Forget everything you (think you) know about ABM

Since it’s conception in 2003, ABM has evolved – and who better to track it’s trajectory than ABM’s pioneer, Bev Burgess. In the run up to the Global ABM Conference, Lucy Gillman sat down with Bev to discuss her session all about challenging what you think you know about ABM. 

First thing’s first, could you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your session at the ABM conference?

I have spent over 30 years in B2B marketing, both client-side and consulting, and am probably best known as the person who coined the term ‘account-based marketing’ back in 2003. Since then, I’ve worked with hundreds of marketers to help them build and scale ABM programmes around the world. 

Along the way, I’ve written a few books, including A Practitioner's Guide to Account-Based Marketing (Kogan Page, 2017 and 2021). My first book, published way back in 2010 was Marketing Technology as a Service (Wiley), and I have also written about marketing to C-Suite audiences in Executive Engagement Strategies, (Kogan Page, 2020). 

My new book, Account-Based Growth, (Kogan Page, 2022) puts ABM into the context of a wider business strategy focused on delivering sustainable, profitable growth with your top accounts, and I’m hoping it will help to reset expectations of what ABM is and what it can do for a company.

My session at the conference is titled ‘Forget everything you (think you) know about ABM’. I’ll explain why ABM was never just about marketing – it was and still is about account-based growth – and how marketers can use ABM to help their companies survive and thrive in the challenging economic conditions we find ourselves in today.

How did you first define ABM back in 2003? Has this definition changed?

I defined ABM as ‘treating individual accounts as markets in their own right’ back in 2003, and I haven’t ever changed that definition. I think it represents exactly how marketers should approach their top customers and prospects.

You often say that ABM was never just about marketing, nor is it targeted lead gen. Where do you think this misconception comes from?

I think a couple of things drove this misconception. First, for marketers working in companies where ‘leads’ are the holy grail – and how their contribution to the business is ultimately measured – it’s natural to want to apply such a powerful marketing approach as ABM to help deliver what the business wants. But the metrics around quarterly, volume-focused campaigns are different to those around multi-year programmes into a single account. That’s resulted in some frustration from sales teams and a watering down of the ABM approach.

Second, I think marketing technology providers, many of whom built their systems to support  high volume campaigns that delivered lots of leads, wanted to get in on the ABM action, and so adapted the thinking to suit their own software product’s strengths and, ultimately, sales.

To play devil’s advocate, if ABM isn’t about marketing or lead gen, what is it about?

ABM is about marketing! If we take the CIM’s definition of marketing, it’s the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably. ABM does exactly that, one account at a time. It relies on the strategic marketing process that starts with analysing the market (or account) to identify those needs; segments that market to focus on the best opportunities; develops a brand position to attract that segment; designs the right marketing mix to reach and serve that segment; and executes campaigns that deliver results.

But in the B2B context, ABM can’t just be about marketing. It has to be thought of and aligned with the way the business engages its accounts – across sales, service, customer success and even the executives at the top of the company.

To expand up on that, have we been getting ABM wrong or not getting the full potential out of it?

I think we’ve not been getting the full potential out of ABM. For example, some people only apply ABM principles at scale, using digital tactics to fire content at anyone who shows any ‘intent’ to purchase a solution – a bit like a ‘whack-a-mole’ arcade game – without any alignment with sales and account teams. Others may apply more of the thinking but stop at the point of sale, rather than using it to drive adoption and advocacy among their existing customers.

Your new book explores how extraordinary customer focus delivers sustainable growth. Can you tell us more about that?

My new book is titled Account-based growth: Unlocking sustainable value through extraordinary customer focus. When I talk about sustainable value, it has two meanings. First, it’s really long-term value, so thinking about the business that you’ll do with a customer over multiple years rather than in the current year or quarter. Lifetime value, if you like. The second meaning is even more profound. It’s about sustainability for the planet and the communities that you work with. I’m seeing big business increasingly collaborating to solve some of the problems that governments struggle to solve today – like financial inclusion, or carbon emission reductions through their supply chain.

Of course, you can’t do this with all of your customers, so that’s where an extraordinary focus on the customers that matter most to the future of your business comes in.

What can we expect from your session?

My session is for all marketers and ABM-ers, wherever they are on their own career path. I want to give everyone a commercial understanding of how and why ABM works, including:

  • Why much of what people say and believe about ABM misses the point.
  • How to make the case for an account-based growth strategy in your business.
  • Where to focus to deliver long-term, sustainable value for your company, its customers, your communities and the planet.
  • Why and how to collaborate with other functions like customer success to maximise impact and cohesion.

Why should ABM-ers attend the ABM Conference? Is there anyone you’re particularly excited to hear from?

I think the best ABM-ers are constantly trying to learn from each other, keeping up with best practice and the latest innovations in their field. This global ABM conference brings together the best and the brightest from the whole ABM ecosystem – client-side practitioners, agency specialists, technology suppliers, and consultants and trainers like myself. It’s a great opportunity for marketers to invest in their own career.

I’m really looking forward to hearing from Andrew Fitzgerald of Kyndryl, as I know he has a great story to tell – he’s in my new book! – and Rachael Bell from NTT, as she is doing some exciting stuff globally with ABM.

Want to learn more about revolutionising your ABM?

Attend the Global ABM Conference, the UK’s leading event on all things ABM in B2B on 2nd November. Welcoming a mine of expert knowledge from the best in business, you’ll leave holding the keys to ABM success, with actionable insight to transform your strategy no matter where you are in your journey.

Sign me up!

The Global ABM Conference 2022