success in 2020s.

Source: Demandbase
  • CRM is a great tool for all data and activities on existing customers and prospects, but limited to known accounts and with little means to engage with the accounts beyond normal sales activities (email, phone)
  • MAS is a great tool for engaging on website and nurturing contacts after hand-raise, but limited only to “owned media” and by design architected for individual contacts, not accounts
  • ABM is great tool for targeting both known and unknown accounts and engaging with them both on-site and off-site, but it has limited use without MAS and CRM

There is some magic to the number three. All of the good movies, books and music comes in triplets. Looks like sales and marketing tech is no different. ABM is the third chapter that ties the ends and completes the shortcomings of CRM and marketing automation but cannot exist in itself without the two other key elements.

4. The winners of B2B marketing and sales will capture customer buying intent ever earlier in the buying process

According to Demandbase, by the time a prospect fills out a form on your website, they’ve already completed 70% of their research – most of which are conducted outside of your website. Moreover, tiny portion of website visitors ever convert into marketing automation as known contacts. Therefore, lots of sales opportunities are wasted if marketers and sellers are content with just converted website visitors.

Source: Demandbase

Intent data gives the ability to pinpoint accounts that are showing surging or decreasing interest in a specific topic (also off-site), which gives your marketing and sales the ability to start influencing key decision makers earlier in the buying process.

They say that Google knows what you will buy and when you will buy it before you know it even yourself. Looks like the companies that aspire to be winners in B2B marketing and sales will need to aim for same kind of approach.

5. In five years, there will be no marketing without AI

Seems like AI is everywhere. Based on the keynote presentation from Malcolm Frank, the Executive Vice President, Strategy & Marketing at Cognizant, it will pierce through marketing too.

As already discussed in takeaways #3 and #4, marketing is becoming more and more a sport of crunching data from different sources such as website analytics, CRM and MAS data, offsite intent and meshing all of this into meaningful insight on who will be the next likely buyer. Humans are not designed for that, algorithms are. So yes, AI will become a trusted partner for marketers in the not so distant future.

AI evangelizers fall into two categories on how they see job creation in the post-AI economy, there are the dystopian, who believe that there will be jobs left for humans and there are the optimists who believe that new jobs will be invented as old ones become obsolete.

Frank was one of the optimists as he also reminded us on how technological breakthrough has always had ripple effects for years, which he called the Budding effect. As an example, the invention of lawn mower in 1800’s, by Edwin Budding in Britain, as a ripple effect has resulted in billion dollars sports industry in form of American and European football, as there would be no such sports without level grass playing fields.

Your reporter during seminar recession.

In summary it was once again a great three days (me taking part in Demandbase partner day too before the ABM Innovation Summit) of latest and greatest around ABM. Over thousand people participating in the Summit tell you the same as the Forrester New Wave research, ABM is here for real. All B2B marketers with ambition to stay on top of their game should master it.


Timo Sorri

All stories by: Timo Sorri