Technology Marketers Look to Account-Based Marketing to Preserve and Grow Their Customer Base

May 05, 2022

Contributor: Robert Snow

Account-based marketing (ABM) programs as increasingly seen as key to customer strategies. Tech CEOs can ensure the requisite alignment of sales and marketing.

ABM has become one of the most discussed and implemented marketing approaches among technology and service providers because of its ability to boost a host of key metrics. A recent Gartner survey shows why and how technology marketers leverage ABM for maximum effect.

Three-quarters of respondents to the 2021 Gartner Technology Marketing Benchmark Survey said their organization had an ABM function primarily centralized within marketing.

“In times of disruption, technology providers focus on safeguarding their existing customer base,” says Christy Uher Ferguson, VP Analyst at Gartner. “And 88% of survey respondents cited a customer-centric use case (renewal, upsell or cross-sell) in their top three ABM use cases.”

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How tech marketers can influence ABM success

One of the most important differences between ABM and traditional demand generation is around the roles of marketing and sales. In a demand generation program governed by a traditional sales and marketing funnel, there is a clear handoff between the two teams. That isn’t the case with ABM, as marketing stays involved for much longer, and sales gets involved much earlier. 

The tech CEO plays a critical role in making sure the chief marketing executive (CMO) and chief revenue (CRO) or sales (CSO) executive are equal partners in the ABM initiative from day 1 and throughout the prospect’s buying journey.

In the 2021 benchmarking survey, a significant number of technology marketers reported it was challenging to align with their sales departments. Close to a third of technology marketers cited “gaining sales buy-in” as one of three top challenges that hinder their ability to demonstrate success within their organization, while 10% identified it as their number one challenge.

Key Challenges for Tech Marketers in Demonstrating Success

The tech CEO can bolster this alignment by ensuring, for example:

  • Agreement about how accounts are selected, account plans are created, roles and responsibilities are tied to data entry, engagement will occur across the buying/sales cycle and success is defined.
  • Ongoing coordination.

Tech CEOs can leverage their centralized leadership structure to ensure ABM efficacy. Smaller organizations tend to have closer ties between sales and marketing with this type of leadership. Familiarizing sales and marketing with ABM practices while teams are still relatively small mitigates the scaled challenges and costs of change management a larger organization may encounter.

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ABM shifts to address key challenges faced by tech marketers

The number of marketing efforts used to support an ABM program has a clear impact on overall performance. Gartner research has shown that technology marketers continue to increase the number of engagement channels used with ABM programs. One of the likely reasons is the stability of sales pipeline lift, and Gartner expects to see ABM programs continue to improve, augmented by expanded ABM expertise and more personalization across marketing channels.

Marketers are likely to deploy ABM specifically to address two challenges in tech-product sales. 

No. 1: Expansion of customer-centric use cases in tech

When asked their main reasons to deploy ABM, 41% of survey respondents cited an existing customer use case as being most important, up sharply from 24% in 2020, and 88% put a customer-centric use case within their top three reasons. 

The shift to balance ABM programs between customers and prospects aligns to tech marketers' increased efforts to retain existing customers and expand share of wallet in land-and-expand models.

As a result, Gartner expects to see customer-centric use cases increase, particularly among nongrowth organizations (those with flat or declining revenues over the last 12 months) whose customer retention rates are significantly lower than those of growth organizations.

No. 2: Increased use of tech sales engagement channels

As ABM programs continue to evolve, Gartner is seeing increased use of sales-related channels. For example, survey respondents indicated significant increases in social media outreach through sales development reps and phone calls, as well as an increase in personalized emails.

Gartner expects to see customer success and marketing teams work together more closely, much like sales and marketing teams have done in prospect-focused ABM programs.

What’s next in the tech ABM journey?

As the popularity of ABM grows, Gartner expects to see other innovations including:

  • ABM centers of excellence (COEs) will likely provide best practices in digital marketing, personalization and program orchestration to support field marketing efforts. Additionally, COEs will help define governance policies across the business and audience data management processes.

  • Personalization of tech engagement channels. As ABM platforms continue to expand their functionality in sales attribution and predictive modeling, the focus will grow on personalizing content and calls-to-action in various engagement channels. This will require deeper situational awareness and understanding of the changing buyer landscape. For instance, new target roles may emerge that have not been included in the buying committee in the past. This will require technology marketers to build psychographic insights into their ABM programs to help ensure they reach these new roles.

In short:

  • Tech marketers increasingly see account-based marketing (ABM) as a key strategy for improving customer outcomes, including renewals, upselling and cross-selling.
  • Sales and marketing alignment is becoming a bigger challenge in demonstrating success; however, sales engagement channels, including social, phone and email outreach, have expanded in use to support ABM programs.
  • Future ABM strategies will drive customer-centric use cases, feature more sales engagement channels, and leverage centers of excellence and personalization.

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