ABM experts, stop calling it programmatic ABM – it’s foundational ABM

By Ricky Abbott - 13th September 2017

Okay, so hand’s up – this is more of a rant than anything else. I’ve recently seen the rise of the terms ‘Programmatic ABM’, which refers to 1:many ABM, and ‘Strategic ABM’ for 1:1 programs. In reference to  the traditional triangle below, it’s presenting new terms for the top and middle.

I do understand why people are choosing different terms – they’re snappier. But, this vernacular seriously irks me, for a few reasons:

  • ABM is not a tactic

ABM by nature runs across all marketing disciplines; from content, creative, media, PR etc. It’s not a marketing discipline, rather a type of marketing. Programmatic refers to a tactical way of buying media (or the digitising of a set of processes). So by labelling 1:many as programmatic, you can confuse marketers. Making them believe that this type of ABM is heavily ad-display based, which is not true at all! If executed correctly, 1:many ABM will present the foundation blocks of your ABM journey and should be a multi-channel engagement program. Built out by persona and by stage of the buying cycle.

  • 1:many ABM is not and should never be automated

The term programmatic suggests that 1:many ABM should be automated. In theory (many years in the future) a lot of the activation around it may well be, but that will then be true for all layers of ABM. The strategic parts of ABM will always need to be well thought out, tailored to the audience and involve multiple stakeholders across the business. In fact, a lot of ABM dashboards now automate reporting and analytics for campaigns. However, I’d still recommend every marketer interrogates these dashboards because, more often than not, the data visualisations may not be fit for purpose.

  • There is strategy in every layer of ABM

Whether you are doing 1:many or 1:1, every layer has strategy embedded within it. What changes is the volume, or amount of strategy that is involved. With 1:1 you are doing deep, account-level research and stakeholder mapping – to make your messaging and content as personalised as possible.

At the 1:many level you are building personas and content by stage of the buying cycle, looking at job-role level personalisation. However, the trick is in making the 1:many as personalised to YOUR list of accounts as possible and this is where 1:many can be very powerful.

  • Strategic or Programmatic ABM: which one would you pick?

So, let’s give you a choice. I’m going to show you two apples; one is called ‘Delicious Red’ and the other is called ‘Generic Red’, which one would you pick? Obvious choice, right? If you call one type of ABM ‘Strategic’, marketers are always going to gravitate towards that because that is what they understand ABM to be. And in almost all cases they are correct. Personally, I think experts that call 1:many ABM ‘Programmatic’ are doing so because they don’t truly understand the discipline, or think it’s completely automated in nature.

  • 1:many ABM should be the foundational blocks of your ABM journey

There has been a lot of noise around which type of ABM is the right ABM to start with and I think Pulse bucks the norm here. A lot of the noise in the market states 1:1 ABM as the right approach – and sometimes that may well be the case, especially if you are looking at upsell and cross sell for strategic accounts. But for most (in fact I’d argue for all) moving from a demand generation to a 1:many ABM model is a real struggle.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, they can be the same thing, only difference being that 1:many is far more personalised to personas and their relevant stage of the buying cycle. If done correctly, it can provide the basic foundations for your ABM programs. So when you run a 1:1 ABM program you have air cover, with content for all the influencers, as well as those key decision makers at the top of the organisation through your custom content from your 1:1 ABM program.

This is often a big failure of the 1:1 ABM programs I have seen in the market; they only ever focus on the 5 or 10 key decision makers, who are inundated with messages from competitors and every other company trying to sell them something.

Look, I’m not completely dismissing programmatic ABM. We have clients that call it that and whilst I don’t feel it’s the right description, it doesn’t matter too much – so long as they understand it’s much more than just a tactic. However, for any marketers that are right at the start of their journey, the term ‘Programmatic ABM’ could be very misleading. So please, for the love of god, let’s try and invent a better term?! How about ‘Foundational ABM’.

Ricky Abbott

President, Americas, Transmission

Category: Insight



  1. Lilia Haase 19/09/2017

    Finally someone said it !!!

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