Is ABM Attitude marketing automation 2.0?

Account-based marketing is having its moment in the sun with vendors and B2B marketers. Will that carry over to marketing automation, too?

Just like spring in the Northeast, it seems that account-based marketing (ABM) is popping up all over.

Buyers are swooning, with a Sirius Decisions report showing that 90% of B2B marketers believe ABM is a “must have.” Vendors are pontificating, and eagerly bringing tools to market.

Terminus already claims its platform will perform ABM “at scale.” Marketo bought Insightera (now its Real Time Personalization product) back in 2013 and has published several whitepapers since, all extolling the account based approach. Lean Data has an ABM “suite.” Demandbase has a plug-in.  Everstring celebrates the methodology as heroic, and so forth.


Traditional marketing often starts with content, or the “what” we’re promoting. At its basic level, ABM involves identifying the prospect companies most important to your business and marketing to them as a unit of collective decisions makers, not as individuals.

“In ABM, you flip and start with ‘who’ I am selling to, and match a relevant message with a human being on the side of the buying organization,” explains Jon Miller, founder and chief executive (CEO) of Engagio,

In many enterprise sales, there are a dozen or more decision makers, and more every year as cross-functional teams become more agile. That means your “market of one” is really a market of 12 to 25 free-willed persons, each with individual needs, interests and politics. It’s the kind of perfectly complex, matrixed and fragmented market problem that automation is designed to solve.

Starting with the “who” means marketing shifts into a more classically sales paradigm, where each personal relationship is factored into its value as one part of the whole. Each aspect of marketing automation, from sourcing to scoring to content customization to messaging, must reflect this commitment.

“The key concept here is coordinating relevant interactions that span multiple players in the account (decision-makers and influencers), channels (email, phone, social and demand gen) and departments (marketing, sales development, sales and customer success),” says Miller. “When you can do that, the results will always be greater than individual departments working in isolation.”


B2B marketers have long focused on the number of leads when the absolute number of leads is actually a lot less interesting to sales teams than a connection with influencers at specific accounts. Sales organizations are account-based because corporate buyers work in teams. Marketing should be, too, so it’s no surprise that vendors are scrambling to be part of the conversation as they upgrade tools that can address this approach.

Sirius Decisions found that most ABM-practicing companies are enterprise-level brands with more than 1,000 employees. This may be because it is easier to implement and scale ABM once you have a large client base and staff.

But that means that smaller firms are not yet embracing ABM. Perhaps it’s too daunting to focus on a smaller set of prospects rather than broadcast out to a big list? However, since it is so precise, ABM delivers higher conversion to sales: the big prize in any B2B marketing organization.

Rather than focusing on a list of target accounts, Sirius Decisions urges marketers to do an internal assessment to inform and prepare the organization for ABM strategy and execution before selecting the accounts. Once aligned with sales, customer service and IT, a marketing team can adopt the account identification that best fits their customer relationships by named account or by industry, for example.

This can be a big shift for marketing teams used to thinking in personas. Each company now gets a unique and custom set of messages, tailored to the group of people who are addressable by marketing.

“You may never send another broadcast email,” predicts Miller.

ABM approaches are used for account nurturing, growth and cross-sell. You still need traditional marketing automation tools for acquisition and retention opportunities. In fact, Miller argues that ABM in an isolated marketing effort will fail.


“You can’t just have account-based sales development without support from Marketing, otherwise you end up with a bunch of junior reps generating their own accounts and writing their own emails, and thinking that the only way to improve performance is even more emails and phone calls,” he says. “Meanwhile, account-based sales in isolation results in sales executives doing their own prospecting without any support or leverage, which is expensive and inefficient.”

The right ABM technology for your firm will help you with these essentials:

  1. Automation. The whole purpose here is to automate repetitive tasks like lead and contact updates, and mapping contacts into appropriate accounts.
  2. Real-time responsiveness. Behavior by the individuals in an account “market” always changes the dynamics. Your ABM approach has to keep up, just as an attentive salesperson would.
  3. Personalization. Your ABM must be authentically human-to-human messaging, with custom content.
  4. Integration. Your ABM must communicate with sales and whatever sales force automation tools your company uses.
  5. Analytics and insights. Be sure you can create custom reports that produce insights you an actually act on.
  6. Assigning a quarterback. As in sales organizations, there needs to be an account owner who calls the shots on who is contact when and with what message. This person might be in sales or marketing, but it has to be one person.

What do you think?  Will ABM become a sister technology choice to marketing automation, or will it be embraced as a methodology?

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