Account-Based Marketing (ABM) technology is hot. Not Roman-candle hot, which tends to burn brightly and quickly. It’s more along the lines of hydrogen-fusion hot: It burns for a long time.
When people ask me if ABM is just a passing fad that will never make it fully through the “hype cycle,” I just comment that B2B marketers are not going to wake up tomorrow saying “You know, maybe targeting our most important accounts isn’t such a good idea.”
Just last month, independent research firm Forrester released their latest New Wave ABM Platform report, which offered a comprehensive look at all the significant ABM technology vendors in the space. And, while I haven’t always agreed with the findings in some Wave reports, I have to say that they really got this one right.
This report is exciting for several reasons. First and foremost, it officially cements ABM as a full-fledged technology category. Second, it opens up a whole new world for B2B marketers looking to invest in ABM. Waves and Magic Quadrants validate the decisions of early adopters, and they also signal to later adopters that it’s safe to start onboarding the technology.
As of now, marketers have more choices than ever when it comes to choosing the right ABM vendor. However, while more choices are great, it also means that investing in ABM tech has gotten a whole lot more difficult.
If you’re shopping around for ABM technology or just starting the conversation, here are a few questions to keep in mind as you evaluate vendors:
1. Does the vendor centralize your existing data sources in one location?
One of B2B marketers’ biggest pain points is the difficulty of centralizing their many existing data sources. Without a common data model, it becomes increasingly difficult, if not nearly impossible, to actually make use of all the data we have at our disposal.
A strong ABM platform should give you the opportunity to access your data in a single location that brings together information from your CRM (customer relationship management) system, your Marketing Automation System (MAS), your advertising data and your website analytics.
2. Does the vendor identify accounts based on a variety of data, including firmographic, behavioral and intent signals?
Having an understanding of firmographic data — things like industry, geography, company size and so on — is quickly becoming table stakes. Nowadays, more and more ABM vendors are throwing intent data into the mix and offering B2B marketers a more holistic view into how their target accounts are behaving on and off their websites.
However, what’s most critical is how they combine that information and share the underlying data that’s driving the intent. Your vendor should offer true transparency into why and how the accounts that were chosen were chosen.
This will help you understand the early signs of intent in your target accounts and allow you to make smart, personalized decisions about what to do next.
3. Does the vendor provide organizational support to help you develop and evolve your ABM strategy?
Despite all the advances in ABM, only a handful of companies feel like they have their strategy wired. In fact, most are still developing their strategy or are in the early stages. They need help understanding “the how,” including the best practices, common challenges and mistakes to avoid.
Your ABM vendor should be a true support to you in developing your strategy. That doesn’t mean trying to convince you that your problem is a nail because they only sell hammers.
ABM is a business strategy, not a technology purchase. So supporting your ABM strategy often goes beyond consulting services — including educational opportunities, such as workshops, training sessions and ABM certifications, all tailored to fit the needs and sophistication of your team.
Or it could mean making their marketing team available on an ongoing basis so you can have those important marketer-to-marketer conversations.
4. Does the vendor run advertising campaigns that target key accounts and buying committees within those accounts?
The ability to target at the account level is a common capability for ABM vendors. But what separates great ABM platforms from the rest of the pack is the ability to capture all three tiers of targeting — the company level, the buying committee level and the individual level — and combine them.
The challenge with targeting at the buying committee level is that the buying committee is by nature ad hoc and not determined by job title or function. Therefore, it’s essential that your ABM vendor can leverage behavioral and intent data to identify the buying committee within your target accounts.
Behavioral and intent data can uncover signs of interest and intent in the individuals that make up the buying committee, based on what they’re reading and writing about across the broader internet, providing you with a better way to reach the right folks at the right time.
5. Does the vendor let you build customizable, personalized experiences for known and unknown visitors?
At this point, most marketers have bought into the importance of personalization. However, when it comes to actually delivering personalized experiences, many limit themselves to email.
Your ABM vendor should give you the ability to extend your personalization efforts to your website and create dynamic experiences for all your website visitors, including known and unknown visitors.
In addition to the technology element, your vendor should also be able to provide you with best practices, quick wins and tailored recommendations for your own B2B website.
6. Does the vendor deliver sales insights in real time or close to real time?
Your vendor should be able to deliver true insights that are relevant to your sales team’s outreach efforts and deliver them across a variety of channels that your sales team wants, including email, your CRM system and other collaboration tools, such as Slack.
7. Does the vendor offer a comprehensive ABM platform?
A lot of vendors out there will deliver insights and identify accounts and individuals, but if they don’t natively have the ability to launch and measure ABM campaigns, it becomes really difficult for marketers to stitch together different platforms and solutions.
Likewise, there are plenty of solutions for website engagement, but very few of them offer a proprietary dataset that allows you to get the most out of your programs.
Your ideal ABM vendor should be able to bring together sophisticated data and the ability to launch and measure the effectiveness of your ABM programs, all in one platform.
ABM is booming. There is an increasing number of vendors out there, which is not only great for the category, but also for marketers.
However, what matters most is to have a strong understanding of your own ABM strategy. Then you can partner with a company that can help you execute and grow as your strategy becomes more nuanced and sophisticated.