The New ABM: Audience-Based is the New Paradigm for B2B Marketing

The New ABM: Audience-Based is the New Paradigm for B2B Marketing


This post was originally published on LinkedIn by Gurdeep Dhillon, SVP of Global Marketing at Zuora.

It’s a milestone moment for the Zuora Marketing team today. With the launch of Zuora+, we are going all in on a bet that I’m calling “the new ABM.” What is the new ABM? It’s Audience-Based Marketing, and we believe it’s the future of B2B marketing.

So what’s happening and why does it matter?

Let’s start with four major forces that are working against marketers who grew up in the era of traditional demand generation.


Artificial Intelligence & Content Overload

The first big force is artificial intelligence. The swift rise of large language models (LLMs) have commoditized written content creation, especially content meant to educate or inform. These pieces of content typically take the form of a blog not unlike this one.

What happens when in the near future, AI can pump out blogs that are 90% complete, 90% SEO optimized, and frankly probably good enough for most to publish without human intervention?

Well, what happens is that consumers of content will be completely overwhelmed by the quantity and likely underwhelmed by the quality of said content. Rising above the noise when the decibel level itself is rising is a tall task for marketers everywhere.

But the opportunity here is huge. There will be a premium for content that presents new ideas, which AI struggles to do right now. Content that is made by smart, creative humans actually benefits from the rise of AI.


It will take another year or so, but soon enough, marketers will no longer be able to depend on the third-party cookie to maintain a connection with anonymous buyers across the web. Paid advertising as we know it will be less effective in a world where you can’t orchestrate a buyer journey or at minimum a “next best action” as easily.

There is a severe lack of clarity on replacement technologies and standards in this realm, which further amplifies the impact. Direct relationships with buyers will become a core differentiator as marketers look to develop a first-party data strategy in this new reality.


People Buy from People, not Companies

This is arguably a very simple concept that many of us know to be true. It’s funny though, most people still equate “ABM” to Account-Based Marketing. But the truth is that people, not accounts, are your buyers. People experience the pain that your technology aims to address, and people negotiate and make purchase decisions. Marketers that don’t seek to understand the people who work at the companies on their target account lists will struggle to build the necessary direct relationships with their target audiences that will make all the difference.


The “Out-Market” Conundrum

Stripped down to its core, the “out-market” conundrum means that the vast majority of your buyers are not ready to buy in your preferred time frame. They are “out-market,” or future buyers. This is a very frustrating fact to accept, because it means that it’s next to impossible to actually GENERATE demand that will buy in the short term.

As a marketer, your job is to deeply understand this force, lean into it, and market to your audience based on which group they sit in - “in-market” or “out-market.” We speak a lot about the ICP (Ideal Customer Profile), which to me defines “fit” between the company and the product(s) you wish to sell them. But we need to remember to measure “readiness” as well. Thinking about the world through this lens allows marketers to segment their audience and treat them differently based on their stage in their journey.


So, what does the future look like?

The future of B2B marketing is still ABM, but it’s “The New ABM” - Audience-Based Marketing. If step one is to know your audience, then step two is to build a direct relationship with that audience (e.g. you know who they are because they voluntarily gave you their personally identifiable information). And of course, step three is to convert that audience into customers.

It’s no longer enough just to build that audience on rented channels. Why? Because you’re at the mercy of the owner of those channels. You’ve likely noticed that it’s becoming a heck of a lot harder to reach your followers on rented channels, no matter how many thousands you have.

The solution is owned media. Owned media is not a new concept, and has been a strategic content lever that B2B brands have been pulling for years. But there are three key differences today.

One - the variety of media and content needed to capture the audience’s attention is even more important in a world where AI makes it so easy to write.

Two - going all in on owned media means investing a meaningful percentage of your marketing budget into the infrastructure and content that will power your strategy.

And three - how you manage these direct relationships as a path to demand will be the piece that your CRO and CFO will care about the most. This isn’t the marketing automation game you grew up playing. It’s evolving every day, and the stakes are higher than ever.

You have to play this game right, you have to be authentic, and empathetic, or you will likely send your audience to your competition. And as a marketer, you have so many factors to consider as you build and market to this audience. Are they “in-market” or “out-market?” Are they one of my key buyers and do I really know them? And if I’m fortunate enough to gain their trust and access to their first party data, how am I going to engage them over time?

The whole point of content marketing actually remains the same - build a trusted advisory relationship with people so that when they are ready to solve their problems with technology, they’ll come to you first.

The New ABM is all about your audience. You may have more than one, as we do here at Zuora. I’m asking my team to think like TV showrunners…build, grow, and retain an engaged audience over time with great content.


The Launch of Zuora+

We launched Zuora+ today as we go all in on owned media. It’s a place where anyone in our audience can come to learn, to be entertained, and to engage on the topics they care about the most. We’re launching with two shows today (with more on the way!).

For the Product Management audience, “Can I Speak to Your {Product} Manager?” is for leaders looking to stay ahead of the curve, helping product managers retain and scale their offers, tame complexities, and move with agility. We’ll have expert guests who will share their experiences, hilarious stories and best practices on a wide range of topics, including product development, customer retention, agile methodologies, and much more. In our first episode, Akhil Keshap, Sr. Product Manager at eBay joins us to chat about “Solving Problems from an Outcome Perspective.”

And for the Revenue Accounting audience - “The Closers” will feature unfiltered conversations with visionary accounting and finance leaders, as well as top industry experts. Together we’ll explore what revenue accounting looks like today, where it is heading and how leaders like you can drive the next wave of revenue innovation. Our first episode features Biscom’s Sr. Revenue Manager, Adam Greenson on “Stepping Outside of Traditional Revenue Accounting Roles.”

I’ve thrown a lot at you with conviction about Audience-based marketing. Does that mean you’re throwing out your Account-based strategy? No, of course you still need to know the accounts you want to win. You still need to understand where those accounts are in their journey with you. And you should still think about demand generation at the account level, not the individual “lead” level. None of that goes away, but from a pure Marketing perspective, the primary orientation needs to be the audience going forward, no exceptions.

Check out our new shows on Zuora+, share with your friends and let us know if we’re hitting the mark.


Gurdeep Dhillon | About the Author

SVP of Global Marketing, Zuora

Recognized for entrepreneurial prowess in marketing, Gurdeep is known for founding The Customer Edge, and pivotal roles in SAP’s Cloud Marketing organization and Adobe’s Commercial Business. With a passion for nurturing skilled teams, forging meaningful connections with audiences, and delivering impactful marketing programs, his work has garnered significant recognition, including DMN’s 40 Under 40 award for marketing in 2017 and a listing among the Top 25 Content Marketers on the West Coast in Enterprise Software. A sought-after speaker at high-profile events, his contributions to the field were highlighted in the book Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing.


The New ABM: Audience-Based is the New Paradigm for B2B Marketing

Dive into 'The New ABM: Audience-Based Marketing' by Gurdeep Dhillon to uncover the future of B2B marketing in the era of AI and changing buyer preferences.

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