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So, what is ABM – can it be boiled down to a single, standard definition?

ABM is maturing
Not surprisingly, things move fast when it comes to tying down new ideas and defining them. There certainly was a widely accepted view of what constitutes ABM: focusing on accounts, existing customers, not acquiring new ones, aligning sales and marketing, taking a long-view of success.

But the emphasis is on the word was.

That definition still has some currency, but the generally accepted view in the market of what ABM is has changed. Namely, it’s become an approach that focuses on greater personalisation across existing and net new accounts; the terminology the market is settling on to describe how ABM applies to different sets of requirements is Strategic ABM, ABM Lite, and ABM Programmatic.

Remember, ABM might feel like it’s been around for a long time to those of us who have been working with it for the last five years or so, but in reality it is still reaching maturity; what we’re seeing are the early stages of it beginning to settle.

We think of it as a long-term strategy for marketing and sales to collaborate in a focused manner; a complete approach to engaging key accounts. It prioritises accounts over leads, and puts more emphasis on outcomes than on outputs. Its aim is to understand, engage with, and influence accounts in a highly personalised way, aligning services and solutions with strategic and tactical imperatives, establishing the means for stronger relationships and richer conversations up (and across) the value chain.

We also understand that when viewing it from your perspective – the perspective of those implementing and using it – there are degrees of maturity, or different flavours, of ABM. It’s absolutely vital you choose the one that’s right for your organisation – one that can be executed without any negative impact on business-as-usual. This is something we’ll look at in more detail shortly.
But for now let’s return to the issue of noise, confusion and definitions.

Three tiers of ABM

Strategic ABM
This is a strategic approach to treating an account as a market-of-one, and executed on a one-to-one basis.

ABM Lite
One-to-few, rather than one-to-one, the next tier down in terms of targeting strategic accounts, and sometimes referred to as targeted account marketing.

Programmatic ABM
Using marketing tools (such as automation) and a persona-based approach to elevate traditional list marketing, and apply the ABM approach to thousands of targets.

Definitions are all well and good, but even if you can reach a point where there is consensus around what a term means, another question often remains: How is it going to work, and what is it going to look / feel like in practice in your organisation?

To get close to understanding that, you need to keep reminding yourself of the difference between what ABM was and how the market is now defining ABM.
Purists will probably still adhere to the view that true ABM means aligning your sales and marketing teams in order to use existing account insight, and relationships, to personalise engagement, and to work on developing solutions that overcome your customers’ challenges. You can extend it as far as you need into the realm of personalisation, until it becomes a conversation taking place at an individual, one-to-one level. That won’t necessarily look like anything particularly new or different to those working in sales, where conversations with individuals are the defining factor. It is a new approach for many marketing functions, however, who may have to unlearn past patterns of behaviour.

While that purist definition is technically correct, things have moved on and ABM is now regarded as having a broader remit. That word approach helps explain how a new definition of ABM has come into being more recently. There is now a more nuanced view of what ABM is and how to use it, an approach that focuses on greater personalisation across existing and net new accounts.

Rather than see ABM as a set of strictures, it is an approach you can adopt, and adapt, to fit your organisation’s needs; taking only what will work for you. Small wonder then, that this has led to the evolution of a more tier-based appreciation of ABM.

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“To break down walls between sales and marketing, ABM is pretty close to a silver bullet in that it aligns programs’ dollars and focus behind the accounts that the sales teams care about. So there’s inherent buy-in. That said, ABM is only as good as your visibility into your highest potential accounts and best-fit customer segments, which gets clearer over time. So it’s most effective when deployed as part of a comprehensive set of targeting strategies.”

Dave Karel, Head of B2B Marketing, LinkedIn Marketing Solutions

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“Instead of leveraging a set of broad-reaching programs designed to touch the largest possible number of prospective customers, an ABM strategy focuses marketing and sales resources on a defined set of targeted accounts and employs personalised campaigns designed to resonate with each individual account. With ABM, your marketing message is based on the attributes and needs of the account you’re targeting.”

David Cain, GVP, Global Marketing, Marketo
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