The Evolution of ABM: 3 Forces Driving the Future of Marketing 

Keeping pace with today’s customer demands and competitive pressures requires an adaptable toolset and a compelling vision. By uniting the two, B2B marketers can transform a traditional account-based marketing strategy into a comprehensive go-to-market approach that can scale across an entire company.

When we decided to launch our ABM platform just under two years ago, we heard that buyers were frequently frustrated with existing ABM offerings, feeling they over-promised and under-delivered. Buyers wanted to easily and efficiently identify optimal companies and contacts, be able to engage with them across sales and marketing channels, and then measurably improve the outcomes of their account-based efforts. 

From a tools perspective, they were frequently confronted with bad data (including intent), high cost and time to set up and manage the platforms, poor integrations, and difficulty in seeing and proving ROI.

From a vision perspective, while marketers know the importance of account-based efforts, they frequently have struggled with scaling their programs and understanding their impact.

We’re very proud to say that ZoomInfo has been named a Visionary in the 2023 Gartner® Magic Quadrant™ for Account-Based Marketing for our Ability to Execute and Completeness of Vision.

As we race toward the end of Q4, it’s worth assessing the road ahead for ABM strategies and the people who drive them at today’s most innovative companies. Based on conversations and collaborations with executives at many of our 35,000+ customers, I recommend we reframe how we approach ABM around three pillars of growth: automated go-to-market plays, advanced forms of intent data, and alignment between sales and marketing. 

1. GTM Plays and Automation

Traditional ABM was focused on one-off static account lists, which were often different across sales and marketing, and required custom, human-intensive marketing activation. This normally meant significant go-to-market (GTM) efforts were focused on too few accounts and that mid-year changes in a few accounts, such as layoffs or strategic pivots, could significantly alter the growth potential of the ABM program. It also limited the scalability of ABM efforts.

We’re now seeing a shift toward data-driven and automated go-to-market plays, which are repeatable, scalable, and integrated campaigns across sales, marketing, and operations that drive commercial outcomes.

Data is the foundation of GTM plays, as teams create clear data-backed criteria for the accounts and individuals they want to target — their Ideal Customer Profile ( ICP). The criteria remain constant, but the accounts and individuals may shift over time depending on whether they meet that criteria.

Once you define your ICP and set up your plays, an individual play is then triggered based on high-value signals surfaced by your marketing platform. Importantly, that outreach is then personalized based on data, to make sure that they feel relevant and maximize conversion. 

What’s the difference? ABM is often focused on one-to-one or one-to-few campaign targets, meaning a marketer could spend an entire quarter targeting a single account and not drive much business growth. If you shift your perspective from the account to a specific play or set of plays that are personalized, you can start scaling an account-based approach that’s one-to-many and automatically executed — but still targeted.

For example, you may notice that personalized outreach after a key trigger, such as a prospect visiting a pricing page, has generated a lot of traction for your business in the past. 

However, relying on a marketer to immediately send a follow-up email every time a prospect visits your pricing page is impossible. With a tool like Workflows, you can automate both the campaign activity, such as an email, as well as the messaging, so it’s relevant to the pricing page. 

The best part is flexibility: you can launch any number of coordinated plays at any given time, depending on the complexity of your campaigns. Relying on automation and GTM plays also grants senior leadership more insight into which plays drive the most growth, so resources can be adjusted accordingly. 

2. Intent Data Takes Center Stage

Without a solid data foundation, account-based campaigns can’t reach their full potential. But according to Gartner, 40% of businesses actually struggle to gather account and contact data when running an ABM program.1 Investing in accurate data enables greater personalization, targeting, and effectiveness across the entire company. 

The influx of available data, particularly intent data, makes it easy for marketers to surface accounts for sales and marketing to target with greater confidence. Intent data increases the likelihood of finding companies and individuals who are likely to buy. 

In fact, a survey conducted by Bain & Co. and Google found that 80–90% of respondents have a “day 1 list” of vendors in mind before they do any research. Of that cohort, 90% will ultimately choose a vendor from the day-one list. So having accurate, real-time intent is critical to successful demand capture.

However, not all intent data is created equal. It’s critical to find a vendor that can provide real-time updates as part of their intent data offerings. ZoomInfo has been recognized by G2 as the #1 intent data provider for 13 straight quarters, a reflection of our heavy R&D investments. 

We urge customers to think about the types of intent data that can drive results in different ways:

  1. Derived intent signals are a mix of first-party and third-party signals. These offer insights into behaviors that indicate interest in a company, such as ad engagement, web activity, topic engagement, and technology use. This is how most people think about the market and the limit of what most vendors offer. It’s very valuable, but not as impactful as the next two.
  2. Known intent is what we like to think of as zero-party intent because it is sourced directly from companies. ZoomInfo partners with Qualtrics each year to survey tens of millions of business professionals, who are incentivized to share the key priorities, projects, and pain points at their companies.
  3. Champion moves are perhaps the most actionable form of intent data.  ZoomInfo identifies buyers and power users who have moved and can influence future sales. We track 20 million job changes each month.

Annual planning is a great opportunity to lean into intent data and better understand which accounts to target and the campaigns that were most successful from the previous year. You may be surprised to learn about new prospects in your TAM who are ready to buy.

3. Sales and Marketing Teams Maximize Alignment 

According to The Wall Street Journal, CMOs are disproportionately being hired for their expertise in performance marketing. I believe that the primary role of marketers is to drive growth, and as the role of marketing becomes more performance-driven, building and maintaining strong alignment with sales is critical.

That starts with a consistent data-backed view of the market, aligned goals and metrics, coordinated GTM Plays across channels, frequent touch points to understand performance, and a willingness to hold each other accountable. 

As part of our integrated GTM platform, we created Aircover to make sales and marketing alignment easy for our customers. Sales reps can simply add accounts to marketing campaigns at the right time to ensure the prospect is receiving consistent messaging across channels. This helps nurture the account and drives them down the funnel to convert. We’re also enabling customers to see which accounts are receiving outreach from sales, marketing, or both to support coordination.

The Future of ABM 

The growth that ZoomInfo has seen since launching a dedicated ABM platform two years ago is due in large part to feedback from our customers.

We built and launched ZoomInfo Marketing because a significant subset of our customers were largely taking advantage of our sales platform to support needs that weren’t being met by other providers in the ABM space. And today, I still run into marketing leaders who were oversold on the promise of ABM platforms that underperform. 

The truth of the matter is that traditional ABM methods alone are no longer realistic in the current market, with price pressures dragging out sales cycles and disruptive pressures from technological advancements like generative AI. 

Our vision is clear: The winners in this next phase will be the marketers who can build a near-seamless GTM engine that relies on multifaceted intent data and automated GTM plays to adapt to the next major shift the market throws at them. 

Gartner, Magic Quadrant for Account-Based Marketing Platforms, 30 October 2023. Gartner and Magic Quadrant are registered trademarks of Gartner, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the U.S. and internationally and are used herein with permission. All rights reserved. Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.

  1.   Gartner, Research Roundup: Account-Based Marketing, 10 August 2022 ↩︎