2021: An ABM Year In Review

Between macro events, like supply chain snafus and the Great Resignation, and micro trends that have changed the way marketers think about what they do, 2021 was an eventful year for ABM. Despite the challenges and changes, the use of ABM and the ABM ecosystem as a whole grew and expanded during this past year. Talented B2B marketers and evolving platforms fueled this growth, overcoming challenges and making the best out of occasionally hairy situations.

2021: An ABM Year In Review

As we inch closer to New Year’s Eve, it's the perfect time to look at the trends, events, and forces that have shaped the ABM landscape this year in order to prepare for what’s next in 2022.

The Macros

Last year saw a whole host of transformational changes in the way we think about and do ABM. But before we get to that, let’s take a quick tour of the shifts that shaped our industry by changing the world we work in.

Digital Reigns Supreme

B2B marketers in 2021 faced a landscape with low consumer confidence, changing laws, and a shaken up physical commerce space.

What It Means For ABM Marketers: Online spending continued to outpace overall economic growth during the first half of 2021. And it’s not just goods — consumers are increasingly replacing in-person experiences and entertainment with digital alternatives, leading to huge growth in consumer subscription services. 

For ABM marketers, this means thousands of new buyers for B2B services. But engaging with these digital-native companies is going to require bringing your online A-game, not just recreating a trade-show booth or brochure on your website. Throughout 2021, the nature of ABM experiences shifted, and ABM marketers need to keep up with these shifts in order to remain top-of-mind for buyers. That means more microsites, more and more finely targeted messaging and content, and an overall more polished approach to marketing in general.

Supply-Chain Shutdown

For a whole lot of interconnected reasons, physical goods are not getting to consumers in a timely fashion, and therefore are costing significantly more.

What It Means For ABM marketers: Everything is delayed. This can manifest in longer sales cycles, more time between purchases, and longer wait times if you sell physical goods or rely on the transportation and logistics networks. 

Keeping potential customers engaged through these lengthened timelines will require rethinking touchpoints and timings. And once they’re engaged, there is a serious risk of sticker shock from increased prices that may need to be overcome. For ABM marketers, this means needing to  find ways to mitigate potential price shock while keeping customers engaged throughout the longer sales cycle. It also means needing to build flexibility into ABM programs, to deal with market uncertainties without needing to scrap existing work.

The Great Resignation

2021 saw unemployment drop to the lowest rate since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Paradoxically, it also saw tens of millions of employees simply giving up on their jobs and leaving in what has been termed the “Great Resignation.” The causes for the resignations are myriad and range from dissatisfaction with pay to concerns about COVID-19 exposure, but the result has been clear: It’s harder today to hire and keep employees than it has been during any other time in recent history.

What It Means For ABM: Building out your ABM team just got a lot more expensive — and tricky. However, there have never been more resources available for learning how to “do ABM,” many of which are free. This gives marketers a lot of opportunities to upskill themselves and their teams without bringing on dedicated resources. If hiring is a must, the RollWorks all-inclusive ABM Hiring Kit can give some pointers on how to find, interview, and entice new employees to join your team.

The ABM Industry

During any normal year, the changes ABM has gone through as a marketing discipline would have been considered monumental. Of course, this has been anything but a normal year, so some of these shifts may have gotten lost in the chaos. 

Fortunately, ABM thrives in exactly these kinds of situations. The last two years have seen phenomenal growth in adoption of ABM techniques and approaches, with some sources showing overall adoption rates growing from as low as 15% in 2020 to 70% or more in 2021. Adaptability and flexibility have always been core strengths of ABM, and those strengths were on full display this year.

Planning To Win

The maturing of ABM as a discipline has dramatically changed the way planning for ABM execution works. Ad-hoc processes and execution have given way to meticulous structure for companies winning at ABM. What’s more, an increasing number of companies are realizing the focus needs to shift from tactical execution to holistic preparation. 

What This Means For ABM: Marketers need to become intimately familiar with not just the tactics involved in marketing to accounts, but the full scope from theory to execution. Resources like the RollWorks ABM Planning Template can give marketers the tools and insights they need to run comprehensive ABM campaigns and plans, and elevate their account-based efforts to the next level.

Like with any mature marketing approach, it’s no longer enough to throw tactics at the wall to see what sticks — careful planning and a deliberate, thoughtful approach is what it took to succeed with ABM in 2021, and that will continue to be a requirement moving forward.

Who’s On First

In terms of preparing for maturation, audience planning has seen renewed focus in 2021. ABM leaders have emphasized the importance of drilling down on ICPs, beyond simply going with a rough outline, and the importance of a highly intentional, hyper-focused target account list (TAL) has become paramount. Long gone are the days of batching-and-blasting your entire total addressable market (TAM,) or filtering by surface-level metrics, like industry or company size, for one-size-fits-most campaigns.

What This Means For ABM: One of the upsides to slowdowns in supply chains is that some marketing teams may actually have a moment to stop, breathe, and recenter. Exceptional teams  used that time to zoom way in on their ICP and TAL to figure out exactly how they needed to proceed. 

This is going to be even more important in 2022 as companies continue to adopt ABM strategies and increase competition. Marketing teams that could use a hand might benefit from a look at the RollWorks Complete B2B Audience Building Workbook, which will help them figure out where they might have gaps and how to close them.

Drilling Down

This year, the idea of a single goal metric is out. Focusing on just one measure of success leaves companies vulnerable to competitors who take a more end-to-end view of ABM success. The reason is simple — tracking more intermediate metrics lets you see exactly where you need improvement and lets you react in real time without the data lag that comes with focusing only on revenue, or the incomplete picture of looking just at leads.

What This Means For ABM: Accounts travel through recognizable and clearly definable journeys on the way to becoming aware of your product and turning into a customer. These journeys have milestones, and being able to identify and measure these milestones gives marketers the ability to assess every step of their ABM program. 

RollWorks introduced Journey Events to help marketers track these through the platform, but even without this tool, future success relies on the ability to identify these intermediate metrics, set appropriate goals for them, and make sure the goals are being hit. Only by measuring and responding to these intermediate goals can an ABM program hope to keep up with rapidly changing markets and competitors.

2021 Numbers In Review 

While 45% of marketers report their organizations have fully integrated their traditional demand generation approaches with ABM, almost a quarter report they prioritize ABM over classical demand generation.

From their ABM efforts, 20% of marketers report they are getting best-in-class results, but a full 71% say they are seeing some success. Overall, an impressive 70% of marketers are now running ABM programs as part of their standard growth strategy.

And in more personal numbers, RollWorks customers saw fantastic results with ABM this year: Healthlink Dimensions and Acclaro recorded a 234% increase in new customer pipeline, Snapfulfil added 4,000 new leads, Goverlan saw a 15x ROI on their initial ABM investment, and Rural Sourcing dramatically improved their marketing/sales alignment.

These stats represent significant improvement and growth over 2020 figures, and really serve to highlight that 2021 was the year ABM came into its own. By 2022, we expect these numbers to climb even higher, and for companies that haven’t adopted ABM to be the rare exception.

What Does This Mean For ABM: If you haven’t started an ABM program yet, it’s time. If you have, it’s time to analyze your processes and make sure they’re firing on all cylinders. ABM is here, and it’s going to be the way most B2B companies acquire leads and make sales by this time next year.

About the Author

Victoria Holliday, Sr. Content & Brand


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