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ABM and Cluster Marketing, Part II: Using a “Lite” Touch

In the second part of a two-part report, Joe Stanganelli explains the practical ramifications of an ABM Lite strategy.

The overwhelming majority of marketing organizations that have turned to ABM have reported good results and improved ROI – but not all can afford the resource investments of ABM at its purest and most personalized.  Moreover, few accounts truly warrant that level of commitment for the return that is at stake – but other accounts cry out for a level of personalization that is nearly as substantial and committed.

The happy medium, marketers have found, lies in a lighter version of ABM – cluster marketing, also known as. “ABM Lite.”

In the first part of this report, I looked at what exactly ABM Lite is, and the benefits that it offers.  In this part, I focus on when to apply ABM Lite (as opposed to the stricter Strategic ABM Model – or, on the other end of the spectrum, less personalized marketing methods) – and how.

In A Practitioner’s Guide to Account-Based Marketing, by Bev Burgess and Dave Munn, marketing organizations are urged to convene stakeholder workshops in which the participants evaluate accounts for a variety of criteria respectively related to “relative business strength” (which serves as a measure of relationships and commonalities between the company and the account) and “account attractiveness” (i.e., a set of factors related to the amount of money potentially on the table combined with the where and how of the account’s decision-making processes). 

Burgess and Munn go on to recommend that ABM Lite is best suited for:

  • Accounts that have exceptional relative strength but are only moderately attractive, and 
  • Accounts that are very attractive but have only moderate relative strength.

Burgess and Munn further note, however, that these types of accounts may also be suited for Strategic ABM.  At this point, assessing accounts for an ABM Lite/cluster marketing initiative comes down to defining and narrowing down the clusters.

A good cluster is more than companies that merely share a vertical (and, as we’ll see below, may not even include companies in the same vertical).  According to Burgess, Munn, and other ITSMA subject-matter experts, matches in pricing, types of clientele, technologies in use, approaches to and attitudes about innovation, and other situational factors must all be weighed so as to combine accounts that are most like one another.

Exact matches, of course, are hard to come by – and, accordingly, approaching ABM Lite cluster creation may require some thinking outside of the box.

“[W]hile these clusters may be in the same industry sector, they don’t have to be,” says Bev Burgess.  “I once worked on a cluster of accounts from across retail, financial services, and manufacturing where the common driver for the cluster was the fact they were all running their own captive offshore IT function – so [they] had the same procurement mentality for IT services, and the same issues of their business stakeholders not always trusting [that] the internal service was offering best value for money.”

In any case, marketers must find a way to create and manage effective clusters while keeping the cluster sizes tight.  While the ITSMA 2016 ABM Survey showed that respondents ABM Lite clusters numbered as many as 22 accounts, even this may represent too broad an application of ABM Lite.  Cluster sizes of five accounts are more typical – and more effective.

“The best clusters can be much smaller, with an ABM-er working on 20 accounts in 4 clusters of 5,” Burgess explains.  “In these cases, it’s possible to get much more granular about what the common drivers are and the common context for each of the companies in the cluster, making your marketing more targeted and powerful.”

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