Why 2021 is the year of the account


30-second summary:

  • The last year taught us we need to be prepared for the unexpected. This is why embracing an account-based go-to-market (GTM) strategy has never been more important.
  • The 2020 ABM Benchmark study reaffirmed ABM’s impact on business outcomes, with organizations seeing measurable improvements in relationships (71%), revenue (55%) and reputation/brand (34%).
  • Organizations need to see results, and fast, which is why top planned investments for 2021 include ABM platforms, attribution and reporting, intent, direct mail, content syndication, third party data and events.
  • The secret to account-based success in 2021 hinges on five things: marketing and sales alignment; the blending of one-to-one, one-to-few, or one-to-many strategies;  focusing on the three R’s – revenue, relationships and reputation; the ability to be agile; and prioritizing account-level research.

Whether you call it Account-Based Marketing (ABM), Account-Based Experience (ABX), or something else, those of us who understand the value of an account-based go-to-market strategy believe every year should be the year of the Account.

Some have been slower to adopt this powerful strategy, but 2020 forced everyone, including those who were lagging, to rethink their methods. The result is that 2021 is in position to be the year that all B2B marketers embrace an account-based approach.

Part of the reason behind this is that 30% of marketers experienced negative changes to their budgets in 2020 (according to the latest research study from the ABM Leadership Alliance).

So marketers had to figure out how to do more with less. Considering that 75% of marketers surveyed reported seeing higher ROI with ABM than with other types of marketing, going account-based became the natural choice.

There’s no sign of slowing down, as survey participants indicated that an average of 27% of their 2021 marketing budgets is earmarked for ABM.

So whether you’ve already been an Account believer for years, or are among the group that is just now seeing the light, you’re in good company. Here’s why this year is the year of Account, and how to make the most of it.

The year of improved outcomes and ROI

The year 2020 showed us how swiftly extreme damage and loss can happen and, if there’s one lesson we’ve learned, it’s that we need to be prepared for whatever comes next. This is why embracing an account-based go-to-market (GTM) strategy has never been more important (or pressing) than it is right now.

Marketers no longer have the luxury of time to drag their heels as they consider taking the leap, held back by the fear and discomfort of change. Organizations need results now; which means marketers need to deliver them… now.

The good news is that this is possible — and accessible.

In fact, the 2020 ABM Benchmark study reaffirmed account-based marketing’s impact on business outcomes, with organizations seeing measurable improvements in the following areas: relationships (71%), revenue (55%) and reputation/brand (34%).

If you’re under pressure to perform like never before, you need to double down on accounts like never before.

The other piece of the puzzle that’s making 2021 the year of the Account is technology.

The study found that most companies are still early in leveraging specialized tools to support their programs, but they intend to become more mature with this in 2021. Top planned investments for the year include ABM platforms, attribution and reporting, intent, direct mail, content syndication, third party data and events.

If you look back at the progression of Marketing Automation (MA) tools like Marketo (which I co-founded in 2006), the progression of ABM platforms is mirroring it.

Although account-based strategies have been growing in prominence for many years, ABM platforms were a “nice to have” technology investment until recently.

Now, in 2021, they’re making their mark as a “must have,” just as Marketing Automation did years ago. There’s no doubt that this is the time for ABM platforms, as the technology has finally come together to deliver everything customers need in the right way at the right time.

Secrets to account-based success

The ABM Leadership Alliance study uncovered a lot of insights about how companies can get the most from their account-based strategy in 2021. Here are the highlights, so you can identify which areas in your own organization need the most attention.

1) Work synergistically with sales

Sales and marketing alignment has been a hot topic for a while now, and for good reason. The better aligned the two departments, the more successful the revenue engine — and this is the same with account-based programs.

The research found that the most effective programs were handled by marketers who worked the most closely with sales. Coincidence? Not at all.

2) Blend your strategy

Most organizations that are just beginning start with a single style, whether that’s one-to-one, one-to-few, or one-to-many.

However, the study’s findings show that the most successful programs employ more than one of these strategies, with 20% of the highest yielding programs using all three.

This year, 48% of marketers plan to adopt a blended approach with at least two styles, which means that marketers have deepened their understanding and are moving forward more effectively.

3) Refocus on the right metrics

We all know that measurement is gold to marketers, but that doesn’t mean they always measure the right things. Some metrics are incredibly enlightening while others can be more of a distraction (and detriment).

When it comes to account-based approaches, focus on measuring the three “R”s: revenue, relationships and reputation. This is what 73% of the highest performing organizations measure, so you can trust that it works and will keep your attention on what matters most.

4) Prepare to move fast

Agility has always been important in the rapidly changing field of marketing, with new technologies and new approaches emerging every day. But 2020 required a new level of agility, born out of necessity.

It’s not surprising that the most effective account-based programs last year moved faster than the rest, changing their industry focuses and account clusters, and introducing new tactics such as smaller, account-focused interactive virtual meetings and events.

Now that we’ve learned uncertainty is a certainty, it’s wise to prepare for change in 2021 — and be ready to enact it quickly.

5) Prioritize account-level research

The best account-based results of 2020 came from companies that invested more significantly into direct account insights, intent, engagement, predictive and data management.

We expected this to be the case, since a deeper understanding of data and its role is required to achieve success with it.

In 2021, all companies practicing account-based go-to-market should follow suit and put a stronger premium on account-level research and insight.

Account-based strategies have been growing in prevalence and impact for years, but 2020 acted as the tipping point for the strategy and ABM software. It’s time for B2B marketers to embrace this approach once and for all, and start seeing the benefits of this strategic investment. In other words, it’s time for the year of the Account.


As Chief Marketing and Product Officer of Demandbase, Jon Miller responsible for delivering Demandbase’s product vision to delight customers and fulfill its mission of transforming how B2B companies go-to-market. Jon has a long history of establishing and leading some of the most notable marketing technology companies. Most recently, he was co-founder and CEO of Engagio, the leading Account-Based Orchestration Platform. Earlier, he co-founded and held the position of Chief Marketing Officer for Marketo (acquired by Adobe).



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