What is ABX, and why should B2B companies care?

buyer group size based on complexity and risk

Increasing numbers of B2B companies have adopted account-based marketing (ABM) techniques in recent years. To generate leads, enhance their reputations, and add more customers. Marketing and sales have often been highly suspicious of each other. It’s easy to see why. From the salesperson’s perspective, they don’t trust the quality of ‘leads’ thrown over the fence to them. From the marketer’s viewpoint, sales are picky and can’t be trusted to follow up. Yet, in B2C environments, retailers, CPG companies, and the like rely heavily on marketing to drive sales. So what is the problem? Why can’t B2B companies follow suit? 

ABM to the rescue 

Founded in the mid-1990s, the IT Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) attempted to tackle some of the challenges that classic marketing approaches failed to address. B2B companies were heavily reliant on face-to-face prospecting and selling. Marketing typically provided a thin wisp of air cover, but sales relied on their own initiatives and relationships to find opportunities and drive sales. I know because back then, I was in the middle years of a career at IBM, which started in sales and then shifted to marketing – poacher turned game-keeper, almost literally. 

I wasn’t aware of ITSMA back then, which is a shame, as out of their collaboration, account-based marketing (ABM) was born. The main difference between ABM and traditional marketing was its attempt to bring Peppers and Rogers 1:1 principles to B2B, and forge closer collaboration between marketing and sales, by treating each account as a market in its own right. Several decades later and we now have not just ABM theory to guide us but a raft of ABM vendors with supporting technologies to provide the tools. Several of these vendors came together as the ABM Leadership Alliance to identify and develop the ideal ABM technology stack. Current members include Demandbase (download the full report by clicking on the link below) – one of the most advanced ABM vendors with a comprehensive array of technologies supporting all advertising and marketing activities and effective collaboration between marketing and sales. Most of the others are ecosystem specialists, providing tech tools for things like conversational marketing (Drift), webinar platforms (On24), data providers (LeanData), and several others. 

B2B buying is not just B2C in slow-motion

Commodity sales are not dissimilar to B2C, but the biggest prize goes to B2B companies selling high-value products, solutions, and services.

In recent years account-based marketing (ABM) has gone mainstream in B2B enterprises as a more reliable contributor to growth compared with traditional blunderbuss marketing campaigns. There is abundant evidence to support its impact. The latest benchmarking survey from ITSMA and the ABM Leadership Alliance, published in November 2020, revealed that 76% of 168 B2B enterprises experienced higher returns than traditional ad hoc marketing campaigns. 

The Covid-19 pandemic massively disrupted B2B selling, especially in high-value sales environments typically relying on face-to-face selling. Exhibitions and corporate events have also been decimated, placing a premium on digital marketing and selling capabilities. 

However, the biggest issue is not so much reaching customers and prospects but orchestrating and sequencing marketing and sales activities in line with customer behaviors and the many individuals playing various roles along their buying journeys.  Get it wrong, and potential opportunities will be missed, campaign budgets wasted, and the firm’s reputation damaged. 

ABX offers the promise to overcome this significant obstacle to successful ABM. 

This report examines what is meant by ABX, championed by Demandbase, and takes a look under the covers of Demandbase One and the future of ABX. 

Download the report