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Blended ABM: The Trend Towards ABM Lite

Marketing departments are taking more and more liberties with platonic ABM strategies to make it work for them. The upshot is that, whereas ABM has long stood for “Account-Based Marketing,” the latest B2B marketing trends could lead to it becoming a backronym for “Account Blended Marketing”.

According to recent research from Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) — perhaps the original and most definitive thought-leading organization in the area of ABM — B2B companies are increasingly blending ABM strategies of old (if, in 2018, ABM can truly be deemed “old”) into hybrid approaches. I described for DMN last year a particularly notable example of this in the case of security firm Cybereason, which at INBOUND 2017 purported to have adopted a makeshift inbound-ABM hybrid strategy.

Yet more popular, however, according to ITSMA and others, is the blending of different types of ABM. A July survey on ABM benchmarking, jointly conducted by both ITSMA and the ABM Leadership Alliance, found that, of respondent organizations employing ABM in some manner, 46 percent have adopted a “blended ABM strategy” — representing a jump from 35 percent in 2017. Moreover, 58 percent reported  they “plan to scale ABM by adopting a blended strategy” in 2019.

“The biggest trend in ABM is moving towards a blended approach — selecting more than one type of ABM, depending on your goals and the makeup of the accounts you are considering for this approach,” said Lisa Dennis, President of Knowledgence Associates and a senior associate at ITSMA. “Not every type of ABM is a good fit with all [ABM-appropriate] accounts.” Indeed, as Bev Burgess and Dave Munn note in their 2017 book, A Practitioner’s Guide to Account-Based Marketing, two particular subsets of accounts that are generally best suited for a classic, traditional ABM approach of “one-to-one” marketing (a.k.a. “Strategic ABM”) — exceptionally strong accounts with only moderate attractiveness, and exceptionally attractive accounts that are only moderately strong* — are equally generally best suited for a “one-to-few” approach known as “ABM Lite”.

Also known as “cluster marketing“, ABM Lite is used to target a very small cluster of highly similar accounts  — utilizing classic ABM philosophies and methodologies while blending them with a mildly more scaled-up efficiency. On the other hand, by definition, one-to-one marketing strategies resist scalability. As ABM adoption increases and enterprise organizations become more comfortable with it, however, it demands to be scaled. Consequently, according to Rob Leavitt, a senior vice president at ITSMA, enterprise marketers are increasingly erring on the side of applying ABM Lite instead of Strategic ABM because of the former’s flexibility.

“ABM continues to mature as a discipline, and we see this in a variety of ways,” said Leavitt. “Companies are moving to a more blended strategy with Account-Based Marketing — to provide more depth and breadth of coverage with their target accounts.”

Moreover, Leavitt pointed out, the trend of ABM blending is a two-way street. Leavitt indicated that many companies that once started their ABM journeys with programmatic ABM (a “one-to-many” style of ABM that is even lighter than ABM Lite) or yet more permissive, faux versions of ABM — are implementing more blended (and, in these cases, effectively more stringent) ABM Lite strategies as they begin “to get more personalized, more customized, more focused on tighter programs for some of their most important accounts.”

“We always talk about this pyramid of one-to-one, [then] one-to-few, [then] one-to-many,” said Leavitt. “So what we’re seeing is a bit of a convergence from the top and the bottom of the pyramid as well as what leads to a more blended approach.”

Both Leavitt and Dennis also pointed out that many companies — particularly, as Dennis notes, smaller organizations that lack the resources of a large enterprise to engage in Strategic ABM — are beginning their ABM processes by heading straight to ABM Lite. Meanwhile, at ITSMA’s 2018 ABM Forum earlier this month, Burgess presented recent ITSMA findings on the culmination of a trend — that the one-to-few stylings of ABM Lite have become the most popular implementation of ABM.

Frontline ABMers may be able to sum it up best. In a free-response section of the aforementioned ITSMA and ABM Leadership Alliance Account-Based Marketing Benchmarking Survey from July 2018, one respondent wrote, “I can foresee in the future [that] our industry marketing team will blend over into One-to-Few ABM.”

* In this context, according to Burgess and Munn, account “strength” refers to the strength of relationships and other commonalities that the business shares with the account, while account “attractiveness” refers to the amount of money at stake weighed against the logistical pain points in the account’s decision-making processes.


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