The Prophets of Profit: Predictions for ABM Success in 2021

It’s the time of year again where we reflect on the year’s events and accomplishments and predict what is to come.

But this year is quite different than years past. And I wonder if anyone really wants to be in the predictions business after all the challenges we’ve had to confront in 2020. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all struggled a little, and we’ve learned a lot. But to succeed in B2B Sales and Marketing, we must keep up with the trends despite the unpredictability.

The truth is vision isn’t easy.

Many organizations let opportunities slip through their fingers, only to be caught playing catch-up to the quick, the decisive, the bold.

In this read, we’re going to make it easy to not let opportunity slip through our fingers in 2021. We engaged the top minds in B2B Sales and Marketing for their prescient understanding of two powerful questions:

What are your predictions for ABM in 2021?
What is your best advice for people to succeed with ABM in 2021?

Following is a glimpse into the future and a chance at greatness. It’s the best counsel and convictions from what I call the “Prophets of Profit.”

So, without further ado, here’s the best advice for your ABM in 2021 …

Maneeza AminyManeeza Aminy

CEO at Marvel Marketers | LinkedIn

My predictions for ABM in 2021 …

Going into 2021, the need for surgical precision in personalization is going to continue to be a forcing agent in any good ABM strategy.

Folks are going to focus on optimizing existing tools and platforms. There will be more of an interest in platforms versus one-off tools. Integration of these technologies will be key. Industry leaders and alliances will continue to solidify against the momentum of activity that started in 2020.

My advice for people to succeed in ABM in 2021 …

My advice: Direct Mail experiences are where to place your bets.

Companies will need to fight the 2020 digital exhaustion factor. The easiest way to do that quickly is to craft physical experiences that are sent to homes. To replace the lost in-person opportunities that once existed for consumers to interact with your brands.

I think there is so much opportunity here but it is an art and a science and needs focused attention. (Tag me if you have done anything exceptional.) A few ideas for folks to try: tactile marketing automation coined by our friends PFL, physical direct mail accompanying video calls like that of Demandbase’s great launch party, and video challenges like we did here internally Marvel Marketers.

Pieter De TemmermanPieter De Temmerman

COO at LiveRamp B2B  |  LinkedIn

My predictions for ABM in 2021 …

Personalized and contextual customer experiences will fuel Account-Based Marketing success.

Much like the broader digital experience—think streaming services, e-commerce, and B2C marketing—a commitment to the customer experience will go a long way in achieving ABM success.

The notion of ABM as a novel concept is outdated as it is clear that many organizations are embracing it as a mainstream strategy to establish and grow revenue relationships with specific accounts. This will only continue into the new year as a thoughtfully designed experience throughout the entire buying journey has shown to contribute to higher conversion rates, larger average deal sizes, and increased revenue.

Investment in B2B measurement solutions will increase.

ABM, in theory, is a simple strategy that relies on sophisticated processes and technologies to execute. However, as ABM leans into a customer-centric approach, there is a real absence of measurement capabilities to determine impact and engagement. Investing in B2B measurement solutions not only fills the tactical gaps in a traditional ABM platform-only approach but can, bigger picture, yield better-qualified leads and better articulate the value of an ABM program.

 Randy Frisch

CMO at Uberflip | LinkedIn

My predictions for ABM in 2021 …

Marketers will redefine personalization by going beyond, and they’ll embrace guiding prospects and customers through their self-guided research with relevance.

We’ve all heard the analogy that in Account-Based Marketing we are fishing with a spear rather than a net. Our goal is to target the right buyers rather than scooping up distractions and expenses along the way. Building off this analogy, our spear will attract the right fish when we use bait at the tip that they crave. Knowing the fish’s name won’t do much when everyone is calling them through channels like email, ads, social, direct mail, and more. When this happens, the buyer gets overwhelmed and, like a fish, will likely swim away to try and assess what they really want. We need to put the right food—or in actual terms— the right content in front of our buyers.

Where customers really want help from companies is in solving their problems.

A jarring stat in The Experience Disconnect, 2021 B2B Marketing Report was seeing that where customers really want help from companies is in solving their problems. Yet we feed them merged contact fields for personalization and feel we’re in line. As marketers, we have been told that knowing the customer is key to trust and progression in a buyer’s journey. The problem is we get caught up in using known first-party data and simply personalizing by merging fields like name, company, and industry. This helps but it’s table stakes. When we can actually show customers the right content highlighting the insights they need to do their job we become truly aligned and brand of choice.

My advice for people to succeed in ABM in 2021 …

Realize the pandemic has put a new value on how quickly marketers adapt and respond to their customers with relevant campaigns and content.

The need to adapt will continue to be a top priority in 2021 and marketers must invest in methods and revenue streams that promote agility.

In the summer of 2020, PwC launched a report outlining the ways in which companies were adapting their go-to-market strategies to compete through the pandemic. The top four areas to adjust included changing products or services (63%), pricing strategies, distribution channels, and customer segments.

Marketers need to be nimble and adapt.

To make a shift in any or many of these pillars, marketers needed to be nimble and able to adapt. Over the duration of 2020, I spoke with many marketers who tackled this impressively.

Marketers at 3M had to guide how to use PPE in new ways in moments of crisis. Marketers at Wiley got to respond to heightened demand for eLearning. Teams at healthcare companies like Medtronic had to find ways to train field teams remotely when they were locked out of hospitals. And teams like those at Navis, a hospitality SaaS, had to reinvent themselves by selling into previously unchartered industries like travel.

Those who resisted or took too long to change lost opportunities to grow or retain customers, while those who moved with speed saw strong finishes to an otherwise unpleasant 2020.

As we look forward to 2021, we are in for more change, whether it’s adapting back to our old world or to one that, I hope, at least sits in between. Either way, marketers have learned that the need to change our GTM means we need to be armed to adapt our messaging in minutes not months. This means we need the right tech and strategies.

Marketers highly embraced strategies like ABM, which foster a more personalized approach to win targeted deals hand-in-hand with Sales. The key for Marketing and Sales alignment is the ability to spin up the right content, for the right buyer and the right time. We have heard this to be a challenge for years. But now, with a changing world, the ability to adapt is key to winning like never before.

Dan FrohnenDan Frohnen

Chief Marketing Officer at Sendoso | LinkedIn

My predictions for ABM in 2021 …

ABM in 2021 is the year of experiences and creativity.

We have spent many years in the ABM space figuring out orchestration, both in terms of the tech we use as well as with our teams. With that out of the way, we are now finally free to focus on what matters the most: the intended recipient of our ABM. With so much changing with remote work and field/events/business travel not happening at scale, we can use ABM as our superpower to provide our audiences with amazing customer journey experiences that are highly creative and crafted just for them.

My advice for people to succeed in ABM in 2021 …

If you want to succeed in ABM in 2021, make it central to your go-to-market strategy.

Don’t think of ABM as a marketing tactic. It has truly evolved past that and is now the approach that must be adopted by, not only marketing, but by SDRs, Sales, and Customer Success.

Justin GrayJustin Gray

CEO at LeadMD | LinkedIn

My predictions for ABM in 2021 …

ABM will finally transcend Sales and Marketing to embrace what it has always been: an organizational mentality.

Regardless of ABM’s flavor, personalization at scale is on the low end of the spectrum and a deep buyer relationship is at the high end. Architectures like customer data platforms—where a truly complete understanding of the buyer is assembled—will bulldoze the departmental data silos that exist currently.

My advice for people to succeed in ABM in 2021 …

Look to the lessons learned in 2020 as a result of COVID and apply those principles proactively and consistently.

Organizations that truly knew their customer, the customer’s goals, and how the solution they provided was expected to influence and achieve those goals—won. Those orgs were able to understand the client’s existing perception of their mission criticality because they had been measuring the strength of their customer relationships based upon their impact and not some superficial usage level metric.

With that knowledge, they were able to understand how they could meaningfully expand that customer relationship because of their proximity to customer value. Do that.

Matt Heinz

President at Heinz Marketing | LinkedIn

My predictions for ABM in 2021 …

We’ll stop calling it ABM!

We do ourselves and our companies a disservice when we imply that this is a marketing initiative. As Craig Rosenberg said last year, this is a culture change, not a campaign. The entire customer-facing organization needs to have an account orientation to make the program and culture change successful.

My advice for people to succeed in ABM in 2021 …

Focus on up-front and ongoing strategic AND operational alignment between Sales, Marketing, and Account Management.

This means strategic alignment around objectives, target account criteria, etc. as well as operational alignment on what that means for Tuesday morning—roles and responsibilities, workflows, and more.

Megan HeuerMegan Heuer

Managing Director at Winning by Design | LinkedIn

My predictions for ABM in 2021 …

2021 is the year ABM and PLG get together.

This year is about knowing the truth of your customer’s experience and the economics of what it takes to deliver impact, then optimizing revenue team contributions inside that experience.

We’ll see investment in real customer marketing, not just cross- or upsell. Marketing will shift from putting all attention on top-of-funnel and Sales support to balancing it with enabling customer success support and account manager enablement. And they’ll adapt measurement to reflect that new charter.

Marketing will up its game to deliver both basic value and unexpected joy. We’ll also see a convergence of ABM constructs with product-led growth (PLG), where great in-product experience and individual advocacy are coupled with the ability to win and grow enterprise relationships.

ABM and PLG are a match made in B2B heaven, we just have to help them get together.

My advice for people to succeed in ABM in 2021 …

Companies that deliver the most marketing impact in 2021 will be those who do a great job on the basics.

Get the right go-to-market model in place based on who buys from you, what you’re selling, and how it’s bought and used by your customers.

Make sure Marketing, Sales, and Customer Success all agree on GTM and know what to do to optimize it. Do the math to estimate the lifetime value of new and current customers and where specifically you have room to grow. Use data to know who’s actually in-market now vs. those you’ll need to develop or win over.

But most of all, winning marketers in 2021 will be human, kind, fair, and helpful. That’s what we all need now and forever.

Shari JohnstonShari Johnston

Partner at Winning by Design | LinkedIn

My predictions for ABM in 2021 …

Account-based will truly start to shift from a “Marketing” initiative to a true go-to-market strategy aligning sales and marketing around a unified model.

In 2021, I anticipate a substantial increase in account-based strategy projects initiated by CROs and CEOs. Account-based grew up as a marketing technology play, and while that is still a strong factor, to truly gain the benefits the strategy brings, companies need to also have teams aligned around a unified target account list, orchestration method, and KPI structure to succeed.

This is starting to be recognized as more exposure has been given by leadership teams on the strong results seen by implementing an account-based approach such as increasing ACV, shortening sales cycles, and improving conversion throughout the buying process.

My advice for people to succeed in ABM in 2021 …

Companies that are thriving in this new remote world are those who are adapting to digital quickly.

As more and more companies understand how their buyers are buying, those that are nimble, creative, and customer-centric are gaining a competitive advantage. I’d recommend companies ensure their teams are supported with the skills, training, and tools to support digital selling and asynchronous remote selling.

For example, field teams that are now skilled at adapting formerly in-person events into engaging remote events are thriving, while those that are not skilled in making this migration are struggling. Sales teams who understand how asynchronous selling can help improve conversion and decrease sales cycles are gaining ground. There is an opportunity in 2021 to embrace the digital environment and succeed.

Rob LeavittRob Leavitt

Senior VP of Consulting at ITSMA | LinkedIn

My predictions for ABM in 2021 …

A greater focus is placed on blended and hybrid strategies.

ABM was already a priority B2B strategy when this crazy year began. It became even more important amid the disruptions of 2020 as marketers doubled down on growing and reinforcing relationships with their most important accounts. The recent rise of ABM, however, has inspired an incredible diversity of approaches. What marketers call “ABM” today varies tremendously with different business objectives and different approaches to account coverage, cross-business collaboration, tools, and tactics.

Because ABM is still new for most practitioners, it’s not surprising that most programs rely on just one main approach: one-to-one, one-to-few, or one-to-many. But the most effective and mature programs have developed blended strategies with two or three types of ABM to provide both depth and breadth of account coverage.

Looking ahead, I think we’ll see a growing focus on these blended or hybrid strategies, with one-to-one for top-tier accounts and then lighter touch approaches to enable broader coverage with still personalized programs. It’s more complex, but the proven benefits of all three types make it well worth the investment.

My advice for people to succeed in ABM in 2021 …

At the risk of overload, I think ABM leaders have five priorities for ensuring maximum impact in 2021.

These come right from the ITSMA-ABMLA 2020 Benchmark Study:

  1. Accelerate agile: If 2020 showed us anything, it’s that the best-laid plans can go out the window in an instant. The better we get at speed and adaptability, the more likely we’ll win amid constant uncertainty and change
  2. Deepen account insight: This has always been an ABM priority. But the pace of change and scope of uncertainly puts an even greater premium on keeping up with the shifting priorities and situations of our target accounts.
  3. Strengthen Sales collaboration: It’s another core principle for ABM, but even the best programs have work to do in solidifying ongoing, end-to-end collaboration with Sales, especially given the radical disruptions in how sellers now sell.
  4. Build a blended strategy: Most programs rely on just one type of ABM: ne-to-one, one-to-few, or one-to-many. But the most effective programs appreciate that balancing breadth and depth of account coverage is the best approach for optimal ROI.
  5. Invest in metrics: Demonstrating quantifiable business impact remains the top ABM challenge; creating simple but strategic dashboards focused on the three R’s: Reputation, Relationships, and Revenue is the most compelling approach.

Tyler LessardTyler Lessard

VP of Marketing and Chief Video Strategist at Vidyard | LinkedIn

My predictions for ABM in 2021 …

Mere mortals will be able to design, implement, and execute their own scaleable ABM campaigns!

Thanks to the evolution in ABM tech, as well as new cross-product integrations, many demand gen marketers will start building and scaling their own ABM programs that incorporate first-party and third-party intent signals, account-based advertising, retargeting, direct mail, and one-to-one engagement by account reps via email, social, and personalized videos. And as a result, ABM will now become an integrated part of B2B marketing programs as opposed to a siloed tactic run by “that person over there.”

My advice for people to succeed in ABM in 2021 …

To learn how to scale your ABM campaigns beyond your Top 100 list.

The promise of ABM is not just to target key accounts, but to target any business within your ICP that is showing interest or intent. Careful planning, close collaboration between Marketing and Sales, and ABM automation tech will be key to making this a reality in your own business.

Kathy Macchi

Vice President of Consulting Services at Inverta | LinkedIn

My predictions for ABM in 2021 …

Expansion plays become more popular, and this will necessitate an even tighter and more productive synergy between Sales and Marketing.

Marketing will work harder to craft the narrative of a solution, and Sales will bring that story to market through highly precise cross-selling activity. Exposing the need beyond the initial point of entry into an account will deepen the value of the account, and create a stronger relationship between customer and organization.

My advice for people to succeed in ABM in 2021 …

Think about how traditional demand creation and Account-Based Marketing activities along a demand continuum can work together toward a revenue goal.

There’s no need to choose one path or another, but rather, focus on a well-rounded portfolio of activities that all contribute to the bottom line.

Jon MillerJon Miller

Chief Product Officer at Demandbase | LinkedIn

ABM is a powerful strategy since it lets us focus our time and resources on specific lists of valuable accounts. But for all its benefits, ABM is not perfect. To engage these great qualified companies, we need to reach out to them regardless of whether they show any interest. In this form, ABM doesn’t deliver what Sales teams need the most: hot opportunities they can follow-up on right now. And this form of ABM also requires a lot of work, making it hard to scale.

My predictions for ABM in 2021 …

We will see a new form of marketing emerge, one that combines the engageability of inbound marketing with the precision and targeting of ABM and the scale of marketing automation.

ABM will use AI to identify the best accounts, intent data to predict which are in-market, and automation to orchestrate the right interaction across sales and marketing channels for each stage of the account journey. It’s the next new thing—what should we call it?

Craig RosenbergCraig Rosenberg

Co-founder and Chief Analyst at TOPO | LinkedIn

My predictions for ABM in 2021 …

Business will be unpredictable.

No one can really see past 60 to 90 days (and that is probably being generous). This uncertainty should persist in 2021. As a matter of fact, many organizations have actually done quite well during the pandemic (particularly in software). But, to tell the truth, they were surprised. This unpredictability will have an effect on ABM and demand/revenue in general.

My advice for people to succeed in ABM in 2021 …

Build your account-based infrastructure to be fast and flexible.

If you don’t know what will happen next, you want your programs to be flexible to avoid pitfalls and take advantage of opportunities. Data is the key. IT has always been the key, but now we need to decide fast, operationalize fast, and pivot fast. For example, we have seen a much more fluid target account list. Organizations see opportunities in the data (e.g., a spike in intent from a company type or industry) and adjust their targets immediately.

Operationalize new targets immediately, and measure and change if necessary quickly. That’s the new game.

John Ruso PhotoJon Russo

CMO and Founder at B2B Fusion | LinkedIn

My predictions for ABM in 2021 …

ABM measurement takes center stage.

People will realize the need for one source of truth: one funnel in Salesforce.com that encompasses legacy lead generation approaches with ABM. Operationalizing a one funnel approach (also known by other firms as a “dual funnel”) will unify Sales and Marketing efforts around the marketing-qualified lead and will help companies drive more revenue faster than ever before. Easy to say, challenging to do, but doable.

My advice for people to succeed in ABM in 2021 …

Understand ABM is a process of continuous improvement.

Baseline the starting point to identify people, process, and technology gaps. Create a plan, then illustrate progress towards your ABM initiatives from this baseline. And though it may sound self-serving, when in doubt, hire experienced outside help to accelerate the progress.

Crave more insights? Here are resources that might be right up your alley:

 

Thought Leader, B2B Marketing & Sales Strategy

I possess extensive experience helping organizations create and orchestrate strategic programs that help to retain customers and power sales execution. I'm passionate about the intersection between tech and psychology, especially as it applies to growing businesses. I enjoy reading, playing hockey, and most outdoor sports. Check me out on twitter @brandon_lee_09 or connect with me on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/brandonredlinger/.