Why the Evolution of ABM is Creating Both Confusion and Opportunity for B2B Marketers
As the Forrester B2B Summit kicks off today, marketers will gather to discuss the latest technology developments that will help them do their jobs more efficiently. And no category has seen more change in the past two years than account-based marketing (ABM) tools. And the modifications are not finished!
What is driving the evolution of ABM platforms? According to Forrester’s senior analyst for the category, Malachi Threadgill, this is a response to how marketers and sellers are adapting to changes among B2B buyers. He explained, “We tend to think of marketing in an old fashioned way, which is prospects – MCL and SQL. The reality is that 84% of B2B decisions are made by a committee of four or more people. Tools have caught up to understand that a lead is just a signal. If someone downloads a form, it’s a signal that the buying group is probably looking at it. »
He continued, “At a high level, the platforms provide the ability to find suitable accounts, understand if they’re in the market, and then orchestrate and activate campaigns for them. This has been the focal point of many organizations. We’ve seen a lot of consolidation in the space over the past couple of years, similar to what we saw with marketing automation platforms before they were acquired by the bigger companies. The interesting thing is that today we see that most of the top players in the space have relative parity. This core feature parity has led vendors to explore adjacent and emerging capabilities to differentiate their offerings and deliver value to their customers. These features include proprietary data, deep machine learning support, and fully integrated messaging capabilities. There are nuances between platforms that organizations need to consider, and if those nuanced differences matter, one may be better than the other for that specific use case.
The evolution of the category is so dramatic that ABM could soon die as a nickname. One of the category leaders, Demandbase, acquired Engagio in 2020, whose founder, Jon Miller, is now CMO of Demandbase. Miller gave his take on the evolution of the category, which he now calls account-based experiences (ABX). He shared, “There are two key factors for introducing AVX instead of ABM. The first is a little nuanced. I think the way account-based marketing has been done, it’s been done without much respect for the buyer experience. The analogy I always used to describe ABM was fishing with spears, which was a really effective analogy. But at the same time, it’s not very pleasant to be pricked by a spear. So, with the advent of things like intent data that let you know where an account is in their purchase journey, I realized it was possible to combine accuracy and targeting with ‘ABM with respect for the buyer’s experience that traditional inbound marketing had. Don’t bother people when it’s not the right time and align your go-to-market based on the account’s situation in its own experience, in its own journey. »
Miller continued, “The second driver behind ABX as a term is a bit more obvious. Account-based marketing has the word marketing in the title. And that’s really a misnomer for a go-to-market strategy that requires alignment across multiple departments, including sales and sales development. So that was the impetus behind conducting an account-based experience.
He expressed his belief that account and contact data will be the key to success in the category. “The reality is that AI algorithms are pretty commoditized. The nuance is in the data and how you use that data when it comes into the algorithms. Because of that, what we’re seeing is that the competitive battleground is increasingly tilting towards who has the best data. And that’s behind our recent positioning where we really focus on our account intelligence. So we acquired InsideView as a key to building it. And the acquisition of DemandMatrix brings technographic data to the table that goes into improving intent. So what that means in many ways is that our future competitor is ZoomInfo more than it is [other ABM platforms]. We built the app and now we’re providing more and more data. ZoomInfo historically had data and they are starting to move into the app. Account intelligence is really where the future battleground will be.
6sense also agrees that the nomenclature is out of date but advocates a different term. Greg Bell, Strategic Marketing and Industry Solutions Manager at 6sense, explained, “The problem we had with ABM a few years ago was the M. We saw it in the way we use 6sense internally, we’ve seen it with our customers and the value they get from the platform is that it’s not just about account-based marketing, we certainly have capabilities for marketers , but also for the salespeople, for the operations people, and even for customer success. It’s about uniting the revenue team. We like to say it’s about driving pipeline and revenue from More predictably, that’s really the promise the 6sense platform holds to our customers, so we started down the path of that RevTech post.
Brown continued, “We grew up in the world of big data and predictive analytics, that’s really where our roots are. The ways we use AI beyond modeling propensity to buy at the account and contact level, things like using AI to predict the next best moves for sellers would be an example of this. other AI applications. 6sense has also enhanced its capabilities through acquisitions, including Zen IQ, Fortella, Slintel, and Sales Whale.
Jason Zintack, CEO of 6sense, elaborated on the company’s vision: “Last year, we launched the RevTech revolution and announced our commitment to transform the B2B shopping experience. Account-based marketing plays an important role in a modern approach to growth, but our vision is also broader. It must be. We need to bring the marketing together and sales, customer success, RevOps and the rest of the revenue team if we want to see the kind of change our industry needs and buyers deserve.
Terminus was also recognized as a leader in its category. Bryan Wade joined the company when his company, Sigstr, was acquired by Terminus, and now serves as chief product officer. He shared, “ABM is all about sales and marketing meeting and agreeing that instead of just taking inbound leads who come to you and cold calling accounts who are in your territory, go after accounts that we think are our ideal customers, those who will be most successful with us, who will spend more with us once we enroll them as a customer, and will not try to to acquire customers who are not suitable for us. So in the beginning, the idea of ABM was around aligning marketing and sales, the ideal customer profile, targeting those accounts, and then integrating those customers into your customer base. It evolved into so much more.
Terminus has expanded its platform to meet growing expectations. In addition to acquiring Sigstr, it acquired Growfire, Xylo Tech, Ramble and BrightFunnel. Wade added, “Our vision is to build a B2B marketing cloud. And you can’t have a B2B marketing cloud without a journey builder. So we’re building a whole new interface that will help our customers orchestrate all the different channels into a single canvas. We are integrating CDP into our ABM platform. I think when you step back and think about where we’re going to be in three to five years, we’ll have a B2B CDP with an orchestration engine sitting on top of it.
The ABM platform domain includes additional players including MRP, Rollworks, Triblio, and Tech Target, among others. And there are players in adjacent categories, including SalesLoft, Outreach, and Zoominfo, not to mention marketing automation platforms like Marketo, Pardot, and Hubspot. So where is the category headed in the near future? Forrester’s Threadgill concluded, “I think there is still some time left for ABM platforms in terms of short-term strategies. With ZoomInfo going public and rewarded for it, and acquiring companies and rewarded for it, and then massive investments in many more ABM platforms, it will be interesting to see what they do with that capital. When you look at these valuations, does it still make sense that an Adobe or an Oracle would acquire them? I don’t know this answer.