The Complete Guide to Starting with Account-Based Marketing (ABM)

Hello, there! We are so glad you’ve joined us!

We are about to start a journey into the world of Account-Based Marketing (ABM), an approach that has grown in popularity over the past few years.

While Account-Based Marketing has many advantages, most companies are just getting started with ABM. Many marketers can face a lot of challenges when they try to ride the wave too early in their journey. There seems to be a lot of confusion around how to implement it, and even how to properly define it.

But… fear not! This guide will go through the key concepts and definitions so you can start off on the right foot when introducing ABM into your organisation. We will begin with clarifying what Account-Based Marketing is really about and finish with how to start an ABM pilot project.

Once you are finished with this guide you will have all the tools you need to join the companies that are experiencing the benefits of treating individual accounts as markets in their own right (we will talk about this next).
Are you ready to start the journey?
The Complete Guide to Starting with Account-Based Marketing (ABM)

What Is Account-Based Marketing

Let’s begin our journey into the wonderful world of ABM.

So, what is ABM? And how did we start talking about it?

The concept was first coined by ITSMA in 2004. The goal was to help marketers achieve better results by stopping generic sales pitches. Instead, they would focus on their most important clients.

So, by ITSMA’s definition: Account-Based Marketing is “treating individual accounts as markets in their own right.”

Since then, it has developed even further. Broader definitions have gained traction due to tech players moving into the space. We like how the guys at Engagio (who have been acquired by Demandbase) define it: “a go-to-market strategy that coordinates personalised marketing and sales efforts to land and expand target accounts.”

This means that emphasis is on the quality of the accounts, rather than the quantity of the prospects. No more broad campaigns that speak to an entire market. With ABM, we strategically identify high-value prospects and target the key stakeholders in these businesses. Pretty cool, right?


Close an account, and then another,
and then another...

Design a customised strategy for those accounts

Define the accounts you want as your customers

The 5 pillars of ABM

Account-Based Marketing is a go-to-market strategy that coordinates personalised marketing and sales efforts to land and expand target accounts.

All of these definitions can translate into 5 pillars:

  • ABM Pillar #1: It’s a strategy
    ABM is not a campaign that you can run once. It is a strategic marketing approach that is embraced by the entire organisation.

  • ABM Pillar #2: It’s personalised
    Marketing and sales deliver specific actions that speak specifically to the company they are going after. These actions are also tailored to meet the client’s goals.

  • ABM Pillar #3: It’s a coordinated effort between sales and marketing
    To succeed, sales and marketing need to be seen as equal partners collaborating on the same team.

    They both have the same goals and are aligned to target and work on the same accounts. The strategy to follow is a result of their collaboration.

    In addition, alignment with customer success and the finance team can also be a game-changer. ABM is an organisational strategy.

  • ABM Pillar #4: It’s a land and expand strategy
    It’s not just about landing new deals and new clients. We also need to look at how to expand those accounts and how to grow the revenue from those companies.

    We need to care about relationships. We're talking about increasing mindshare and working on nurturing our existing customers.

  • ABM Pillar #5: It’s highly targeted
    The key is being very specific about the companies we are targeting. In an ABM process, we define the exact companies that we want as customers. We then create a marketing strategy around them.

    We want to solve the client’s problem, not just promoting the solution we want to sell. This requires a profound understanding of the clients and their organisations so that the propositions truly helps them achieve their business objectives.

The Complete Guide to Starting with Account-Based Marketing (ABM)

Who Should Look Into Account-Based Marketing

Now we can define ABM. Huzzah! Let’s continue with who can make the most of it.

At first, it was considered mainly for the B2B enterprise-level space. However, the technology and capabilities developed in the past few years changed the game and has made it more accessible.

If you want to know if an organisation is a good fit to implement an Account-Based Marketing strategy, you should look for two deciding factors:

  • A Customer LifeTime Value (CLTV) of larger than $10k and up to millions of dollars
  • Organisations with complex sales environments where multiple decision-makers and influencers need to be on-board to get the contract signed.

Usually, ABM steps up when companies face these type of challenges:

  • Not enough highly qualified leads or too many leads from small companies that are not a good fit for the solution offered
  • Sales and marketing teams having trouble collaborating with each other
  • Difficulty to show a return of investment (ROI) from your marketing campaigns

An ABM strategy can help with that. Organisations that are looking to shorten their sales cycles and get larger deals can benefit a lot from ABM.

The Complete Guide to Starting with Account-Based Marketing (ABM)

The Advantages of Account-Based Marketing

So, why is ABM such a big deal?

The advantages of an Account-Based Marketing strategy are extremely connected to what makes ABM what it is.

We could spend forever talking about the wonders of ABM, but let’s break it down to five key benefits to better understand how this works:

  1. It reduces wastage in marketing and sales efforts
    By focusing on the key accounts and decision-makers that matter most, ABM helps organisations be more efficient.

    This means that the efforts are focused on accounts that are more likely to become a customer, rather than companies that might be too small or may end up not engaging at all with your business.

  2. There is an increase in the average contract size
    As a result of being more efficient, companies who invest in ABM see an average increase of 171% when it comes to average contract size.

    They land bigger clients overall since they are able to focus resources on their ideal prospects and avoid opportunities that are not the right fit.

  3. Sales and marketing are on the same page
    According to Forrester Research, organisations with aligned sales and marketing teams see an average of 32% annual revenue growth.

    Instead of complaining about un-qualified leads or lack of follow-through on potential clients, ABM allows sales and marketing to truly collaborate with each other and work as one team.

    Everyone is targeting and working on the same accounts, instead of losing focus on different individual leads. A common goal helps everyone speak the same language.

  4. There is a higher close rate compared to unaligned approaches
    When marketing and sales work as one and focus their efforts, they increase the engagement in their targeted accounts.

    As a result, there is an increase in the number of closed opportunities. There have been reports of up to 50 percent or higher improvement in conversion rates of qualified opportunities to closed/won deals.

  5. Marketing efforts are connected with revenue
    Attribution is always hard to measure, especially in B2B. This makes marketing’s job even more difficult to show how they’re contributing to the company’s pipeline and revenue.

    ABM focuses on account-specific data. This means instead of measuring traditional lead generation metrics, results can be directly linked to pipeline and revenue generated from target accounts. Since we know the accounts that we’re going after, we can directly see if any of our target accounts have entered the sales pipeline and then calculate the ROI of the campaign.

    Let’s illustrate this point with a very simple example:

Let's suppose we decide that we are going to target 100 companies. We run a campaign for 4 months and spend $50,000 (spending $500 per account). When it’s time to analyse the results, we see how many of these 100 companies we have closed.

In this example, let’s say we closed 4 of them. Each with an average contract value of $100,000 (a total revenue of $400,000). Fantastic!

Now, you can go back and do the maths. For every $1 that you spent, your ABM campaign generated $8 of revenue. You can also extrapolate this to metrics further up the funnel like the total number of meetings generated at your target accounts or the amount of pipeline created.

As we can see, ABM has amazing benefits for organisations. But it adds tremendous value for clients, as well.

This approach plays an integral role in customer retention, since targeting specific accounts ties the campaign to the prospect’s specific needs. Every touchpoint along the buyer’s journey is a personalised experience.
The Complete Guide to Starting with Account-Based Marketing (ABM)

What Is the Process of Executing on Account-Based Marketing

All of this sounds amazing, but how can you implement it in your organisation?

No worries, there is actually a 9-step process that you can follow to develop an ABM strategy. Let’s take a look and each step:

Step 1: Define your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)
It’s about engaging with organisations, not just individuals.

You will need to do proper quantitative and qualitative research about the type of companies you want to go after. Defining your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) will set the bases to move forward.

Some of the factual data to take into consideration could be the size of the companies you’re targeting, the vertical or industry they operate in and their geographic footprint. This kind of data is referred to as firmographic data.

You also want to look into what type of technology they are using. This will help you understand how your solution can help them get more out of their existing tech-stack or develop a strategy to replace some of their existing tools altogether. This is called technographic data.

Step 2: Define buying centres & personas
Once you define your ideal customer profile, you’ll need to identify who you are going to connect within those organisations.

Depending on your business, you might need to deal with different departments. This means identifying buying centres within the companies you want to go after. For example, the marketing or the IT departments.

Next, you want to point out who are the key stakeholders there. You need to get insights into what are their goals, motivations and pain points to then start defining personas.

Step 3: Create a target account list
By now, you have a lot of information about the companies you want to pursue. You can create an account list of those and dig deeper.

Get insights on the businesses they are networking with, their corporate culture, their investments or things like how the decisions are made in the company and what are the pain points and interests of the decision-makers.

Step 4: Tier the accounts you have selected
With your account list ready, you will be able to tier the accounts you have identified.

We will talk about tiering in-depth in the next section, but for now, let’s just say that you can categorise potential customers depending on the size of the opportunity and the likelihood of success in three tiers:

        1) Strategic ABM tier: one-to-one
        2) Scale ABM tier: one-to-few
        3) Programmatic ABM tier: one-to-many

Step 5: Identify the messaging and theme development
By now you have a good understanding of the accounts that you are going after and the people that are important to you in those accounts. You have also placed those accounts in tiers. You are in good shape to start developing the messaging for your target accounts.

We’ve talked about how Account-Based Marketing provides a personalised experience for the customers. At this stage, you can personalise content, messaging and develop specific actions that are relevant to the needs of your potential target accounts.

Step 6: Pick the right channels
So, how are you going to specifically reach out to these people? You need to decide how you will deliver your message at the right time to these organisations.

There are some common channels that are used in ABM:

  1. Marketing email
  2. Paid ads
  3. Direct mail
  4. Social media
  5. Sales outreach
  6. Targeted IP and social ads
  7. Content syndication
  8. Tradeshows, events and virtual events

Step 7: Design an ABM play
It’s playtime! (That is ABM playtime).

An Account-Based Marketing play is a sequence of activities that are coordinated and implemented to reach and engage target accounts. It has specific goals and are actioned over a specific period of time.

You need to design a plan that specifies the sequence of work that's going to be done to reach a decision-maker or to close an account. It is paramount to design a play that is both multi-touch and multi-channel.

Step 8: Execute and measure
You’ve done your homework, now it’s time to have some fun and execute your plan!

While you step into action, you must keep an eye on how you will measure your results.
These questions can help you identify indicators to track your progress:

  • Are you expanding the number of stakeholders you interact with?
  • Are there gaps in your execution that you can address for your next campaigns?
  • Are your KPIs aligned with company revenue?
  • What could you do better going forward?

Step 9: Optimise and scale for bigger campaigns
You will learn a lot as you measure your work. This information will help you adjust your process and see where you need to improve.

With all those learnings, you will be able to take your ABM strategy to the next level and scale for bigger campaigns.

The Complete Guide to Starting with Account-Based Marketing (ABM)

Tiering in Account-Based Marketing: The Different Types of ABM

In the previous section, we mentioned tiering, remember? This is one of the nine steps to execute ABM. Now, we are going to look at it in more detail.

Once you start putting a list together of your target accounts, you will notice that some of them are more important for your organisation.

In an ideal world, you would have a very personalised and customised approach for all your prospects. However, in the real world, we don't have enough resources for that.

That’s when tiering comes into play. It allows us to give the right amount of attention to the right accounts. This helps with limited resources.

ABM can take many forms. Sometimes, tiering is also referred to as different types of Account-Based Marketing.

ABM is divided into three different tiers depending on the level of personalisation. As you move up from Programmatic ABM to Strategic ABM, you should see a change in three areas:

  • Increase in the return on investment per account
  • Increase in the level of involvement from sales and marketing teams to engage those accounts
  • Increase in the level of personalisation for each account

Let’s analyse each tier in detail:

1) Strategic ABM Tier: one-to-one
It is used for the most important accounts and is executed on a one-to-one basis. This means that it is a very personalised campaign.

The idea is that the team focuses on building and nurturing relationships with the most valued stakeholders in your target accounts. In order to do this, they need to demonstrate a great understanding of the customer’s goals and craft your messaging around those particular goals.

This tier is mainly used for account expansion. Because there is a huge investment that goes into this type of strategy, it is implemented in situations where the chances of winning a deal are high. Both the likelihood of success and the size of the success need to be large to be positioned in the strategic tier.

2) Scale ABM tier: one-to-few
Sometimes referred to as ABM Lite, this tier is about creating programs for clusters of accounts with similar business attributes, challenges and opportunities.

The level of customisation is lighter compared to the one-to-one tier, since it is used for small groups of accounts instead of individual ones.

The programs are designed in ways to lightly customise for each account within the cluster. The main customisation efforts are then focused on key decisions or business issues that apply to all of the accounts within a cluster.

3) Programmatic ABM tier: one-to-many
In this tier, the focus is shifted to positioning accounts into much larger clusters and tailoring campaigns for those specific accounts at scale.

The accounts are selected from across an overall market and need to be aligned with the company’s sales coverage model. The key to Programmatic ABM is to find the right balance between customisation and scale.

Compared to the other tiers, this one-to-many approach is more reliant on technology. This is because a one-to-many campaign can require to target and deliver a personalised message to a large number of accounts, sometimes in the thousands.

So… how do we choose the right approach for our organisation? We don’t really have to choose one. A blended approach is best: the top-performing ABM teams are generally employing two, or even all three tiers.

The Complete Guide to Starting with Account-Based Marketing (ABM)


Common Mistakes When Executing ABM

We’ve covered a lot of ground so far. Good job!

By now, you are probably thinking about all the wonderful results that you will get from an Account-Based Marketing strategy. But before we continue, let’s take a moment to talk about what are some common mistakes that companies make with ABM.

In order to work, ABM needs to be properly implemented. So keep your eyes peeled and try to avoid the following mistakes:

Mistake #1: Thinking of it as something only for the marketing department
We have mentioned this before, but we can’t stress it enough: ABM is a coordinated effort between sales and marketing. It will only work if both departments work together as one team.

Sales and marketing need to be on the same page since they will be focusing and working on the same accounts. They both should have common goals and need to speak the same language.

Mistake #2: Seeing it as a campaign
A classic! It is so easy to say ‘let’s run an ABM campaign,’ but this is really not the case. Account-Based Marketing is, by definition, a strategy.

If you try to run a three-month ABM campaign, it’s not going to work. Your team needs to embrace ABM as a strategy and focus on the long-game.

Mistake #3: Believing that using an ABM tool is enough
There are a lot of great tools out there to help your team with your ABM strategy. However, if you think that just one tool will do all the work and solve all your problems, you will be disappointed. It does not work like that.

It’s important to remember that tools are there to assist the efforts of your team, not to replace them. You need to do your homework and analyse deeply which accounts you should go after, and also understand the goals of your prospects and customers. Before investing in tools, you need to lay the foundations and design your strategy. Success will come with the right balance of human work and the right tools.

Mistake #4: Not running a pilot
Many companies try to do a switch from their existing marketing efforts and go full ABM overnight. It’s a guaranteed road to failure.

In order to truly become ABM-centered, it is crucial to run a pilot project as a starting point. Account-Based Marketing is a complex strategy. You should first run a pilot, build the practice, optimise and then, gradually scale your efforts. Taking baby steps will allow you to iterate and learn what is working and what is not.

The Complete Guide to Starting with Account-Based Marketing (ABM)

How to Start and Run a Pilot ABM Campaign

We are almost done! Are you excited about starting with ABM in your organisation? Before that, let’s go through where to start a pilot ABM project. After this, you will be good to go.

The first step to running a pilot is building relationships. We have been talking non-stop about how marketing and sales teams should work together. So, as a marketer, you need to reach out to sales and partner with someone.

You will both need to decide how far you can go with this pilot. The key is to run a pilot that is small enough to be safe, but large enough to show results. You need to maximise learning while minimising risk.

Take some time to plan and estimate. It’s important that you have clear objectives and manage expectations for this pilot. Analyse what you are going to measure and why.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • What would it mean to run a successful pilot?
  • What’s a good number of accounts?
  • What should the revenue look like?

You will get a bit of a reality check. Do your current resources allow you to go after the number of accounts you have estimated? Do you have the bandwidth to do concise research on all the accounts you have selected? And will the revenue for this be worth the effort? It’s also vital to analyse how well-suited you are for the market you are going after.

As you design your pilot project, the team should be aligned in:

  • Objectives
  • Timeline
  • What are you measuring and why
  • Who are you going to present your results to

The results of your pilot should be identifying what works best for you: what audiences, channels, actions and tools. This will be the foundation to scale.

And that’s a wrap! It has been great to guide you on the first steps of your Account-Based Marketing journey.

If you have any bumps on the road ahead, please reach out. We will be happy to help. See you!

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