What is ABM Software? Definition & Features

April 17, 2018 | Justin Gray | No Comments |

If you’re planning to be in attendance for Marketo’s annual homage to marketing and all-out schmooze-fest here in a few weeks, you’re sure to hear a lot about the latest in marketing technology. Marketo itself has somehow maintained its relevance through the flurry of mergers and sales (some strategic, some fire) that have dominated the industry news feeds for the last half-decade–first, through the sheer persistence and drive of ex-CEO Phil Fernandez on his quest to take the company public, and now through Vista’s mechanized crusade to right the balance sheet after a large expenditure to acquire the organization back in 2016. They have come out on the other side largely with the same premise as which they began, save a few well-calculated buzz words which have been bolted on and fallen off only to be riveted back again in a slightly different form.

Last year the label and category we all toiled through the mid-aughts to create, suddenly became persona-non-grata when Marketo dropped the Marketing Automation tag altogether and replaced it with an all-out re-positioning campaign toward its central role in the ‘Engagement Economy.’ A year later and shadows of that engagement fling still linger, but ‘Marketing Automation’ is back where the heart is, right on the homepage.

The point here is that in an industry where we’re all marketing to marketers – things can begin to feel a bit surreal. Life and art suddenly collide and begin to choke each other out, but right before one begins to get the upper hand, a large pop-up appears to capture your credit card number so you can see who wins and be the first to tweet the results.

I don’t fault Marketo for any of this by the way, I’m a marketer and if you tell me a buzzword is going to make the difference between capturing an edge of the competition and complete and utter sameness (which is worse than failure) you can bet your ass that buzzword is going to be plastered all over whatever I’m attempting to hock. Buzzwords for all their backlash, create a shared language, even if it’s one we don’t want to admit is truly our native tongue.

Marketing Automation has come to define not only a category but a feature set. Similar to CRM, for the most part when we see that label we know what the box should contain. When it comes to buzzwords, the truly dangerous ones are those that truly mean something different to everyone in earshot–even those extolling them with every breath.

ABM Buzzwords

ABM is one such buzzword.

See, I got to Account Based Marketing (ABM) eventually. ABM started innocently enough, and I think at this point we can all agree that the good folks over at ITSMA can take some, if not all, of the credit for birthing it into the marketing-sphere. Something you might not know is that the term is nearly 20 years old, and the concepts behind it are even older. A year in SaaS software is like the concept of dog years. In SaaS, ABM is over 140 years old. So, when you keep in mind that we all move so incredibly fast and in the time it’s taken you to read this post a company was founded, achieved product-market fit, took capital and shuttered after failing to scale, its shocking that ABM isn’t better defined.

Right now, ABM is the predictive analytics of its time, but even bigger and more prevalent. Remember just a few years ago where everyone was using ‘big data’ to build predictive models? Well, this is exactly like that but with better longevity. Predictive fell apart because of one key oversight by the big data branding squad – B2B data sucks.

Is Account Based Marketing a Software Feature?

ABM is seeing that kind of Spring, and the sunlight is carrying right on through to Summer because unlike predictive, Account Based Marketing can be done without a data scientist and hard to use software. The problem is that the first line of the offensive is comprised entirely of software providers – vendors who, in their own best interest, will attempt to shape the space and define the unknown. This has led to a LOT of ABM labels being slapped hastily on nearly every piece of messaging put out in the last 24 months. From analytics to data to email tools to predictive (theyyy’re back), ABM has seemingly become a feature in itself. This makes things very difficult to understand. I talk to a lot of marketers who will say “Yes, we’re doing ABM currently, we’re using (fill in the blank).” This is almost always a very marketing centric tactic, such as targeted ads or website personalization. It’s never ABM.

For the reasons above and more, when 6Sence acquired ZenIQ earlier this week, it perked my eyebrow. Perhaps we’re starting to see some definition around ABM software feature sets. LeadMD published its Account Based Framework and the subsequent ABM Technology Guide almost two years ago, and it’s still what we use publicly today.

A true ABM stack needs to facilitate operational scale and efficiency in all five of pillars: Data, Account Planning, Content, Execution and Measurement. The great, and in my opinion most exciting, aspect of Account Based anything is that it can be performed without a considerable technology investment or runway for change. Don’t get me wrong, ABM is an intentional, quality-first, entire organization focused mental shift – but it’s quite simple in concept: we’re going to assign our efforts to pre-qualified Accounts, recognize that decisions take place in committee within the enterprise and then finally treat every one of those committee members like they are the most important person on earth.

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Essentially, we’re going to do the exact opposite of everything marketing has been focused on in the last decade. Solid, highly-relevant, value-forward, largely hands-on buyer conversations. It’s incredibly exciting.

I mentioned earlier that technology isn’t a pre-requisite for ABM, which is true, but if you’re going to do it right, there are a few core elements you’ll want to implement to enable alignment across the organization and ultimately to measure the success of your efforts. I also consider these to be fundamental to the definition of what makes up a true ABM solution.

Here they are in order of importance:

Data & Account Insights

I know what you’re thinking, “Dammit, data is at the top of the list?” The answer is, yes. The core of ABM revolves around a well-defined set of best buyer Accounts aligned to your target account profiles. Along with accounts, you’ll need an accurate buying committee with supporting personas that will allow you to map the organization and present right time, right messaging in lockstep with your selling committee–everyone from your execs all the way to the customer success team.

If you’re going to mobilize these types of resources internally, you better have accurate data to fall back on, as well as a way to keep it clean over time and means of monitoring the key happenings within the world of the account. I’ve yet to find a single solution that provides all of these key elements, but you can check out our recommendations for standing up a requisite data stack at the ABM tech stack link above. One day someone will bring these all under one roof, and what a glorious day it will be.

Sales Orchestration… er, Enablement… er, Messaging. (Whatever you want to call it.)

This is a big one and something I believe in strongly. I prefer the term Sales Orchestration because it illustrates what this tool is actually meant to do – orchestrate the outreach of a well-coordinated team to your buying organization. It maps the buying committee to your internal selling committee and ensures that well telegraphed ‘plays’ are executed under a strategic playbook. In its worst form, it’s email. When done correctly, it’s a cross-channel dance that chaperones the target account so naturally that they feel truly empowered. And, it’s as difficult as it sounds. When have traditionally disconnected teams like sales and marketing ever done that?

There’s a reason Sales and Marketing alignment searches yield over a million horror stories and commentaries. A sales orchestration solution does what is truly the first step in making anything better: presenting an example of what success looks like. We put out a great piece with our pals at Engagio that has a ton of great examples of how this should look.

Check out the Ultimate Catch: Your Guide to ABM Orchestration

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True orchestration is early to market, and it’s a big jump from the current Marketing Automation standard which is causing a bit of heartburn inside most organizations. Marketing is leading the charge with ABM, and as with anything marketing led, sales are more than hesitant to allow their profession to be dictated by the good folks in the ‘arts & crafts’ dept (their words, not mine).

The teams that are embracing this motion and technology are seeing real results with ABM. Mark my words, Sales Orchestration is the key to ABM – it’s just going to take time to get everyone on the same page and in recognition of the power of this truly unique motion. The ZenIQ acquisition is a big testament to the above.

Just a quick note on ZenIQ. Zen is a great concept, one that allows best practice ‘plays’ to be imported into your playbook. It’s like tapping into the secret manual of a winning sports team. The problem is that ZenIQ functions more like a Marketing Automation solution and less like a 1:1 sales tool. This makes it incredibly attractive because marketers love automation. Unfortunately, it also takes the personalization aspect, something that is irreplaceable in ABM, and tosses it out the window. I hope 6Sence remedies this – but I’m not going to hold my breath.

ABM Analytics

If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it – that common saying applies to ABM by the truckload. If you’re like most teams planning to starting your ABM journey with a pilot program, then you know you’re going to have to show some impressive results to attain the type of buy-in necessary to shift the go-to-market strategy of a business. If you plan for that optic to be revenue, then you will be waiting a long time. ABM is primarily an outbound motion – to paraphrase Jon Miller, ‘we’re going whale hunting here.’ Wales aren’t going to start falling at your feet just because you’re armed with an ABM pilot. Instead, you need to target improvements that are realistic, but just as striking.

The justification for ABM lies in the fact that inbound marketing tactics are inefficient in driving interest in specifically targeted buying organizations. In fact, they often draw in a lot of tin cans, tires and old shoes – not exactly the wales we’re aiming at. This allows us to first measure the results marketing and sales are achieving within those target accounts (benchmark) and then compare that to what we can do with ABM. An ABM Analytics tool will allow you to measure these leading indicators and more.

We recommend starting with Coverage – how much of your target accounts and their buying committees are reflected and accurate in your database? And Engagement – how well are we getting their attention? Once you have those two KPI’s you can tack on the real whammy – we call this pilot friendly metric, Penetration. Penetration is the rate at which we can translate the attention we’re generating within that target account list into a first meeting. Traditional demand gen does this at a rate of 1% or less on average, and ABM increases that handsomely to the 20 – 40% range. Those results allow you to show value and traction due to your ABM work. It’s also visibility that your typical marketing analytics just aren’t able to provide, and for that reason, it’s on my short list of critical tech.

So, there you have it – everything from the recent history of buzz, what an ABM software is and the key features you should be looking for once you’re ready to add a bit of operational scale. So, what are you waiting for? Also, if you are indeed going to be attending Marketo’s Marketing Nation Summit later on this week, we’ll be diving into these topics and more at the LeadMD booth. Stop by, and we can count the buzzwords together!

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