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Is it time to flip the account-based marketing (ABM) pyramid? | B2B Marketing

Is it time to flip the traditional ABM pyramid model upside down? Robert Norum explores

ABM has historically been driven from the top down, where companies start by targeting their largest customers on a 1:1 basis before looking at new ways to scale and resource ABM as the programme grows. Perhaps it’s time to start from opposite end of the spectrum and drill down into your key accounts.

As anyone who has worked with me on ABM will know, I’m a big fan of the ABM pyramid to segment and tier accounts. There are undoubtedly many versions, but I’d be pleased to credit this to Bev Burgess at ITSMA as she literally wrote the book (A practitioner’s guide to account-based marketing, published earlier this year.) In case you’ve not seen it, here it is:

Is it time to flip the ABM pyramid? Account-based marketing ITSMA image

It’s a simple but effective way of segmenting your ABM. People may have different names for the three sections (personally I’m not at all keen on ‘ABM Lite’ as I think it undervalues the middle tier), but in essence, the top of the pyramid represents one-to-one engagement, the middle represents one-to-few, and the bottom one-to-many. The investment per account obviously decreases the lower you go.

The top of the ABM pyramid

Implicit in this hierarchy is the relative superiority of the top of the pyramid, as this is where the most tailored and valuable ABM takes place – literally the top of the ABM food chain. Some would go so far as to say that the top of the pyramid is the only ‘true’ ABM, treating each account as a ‘market of one’ (in the ITSMA definition).

The effect of this perception, quite understandably, is that most companies start with one-to-one ABM and typically dip their toe in the water with one or more pilots to see how ABM works for their organisation. The challenge with this approach is that it’s both resource and budget hungry, and so most companies, even the very biggest, find it difficult to scale.

As a result, we have seen a development over the last few years to look at ‘ABM Lite’, ‘Cluster ABM’ or ‘Vertical ABM’, where several companies can be targeted at a time, but still within a highly personalised delivery model. This one-to-few approach still requires in-depth research and insight, as well as highly tailored content, but the core content can be built once and served up several times, thereby dividing the ABM programme cost by the number of target companies included.

The bottom segment, one-to-many, or what ITSMA define as ‘Programmatic’ ABM has also come into its own over the last few years as technology vendors providing programmatic solutions from IP-based targeting to intent-based marketing have created increasingly robust offerings. The one-to-many approach is typically seen as a means of reaching large numbers of accounts which don’t currently merit the individual investment of the other two types of ABM in the pyramid hierarchy.

Look at the whole, rather than the sum of its parts

But my experience of what success looks like in ABM engagement tells me something different – that it’s equally valuable to start by looking at the base of the pyramid, or even the whole pyramid, before you ladder up to the top. In other words, you might want to consider actually ‘flipping the ABM pyramid’.

Organisations no longer have to make a hard and fast decision either way of going for one-to-one ABM, or going for one-to-few or even broader demand generation activities. You can actually ‘blend’ all three tiers of ABM in the same core programme, depending on where in the customer lifecycle they are.

I am not advocating mass ABM to thousands of accounts, as some technology vendors are now proposing, but I am saying that you can easily identify your top 100 or 200 accounts, and use ‘programmatic’ delivery tools to serve up relevant, timely and personalised content.

By flipping the pyramid, you ensure you have ‘air cover’ across all of your major accounts, while also cherry-picking the one-to-few segments, and one-to-one accounts that you target. This enables you to scale your ABM programme intelligently, while still maintaining a laser focus on mission-critical accounts. It also de-risks your ABM strategy, by enabling you to avoid having all your eggs in one basket.

Without doubt, this blended approach to ABM is the way forward. It enables you to support your sales organisation across all your key accounts, while also driving verticals propositions into important industry sectors, and still focusing on your most important accounts. It enables you to both scale and de-risk your ABM activities, while giving you a rock-solid approach to discover the optimal ABM mix for your business.

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