What exactly is Account Based Marketing (ABM) anyway?

“Account Based Marketing” is all the rage these days.

You’ll want to pay attention if any of these questions ring true:

  • Are you trying to find B2B clients from just about any industry that has even an inkling of a use for your products?
  • If so, are your conversion rates surprisingly low?
  • And you’re probably burning through leads like nobody’s business, right?

If you’re nodding your head in agreement right now, keep reading.

We’ve determined the problem and are determined to share with you a better way to sell your stuff. It’s through this process Account Based Marketing (ABM).

The traditional way of getting clients includes sending out thousands of emails or advertising to broad audiences. Whatever lead comes through the door are then given (typically) a pretty rigid pitch.

If they buy, great! If not, there are thousands more leads where that came from.

Traditional marketing vs Account Based MarketingSource: superoffice.com

Let’s take a deep look at ABM and see if it could increase the workload on the front-end (prospecting leads) and significantly raise conversions.

What Is Account Based Marketing (ABM)?

We’ve laid out the “traditional” methods for a lot of sales organizations. Now it’s time to go over exactly how account based marketing is defined.

Account Based Marketing: is an alternative B2B strategy that concentrates sales and marketing resources on a clearly defined set of target accounts within a market and employs personalized campaigns designed to resonate with each account. (Source)

“Concentrates sales…clearly defined set of target accounts…personalized campaigns…resonate with each account.”

Sounds terrifying to anyone using the old methods—but it’s not really.

Imagine what you could do with a little analysis and data on the front end that gave you some real indications that a contact would be an ideal prospect for your products. It’s possible, but will (obviously) take some adjustment.

In all reality, it may not be for you (but probably is).

Benefits of Account-Based Marketing

The benefits of Account-Based Marketing include:

  • Effective personalization – ABM focuses on reaching decision-makers within the same organization. Since it has such a narrow reach, it allows you to personalize your messaging more effective.
  • Easier ROI attribution– With ABM, you’re marketing directly to buyers and thus have a clear understanding of how you’re spending your marketing budget, as well as what kind of return on investment you’re generating.
  • Shorter sales cycle – ABM generates qualified leads at a greater rate than other marketing methods, allowing sales teams to spend less time on nurturing leads that won’t convert.
  • Aligned sales and marketing teams – The ABM approach involves sales and marketing teams working closer together and achieving greater cooperation and better results. It allows marketing departments to gain a better understanding of the target audience they’re trying to reach, while giving sales teams a better way to personalize their outreach and nurture decision-makers more effectively.

Benefits of Account Based Marketing

What experts say about ABM

ABM is praised by many marketing experts. Here’s what they have to say about the approach:

It’s highly targetedMeagen Eisenberg, the CMO of MongoDB, praises ABM for being highly targeted and personalized compared to the spray and pray approach where you’re simply trying to capture any lead that’s willing to bite.

It’s nothing newMatt Heinz, the President of Heinz Marketing, claims that ABM has been around for ages – there’s just been a surge in its popularity in recent years due to advancements in technology making it easier to execute.

It allows for better alignment between sales and marketingDave Karel of OutLeap Marketing calls ABM a silver bullet when it comes to aligning marketing dollars and sales team priorities, making it easier for companies to implement smarketing. Salesforce’s Liam Doyle even goes as far as to say that if you’re marketing and sales aren’t aligned, you’re not really doing account based marketing.

It’s zero-waste marketingJoe Chernov, the VP of Marketing at Pendo, calls ABM zero-wast marketing. He explains that ABM targets only those contacts and companies that are likely to purchase a product or service, and that the sales team has committed to try to close.

It’s about building relationships – Andy Bacon of B2B Marketing considers ABM to be about building high-quality relationships with prospects, and believes that this will naturally result in a positive ROI.

ABM vs. Inbound Marketing

ABM is a highly targeted approach to marketing and aims to engage prospects who are the most likely to make a purchase. Inbound marketing, on the other hand, tries to attract as many prospects as possible to a business.

While ABM strives to tailor each message to each specific account individually, inbound marketing usually relies on nurturing leads through automated workflows.

Unlike inbound marketing, ABM doesn’t focus on industries on markets. As its name implies, ABM puts the focus on target accounts, personalizing and optimizing campaigns for each specific account.

While inbound marketing is more suited for attracting small and medium-sized businesses, ABM is mostly used to seal enterprise deals. The reason why ABM is almost exclusively used for enterprise deals is because it’s very difficult to scale. 

Creating personalized campaigns for 50 or 100 companies you’d like to target is doable. However, if you’re looking to target thousands of different prospects, ABM becomes infeasible.

In these cases, you’ll want to employ inbound marketing instead.

While ABM and inbound marketing are very different approaches, they can be used together to generate even better results than could be achieved if you only opted for using one or the other.

One way of doing this using inbound marketing to generate a large number of leads and then identifying the most valuable ones and serving them targeted and personalized ABM-style content.

Who Account Based Marketing is For (and Not For)

You don’t need a specialized account based marketing agency to do ABM. If you are a rep, lead, or owner of a B2B; this method could almost certainly be used at your organization.

ABM can work for both big and small organizations, as long as you make sure to focus on high-value accounts.

Higher ticketed items in the B2C world may be included, to some degree, but you’ll strictly use demographic and psychographic data to determine your leads.

As far as who ABM is not for?

Every B2C can benefit from using things like buyer personas and data to better target and appeal to their narrowed down audience, but you won’t try to hunt down high-quality specific names of consumers.

Ideally, you are creating personal campaigns to individual accounts.

If that doesn’t sound like it would have a good ROI, depending on your business model or commission structure—account based management may not be for you.

You’ll have to determine that for yourself (or your company). If you’re still interested, let’s break down the process.

Types of ABM

There are three main types of account based marketing. They include: 

Strategic ABM

Strategic ABM, also known as one-to-one ABM, is an approach that focuses on marketing to a select few high-value accounts. These accounts need to have a very large opportunity size to justify a highly personalized approach.

This approach to ABM also requires that marketing and sales teams work closely to identify business issues of target accounts and develop personalized messaging and value propositions.

Strategic ABM usually focuses on building executive relationships, changing account perceptions, and identifying new opportunities. It takes advantage of high-touch marketing methods such as one-to-one meetings, executive management plans, account-specific thought leadership content, and private events.

For strategic ABM to be successful, in-depth customer research needs to be done. This involves finding out everything you can about your target accounts, including their former and current employees, partners, suppliers, and industry experts.

ABM Lite

ABM Lite relies on taking a one-to-few approach which involves developing lightly personalized marketing programs for small clusters of accounts (anywhere from five to ten accounts) that share similar characteristics.

These accounts usually have a large enough opportunity size compared to a typical deal, but not so large as to justify taking a strategic, one-to-one approach.

ABM Lite uses a combination of high-touch and high-volume marketing, including face-to-face meetings, email campaigns, and custom content. The goal with ABM Lite is to build relationships and discover opportunities.

The one-to-few approach to ABM is a great way to prove ABM as an effective marketing strategy for your business so that you can justify scaling it and taking a programmatic approach in the future.

Programmatic ABM

Programmatic ABM is a highly scalable variant of ABM that involves targeting anywhere from 100 to 1,000 accounts that share similar characteristics and business challenges. It enables companies to reach a large number of accounts efficiently, resulting in more opportunities, better win rates, and larger deal sizes.

This type of ABM takes advantage of technology to automate and track communication with prospects at target accounts. This allows programmatic ABM to provide greater coverage than strategic ABM and ABM lite while often being less resource-intensive.

Programmatic ABM uses methods such as email marketing, direct mail, and reverse IP lookup to provide highly personalized content to prospects.

Down to Brass Tacks

If you’ve been in sales for any length of time, you’ve probably seen various sales funnels.

In order to best explain how ABM works for B2B sales, we’ll use a very simple funnel to help you sort it out.

account based marketing funnel

Stage One: Identify Companies

In a traditional sales environment, this stage is easy. You just open up the list and start trying to get someone to buy.

In account based management, identifying companies is actually a critical part of the process.

Before you can move toward creating that custom campaign, you have to understand who you’d like to speak with. For starters, you’ll need to look at your client list and ask yourself a few questions:

  • Which brands really resonated with our solution?
  • What was their pain point that really drove it home?
  • What was their structure and the titles/positions of decision makers?
  • What objections did they have before making a final decision?
  • Was there any material they wanted that wasn’t available (e.g. whitepapers, webinars)?

Types of Account Based MarketingSource: titangrowth.com

You may have heard of “buyer personas” and this is a similar process. What you are trying to create are “ideal prospect personas”.

When you’re looking for leads, it will be obvious which contacts seem like a close fit.

Bonus Tip: The best place to learn the answers to the questions above is to call your great clients and ask them.

Take notes and don’t just get data, get insights into the “why” behind their behavior. Click To Tweet

Stage Two: Find Influencers/Decision Maker

At a certain level, there are multiple people involved in the buying decision (the average right now is 5.4).

The average number of people involved in making a buying decision

That said, there is typically only one person in charge of signing the contract and loosening the purse strings (i.e. decision maker).

But don’t just search for this one person. The “others” in this scenario are called influencers.

They can be either direct or indirect.

  • Direct Influencers: These are people who are closely involved and specifically a part of the buying process. For instance, the decision maker is the V.P. of marketing, but the marketing manager downloads your lead magnet. Makes sense? There may be a few people learning about solutions for their pain.
  • Indirect Influencers: This influencer isn’t directly involved in the buying process (per se), but does have the ear of the decision maker. This could be direct reports, supervisors, or colleagues in an unrelated department (like other VPs).

It’s important to find out who would be involved in the process while also figuring out who is in charge of the whole thing. Searching with tools that allow you to find multiple roles in a single company would be ideal.

Stage Three: Engage All Key Players

You’ve been more involved with these leads through the entire process, but now it’s time to engage with them directly.

There are three primary things that you want to find out during your engagements.

  1. The Decision Maker: Emailing and cold calling to find the person who is in charge of purchasing products (like yours) is vital to the process. Try sending an email asking (just a few) of your contacts that says, “Can you point me in the right direction?” It works.
  2. Are They a Fit: Your goal in sales is to have meaningful conversations that either move the lead closer to buying or tell you to stop wasting time (or possibly wait a few months). Figuring out how strong their need is versus how much they realize it, needs to happen during your engagement.
  3. Needed Resources: B2B sales don’t happen quickly (most of the time). The buying team needs resources, and if you’ve done a good job of picking out the right leads—you should develop what they need.

A Word on Resources: The content and other elements that your target accounts need are critical tools that need to be developed. In this style of marketing you are developing tailor-made resources to help the specific markets you’ll reach out to. The content you create needs to address your target accounts’ pain points, as well as the deals you’re looking to make with each specific company.

These are the things that you need in order to weed out suspects and get leads into a position where they are ready for a demo/pitch.

If you do this process right, get ready for your conversions to exponentially increase.

Depending on how your commision structure works, there is an incredible benefit to sending hundreds of more personalized emails a week as opposed to thousands of mass communications.

This level of care also gives you the ability to develop relationships so much better, which will lead to more referrals.

Stage Four: Create Advocates

Again, the whole system of account based management creates the environment of knowing your leads and taking better care of them. Put those two things together and you have a relationship.

Just contacting those in the “closed-won” category every now and again with helpful tips, or just a genuine sense of care will help you develop “brand advocates”.

Doing so, benefits both the company (if you’re the owner or lead) and the reps.

  • Company: The benefits here are straightforward. You have a lower churn rate (if you’re in recurring revenue), better client satisfaction, fewer returns, higher referrals, and an overall solid foundation for growth.
  • Sale Reps: Once you hit ten or so of these higher caliber accounts, you’ll be able to realize a steady stream of referrals coming your way. If you develop a system of reaching out regularly followed by a quick “ask” for anyone they may know of who’d like to talk with you, your efforts will pay off.

To help you continue your research, here are a few great guides we enjoyed.

Measuring Results

Perhaps the most important part of any marketing approach is measuring results. When it comes to Account-Based Marketing, you’ll want to track metrics such as:

  • Identified influencers within a target account
  • Target account engagement with your brand and content
  • Revenue generated from target accounts

How to align sales and marketing in ABM

An account based marketing strategy needs input and approval across an entire organization. However, this can often be difficult to accomplish.

One of the major difficulties that often pops up when companies try to use ABM is aligning sales and marketing teams to work together towards a common goal. Sales teams are often against ABM since it means that they’ll working with fewer leads, which seems like a scary proposition at first.

If you want to successfully implement an ABM strategy, it’s crucial that you convince your sales team to get on board with it. ABM needs the sales team’s input at every stage, including identifying target accounts, developing buyer personas, finding the right content to share with prospects, and measuring and optimizing performance.

Explain the benefits

In order to get your sales team to accept ABM, you need to show them that it’s going to bring nothing but benefits across the board.

Start by explaining how ABM eliminates unqualified leads so the sales team doesn’t have to waste their time on them. This means that the sales team will exclusively be working with highly qualified leads which are ready to make a purchase, making its job a lot easier.

Since ABM relies on personalized content, the sales team will always have highly-relevant content to share with prospects, which will help to close deals faster.

Plan alignment across each step of ABM

Once you get the sales team to work with an ABM approach, you need to create a plan of how marketing and sales are going to align across each step of ABM.

Here’s what you’ll need to keep in mind when going through each specific step:

Identifying target accounts

Your marketing and sales teams need to agree on the accounts you’ll be targeting. 

Both teams can bring their own lists initially, but they eventually need to agree on the exact accounts that will be targeted and create a single, unified list of target accounts.

To create the final list of accounts that will be used, start by identifying any overlaps between the two teams’ lists and then score the remaining accounts to determine which are the most likely to close.

Developing buyer personas

If you want to create highly detailed buyer personas, you’ll need to get your sales and marketing teams working together. 

The marketing team will be able to identify the companies and positions that will be targeted, while the sales team will be able to provide insight into the prospects’ specific pain points and challenges, as well as any other details that can come up during the course of a conversation with a prospect.

Finding the right content to share with prospects

Both teams also need to collaborate on finding the right content that will be shared with prospects. Get them together in a meeting and make them review (and remake, if necessary) all the content that is needed for helping to close each account.

Integrating ABM into a multi-channel strategy

Since both marketing and sales will be spreading content through multiple channels, it’s important that they’re organized so that no prospect receives the same piece of content twice.

Marketing will be pushing content through email, social channels, and your website, will sales will be used the content on calls, within personal emails, and during meetings.

Measuring and optimizing performance

Marketing and sales will also need to collaborate on measuring and optimizing performance. 

Apart from their own engagement metrics, the marketing team will also require pipeline metrics from the sales team to prepare a complete report that can be used to analyze and optimize performance.

Doing It Well

The biggest difference between the traditional sales model and account based management is all in the name.

You’re not trying to plug in leads to a rigid formula. You’re trying to find ideal clients and manage their account—even before they’re your customer.

It’s the way things in business are turning.

Consumers have all the information they could ever want just a click or two away. Click To Tweet

Emails that even smell of spam are quickly thrown into the trash without any remorse whatsoever.

The days of ripping through leads is almost over. Now reps are required to take care of their customers from the very conception of the sales funnel all the way through the life of the account.

Editors Note:

Want to help contribute to future articles? Have data-backed and tactical advice to share? I’d love to hear from you!

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Justin McGill
About Author: Justin McGill
Justin McGill is the Founder of LeadFuze - a lead generation platform that discovers new leads for you automatically. Get 25 leads free.