This post is written by Daniel Englebretson. Daniel is a Salesforce Trailblazer and co-founder and VP of client services for Khronos, an agency that specializes in account-based marketing, B2B marketing, enterprise marketing, and growth marketing.

In 2020, 79% of businesses reported a decline in pipeline tied to the pandemic, and many B2B marketers are turning to account-based marketing (ABM) to redefine their go-to-market approach. Those who have built successful ABM programs have realized huge gains in ROI, win-rates, pipeline velocity, and customer retention.  

In this blog post, we’ll dive into what ABM is, why its popularity surged this year, and how marketers should think about ABM as they plan for 2021.

Defining Account-Based Marketing

Like any good marketing, ABM requires a deep understanding of your target audience and how they make purchase decisions. What makes today’s ABM different from traditional marketing is:

  • the wide variety of readily available target customer data
  • the unprecedented access to individual buyers
  • the scale that technology can bring to your ability to act on data 

When done well, ABM aggregates target customer data, unlocks insight, and leverages technology to facilitate the ideal buying experience for your ideal customer.

Put more simply: the account-based approach focuses your efforts on saying the right thing to the right people at the right time.

The Foundations of ABM: Data, Content, and Alignment

The success of any ABM strategy depends on having the following in place:

Data (the right people)

A strong ABM program is built on the accessibility of clean, organized account data. You can’t say the right thing to the right person if you don’t know who that person is or what their experience with your brand has been. 

Content (saying the right thing)

The goal of an ABM content strategy is to balance the most relevant experience that you can afford, while maximizing payback. Carefully consider the buyer’s journey and the ideal experience that your brand would like to deliver along that journey. 

Alignment (at the right time)

Traditional demand generation often suffers from a fundamental disconnect between what marketing and sales consider to be a qualified lead. ABM works to overcome this disconnect by encouraging cross-functional account selection, collaborative buyer journey design, and a unified definition of a qualified lead.

The Implications of Shifting to ABM

The two most significant implications of a shift to ABM are the organizational structure required to react to the output and the reconfiguration of the technology stack to support an account-based focus.

Org structure

It would be easy to look at the shift to ABM as a marketing-led initiative, but in reality, it’s a market-driven initiative.

B

Modern workplace woman using mobile phone in office.

2B buyers are demanding a more personalized, relevant, and connected experience. This has led to a rise in behavior-driven interpretation of buying intent, and the birth of high-touch, outbound roles focused on human-to-human communication. These roles are distinctly different from traditional inside sales and place a heavy focus on high-touch, multi-channel outreach.

Tech stack

The ABM conversation is often dominated by tactical approaches to delivering  personalized messages to a target audience. There’s been an explosion of new technology vendors with exciting new capabilities, but implementing them takes time and money. This can complicate your martech stack, extend the time it takes to launch, and leave less time to deliver payback. 

Starting with a clean view into your target accounts – who they are, who you know, and how you’re engaging with them – will go a long way toward defining your tech strategy. But before evaluating new technologies, start by clearly defining the problems you’re trying to solve.

What does 2020 tell us about 2021?

A shift to remote work, tighter budgets, declining pipelines, and the elimination of most in-person events went a long way to shaping B2B marketing in 2020. I expect to see these trends hold true in 2021.

Freezes in hiring, growing skill gaps, and the traditional “sales versus marketing” conflict have driven personal challenges for many organizations. Gaps around ABM media management, lack of a business development function (BDR), and ABM data/reporting/analytics have become increasingly more prominent. 

While identifying how to maximize return on investments will vary across organizations, if you haven’t yet staffed your first BDR, take the time to fully understand what you’re missing out on. Technology is rapidly advancing to solve many of the tactical gaps, but technology can’t replace the human touch.

One of this year’s most surprising trends was the organizational willingness to reallocate event budgets into new initiatives. The pandemic has left significant dollars in the budget and a significant gap in lead generation efforts via traditional channels. Working with your sales team to understand which types of accounts are suffering the most from the lack of events, and then building a plan to target and engage those accounts via alternative channels, is a powerful opportunity for marketers to add value. 

The rapid rise of work-from-home and its impact on the efficacy of high-volume tactics like direct mail and outbound calling has been particularly interesting. It’s clear that the remote-work trend has had an impact on the ability to engage specific roles at specific accounts. As a result, there’s been a huge shift toward social media marketing. LinkedIn has solidified its place within the ABM stack, behind CRM and marketing automation, with 60% of ABM teams deploying LinkedIn.

But perhaps the farthest-reaching marketing shift is the degree to which enterprise-grade technology is becoming easier to use and more accessible by all businesses. Advanced concepts like predictive and AI are now at your fingertips, reinforcing the need to simplify your tech stack and consolidate data for advanced manipulation.

What ABM marketers need in 2021

Despite the advances, data challenges remain a critical hurdle for ABM. As a marketing leader, you should be able to answer these questions:

  • How big is your total addressable market?
  • What is your ideal customer profile?
  • What percentage of that audience do you currently have access to? 

These answers can help you better align your efforts, set your targets, and allocate resources. And few things build sales alignment faster than clear data on who you’re targeting, why you’re targeting them, and how well it’s going.

But no amount of data will overcome a lack of alignment. Equipping your teams with the right tools to collaborate on a unified view of your target accounts is table-stakes for the modern revenue team.  

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