Trends in MarTech: ABM – The buzz about account-based marketing

Bertrand Hazard
April 14, 2016

Trends in MarTech: ABM – The buzz about account-based marketing

Note: this article was first published 4/1/16 on

abm martech

TrustRadius Research attended MarTech last month to interview a number of vendors exhibiting there about their perspective on “hot” categories within the marketing tech landscape. Account-based marketing (ABM) was one of the biggest topics at the MarTech conference. Nearly every exhibitor featured a reference to ABM, and many of the presenters touched on the trend as well. Across software categories like predictive analytics, sales & marketing intelligence, and ad serving & retargeting, ABM is impacting vendor positioning, marketing campaigns, and even product roadmaps.

The TrustRadius research team checked in with some of the leading vendors to get a pulse on how ABM is shaping their product and business. Here are the major ABM trends that emerged:

  • Vendors that provide contact and account data (sometimes called prospecting tools, data vendors, or sales intelligence solutions) are positioning themselves as the foundation for alignment between marketing & sales teams.
  • Predictive analytics vendors, which use machine learning to determine a company’s “ideal customer profile,” are surfacing best-fit accounts in addition to contacts. Some are also offering their own prospecting and data verification features.
  • In addition to creating personalized content that is relevant to specific target accounts, companies practicing ABM also need to think about how that content is actually distributed to their target accounts. Content delivery tools, such as ad-serving & retargeting software, are being shaped around the account-level to facilitate this.
  • Marketing analytics vendors say their solutions can put ABM to the test, to see if it actually does “deliver the highest ROI of any B2B marketing strategy or tactic” (as marketing research studies like one done by ITSMA have reported).

Background: What is Account-Based Marketing (ABM)?

For anyone unfamiliar with the term, account-based marketing, ABM, is a B2B marketing strategy that involves aligning marketing with sales in order to increase the impact of marketing efforts on revenue.

It often begins with creating a target account list of prospects who are likely to buy, or likely to receive great value from your product. This list may be ranked in order of priority, urgency, or interest. The criteria for inclusion on the target list is a set of characteristics (firmographic, technographic, and sometimes intent or engagement-based details) called an ideal customer profile (ICP).

An ICP answers the question: what do your best-fit prospects look like, based on your past sales and your most successful customers currently? Beyond finding the right accounts to sell into, ABM involves targeting the right stakeholders and influencers (more than one person) at those accounts with personalized content. Thus, solutions that help you determine your ICP, create target lists, get account and person-level contact data, and personalize and distribute content to people at the right accounts may all support an ABM strategy.

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Jon Miller, founder and CEO of Engagio and former CMO of Marketo, is one of the foremost thought leaders in ABM best practices today. The illustration at the top of this post is Engagio’s visual overview of the stages of an ABM strategy and some of the tools that facilitate them, from Jon’s presentation Fishing With Spears: All About Account-Based Marketing.

1. Target Account Data & Predictive Account Scoring

Having clean, robust data is the first step to understanding your best-fit customers and creating a target prospect list. Some intelligence vendors, like ZoomInfo and InsideView, position themselves as prerequisites for account targeting that connect marketing and sales teams.

According to ZoomInfo, data solutions are a staple in the ABM toolkit:

“ABM is a way to align sales and marketing initiatives to go after the same accounts. Both have to start with understanding their accounts. We help with that analysis and insights piece. We can do an analysis to determine who and where are your best customers and determine the right types of accounts or personal accounts, as well as the specific contacts that you want to go after based on those that you’ve been able to sell to historically. We surface new contacts that match your target persona. Further down the pipeline, when you are targeting specific accounts, you need to find the contacts at those accounts — because companies don’t buy, people buy.”
– Anna Fisher, Director of Marketing at ZoomInfo

There is a crossover between vendors who offer data/prospecting solutions and vendors who offer predictive analytics to generate ICPs and target lists.

For example, LeadspaceEverString, and Mintigo are built with a view to the account level — in addition to generating predictions about what a best-fit customer will look like, they also pull in data from the web, adding net new prospects to augment the target list.

Tony Yang gave us more insight into how predictive analytics, in general, helps with ABM, and detailed Mintigo’s approach to surfacing a company’s total addressable market:

“The output of any predictive marketing model is the set of data points that your current customers share, weighted in importance based on positive and negative correlations. At Mintigo, we call that your Customer DNA; it’s also commonly called an ideal customer profile. When we run the model on account focused data, as opposed to lead focused data, the output of the model will be the common data points your closed-won accounts share: they all hire a high volume of outbound sales reps, for example, or they all use Marketo. We can match that DNA against all of the prospect accounts already in your system, to tell you how many data points each one shares with your ideal profile. In this case it’s predictive account scoring rather than predictive lead scoring, which is something the market has talked a lot about. Because Mintigo tracks over ten million companies, we can also go beyond the accounts already in your system to help you discover new target accounts that fit your ideal profile as well.”
– Tony Yang, VP of Demand Generation at Mintigo

We also talked to two executives at Leadspace, who explained why having person and account-level data is vital to an effective ABM strategy. Leadspace incorporates not only contact data but also intent data, at both levels.

“We’re focused on the back-end infrastructure and data quality, because the data problem really hasn’t gone away. Like some of the other predictive vendors, Leadspace uses predictive scoring to create ideal customer profiles (or we can take subject input and use a hybrid approach), but we also make sure the contact data is correct and up to date, and we supplement that with intent data. Leadspace surfaces intent data on both a person level and an account level. That’s a big differentiator in terms of our competitive space right now.”
– Kylee Hall, Sr. Director of Marketing at Leadspace

“One reason that Leadspace works so well for ABM is that we have person-level information and we’re able to refresh the data in real time so that our customers don’t lose out when a contact changes companies. It gives users the ability to match individuals to the accounts, the companies they work for, and find the individuals that work at target accounts. I’ve seen a lot of new products and vendors pop up around ABM, but the technology that’s going to last in the long term needs to be based on the fundamentals. We’re providing context and information that can be put to use for a variety of marketing strategies, including ABM.”
– David Thomas, Sr. Director of Inbound Marketing at Leadspace

2. ABM Content Delivery & Personalization

One major tenet of ABM is that content should be personalized so that it is relevant to the specific target account, and sometimes even to a particular role at the account. This tactic is sometimes referred to as marketing to audiences of one. Thus, MarTech vendors whose products enable content personalization and/or delivery of content to target accounts also talked a lot about ABM.

Terminus is an example of a personalized content delivery tool with an account focus — it’s ad serving and retargeting software that’s optimized for ABM. Their CMO commented on specific trends he’s seeing around content for ABM:

“Today, I see marketers asking what else they can do besides a run of the mill email campaign. B2B marketers are starting to take ownership of interactions, with a more personalized customer experience. Advertising is a big aspect of personalized interactions. I believe in a combination of high-tech and high-touch interactions. The kicker here is: can marketers do it at scale? Any vendor who is able to help B2B companies do personalized communication at scale will win the war when it comes to ABM interactions technology. Personalized, scalable, account-based advertising is something Terminus can help marketers with across mobile, social, web, videos, and direct mail.”
– Sangram Vajre, Co-founder and CMO at Terminus

Terminus raised recently raised $7.5M in funding, which Vajre says the company will invest mostly in building out its product with an Account Hub, which will help marketers manage the different components of their ABM strategy at large, and pull the levers on different account-based campaigns from one unified location.

Terminus, and CMO Sangram Vajre in particular has been a big thought leader in account-based marketing, driving tons of educational material and hosting the FlipMyFunnel Conference to raise awareness about the benefits of ABM and ABM best practices. Vajre noted that the #FlipMyFunnel movement has brought an unprecedented number of competitors together behind one cause, which vendors see as important not only to their own product positioning but also to the market as a whole. Vajre explained why he sees ABM as inevitable, and why so many MarTech vendors are rallying around the trend right now:

“Every 5 years something changes in marketing technology. It’s a series of causes and effects; we’re big solving problems, but new problems are popping up in their wake. In the 2000s, it was email, which was a great invention for getting your message out there, but it also created a problem: you’re touching a big audience, but you can’t capture leads. Marketing automation came about to solve that problem in 2005, and now it’s table stakes. Once we were using marketing automation, we had too many leads. In 2010, predictive came about to tell us which leads to focus on. But now, what do we do with that intel? Are we back to sending emails? This problem gave life to ABM in 2015. ABM is the promise that you can do targeted engagement with your highest value prospects to really get their attention in meaningful ways.”
– Sangram Vajre, Co-founder and CMO at Terminus

3. Measuring the Success of ABM

B2B Marketing Analytics vendors — who provide cross-channel campaign metrics, MRM, dashboards, and/or ROI attribution — also tied their offerings to ABM, although they clarified that measuring the success of inbound and other marketing efforts is just as important as measuring the success of ABM. These vendors see analytics as key to any agile marketing operation.

“If you think about ABM [versus inbound marketing], the pendulum is kind of swinging back. People are trying to figure out the best way to interact with the client, and in my opinion, it will end up somewhere in the middle. To bring it back to Allocadia’s focus on analytics, it doesn’t matter whether you’re doing total lead-based marketing, or you’re doing account-based marketing, you still have these core tenets: plan, invest, measure.”
– Sam Melnick, Director, Customer & Marketing Insights at Allocadia

“ABM and Agile Marketing are two hot trends we’re focused on in our roadmap. For example, we’re developing some specific features and integrations that will support ABM. But in general, we think the marketing and martech environments are changing so quickly that the most important thing going forward will be data access and technology that allows marketers to adapt quickly and nimbly so that they can pivot their tactics as their markets change.”
– Jason Tillman, Sr. Product Marketing Manger at Bizible

Some vendors in this category cautioned that organizations shouldn’t jump ship and go all in with a new marketing strategy, ABM or otherwise, without thorough testing and data insights.

“BrightFunnel has an ABM module that measures the ROI of your ABM program in context of your broader marketing efforts, which will help you find the right mix of ABM versus other tactics. We think things like A/B tests can help marketers make truly data-driven decisions about how many of the their resources they should invest in account-based marketing.”
– Damon Waldron, Director of Demand Generation at BrightFunnel

Conclusion: Old News, New Buzz?

Perhaps surprisingly, given its almost fanatic momentum, several vendors across categories pointed out that ABM is nothing new. Rather, it’s a shift in focus from inbound to outbound tactics, an inevitable swing of the pendulum.

While the buzz around ABM is very real, and many marketing teams are starting to do account targeting in a new way (more akin to the way sales has long approached prospecting), these viewpoints presented a healthy dose of skepticism — a good set of checks and balances to prevent martech from getting caught up in trendy marketing terminology.

“The whole idea of account-based Marketing is not new by any means. It’s a strategy that people are pushing right now. I think ABM is a big part of a strong marketing strategy, just as inbound is a big part of a strong marketing strategy, and we’re able to help in both fields. I see ABM as a response to the focus on inbound, where people are saying, ‘Outbound efforts are still just as effective, why have we been pretending they’re not?’ I don’t think it’s one versus the other. Any marketing organization has to have both (and a little bit of everything else). Being able to play in both of those fields is really helping us as an organization continue to grow.”
– Anna Fisher, Director of Marketing at ZoomInfo

“The fundamentals of B2B demand generation and B2B marketing haven’t changed. It’s just that everyone is under more pressure. CMOs are being held to higher standards, with dollar values on their heads, and there is a lot of churn right now on marketing teams. So marketers are looking for a new way to do things. Many see ABM as that new way, when in fact it’s just another way of looking at the fundamentals that have always been there: providing real value to your customers, addressing them directly, understanding all of the people influencing the buying decision, and customizing the message.”
– David Thomas, Sr. Director of Inbound Marketing at Leadspace

“ABM is a very hot topic these days, but ABM has been around for a while now. B2B enterprise sales are already focused on the account–they’re selling to businesses, which are made up of individuals, yes, but the buyer is the business. Now, I think Marketing is starting to get there too. ABM is helping marketers align with sales in that regard. There’s a lot of technology, especially here at MarTech, that brands itself as an ABM solution. But if you talk to the industry experts about ABM, they’ll be the first to tell you that ABM is not just technology, it’s more of a strategic process approach. If you implement ABM technology without changing your processes and making sure you have the right team, you’re still going to have that misalignment between marketing and sales.”
– Tony Yang, VP of Demand Generation at Mintigo

Looking for more information about account-based marketing? Read more about ABM and software for ABM on TrustRadius, which breaks down the component categories of ABM tools, explains ABM in relation to other marketing strategies, and lets you find and filter reviews of software products that help with ABM.

About the Author

Bertrand Hazard
Bertrand Hazard was previously the VP of Marketing at TrustRadius. He has over 15 years of experience in product marketing, demand generation, brand and community efforts. Before TrustRadius, Bertrand held leadership roles at Solarwinds, Troux Technologies, Universal Weather & Aviation and NetIQ. He has a Diplome d'Etudes Superieures Europeennes de Management from CESEM Mediterranee in Marseilles, France, and a bachelor of arts degree from Middlesex University in London.

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