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 this 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 still figuring out a way to make it a part of their ongoing marketing initiatives seamlessly.

Planning and executing account-based marketing programs can be a very daunting task, especially in an organisation where the marketing team does not have the right experience or has been dependent on other types of marketing strategies such as inbound marketing or digital ads or digital marketing in general, with a spray and pray approach.

Speak to an account-based marketing expert to find out how to start implementing ABM in your organisation

Don't get us wrong, when we dive deep into what ABM is and how to execute it best, you will realise that existing strategies such as email campaigns, direct mail campaigns, content creation, digital marketing, outbound marketing and even inbound marketing all of these become account-based marketing tactics that are a part of an umbrella ABM program.
Should I Implement Account-Based Marketing?
ABM is a B2B marketing approach for an enterprise-level organisation having more than 1,000 employees trying to sell their products and services in similar B2B or B2C companies.

Many marketers, 97%, according to a Marketo survey, report that ABM has a significantly higher ROI than other marketing strategies.

ABM aims to expedite the sales process and reduce sales efforts by targeting high-value customers and particular companies through personalised campaigns to eventually close more deals, boost revenue and drive a high return on marketing investment.

There are many account-based marketing tools and platforms available to automate the tactical activities of ABM campaigns, as long as you've got the correct data and systems to communicate between the marketing and sales team.

This ABM guide will go through the key concepts and definitions, so you can start on the right foot when introducing ABM to your organisation. We will begin with clarifying what Account-Based Marketing is really about and finish with how you can start and lead an ABM pilot project as a marketing executive.

So, Without further ado, let's dive right into it!
The Complete Guide to Starting with Account-Based Marketing (ABM)
1

What Is Account-Based Marketing

Let's start with the most basic question. What is ABM? And how did we start talking about it?

Account-based marketing (ABM) is a B2B go-to-market strategy that aligns the marking and sales teams on a set number of strategically defined target accounts. Account-based marketing uses highly personalised campaigns designed to engage with each account based on what is strategically relevant and of interest to them.  

ITSMA first coined the concept of ABM in 2004. Their goal was to help marketers achieve better results by stopping them from drafting a sales pitch for a very general target audience and instead to push them to create personalised campaigns and personalised messaging for multiple stakeholders in high-value target accounts. So, by ITSMA's definition: Account-Based Marketing is "treating individual accounts as markets in their own right."

Since then, account-based marketing strategies have developed even further. Broader definitions have gained traction due to technology players moving into this space. We like how Engagio (who have been acquired by Demandbase) defines ABM: "a go-to-market strategy that coordinates personalised marketing and sales efforts to land and expand into target accounts". This means that the emphasis is on the quality of the accounts rather than the quantity of the prospects. With ABM, we identify high-value strategic accounts and target the critical decision-makers in these businesses.

Pretty cool, right?

ABM

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

As defined at the beginning of this section, Account-Based Marketing is a go-to- market strategy that coordinates personalised marketing and sales efforts to land and expand into target accounts.

This definition essentially translates into five 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 the entire organisation needs to embrace. The keyword here is that it is a "STRATEGIC APPROACH".

ABM Pillar #2: It's personalised

  • Marketing and sales teams work to deliver personalised content and campaigns that speak to decision-makers in a specific account rather than an entire market. These campaigns are tailored to address the client's business problems.

ABM Pillar #3: It's a coordinated effort between the marketing and sales teams

  • Marketing and sales alignment is critical for the success of any ABM campaign. The sales reps need to collaborate with marketing executives to develop a focused approach to target best fit accounts.
  • In addition to marketing and sales collaboration, alignment with customer success teams and the finance team can also be a game-changer; as mentioned before, 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 into the targeted accounts and grow their revenue potential.
  • Based on wherever our stakeholders are in the customer lifecycle, we need to care about our relationships with them. Here, we're talking about increasing mindshare, enhancing brand awareness, and nurturing our existing customer accounts.

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 target accounts that we want as customers. We also look at factors such as revenue potential and the customer journey to create an ABM strategy.
  • We also want to solve the client's problem and not just promote the solution we sell. This requires a profound understanding of the clients and their organisations so that the propositions truly help them achieve their business objectives.
The Complete Guide to Starting with Account-Based Marketing (ABM)
2

Who Should Look into Account-Based Marketing?

Now that we can define ABM. Let's continue with who can make the most of it. At first, ABM was considered mainly for the B2B enterprise-level companies. 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 whether an account is a good fit to implement an ABM 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 is beneficial when your company is facing the following challenges:

  • Not enough highly qualified leads or too many leads from small companies that are not a good fit for the solution you are offering
  • The marketing and the sales team have trouble collaborating.
  • Your organisation usually has long sales cycles
  • Difficulty to show a return of investment (ROI) from your marketing campaigns

An ABM strategy can help with all of the above.

The Complete Guide to Starting with Account-Based Marketing (ABM)
3

How Can Sales & Marketing Benefit from Account-Based Marketing?

We could spend forever talking about the wonders of ABM, but let's break them down to five key benefits:

It reduces wastage in marketing and sales efforts

  1. By focusing on the key accounts and decision-makers that matter most, ABM helps shorten the sales cycle and drives organisational efficiency.
  2. This means that the efforts focus on high-value accounts that are more likely to become a customer rather than companies that might be too small or may end up not engaging with your business.

There is an increase in the average contract size

  1. As a result of being more efficient, companies who invest in ABM see an average increase of 171% in average contract size.
  2. They land more prominent clients overall since they can focus resources on their ideal prospects and avoid opportunities that are not the right fit.

Sales and marketing are on the same page

  1. According to Forrester Research, organisations with aligned sales and marketing teams see an average of 32% annual revenue growth.
  2. Instead of complaining about un-qualified leads or lack of follow-through on potential clients, ABM allows sales and marketing to collaborate and work as one team truly.
  3. 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.

There is a higher close rate compared to unaligned approaches

  1. When marketing and sales work as one and focus their efforts, they increase the engagement in their targeted accounts.
  2. As a result, there is an increase in the number of closed opportunities. There have been reports of up to 50 per cent or higher improvement in conversion rates of qualified opportunities to closed/won deals.

Marketing efforts are tied to revenue

  1. Attribution is always hard to measure, especially in B2B. This makes marketing's job even more challenging to show how they're contributing to the company's pipeline and revenue.
  2. Account-based marketing focuses on account-specific data. Instead of measuring traditional lead generation metrics, results can be directly linked to pipeline and revenue generated from a target account. 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.
  3. 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 metric further up the sales funnel-like the total number of meetings generated at your target accounts or the amount of pipeline created.

As we can see, account-based marketing has amazing benefits for organisations, and it also adds tremendous value for clients.

This approach plays an integral role in customer retention since targeting specific accounts ties the campaign to the prospect's particular needs. Every touchpoint along the buyer's journey is a personalised experience.
The Complete Guide to Starting with Account-Based Marketing (ABM)
4

The Process of Executing on Account-Based Marketing

All of this sounds amazing, but if you are wondering how you can implement an ABM strategy in your organisation? 
Worry not! We have a 9-step process that you can follow to develop and execute it! Let's take a look at 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 consider 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 will connect with 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. You need to get insights into their goals, motivations, and pain points to 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 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 you are going after and the people 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 marketing channels

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

Some common marketing channels 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 account-based marketing 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 activities there actioned over a specific period during the sales process.

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 a target 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 subsequent 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)
5

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 account-based marketing. 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 the marketing and the sales team 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, you need to demonstrate a great understanding of the customer's goals and craft your messaging around those.

This tier is mainly used for target account expansion. Because a huge investment 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 significant for the account to be positioned in the strategic tier to account-based marketing

2) Scale ABM tier: one-to-few

Sometimes referred to as ABM Lite, this tier is about creating marketing 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 primary customisation efforts focus on the business issues that apply to all 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 one 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 targeting and delivering a personalised message to a large number of accounts, sometimes in the thousands.

So, how can you choose the right approach for our organisation? Well, you don't have to choose one. A blended approach is best: the top-performing ABM teams generally employ two or even all three tiers.

The Complete Guide to Starting with Account-Based Marketing (ABM)
6

Common Mistakes Marketing & Sales Teams Make Executing ABM

We've covered a lot of ground so far!

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 some common mistakes that companies make with ABM.

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 as one team.

Sales and marketing need to be aligned since they will focus on the same accounts. They both should have common goals and need to speak a common language with regard to messaging and the overall account-based approach.

Mistake #2: Seeing it as a campaign

A classic! It is easy to say, 'let's run an ABM campaign,' but this is 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 it from a long term perspective.

Mistake #3: Believing that using an ABM tool is enough

There are a lot of great tools and platforms 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 your team's efforts, not replace them. You need to do your homework, analyse which accounts you should go after, and 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 strategy and go full ABM overnight. It's a guaranteed road to failure.

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 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)
7

How to Start & Run a Pilot ABM Campaign

We are almost done! And we hope you are excited about starting with account-based marketing in your organisation.

Let's now talk about how to start a pilot ABM project. A pilot will serve as proof of concept for your executive leadership. It is always good to have some successful account-based marketing examples that can be used to gain their buy-in before making it an organisation-wide practice.

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. You must 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.

As mentioned several times in this guide, account-based marketing is a daunting task; it involves a lot of planning, and collaboration among the marketing team, sales, account management, customer success and finance teams; it is a long term play with marketing campaigns running from several months to sometimes a couple of years, it involves both new and existing customers, it involves an immense amount of research and thought to create campaigns for specific companies, with specific key decision-makers. There is a lot to account-based marketing, and we have tried our best to equip you with all the information you would need to go from a beginner to a PRO.

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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