In one of my first blog posts after joining Gartner, I wrote about account-based marketing (ABM) as a hot trend for B2B marketers. Nine months later, the fires under ABM are still burning. Client inquiry volumes around ABM continue to rise as more companies initiate new or deepen existing ABM programs. The framework my colleague Adam Sarner and I developed (see below) is designed to make that process more manageable (see our “Account-Based Marketing Defined” research note; client subscription required).

Source: Gartner (February 2017)

Source: Gartner (February 2017)

Several factors are driving continued interest in ABM:

  • Rising pressure on B2B marketing leaders. According to our 2016-2017 CMO Spend Survey, in companies that primarily sell to B2B firms, retaining and growing existing customers was the area where senior management’s expectations of marketing increased the most in 2016. Acquiring new customers followed closely behind. If you’re the CMO of a B2B organization, you’re probably scrambling to drive business, not just leads. With its focus on current customers, an ABM approach can fill your pipeline with proven, pre-qualified buyers who are more likely to buy again than prospects. That helps makes your customer acquisition process more efficient, something your CFO and CRO will thank you for.
  • Role tide of data-driven marketing. ABM programs are built on a robust foundation of customer data, from not just  first-party sources (e.g. CRM, lead management and sales force automation systems, customer service applications, tradeshows, content usage and seminars) but also external and third-party information from blogs and social networks. Data from firmographic providers and programmatic advertising also figure in the mix. In fact, when I talk to B2B marketers, especially those in the early phases of scoping an ABM strategy, one of the areas they tend to key in on is enriching their own data with firmographic sources. This is something of a hot segment within the ABM space, what with Demandbase snapping up Spiderbook last year (combining programmatic advertising capabilities with firmographic data) and Dun & Bradstreet more recently acquiring competitor Avention to form a firmographic data powerhouse. In ABM, when it comes to data, the answer is never too much nor too good.
  • Push toward personalization. Marketers moving up the multichannel maturity curve (client subscription again required) are adopting more personalized programs. But most haven’t yet reached the level where they want — and know they need — to be in order to adequately meet customer needs. Information-gathering lies at the heart of any purchase process, and business buyers are no exception. If anything, they have a heightened need for information given the complexity and cost of the products and services they’re purchasing. Both new and existing customers will seek out this information on their own before they engage with you directly, so it’s incumbent on you to create and serve up relevant content tailored to specific customers. Done right, it can positively affect the urgency, depth and duration of their engagements with you. All that customer and firmographic data you have at your disposal only increases your ability to target more precisely, enabling you to account for a stakeholder’s influence on the buying process, discipline, department within the company and geography. Think of personalized content as the lubricant that keeps your marketing machine running smoothly and a vital key to unlocking customer lifetime value (LTV).

I’ll be talking about how B2B marketers can use account-based marketing to drive LTV at Gartner’s Digital Marketing Conference in May, where I’ll be joined on stage by Christopher Engman, currently the CRO/CMO at Climeon, and formerly the founder/CEO of Vendemore. Hope you can join us there!

The Gartner Digital Marketing Conference is May 10-12, 2017, at the San Diego Marriott Marquis and Marina.

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