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Is ABM at an inflexion point?

Published November 8, 2023

Mathematics has never been my strongest subject. I was never the first person in the class to answer a mathematical problem, but I loved the beauty of the solution once I found it. I was particularly fond of statistics, as my brain relishes patterns. Perhaps that’s why I’ve become so obsessed with the patterns created by the fractal 80/20 rule recently, and how it applies to B2B businesses and growth.

Another concept borrowed from mathematics that caught my attention is the inflexion point. It denotes the point on a curve at which the curvature changes sign. In business and other contexts, it refers to the critical moment when a significant change occurs, often leading to a substantial and usually irreversible shift in trajectory or behaviour. I liked that concept so much that I named my business after it.

An inflexion point often marks the start of a new phase of development, such as the agricultural revolution (around 10,000 BCE), the fall of the Roman Empire (5th century), and the industrial revolution (18th–19th century). Slightly closer to home, inflexion points in marketing include the birth of mass advertising (late 19th century), the introduction of TV advertising (1940s), the rise of digital marketing (1990s), and the social media explosion (2000s).

For us B2B marketers, I would like to add the development of ABM (also 2000s), which Professor Malcolm McDonald famously called a ‘paradigm shift in marketing.’ While the first ten years of ABM were about spreading the word and honing mostly strategic or 1-1 ABM, the next ten years saw an explosion of adoption, mostly driven by advancements in marketing technology and predominantly focused on programmatic ABM, or 1-many. This explosion of interest shows no sign of waning, as evidenced by the 500 people attending B2B Marketing’s Global ABM Conference in London last week.

But so far, we have never solved the dilemma at the core of this most powerful B2B marketing approach: strategic ABM delivers a higher ROI than any other type of ABM or marketing, but to try and scale it without extra budget or resource is to lose its power and weaken its impact. The only way to scale strategic ABM has always been by adding more ABM-ers and increasing marketing investment.

Artificial Intelligence is changing all that. AI has introduced new capabilities in analysis (enabling account segmentation, prioritisation and understanding, and stakeholder profiling) and creativity (such as for design inspiration, content generation, personalised visuals, data visualisations, and interactive experiences). As my co-presenter at last week’s conference, Jaspreet Bindra, says, “AI will change the way we work. Even the productivity tools we use every day, such as Microsoft Teams, are incorporating AI to allow us to summarise meetings in seconds, so that we can get on with the actions not the write up.”

This all adds up to us being able to do more. Think of AI as your analytical and creative assistants. How much more can you get done with these assistants on your team? My own experience suggests nearly twice as much, so far.

So, we may well be at an inflexion point in ABM, driven by AI finally helping us to scale strategic ABM. For CMOs and ABM programme leaders, it’s time to reassess your ABM coverage model for your most important accounts (back to the 80/20 rule). For individual ABM-ers, the AI bandwagon is rolling — it’s time to get on board, experiment, and learn new skills.

Back to my fascination with maths. Guess what one of the founders of the discipline, John McCarthy, originally called AI? Applied Statistics! I’ll be writing more about ABM and AI in the coming weeks as we see how this particular inflexion point plays out.

Bev Burgess

Bev Burgess

Bev is passionate about the critical role marketing can play in accelerating business growth. She is best known as a worldwide authority on Account-Based Marketing (ABM). Bev is co-author of A Practitioner’s Guide to ABM: Accelerating Growth in Strategic Accounts (Kogan Page, 2021); author of Executive Engagement Strategies (Kogan Page, 2020) and co-author of Account-based Growth: Unlocking sustainable value through extraordinary customer focus (Kogan Page, 2022).

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