2017: The Year ABM Needs To Get Smart

  • Written by Clive Armitage, agent3
  • Published in Demanding Views

carmitage 400x400I attended a great event, courtesy of IDG: Driving Demand Generation Success. The main theme was a hot one — ABM — and the panel debate was lively, with the likes of Gerry Brown, Research Director at IDC, Tim Pickard, CMO at NewVoiceMedia and Jo Pettifer, VP EMEA Marketing for Box being quizzed by IDG Connect’s John O’Malley.

The event was also backed up by some interesting research from IDG on demand generation priorities for 2017, showing — perhaps unsurprisingly — that the marketers polled are either already investing in ABM or are looking to increase spend on ABM next year. But before anyone involved in the ABM ecosystem rushes out to buy champagne to celebrate another year of growth and success, I need to relay two factors that should give pause for thought.

Firstly, the IDG research revealed that nearly half of those people questioned had an average target account list of more than 501 brands. This figure doesn’t surprise me, but it does remind us that many brands are struggling to distinguish between what is ABM and what is marketing to accounts. The former is a strategic endeavor that demands sales and marketing alignment to drive success around a small number of high-value accounts, while the latter is a tactical demand gen activity using smart tools such as, say, Demandbase, to programmatically target a large set of accounts. Put simply: if you are trying to target more than 500 accounts, you are not engaged in true ABM.

Secondly, as the panel discussion confirmed, while many brands have jumped on the ABM bandwagon, their biggest challenge is accessing the skills to drive successful programs. Finding marketers who understand the ABM process, know how to manage both marketing and sales stakeholders and who are comfortable with the technology infrastructure to make ABM scalable, remain a rare breed today. Although, the good news is that there are some out there who we can all learn from, such as Megan Heuer at SiriusDecisions and Dorothea Gosling at CSC.

So, here’s the conundrum: can ABM continue to grow if many brands are not approaching it the right way, and if there is a lack of available skills in the market to even deploy campaigns effectively? The obvious answer is no. But I think 2017 is going to see a much more sophisticated view of ABM emerge. We’ll see brands start to segment their key and named account lists much more efficiently. And they’ll pick the tools and approaches to help them with that segmentation process and support the activity required to be successful with each segment.

Additionally, we’ll see savvy marketers spot the demand for ABM expertise and lots of reinvention will occur. For example, I would predict the number of people with Field Marketing in their titles will significantly decrease in 2017 with a consequent big increase in the number of people with ABM in their titles!

To conclude, is 2017 set to be another year of growth for ABM? Absolutely. But it’ll be qualified growth based on a better understanding of what ABM really is (and isn’t) and the emergence of the skills to support it. And the upshot of this will be the foundation for ABM to take its place front and center as a mainstay of every modern marketer’s strategy.

Clive has overall responsibility for the strategic direction and management of agent3 and insight3, working closely with his fellow managing partners. His 25 years working in the technology marketing field has provided him with the experience of working and living in Silicon Valley and Johannesburg, as well as the opportunity to run several fast growth businesses.