By Mira Lyubenova, Scratch Marketing + Media
In recent years, account-based marketing (ABM) has become one of the hottest topics among marketing and sales professionals, with the hype continuing on a steady ascent throughout 2016. While this approach has been practiced by B2B companies for decades, it had been hard to do it at scale until marketing SaaS platforms started to proliferate, allowing marketers to reach larger numbers of companies with highly targeted messages.
As the demand for ABM initiatives continues to grow, technology vendors are adding ABM capabilities to their offerings. And, reflexively, as the ABM toolset expands like wildfire, awareness of, and demand for, ABM will increase among B2B organizations looking to shorten their sales cycles and improve their marketing ROI.
Although every ABM tool promises in one way or another to bring scalability, efficiency and better internal alignment to the B2B organization, marketers and sales leaders are having a hard time navigating the galaxy of vendors and deciding which investments make sense for them. ABM is not a one-size-fits-all strategy; it calls for different combinations of tools depending on the business objectives and the available company resources.
This blog post aims to provide guidance in the ABM technology selection process by answering the following questions:
- What does the ABM technology landscape look like today?
- What are the practical steps in building the right tech stack for your ABM strategy?
The ABM technology landscape
The growth of the number of marketing technologies over the past five years has been mind-boggling. According to Scott Brinker’s marketing landscape map, as presented in an ABM Leadership Alliance webinar in May 2016, marketing software vendors grew from 150 in 2011 to more than 3,500 worldwide in 2016.
In 2016, Scott Brinker for the first time called out ABM tools as a separate category in his martech vendors map.
Image source: Scott Brinker, The growing marketing tech vendors landscape
B2B organizations keep adopting and integrating multiple platforms to acquire and analyze marketing and sales data so they can design their promotions around them. This phenomenon has enabled marketers to be much more sophisticated in their efforts to reach and engage the right buyers, and it inevitably contributed to the evolution of traditional demand generation practices. However, according to the Forrester report Vendor Landscape: Account-Based Marketing, Q4 2016, there’s not a single vendor that covers the entire ABM process — from selecting the right accounts to converting them into customers.
The ABM Leadership Alliance created the following sample ABM technology stack: Not all of these technology solutions need to be part of a company’s suite of tools, but it’s a good overview of the groups of solutions available on the market:
Sample ABM technology stack by ABM Leadership Alliance
Start with your existing marketing software
According to ABM practitioners, building your ABM tech stack does not require you to throw away all the marketing software that you already have and start from scratch. On the contrary, ABM practitioners advise companies to capitalize on the martech that they already have, such as CRM, marketing automation, and CMS. Marketers can and should leverage the contact data of the prospects that lives in their CRM system; track back the engagement data with those prospects in their marketing automation system; and use their CMS to provide engaging and personalized experience to their web visitors. These technologies can be customized to serve the ABM purposes so that a holistic view of the account is achieved.
The technology decisions will likely be influenced by the tools that companies are already using, as many of the vendors have completed their traditional offerings with ABM solutions — for example, the ABM Cloud by Salesforce, which is the largest CRM provider, and the ABM solution on top of Marketo’s marketing automation system. When considering new ABM solutions, companies should also explore their integration capabilities with technologies they currently have in place and make sure that the tools they are considering communicate with their existing stack.
Practical steps in selecting the right ABM technology
Selecting from the large variety of tools can be a daunting task, and companies may hesitate to embark on the ABM journey because it’s so challenging to navigate the landscape of vendors. As experts usually say, we don’t buy software, we solve problems. Before starting shopping for ABM solutions, companies should be clear what their goals are and what jobs they need to get done to achieve them. Below are the questions to ask before you start evaluating ABM technologies:
- What is your ABM budget? The revenue growth that your organization is aiming for will define the level of investment of human resources and dollars needed for your ABM initiative. Agree with the company’s leadership what ABM investment they are ready to make. If they are not willing to dump a ton of money into ABM, start small and grow as the strategy proves successful. You don’t need to make a major investment up front to start with ABM — begin by transferring some of the funds for your traditional demand gen budget assigned to the channels that are underperforming.
- Who is your target audience? First, identify the traits of your ideal customer so you know what kind of companies you want to go after with your ABM program. Where will these prospects come from? Are they already in your database – existing clients that you are looking to up-sell and cross-sell to, or contacts that need more nurturing? Or do you need to grow your pipeline with net- new prospects? Predictive analytics tools will help you identify similar audiences outside of your database. Data tools will allow you to supplement your contact data and help you identify the decision-makers.
- What content is your audience interested in? Identify what problems your potential customers are trying to solve and create valuable content that will position your team as the experts with the answers. A wide variety of intelligence tools provides real-time behavioral data that will give you insights about what content your prospects are engaging with across digital channels to help you craft the right content mix.
- Which channels are your target audience using? Identify what the best channels to reach your target audience are and plan the number of touches in each of them. There’s a wide variety of platforms that will help you reach your target accounts in-channel: email, your own website, social media, media outlets, direct mail, events, etc.
- What are your metrics of success? To be able to keep the investment in your ABM program going and prove its contribution to revenue, you need to define your metrics of success, and then monitor and analyze performance. Make sure the tools you select for each stage of the ABM process allow you to report at the account level and track the contribution of each activity to the company’s revenue goals. Reporting and revenue attribution can be a very time-consuming task — fortunately, there’s a whole category of tools that automate reporting and provide advanced and attribution analytics at the account level.
The ABM tech landscape is poised for continued growth and we can anticipate more players emerging in 2017. If you want a sneak-peek into what solutions are available in the market, see the account-based technology map by Engagio. If you have already started building your tech stack, you can evaluate its maturity using the ABM Stack Grader by Terminus. And if you are looking for a trusted marketing advisor to help you navigate the ABM technology space, contact Scratch Marketing + Media.
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