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The B2B Marketing Conference 2018: Differences of opinion and new emerging approaches to ABM

Different views on ABM remain but this year saw commonalities in new tactics amongst marketers, says Clive Armitage

Attending (and sponsoring) this year’s B2B Marketing ABM event felt a little like déjà vu; there was Joel on stage to introduce the event and talk about the continual growth of interest in ABM.  There was Oracle’s Michael Avis explaining how Oracle continues to build its ABM capabilities.  And there was Atos’ Cat Dutton and CA Technologies’ Chris Boorman explaining how they are scaling ABM with their various teams.  But new stars also emerged; anyone who witnessed the energy and enthusiasm of Rhiannon Blackwell from Accenture or Adrian Hardy from BT, for example, can’t have failed to have been impressed with their presentations.

But amongst all the great content, the thing that struck me most was that the approach to delivering great ABM is yet to be fully defined.  Differences of opinion as to how to crack ABM remain, although on a more positive note, trends are starting to emerge which are becoming broadly accepted.  Here, as I saw it, are the main differences of opinion and the common trends people are agreeing on.

If you are embarking on ABM, start with one-to-one

It was suggested by one of the speakers that the best way to get started on ABM was to start with a one-to-one pilot.  “Start small and focused” was the gist of the argument.  There’s nothing wrong with that principle of starting small, but I can’t agree with the suggestion that the default is therefore to start with one-to-one.  Instead, I’d strongly argue that you start with your commercial objectives; understand what you want from ABM, determine the appetite and interest from sales, work out your internal skills and resource and only then decide on what type of ABM is right for you.  In essence, don’t default to an approach before you have decided on the objective.  Who knows – strategically, you might want to penetrate the financial services sector and therefore a cluster or one-to-few campaign may be the place to start.

Only involve agencies when you have defined your ABM strategy

I heard this from one speaker and, at the risk of you, dear reader, saying “well, he would say that wouldn’t he”, I would argue that you’re missing a significant trick if you decide to only involve agencies at the point when you are ready to execute.  Believe it or not, there are some agencies who are actually consultancies out there (there is a definite difference between ‘agency’ and ‘consultancy’ in my book) who have been doing ABM for some amazing brands for some time. Why wouldn’t you tap into their knowledge and experience at the point at which you are trying to work out how to progress on ABM?  After all, they should be more than happy to share war stories from their work with other clients which may just save you a tonne of heart ache and speed your time to ABM ‘value’.

ABM is not a marketing activity and if you approach it as such, you’ll fail

More than one speaker (ok, nearly all of them) made the point that for ABM to succeed it has to be a cross business initiative that drives alignment with sales.  And for success to be achieved, communication, expectation setting and shared responsibilities are critical.  Hallelujah! Here is one truism that seems to be becoming an accepted norm; and certainly our experience tells us ABM really should be account-based everything – approach it that way and your chances of success will be exponentially higher.

Human endeavour is not enough to crack ABM at scale

Again, a common theme for many of the speakers was the challenge of cracking ABM at scale. It chimes with what I hear most commonly from prospects and customers – “I understand the premise and value of ABM, I have started to conduct some activity, but now need to step up a notch and broaden my delivery capability.  But to do so, I don’t have unlimited budget and I certainly don’t have unlimited resource. Help”! 

The answer?  Step back and start to determine where technology and automation can help you in the execution phase of your campaigns.  The consensus I heard was that taking this approach was the best method to getting to scale campaigns in a manageable (and predictable) way, while still maintaining confidence that you can deliver the results the business needs.

Overall, last week’s ABM event was a tremendously useful exercise in sharing and learning best practice around ABM.  It’s clear there remains a difference of opinion in how to drive success, but what is heartening is that, as ABM practices mature, clear points of consensus are emerging.  I look forward to seeing how far we progress as marketers in aligning around common ABM principles when we meet again next year.

For more insights from The B2B Marketing Conference 2018,

read the highlights here


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