Why The Evolution Of ABM Is Creating Both Confusion And Opportunity For B2B Marketers
As theÂ Forrester B2B SummitÂ gets underway today, marketers will be assembling to discuss the latest changes in technologies that help them do their jobs more effectively. And no category has gone through more changes over the past two years than the tools for account-based marketing (ABM). And the changes arenâ€™t finished!
What is driving the evolution of ABM platforms? According to Forresterâ€™s lead analyst for the category, Malachi Threadgill, it is a response to the way marketers and sellers are adjusting to the changes among B2B buyers. He explained, â€œWe tend to think about marketing in an old way, which is leads – MCLs and SQLs. The reality is that 84% of B2B decisions are made by a committee of four or more. The toolsets have caught up to understand that a lead is just a signal. If one person downloads a form, it’s a signal that the buying group is likely looking at that.â€
He continued, â€œAt a high level, the platforms provide the ability to find good-fit accounts, understand if they’re in market and then be able to orchestrate and activate campaigns to them. This has been the focal point of a lot of the organizations. We’ve seen a lot of consolidation in the space over the last couple years, similar to what we saw with marketing automation platforms before they were acquired by the bigger companies. The interesting thing is that, today, we are seeing that most of the top players in the space have relative parity. This parity of primary features has caused vendors to explore adjacent and nascent capabilities to differentiate their offerings and deliver value to their customers. These capabilities include owned proprietary data, deeper machine learning assistance, and fully embedded email capabilities. There are nuances between platforms that organizations should consider, and if those nuanced differences are important, one may be better than the other for that specific use case.â€
The evolution of the category is so dramatic that ABM may soon be dying as a moniker. One of the category leaders, Demandbase, acquired Engagio in 2020, whose founder, Jon Miller, now serves as CMO of Demandbase. Miller provided his perspective on the evolution of the category, which he now dubs account-based experiences (ABX). He shared, â€œThere are two key drivers for introducing AVX instead of ABM. The first one is a little nuanced. I think the way account-based marketing had been practiced, it was done without a lot of respect for the buyer experience. The analogy that I’ve always used to describe ABM was fishing with spears which was a really effective analogy. But at the same time, it doesn’t feel very good to get poked by a spear. So, with the advent of things like intent data that lets you get a lot smarter around knowing where an account is in its buying journey, the realization I had is that there’s the opportunity to combine the precision and targeting of ABM with the respect for the buyer experience that traditional inbound marketing had. Don’t bug people when it’s the wrong time and align your go-to-market to where the account is in its own experience, in its own journey.â€
Miller continued, â€œThe second driver behind ABX as a term is a little bit more obvious. Account-based marketing has the word marketing in the title. And that’s really a misnomer for what is a go-to-market strategy that demands alignment across multiple departments including sales and sales development. So that was the impetus behind driving account-based experience.â€
He expressed his belief that account and contact data will be key to success in the category. â€œThe reality is the AI algorithms are fairly commoditized. The nuance is in the data and how you use that data as it inputs into the algorithms. Because of that, what we’re seeing is that the competition battleground is increasingly moving towards who has the best data. And that’s behind our recent positioning where we’re really focusing on our account intelligence. So we acquired InsideView as a key partto building that out. And the DemandMatrix acquisition is bringing technographic data to the table which does get into improving the intent. So, what that means is in many ways, is that our future competitor is ZoomInfo more than it is [other ABM platforms]. We built the application and now we are increasingly providing the data. ZoomInfo, historically, had data and they’re starting to move into the application. Account intelligence is really where the future battleground is going to be.â€
6sense also agrees that the nomenclature is outdated but has a different term it is advocating. Greg Bell, head of strategic marketing and industry solutions at 6sense explained, â€œThe issue that we saw with ABM a couple of years ago was the M. We saw it in the way that we use 6sense internally, we saw it in our customers and the value that they’re getting from the platform. It’s that it’s not just account-based marketing. We certainly have capabilities for marketers, but also for sellers, for folks in operations, and even customer success. It’s all about uniting the revenue team. We like to say it’s about generating pipeline and revenue more predictably, that’s really the promise that the 6sense platform delivers on to our customers. So we started down the road towards this RevTech message.â€
Brown continued, â€œWe grew up in the world of big data and predictive analytics, that’s really where our roots are. The ways that we use AI beyond modeling for propensity to buy at the account and the contact level, things like using AI to predict next best actions for sellers would be one example of other applications of AI.â€ 6sense has also been enhancing its capabilities through acquisitions, including Zen IQ, Fortella, Slintel and Sales Whale.
Jason Zintack, CEO of 6sense expanded on the companyâ€™s vision, â€œLast year we launched the RevTech Revolution and announced our commitment to transform the B2B buying experience. Account-based marketing plays an important role in a modern approach to growth, but our vision is bigger, too. It has to be. We need to bring together marketingÂ andÂ sales, customer success, RevOps, and the rest of the revenue team if we want to see the kind of change our industry needs and buyers deserve.â€
Terminus has also been recognized as a category leader. Bryan Wade joined the firm when his company, Sigstr, was acquired by Terminus, and now serves as chief product officer. He shared, â€œABM is all about sales and marketing coming together and agreeing that rather than just taking inbound leads that come your way, and cold calling into accounts that just happened to be in your territory, let’s go after the accounts that we think are our ideal customers, the ones that will have the most success with us, that will spend more with us once we sign them up as a client, and not try to acquire customers that aren’t a fit. So in the beginning, the idea of ABM was around marketing and sales alignment, ideal customer profile, targeting those accounts, and then bringing those customers into your customer base. It’s evolved into so much more.â€
Terminus has expanded its platform to address the increasing expectations. In addition to acquiring Sigstr, it has acquired Growfire, Xylo Tech, Ramble and BrightFunnel. Wade added, â€œOur vision is to build a B2B marketing cloud. And you can’t have a B2B marketing cloud without a journey builder. So we’re building a brand new interface that will help our customers orchestrate all the different channels in one canvas. We are integrating the CDP into our ABM platform. I think when you step back and think about what weâ€™ll will turn into in three to five years, we’ll have a B2B CDP with an orchestration engine sitting on top of it.â€
The ABM platform field includes additional players including MRP, Rollworks, Triblio and Tech Target among others. And there are players in adjacent categories including SalesLoft, Outreach and Zoominfo, not to mention the marketing automation platforms like Marketo, Pardot and Hubspot. So where is the category going in the near future? Forresterâ€™s Threadgill concluded, â€œI think there’s still a bit more time for the ABM platforms in terms of what their short-term strategies are. With ZoomInfo going public and being rewarded for it, and acquiring companies and being rewarded for it, and then massive investments in a lot of the other ABM platforms, it’s going to be interesting to see what they do with that capital. When you just look at those valuations, does it still make sense for an Adobe or an Oracle to acquire them? I don’t know that answer.â€