While many forecasts for 2021 draw on the technology-driven changes that became the bedrock of any business activity in 2020, I see the coming year in marketing as being defined by the advancement of a longstanding trend: Account Based Marketing (ABM). I believe this will finally be the year when B2B marketers adopt an account-centric approach as the foundation of their marketing strategy.
ABM can fundamentally transform sales and marketing teams into full-funnel revenue generators, yet with only 8% of firms in pilot mode and 43% in the early stages of ABM implementation, 2021 is set as the year in which ABM breaks through.
ABM is perfectly suited for these times of economic turbulence as it can add a direct line of revenue for both new business as well as client retention and upsell. As is well documented, it takes much more effort (and budget) to acquire a new customer than to nurture and retain an existing one. ABM strategies can be used to engage clients on their journey from onboarding through to becoming an advocate for your business.
I believe three major factors will make ABM a powerful tool for B2B marketers in 2021.
While we are forecasting a strong economic recovery over the next 12 months, 2020 has taught us that we need to do more with less. In 2021, we can no longer afford to invest in the wrong audience. We’re focusing our efforts and budget only on those accounts that fit our ideal customer profile (ICP).
Cost and effectiveness will be at the forefront of all 2021 planning. An account-based strategy focuses limited sales and marketing resources on accounts that will have the most meaningful impact on revenue and drive recovery into the new year. Marketers agree: according to RollWorks, 87% of marketers say ABM has higher ROI for reduced or uncertain budgets in 2021.
In this era of distributed workforce, ABM allows you to focus on the entire company audience, from decision-makers to influencers, and to personalize multi-channel targeting tactics with consideration to right-size messaging and timing.
I am a big fan of tools such as the Buy-Grid Model, which has been adapted to B2B sales and marketing processes under the name the Buyers Grid (see Ray Leone, for example, and many others who use similar methodologies). This model enables you to develop and manage an integrated engagement strategy with unified touch points across the entire organization, including decision-makers, influencers, approvers, etc., which is exactly the foundation we want to see in ABM.
In 2021, AI is going to be a big differentiating factor for ABM. AI can auto-score accounts based on ICP, intent signals, etc., and further streamline marketing efforts. AI gives marketers the tools to reach beyond a click or form completion, and capture and align signals at the account level. When properly realized and applied, AI can drive decision-making at the account level.
As B2B buyers demand more personalized, curated experiences, the trick for B2B marketers will be to use the available AI technology to marry psychographics, firmographics, and intent signals into one holistic experiential tech stack that is poised to deliver just the right experiences to those buyers who are ready to make a purchase or continue to warm up those who are not.
The value of ABM as a strategic approach is clear, yet in this watershed year, the greatest barrier remains implementation.
Aligning marketing and sales stakeholders around the identification, engagement, qualification, and successful winning of opportunities is especially challenging with so much of the workforce operating on a WFH footing.
There are still many paths to implementation. B2B marketers can start today by choosing the partners and tools to begin the journey. Over time, you can learn, test, progress, and revamp to deliver an approach that is comprehensive and right for your portfolio.