Account-based marketing: What it is, why to do it, and how to do it right
In this article we’ll provide a practical overview around these questions and challenges:
- What is account based marketing (ABM)?
- Why do ABM?
- Account based marketing strategies
- Can ABM target small businesses?
- Account based marketing tactics
- The process of ABM, step-by-step
- Stakeholder alignment for ABM
- Sales and marketing alignment
- Account selection and definition
- Data and insight
- Programme, proposition and content
- Account based marketing tech
- Budgeting for ABM
- Measuring and reporting on ABM success
- Skills for ABM success
- 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.
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
- Customer success and service
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
- Get buy-in upfront.
- Set realistic time frames.
- Integrate ABM into your account planning process.
- Tell a story.
Why do account-based marketing?
Andy Bacon, lead advisor for B2B Marketing’s ABM Head-Start Programme
“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”
Bev Burgess, ABM expert and author, explains why ABM is still the hottest marketing topic of our time
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
Account-based marketing strategy
ABM comes in three distinct forms
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.
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.
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.
Andy Bacon, Lead advisor, B2B Marketing’s ABM Head-Start Programme
“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”
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.
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.
The process of ABM, step-by-step
- Stakeholder and sales and marketing alignment
- Target account definition and selection
- Data and insight
- 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.
Andy Bacon, Lead advisor, B2B Marketing’s ABM Head-Start Programme
“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.”
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
- Media habits
- Buyer journey
- Connections and contacts.
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:
- Socially led
- Content led
- Ego led.
The cheat sheet below illustrates how you can tailor your ABM engagement around these personality and persona types.
Louis Fernandes, VP and country manager at Basware, shares examples of highly successful ABM content marketing programmes he's led
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
- Content management
- Marketing automation
- Programmatic advertising
- Fully integrated cross-channel orchestration and attribution.
What’s in the account-based marketing 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.
Daisy Holloway, head of digital marketing at Enigma Marketing Services
“The right martech stack can provide insights, enable innovative ways of delivering your message to your target accounts and prove ROI"
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
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.
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:
- Content consumption and sharing
- Email click-throughs
- Event attendance
- Face to face meetings.
- Velocity – prospects to opportunities
- Sales cycle lengths
- Win rate – opportunities to closed deals?
- Deal sizes – average order value, lifetime value
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.
Bev Burgess, author, A practitioner's guide to account-based marketing
“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”
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.
Fujitsu's ABM Lead, Andrea Clatworthy explains the attributes needed to be a great account-based marketer, in terms of body parts!
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:
- Understand the customer and align to their agenda.
- Create a transformational conversation and reset perceptions.
- Increase awareness, build trust and win over multiple stakeholders.
- Increase engagements and develop future advocates.
Michael Avis explains Oracle's highly successful account-based marketing model
Successful account-based marketing in action: Mobile app marketing and analytics company, Localytics
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.