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Account-based marketing: What it is, why to do it, and how to do it right | B2B Marketing

In this article we’ll provide a practical overview around these questions and challenges:

  1. What is account based marketing (ABM)?
  2. Why do ABM?
  3. Account based marketing strategies
  4. Can ABM target small businesses?
  5. Account based marketing tactics
  6. The process of ABM, step-by-step
  7. Stakeholder alignment for ABM
  8. Sales and marketing alignment
  9. Account selection and definition
  10. Data and insight
  11. Programme, proposition and content
  12. Account based marketing tech
  13. Budgeting for ABM
  14. Measuring and reporting on ABM success
  15. Skills for ABM success
  16. Great account based marketing examples.

Account-based marketing definition

ABM is a strategic marketing approach jointly implemented by sales and marketing that focuses on key, targeted accounts (whether they’re existing customers or not).

In short, it’s about:

  • Identifying who your most important accounts are
  • Gathering as much insight on them as possible
  • Using that insight to align your proposition to their challenges
  • Crafting personalised marketing content and engagement around those challenges.

What is account-based marketing?

Account-based marketing directs sales and marketing resources to the engagement and nurturing of

a specific set of target accounts

, and the key decision makers within those accounts.

ABM may be focused on the objective of protecting and growing existing accounts, or on winning new business from specific target accounts – or on a combination of both.

In essence, ABM doesn’t just ‘flip the funnel’, it flips the agenda – because it’s no longer about generating leads, but about personally targeting and nurturing specific accounts and contacts.

account based marketing vs demand generation

What does account-based marketing look like?

Account-based marketing should not be seen as a tactic, but rather a business strategy that requires and incorporates buy-in from across a business:

  • The c-suite
  • Finance
  • Customer success and service
  • IT
  • Sales
  • Product.

With an ABM approach, marketing teams work closely with sales to:

  • Identify key prospect accounts or current key customer accounts
  • Identify the key decision-makers, influencers and stakeholders within those accounts
  • Tailor customised marketing programmes, content and messages to these contacts.

Four tips for account based marketing success

  1. Get buy-in upfront.
  2. Set realistic time frames.
  3. Integrate ABM into your account planning process.
  4. Tell a story.

Why do account-based marketing?

“People move to ABM mostly because their existing demand generation process isn’t working very well. They’re spending a shed load on it and not getting results” 


Andy Bacon, lead advisor for B2B Marketing’s ABM Head-Start Programme

Bev Burgess, ABM expert and author, explains why ABM is still the hottest marketing topic of our time


Bev Burgess presention clip from the B2B Marketing Account Based Marketing Conference 2017

Account-based marketing success stats

  • Some 77% of B2B marketers believe account-based marketing has driven greater success for their target accounts.
  • According to the


    2018 ABM Benchmark Study


    conducted by ITSMA and Demandbase, a quarter of marketing budgets are now dedicated to ABM programmes.
  • Overall, 99% said they gain greater ROI from their programme than any other type of marketing.
  • Plus, two-thirds also cited customer advocacy as a positive driver for ABM.

    Source:

    2018 ABM Benchmark Study

    conducted by ITSMA and Demandbase

Who is ABM a ‘best fit’ approach for?

ABM can offer some distinct and compelling advantages to sales and marketing teams in businesses where the products, pricing and buyers fit the ABM model.

But it isn’t a strategy that fits every business. If you are selling low-ticket products or services to a volume market then ABM is not your go-to strategy.

You should consider ABM if:

  • You are selling

    high-ticket products or services
  • You are selling to a high value, limited scale marketplace – fewer than 100 prospect accounts for example
  • Your sales team has a high value-per-deal ratio
  • You have a target list of companies you want to win new business from or do more business with
  • Your buyer journey is sales team-led, rather than ecommerce-led.

Benefits seen from account-based marketing – findings from B2B Marketing’s


Account Based Marketing Benchmarking Report 


benefits seen from account based marketing

Account-based marketing strategy

ABM comes in three distinct forms

One-to-one

Selects and targets a small pool of top-tier accounts, typically five to 10. 

One-to-few (or ABM lite)

One-to-few applies ABM to a larger selection of accounts, often selected in ‘clusters’ according to their commonalities – this may be their vertical, their challenges, or their relationship to you. The number here may be in tens or hundreds.

One-to-many

This approach uses

martech, intent data and adtech

such as programmatic ABM, to apply ABM at scale by delivering personalisation en masse to a wide pool of target accounts and prospects.

Choosing which of these strategies to focus on is subject to the specific objectives, structure and requirements of your business. 

account based marketing strategies

Which account-based marketing strategy is right for you?

There is no one-size-fits-all ABM solution. Every business will have its own

special shape of ABM.

 

That said, as a general rule, one-to-one ABM is resource heavy and is often a best fit for businesses targeting very high value accounts that justify the intensive one-to-one resource investment.

One-to-few ABM can be a more cost-effective approach for businesses targeting larger numbers of smaller value accounts where clear commonalities exist.

“People struggle to describe ABM in a coherent and unified way. That’s because ABM exists differently in every organisation. It’s a programme that needs to be tailored to how your business goes to market, its organisational structure and offerings”


Andy Bacon, Lead advisor, B2B Marketing’s ABM Head-Start Programme

It’s arguable that one-to-many ABM does not work as a stand alone ABM strategy, but rather as a supportive, multiple account nurturing approach used to back up one of the two main strategies.


B2B Marketing’s 2018-19 Account-Based Markeing Census

found the majority of marketers surveyed were taking a one-to-one approach to their ABM.

account based marketing approaches

Can account-based marketing be used to target small businesses?

Put simply, ABM is most appropriate for targeting a company’s largest and most valuable customers and prospects. Small businesses may struggle to fit that description.

However, advances in martech are making a hybrid approach of one-to-few and one-to-many an effective tactic for targeting specific small businesses with commonalities.

For example, third-party intent data and landing page traffic tracking can provide insight for personalised engagement and prioritisation of sales follow-up.

So

ABM to smaller business

begins to look feasible and effective, given the

right approach

.

Account-based marketing tactics

While there are many tactical approaches to ABM, all types use the same basic process.

account based marketing process

The process of ABM, step-by-step

  1. Stakeholder and

    sales and marketing alignment
  2. Target account definition and selection
  3. Data and insight
  4. Content and programme delivery.

Stakeholder and sales and marketing alignment

Internal alignment starts with key stakeholder buy-in from across the business.

From the board down and across, buy-in, confidence and a positive supportive approach is crucial for success. 

These steps can help marketers achieve stakeholder alignment:

  • Understand the distinct challenges and goals of each individual stakeholder
  • Understand the numbers and metrics that relate to and drive each stakeholder
  • Be clear about how ABM can benefit and adavnce of each of them
  • Explain how each stakeholder will fit into the new process
  • Use industry case studies and success stories to support for the case for buy-in

Once this is buy-in is secured, the key objective is to define and enable sales and marketing alignment. 

Sales and marketing alignment

The relationship between sales and marketing creates the framework from which all ABM efforts will hang.

Thankfully, ABM doesn’t just require collaboration between sales and marketing, it helps to encourage and build it. 

Sales and marketing teams should be closely and continously aligned around the exact same ABM objectives, target accounts, messaging and proposition,

outreach

and measurement. 

Account selection and definition

This is the process by which marketing and sales have worked together to define what the ideal account will look like, and then selects the target accounts. This includes finding agreement on the number, size and type accounts that you will target.

That decision must be data-driven and made collaboratively by sales and marketing.

“The account selection process needs to be objective, with sales and marketing scoring the accounts collaboratively. Within that process they should realise that there are shed-loads of stuff they don’t know and therefore need to find out.”


Andy Bacon, Lead advisor, B2B Marketing’s ABM Head-Start Programme

Data and insight


Data and insight

is fundamental to the success of both account defintion and selection, and to create and deliver effectively targeted, resonant messaging and content.

Marketers need to be able to

evaluate

the different insight types and data sources available to them within the business, as well as for insights into accounts, contacts, personas and market segments, including:

  • Transaction history
  • Engagement history
  • Pain-points
  • Priorities
  • Media habits
  • Buyer journey
  • Connections and contacts.

Data vs insight

Programme, proposition and content

At the very core of account-based marketing lies the creation and delivery of highly personalised value propositions, value-add content and messaging – targeted specifically for each ABM account, and the people (or personas) within those accounts.

Keys to ABM content success

  • Position your product or service in terms of the buyer’s strategic goals.
  • Become a trusted advisor who adds tangible value to the decision-making process.
  • Connect with individual stakeholders on a human and emotional level.
  • Use your content and marketing to enrich your existing knowledge of the customer.

To help with ABM engagement and content planning, consider categorising your contacts based on personlity type, eg:

The cheat sheet below illustrates how you can tailor your ABM engagement around these personality and persona types.

engagement persona types

Louis Fernandes, VP and country manager at Basware, shares examples of highly successful ABM content marketing programmes he’s led


Louis Fernandes B2B Marketing ABM Conference 2017 presentation clip

Account-based marketing tech

Technology can help support sales and marketing teams pursuing ABM, in a variety of ways, including:

  • Customer data, analysis and insight
  • CRM
  • Content management
  • Marketing automation

  • Programmatic advertising
  • Fully integrated cross-channel orchestration and attribution.

What’s in the account-based marketing tech stack?

abm tech stack

Choosing the right tech for your ABM

The choice of investment in martech will depend on a business’s point on their ABM maturity journey, and their specific ABM strategy and challenges. 

B2B Marketing’s annual

ABM Tech Maturity Map

below shows how the tech landscape maps to marketers’ levels of ABM adoption.

abm tech maturity map

“The right martech stack can provide insights, enable innovative ways of delivering your message to your target accounts and prove ROI”


Daisy Holloway, head of digital marketing at Enigma Marketing Services

Budgeting for account-based marketing

Understanding

how to budget for account-based marketing

requires a shift in thinking. In traditional marketing budgeting methodology will split your budget according to the different strategies, channels and initiatives you are planning.

With ABM marketers need to adapt the way they budget, because to market at the account level, you need to budget at the account level. That means setting a budget per account, taking it account all the influencing factors.

Findings from B2B Marketing’s 2018-19 ABM Census

abm budgets

The 2018 account-based marketing census

Download this free report to learn where you stand in terms of ABM competency, assess your skills against what’s needed and compare your progress to your peers.


Download your free copy

Measuring and reporting on ABM success

Because account based marketing focuses on a specific set of accounts, it arguably easier to track the impact and success marketing activities in an ABM programme. 

Cornerstone metrics tracked by business undertaking ABM fall into two categories:


Account engagement

  • Content consumption and sharing
  • Email click-throughs
  • Event attendance
  • Face to face meetings.


Conversion

  • Velocity – prospects to opportunities
  • Sales cycle lengths

  • Win rate

    – opportunities to closed deals?
  • Deal sizes – average order value, lifetime value
  • ROI.

Measuring more widely

To measure ABM success right through the buying cycle, marketers need to quantify the value their prospects place on their experience as an ABM target, and the impact this experience has on sales.

That’s not always easy, but the best way to do so is by looking at coverage, engagement, impact and influence.

Account-based marketing skills

There are specific,

key skills and personality attributes

associated with

effective account-based marketers

.

“Finding people with the right skills for ABM can be really tricky. As individuals you need to make sure you have the right skills, either individually or in the team working with you”


Bev Burgess, author, A practitioner’s guide to account-based marketing

It takes a certain

mindset

to be a successful account-based marketer. It needs long-term strategic thinking that looks beyond the confines of the marketing function.

But according to B2B Marketing’s survey of 300 B2B marketers, just 1% of marketers believe their team has all the skills required to carry out ABM successfully.

abm skills survey


Fujitsu’s ABM Lead, Andrea Clatworthy

explains the attributes needed to be a great account-based marketer, in terms of body parts!


Andrea Clatworthy presentation clip from The B2B Marketing ABM Conference 2017

Examples of great account-based marketing in practice

ABM began in the

tech sector

, so it’s the logical place to look for great examples of how ABM looks in practice and how these pioneers are still pushing the boundaries.

Michael Avis, senior director EMEA marketing at Oracle, identifies four principles underpinning Oracle’s approach to ABM:

  1. Understand the customer and align to their agenda.
  2. Create a transformational conversation and reset perceptions.
  3. Increase awareness, build trust and win over multiple stakeholders.
  4. Increase engagements and develop future advocates.

Michael Avis explains Oracle’s highly successful account-based marketing model


Michael Avis presentation clip from The B2B Marketing ABM Conference 2017

Successful account-based marketing in action: Mobile app marketing and analytics company, Localytics

localytics abm example

Have any questions, observations or examples of what’s working or snagging for you in ABM?

Fire them to us in the comments box below and we’ll get them shared and addressed.

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