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Account-Based Marketing Gets Seat At Big Kids' Table

We’ve all been there. At one point in our collective lives, we’ve attended an event like a wedding reception where we found our name card on a table  filled with the “younger kids,” shall I say? 

However, when the time comes and we graduate to the big kids table, well that’s a seminal moment, right? Ok, perhaps that was a tad hyperbolic — but it is a big deal. Sitting at the big kids' table means you've arrived.

ABM, Your Seat Is Waiting 

Account-based marketing (ABM) is, despite popular opinion, something that has been around for a long time. I know many of you think it’s a fairly recent addition to the marketing landscape. It’s not. It’s been around in some shape or form since the 1990s. 

One of the companies that’s been “doing ABM” for a while is Demandbase. A few weeks ago I attended its yearly ABM Summit and caught up with CEO Chris Golec. 

I wanted to talk with him not only about the state of ABM as a whole, but also get his thoughts on how ABM now has a seat the big kids’ marketing table. You’ll see what I mean. 

Steve Olenski: In 2018, Forrester released its first ever Wave Report that dealt specifically with ABM platforms [Demandbase was named a leader in this report]. What did the report do, in your opinion, to the state of ABM as a whole?

Chris Golec: ABM as a strategy has been around for a long time, but it wasn’t until recent advances in technology that ABM platforms become a technology category. 

When I was at GE 25 years ago, teams would take a manual approach to ABM by lining up marketing programs dedicated to their most valuable global accounts. Though this approach worked for reaching 10-20 accounts over the course of a year, it wasn’t scalable. 

Today, the difference is that we now have the technology to do ABM at scale. Over the past few years, ABM technologies have grown and evolved, and adoption has skyrocketed. 

Forrester’s New Wave for ABM Platforms in May 2018 validated ABM as a key technology category, reinforcing what many B2B marketers already know, which is that ABM strategies deliver results and can have a significant impact on revenue. As a legitimate category, it also makes it much easier to sell into new industries. 

Olenski: Additionally do you think the release of this report — and surely others to f ollow,like Gartner's Magic Quadrant — will spur more companies to get into the ABM space who otherwise would not have?  Will this create more competition as companies try and get their own piece of the ABM pie? And do you think this new competition is a good thing?

Golec: Recognition from Forrester is an important inflection point in the market, but this is absolutely still an emerging market, which means other companies may naturally try to get their slice of the pie. 

While it almost sounds counterintuitive to actively want competitors, they’re actually a good thing. Competitors are a sign that you’re onto something, and more importantly, that there’s a tangible market for your category. Competitors also help evangelize your category and build resources and content to help support it. And finally, competitors keep you on your toes and push you to innovate. 

Olenski: What are some of the common misconceptions about ABM?

Golec: One common misconception is that ABM is exclusively a sales and marketing team effort. In reality, it requires coordination from an entire organization to be successful. 

ABM is a different way of thinking about B2B marketing, and it’s important to educate key stakeholders from not only sales and marketing, but also from other teams, including finance and operations.  

Another misconception about ABM is the idea that you can somehow “buy your way into” the strategy, meaning the common practice of investing in technology long before a strategy is in place. 

Companies that go this route often see their ABM programs lose momentum or fizzle out within a few months of technology implementation. It’s important to fully build out your ABM strategy before you add technology. 

Q: What lies ahead for ABM? What do you see from an agnostic-platform perspective three, five, 10 years down the road?

Golec: In the foreseeable future, we’ll see ABM make up a more significant portion of B2B budgets, especially as marketers move beyond website analytics and website personalization and start using the strategy for other areas of their marketing mix, including SEM and SEO. 

And then at some point — perhaps five to 10 years from now — ABM will become so mainstream that it will become synonymous with “B2B marketing.” 

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