Exclusive - ITSMA, Demandbase partner to support the future of ABM

Profile picture for user barb.mosher By Barb Mosher Zinck September 5, 2017
ITSMA and Demandbase have just announced a new partnership to support the future of ABM. Meanwhile, fresh data is validating ABM approaches as other marketing tactics falter.

When I think about account-based marketing several names come to mind:
  • ITSMA, a marketing leadership community where I found the best description of ABM and how it’s done (they’ve been talking about ABM since 2003).
  • ABM Leadership Alliance, a group of ABM tech vendors that want to bring clarity to the field of ABM (this group started over a year ago).
  • Demandbase, an ABM tech vendor, that has led the pack in terms of getting companies to understand that ABM is a key element of the future of marketing (it started the ABM Leadership Alliance).

To be fair, there are many other tech vendors out there (Terminus, Marketo, Engagio, Oracle, and the list goes on), and there are other alliances and ABM communities out there (Marketo recently announced the ABM Success Alliance). And there is a lot of great information on ABM from all of these vendors and groups as well.

But today is ITSMA and Demandbase day because they are announcing a new partnership designed to help companies accelerate the adoption of ABM as a comprehensive strategy. I spoke with Rob Leavitt, ITSMA Senior Vice President, and Peter Isaacson, Demandbase CMO about the partnership and what it means for the ABM industry.

Account-based marketing is really not new; it just lived under a different name for a long time as Isaacson pointed out. He said during his time at Adobe in the 90’s they called it targeted account marketing where they focused on a handful of special accounts. Technology didn’t exist then and for a long time after that would allow companies to scale these targeted account efforts beyond a few accounts. And that’s one reason why ABM was slow to gain adoption.

But there were also the leads too. B2B marketing has been all about quantity (number of visitors, number of CTRs, number of leads). Quality has been a side thought - nice, but there simply wasn’t time to find the “right” leads. This volume of leads mantra over the quality of leads has driven a wedge between marketing and sales Isaacson said because marketing was sending over a lot of leads that weren’t sales ready in any way. ABM changes that approach, and that’s another reason why ABM is gaining traction.

So two things: less focus on lead volume and the emergence of ABM technology are finally giving account-based marketing its time in the spotlight. And marketing teams are taking advantage of it.

ITSMA and the ABM Leadership Alliance worked together to do a study on the state on ABM today, and things are looking good. Of those surveyed, 87% said ABM delivers higher ROI than other types of marketing.

  • 84% improvement in reputation
  • 74% improvement in relationships across accounts
  • 69% improvement in revenue (annual revenue per account)

Makes you want to go out and start your ABM practice, doesn’t it?

An ABM strategy is not intuitive

Isaacson talked about what’s needed to build the right ABM strategy because too many think it’s straightforward when it’s not. It requires training (workshops and certifications can help a lot). But it also requires finding the right people, figuring out the right messages for those people and learning where to focus and how to reach them. And that takes time and practice. Lots of practice.

Technology has been instrumental in getting ABM to the next level, but it’s not the answer. It’s the vehicle you drive to help you get where you want to go. You still need to know where you’re going and you still need to put the right gas in the car.

It’s the planning and the strategy, along with the technology, that ITSMA and Demandbase are partnering to help companies do better. Together they will perform joint research, develop ABM-based content, implement tools, and conduct workshops and training that will move companies to the next stage of ABM.

Are you ready to shift your ABM strategy into third gear?

I say third gear because ITSMA and Demandbase have found that companies most successful at ABM are incorporating three types of ABM in their plans: 1-1, 1-few and 1-many:


Graphic from ITSMA and ABM Leadership Alliance marketing survey

According to the study mentioned above, most companies are using only 1 or two ABM approaches, but it’s the combination of all three that can make a difference. In the study, only 12% did all three, whereas 65% did only one approach. It was the companies that did all three that saw the most success.

Leavitt said the future of ABM is a blended approach of all three types and this new partnership with Demandbase is directed at helping companies understand how to implement their ABM strategies this way. Through a combination of programs, training, tools and expert counsel, the two will guide companies on growing all types of ABM programs.

ABM is about more than marketing and sales

ITSMA has been educating marketing on ABM since it coined the term in 2003. Leavitt said the most critical point of success is that ABM is a team sport between marketing and sales. He said it’s a forcing function pushing the teams to work together.

Leavitt also spoke about the long-term strategic approach to ABM. Done right it can:

  • Drive business priorities
  • Be a key way to enter new markets
  • Shift perceptions with key clients
  • Build executive relationships with key clients
  • Ensure customer success.

For the last couple of years, ABM became top of mind, and few companies aren't trying to figure out how to implement it as a key part of their marketing strategies. Leavitt said ABM went through an incubation period (one that lasted more than a decade), but now it’s moving from an early adopter phase to an early and late majority phase.

Challenges remain as shown below. Partnerships like that of ITSMA and Demandbase, along with others, will help companies figure it out:


Graphic from ITSMA and ABM Leadership Alliance marketing survey

More clarification on what it is and how to do it is helping. Better technology to support the one-to-few and one-to-many approaches is helping. But there’s also still a lot of clutter and many voices causing a degree of confusion and frustration. That will take time to filter out.

My take

Leavitt made a point that hit home with me. ABM is all about the customer. Marketing has traditionally been about spray and pray. And then it became more focused, but it still isn’t enough to narrow down lists and develop high-level personas and focus your content and marketing activities at this high level.

Customers are getting smarter. Their expectations are forcing sales and marketing to work better together to understand their needs and respond appropriately.

This is not to say that all marketing should be ABM marketing. But if you still aren’t seeing the value it adds when done right, then you are making a huge mistake. And you’ll see that in your pipeline and your revenues.

Image credit - Feature image - Email concept © Sergey Nivens - Fotolia.com. ABM graphics credited as above.

Disclosure - Diginomica has no financial ties to Demandbase.