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Report: ABM is moving into a more mature phase

30-second summary:

  • Account-Based Marketing has become a common approach to B2B marketing, according to the third annual report on the topic from the Information Technology Services Marketing Association and the ABM Leadership Alliance.
  • Nearly three-quarters of the respondents to the report’s survey expect to increase their spending on ABM in 2020.
  • About a third said this approach has resulted in “significantly higher” ROI, compared with traditional marketing.

Account-Based Marketing (ABM) is entering a new phase of acceptance and development, with marketers dedicating 29 percent of their total marketing budgets to these kinds of efforts, and 73 percent expecting their ABM investment to increase next year.

That’s according to the third annual benchmark study on this topic, “Moving to ABM Maturity: 2019 Benchmark Study” (free, registration required), from the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) and the ABM Leadership Alliance.

The report conducted an online survey of up to 142 B2B and tech companies, depending on the question, plus 21 qualitative interviews. The Alliance’s members include Bizzabo, Demandbase, Engagio, Salesforce Pardot, SalesLoft and Vidyard.

What is ABM?

In ABM, marketers and salespeople create specific efforts targeted at a single company or account, instead of targeting individuals at that company or targeting a full market. As a result, an ABM approach involves a longer term strategy to improve relationships with that account, a more integrated effort between marketing and sales, and an approach that is personalized to the account.

The report notes that ABM launched in the early 2000s with a focus on One-to-One marketing for key accounts, with individual account teams and highly-customized programs for targeted firms. That provided a highly personalized focus, limited total investment and delivered high ROI, but also meant a range of only one to three dozen or so accounts in the typical portfolio.

In recent years, the report points out, marketers have also evolved what it describes a One-to-Few and One-to-Many ABM approaches.

Growing Maturity

In the former, which can cover dozens of accounts, similar businesses are grouped into targeted segments, while One-to-Many uses predictive analytics to create lists of priority accounts, and then intelligent platforms can help scale up personalized efforts, sometimes reaching thousands of accounts. The report notes that half of its respondents are looking to adopt a blended approach that combines elements of all three approaches.

The report said that nearly half (47 percent) of responding marketers are beyond the initial phase of ABM experimentation or exploration and now represent an experienced cohort, indicating the growing maturity of this approach.

Sixty-four percent of respondents expect to add more ABM-specific staff in 2020. Sixty-nine percent are expanding what they do for accounts in their ABM efforts, 68 percent will cover more accounts, and 58 percent will add tech to increase ABM automation.

‘Improvement’ in engagement, ROI

The key question, of course, is whether ABM-specific marketing is worth all that effort and expense. In a relatively small sample of 83 respondents, the report found that 41 percent saw “significant improvement” in active engagement with selected accounts, 39 percent found a significant improvement in sales rep or account team feedback or satisfaction, and 28 percent saw that level of improvement in new relationships or the number of relationships across accounts.

And, for 73 respondents, 34 percent said they saw a “significantly higher” ROI compared to traditional marketing initiatives, plus another 37 percent said there was a “somewhat higher” ROI.

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