There has been a lot of noise around the topic of account based marketing (ABM), and you would be forgiven for thinking it is the new kid on the block.

In fact, ABM isn’t new. It’s something sales led organisations have been doing for a while. But what’s new is the vision of the new possible, created in part by Marketo, Eloqua, LinkedIn et al.

OgilvyOne Business recently hosted a roundtable on the topic. Here, we take a look at some of the key discussion points.

More noise than action?

Whilst there is a lot of noise around ABM, there aren’t many visible examples of who is doing it well, and as Frederik Borestrom from Linkedin and Michael Wrigley from Verticurl respectively pointed out, many brands are doing bits of ABM but no one is doing it end to end. There are pockets of excellence, but they are definitely pockets for reasons we will explore.

However, it does really depend upon exactly what you mean by ABM. This is where it gets tricky.

Degrees of complexity

Some organisations take a highly pragmatic view of it. For them, ABM is effectively marketing to your key accounts. Practically, this could mean the 10 key contacts in your top 10 accounts. This a pretty easy concept to get your head around. It’s email plus content plus invites to the big event.

Now pop along to the other end of the spectrum. You have 100 plus accounts, and analysis from a company like Unrival reveals that there are 200 to 300 potential contacts. You can segment audiences by interest, industry and job role for mapping content and communications programmes, as well as email and events you want to engage through social channels and programmatic media. Account based scoring is essential. And don’t forget the CRM system, or both of them. Data management. Personalisation. Behavioural segments. The list goes on. This is not something you can sketch out in your notepad.

All of the above probably explains why no one has done ABM end to end, and why some companies find it hard to initiate if they haven’t done so already.

Changing our understanding of the DMU

Max Painter from Unrival expanded on the changing nature of the data management unit (DMU), or more to the point, our changing understanding of what it is.

The idea of the four-person DMU, with sponsor, buyer, information gatherer and gatekeeper feels tired and dated. In truth, it was always a construction of convenience but now we have the data to illustrate an infinitely more complicated environment.

Strategy and focus before technology

So where does this leave us? The answer is probably missing the whole point of ABM.

Jason O’Brien, who looks after channel and ABM initiatives for OgilvyOne Business clients, said: “ABM should be a way of thinking; a strategy and a culture, not a technology solution”. And that is really the point. The purpose of ABM is to direct marketing resources to a) where they will get the biggest return and b) to support sales. That’s it. It’s difficult to disagree with.

But the critical thing is how you operationalise ABM – it needs to be a series of conscious decisions. So decide on which accounts you want to focus on. Decide to what extent ABM is about retention, account penetration, relationship building or acquisition. And decide how technology can support. But whatever you do, make sure they are decisions.


There are the obvious hurdles and questions around ownership of the strategy and return on marketing investment. They need to be addressed. It is safe to say your ABM strategy will only be as good as your data strategy. Note we didn’t say quality of data. The real challenge is maintaining data quality across multiple systems and coping with the data protectionism sales teams can sometimes be guilty of.

The data challenge was something Caroline Potter, Sabre, and Wendy Chew, CBRE, emphasised. In the real world, businesses have multiple systems and multiple data sources. Getting the data and quality management right is one of the biggest challenges.

Marketing sales gap

These last points slowly bring us to the age old issue of ‘closing the sales gap’. Everyone agreed that this is one of the benefits of adopting ABM, however there is still the question of ownership. Asking the agency experts who they target – sales or marketing – received the ‘it depends’ answer. It depends on who within the business sees the value and whether ABM is a sales support or a larger scale marketing exercise. It really comes down to what the business requires.

However, we should talk about marketing and sales overlap, not the gap. That makes you think about it a bit differently.

The role of the agency

With several agency people in the session we naturally got onto the topic of what the role of the agency is. And whilst it might pain a few people to hear this, the unanimous view was that the agency should never manage the ABM operation. If sales and marketing are going to overlap you can’t do that very well with an agency sitting in the middle.

A third party can help you strategise the solution, and help with content development and analytics, but they can’t run and manage ABM unless they are 100% dedicated and inside the business, in which case they aren’t an agency.

Talent management

Where is the expertise we require going to come from? Is ABM something we can expect marketers to specialise in, or will everyone become an ABM-er? If all B2B marketing will be ABM, there won’t be much difference.

ABM is part of the picture

It is easy to argue that ABM is just good old fashioned one-to-one marketing with added technology, and if you are a B2B marketer with finite budgets then it can be seen as the solution, maybe not tomorrow but relatively soon.

But there could be something we are missing, and that is the importance of marketing, and specifically communications, in creating stature for a brand. It is important to be seen. Whether targeted brand activity in social ticks that box remains to be seen. There is clearly a difference between the need for brand communications and the need for brand strategy.

This article was originally published in The Drum by James Myers.