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?
Close an account, and then another,
and then another...
Design a customised strategy for those accounts
This definition essentially translates into five pillars:
ABM Pillar #1: It's a strategy
ABM Pillar #2: It's personalised
ABM Pillar #3: It's a coordinated effort between the marketing and sales teams
ABM Pillar #4: It's a land and expand strategy
ABM Pillar #5: It's highly targeted
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:
Usually, ABM is beneficial when your company is facing the following challenges:
An ABM strategy can help with all of the above.
It reduces wastage in marketing and sales efforts
There is an increase in the average contract size
Sales and marketing are on the same page
There is a higher close rate compared to unaligned approaches
Marketing efforts are tied to revenue
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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:
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!