Account-based Marketing (ABM) is a collaborative and cross-functional strategy that has swept B2B marketing dialog over the past few years. While it’s been on the tip of everyone’s tongues, there’s been a strange phenomenon of ABM false starts that have set many marketers back who have wanted to implement ABM.
Account-Based Marketing is a hyper-personalized, coordinated effort between revenue teams (marketing, sales, and service). They coordinate communication with the right stakeholders at the target accounts, with the aim of increasing retention and revenue growth.
In this guide, we’ll break down the various ways Account-Based Marketing (ABM) can be achieved. Then, we’ll share some of the signs that your organization is ready for ABM success (and where you may need to improve).
What is Account-Based Marketing?
You’ll find that Account-Based Marketing is defined in multiple ways. We’ve picked out three examples that explain the concept well.
- “A focused approach to B2B marketing in which revenue teams (marketing, sales, and service) work together to identify, segment, and target accounts to increase retention and revenue growth” (source: Salesforce CSG team).
- “A strategic approach that combines targeted, insight-led marketing with sales to increase mindshare, strengthen relationships, and drive growth in specific new and existing accounts.” (source: ITSMA).
- “A focused approach to B2B marketing in which marketing and sales teams work together to target best-fit accounts and turn them into customers.” (source: Terminus).
How should you make sense of these definitions? It takes a keen eye and patience to spot the differences. Let’s instead focus on the similarities:
- Revenue teams (marketing, sales, and service) work together to identify, segment, and target accounts.
- Target best-fit accounts and turn them into customers.
- Combine targeted, insight-led marketing with sales.
- To increase retention and revenue growth.
- To increase mindshare, strengthen relationships, and drive growth in specific new and existing accounts.
Account-Based Marketing Misconceptions
With all the buzz around how focused ABM campaigns can lead to jaw-dropping conversion rates, people can easily be led into believing they’re already doing “ABM”.
This mistake is commonly made among marketers who use marketing automation systems to perform industry verticalized and persona-based personalization at scale. Unfortunately, that’s not ABM. Do any of the following myths seem scarily familiar to you?
- Account-based marketing is demand generation.
- All marketers must generate marketing qualified leads (MQLs).
- Account-based marketing can happen in isolation from the sales team.
- You can rinse and repeat “ABM” campaigns for multiple accounts.
- By investing in ABM tools and technologies, you’ll slot nicely into an ABM strategy.
Why ABM Works
Marketing that’s hyper-personalized results in a higher rate of conversions.
This makes sense – doesn’t it feel good when someone recognizes a specific challenge you have? And moreover, doesn’t it create relevant messaging that resonates with how to overcome those challenges?
- Buyers are more likely to feel supported when purchasing your product/service.
- Influencers/champions are able to succinctly explain the value the organization can expect from investing in your product/service to other stakeholders among your colleagues.
By focusing on the people who influence the buying decisions in the accounts there are three key reasons this works well (when done properly):
- Personalization: Gives a priceless sense of relevance and timeliness – i.e. being there at the right place, at the right time.
- Unique experiences: Differentiates from competitor nurture campaigns, therefore making your solution more memorable, and more focused on their success.
- Alignment across decision-makers: Speeds up the buying cycle when all stakeholders understand the value that your offering has.
Return on ABM investment (ROI)
Measuring ABM ROI (return on investment) varies from the run-of-the-mill marketing ROI in some ways. The business value you could see from investing in ABM programs fits into three categories:
- Higher volume of deals: When acquiring new business, expand the number of opportunities open, and hopefully, “closed won”.
- Larger deal size: Increase the amount of revenue captured per opportunity.
- Speed to revenue: While opportunities will close faster, you will also be handing over primed customers for onboarding. Whether that process is handled by your customer success team, or automated – you can reap the rewards of ABM downstream, as the time to “value” has accelerated.
Let’s not confuse business value with ROI. Remember that ROI is an outcome that requires:
- Strategy (a plan)
- Performance indicators (what to measure)
- Execution (if it’s done)
This all falls apart if one of the verbs above (plan, measure, do) is missing:
- No strategy? You failed to plan.
- No KPIs? You failed to measure.
- No execution? You failed to follow through on the plan.
There are ongoing studies that measure the benefits and challenges of executing ABM campaigns. Check out the additional resources at the end of this guide to supplement your understanding of the benefits realized by companies running ABM programs.
Getting Every Team Involved With ABM
We’ve established that many organizations struggle when it comes to planning and executing ABM initiatives. This is primarily due to the cross-functional and collaborative efforts that ABM requires. These won’t necessarily align with the current roles and responsibilities the stakeholders in your organization hold.
We’ve already mentioned the “revenue team”. This is the term that combines the marketing, sales, and service team members. Every member from each of these teams has a role in acquiring, retaining, and expanding a prospect or customer’s relationship with their organization.
Let’s find out more about how the members of the “revenue team” play their role in building and executing the ABM strategy.
Note: While these responsibilities seem broad, keep in mind these are team-wide responsibilities. We’re going to keep the roles and responsibilities high-level, but each organization is different, so adapt what you read below to your own organization’s setup.
- Takes a data-centric approach to identify top opportunities for revenue growth
- Identify Key Accounts with Sales/ Service
- Builds Ideal Customer Profiles to target
- Co-Develops Engaging ABM Campaigns
- Cross-channel and hyper-personalized
- Unified messaging and notifications across all customer-facing teams
- Maintains regular revenue team cadence to drive alignment and progress
- Grows target accounts
- Campaign measurement
- Track opportunity stage velocity
- Refines and iterates on Campaigns
Labeled as “Demand Generation marketers”, marketers striving towards ABM are typically measured on performance indicators that don’t align with ABM success, e.g. the number of marketing-sourced opportunities per month.
When executing ABM strategies, marketers often struggle to:
- Set expectations with executive stakeholders on how focusing on account-based marketing initiatives will positively impact KPIs.
- Gain buy-in from sales and service teams.
If high-touch, hyper-personalized, account-focused tactics are not on the sales and service teams’ radar, marketing will struggle to wedge in an ABM strategy.
Without proper C-level and cross-functional support, marketers may fail before they even start with ABM.
You may find more granular responsibilities at an individual team member level. This can even extend to become a dedicated role. For example, an organization could have an ABM lead who functions as part-marketer and part-project manager, responsible for pulling in the right stakeholders (according to the program), and monitoring performance via analytics.
Sales and Service teams
- Product positioning and value selling (sales). Adoption and cross-sell or up-sell (service)
- Marketing assets
- Familiarity with the sales motion
- Tweeze out buying intent signals
- CRM application rigor
- Updates account, contact, and case data
Remember to include both sales and renewals teams, implementation/ on-boarding and customer service.
On the front lines, sales and service teams are key stakeholders in executing an ABM strategy. Developing relationships with your customers lead them to know:
- The customer and key use cases. This informs your ICP (Ideal Customer Profile)
- The pains and triumphs that lie in both the buyer and customer journey.
The greatest challenge is to maintain alignment – whether that be between the marketing and sales team, or the service team.
While everyone loves to tout the benefits and high conversion rates that ABM delivers, sales teams struggle to:
- Align with the ongoing asks of the marketing team. It’s natural to return to the behaviors that you have seen generate sales success for you.
- Carve out the time for weekly/bi-weekly alignment meetings. Keeping regular account reviews maintains momentum.
While it can be a challenge to convince the sales team to engage initially, sharing your account intel will inform ABM programs. The return on ABM will come, especially if you take the time to help tailor offers, check-in on progress, and align on next steps.
Keep in mind that, depending on the type of organization you’re working with, stakeholders may look a little different. Keep the following in mind when involving stakeholders:
- Sales vs renewals: Traditional sales teams often own the sales and sometimes the renewal processes. In some organizations, renewals are handled by a separate team
- Customer success: Organizations with complex implementation requirements may have post-sales/customer success teams that onboard and manage the account relationship.
- Consultants: Services companies may have consultants who are responsible for leading the project/service delivery.
- Support team: Don’t forget to include your support teams for insights. Providing high-touch service for key accounts could nurture product champions and aid with account expansion (i.e. spending more money in the future).
Ensure the right stakeholders are properly engaged and have support from their leadership to shift priorities in order to support the ABM effort.
Are You Ready to Launch ABM?
According to Constellation Research, 92% of B2B Marketers started an ABM program last year, but 81% lack the confidence to execute. How might you develop organizational readiness to deploy ABM Strategy that succeeds?
Your readiness to launch ABM depends on a number of factors:
- Team alignment: Account Strategy and Planning is the approach used by revenue teams to plan, align roles, and orchestrate activities. How closely are your sales, marketing, and service leaders working together? (You can refer to the ABM Maturity Scale in the next section).
- Center of excellence: This is a cross-departmental function that provides leadership, best practices, and research. They are responsible for making group decisions and developing the roadmap for where the technology should head. This approach acts like glue and will help you overcome typical team alignment hurdles.
- Account-Based Selling: Sales teams new to ABM should expect a major shift in focus. They will be spending the majority of their time (~ 80%) developing relationships and high-touch selling in key accounts, as opposed to working marketing qualified non-target leads, i.e. those generally interested in buying (~ 20%). Pilot this approach before making a big-bang change.
Pin your organization’s transformation on a goal then start aligning metrics that can measure up to that.
Where are you on the ABM Maturity Scale?
Which of the following statements do you identify with when it comes to your sales, marketing, and service teams?
- Minimal: No collaboration or shared goals exist. Marketing automation is in place. To proceed to the next stage, work towards combining all information about any account into a single view, and implement effective lead-to-account matching.
- Emerging: Working together infrequently, on an ad-hoc basis, with few shared goals. Extending the account data available in your view and communicating with the sales teams should be your focus.
- Practicing: Collaborate frequently following a basic process to prioritize accounts, using several shared goals. In terms of technology, explore account-based advertising, web personalization by account, and continue refining SDR automated processes.
- Optimized: Consistently work together using a process that balances pre-sales and post-sales priorities. Most goals are shared. Now is the time for account-based attribution, buying committee targeting, and using predictive analytics.
- Leading: Tightly integrated throughout the strategy and planning process, with fully aligned goals and a strong consensus over the definition of the Ideal Customer Profile.
Technology definitions to help you climb the ABM maturity scale:
- Lead-to-account matching: This typically consists of data profiling, standardizing, de-duping, matching and merging data from multiple disparate sources from the entry point for Sales Leads to Customer Account and Contact lifecycle.
- Extending the account data: This consists of a customer centric mindset adopted across teams for Account record enrichment. It is common at this stage to continually identify any entity misalignment, relationship gaps, parity issues that occur due to growth, compliance or changing business needs.
- Account-based advertising: Tailoring marketing messages to the individual contact based on what is known and even predicted about the customer account.
- Web personalization by account: The customer’s Sales and Marketing experience online is personalized at the individual customer level.
- Account-based attribution: Aligning relevant data sources at the individual and account level to support and monitor the effectiveness of Account Based Marketing efforts.
- Buying committee targeting: Targeting is aligned to customer value potential and campaign goals with a focused approach where cross functional teams work together to identify, segment, and target accounts to increase retention and revenue growth.
- Predictive analytics: Real-time data is analyzed and insights are shared with Sales and Marketing leaders alongside predictive AI recommendations aiding in streamlined decision making to improve campaigns.
Types of ABM Stakeholders
|Who they are||What they do|
|Executive Stakeholders:||Own the transformation charter on behalf of the entire organization/specific business units. These individuals will act as the owner of the overall initiative.||Manage teams that are responsible for executing the ABM campaigns, and ultimately, for generating revenue.|
|Expert Stakeholders:||Do the day-to-day work that will lead to transformation. These individuals should come from disparate business units, predominantly marketing, sales, and service departments, but may also include IT or research. They may be people managers or individual contributors and are critical for driving alignment to make campaigns successful.||The reason we call them “experts” is that you will be dependent on their expertise throughout Discovery, Implementation, Go Live, and Adoption.|
|Center of Excellence (CoE):||A group/committee of key stakeholders. At its formation, the CoE will be made up of representatives from the roles involved in the implementation. This composition could change quickly because they will likely expand to include implementers from external consultancies.||Work to align on common goals and support cross-functional collaboration toward common goals. They often are responsible for making group decisions and developing/own the roadmap.|
ABM Launch Checklist
- Develop ICPs: Ideal customer profiles (ICP) are representations of the types of businesses that will find the most value in your ABM offerings, and therefore, are the best targets for your campaign approaches. The process involves interviewing individuals that work for your highest revenue-generating accounts. This will build your understanding of how your solutions allow them to overcome critical business challenges. You could take a marketing, sales, or service lens, asking about how engaging your marketing collateral is, who is involved in the buying decisions, or whether your service experience is “high-touch” enough. Take advantage of this ICP worksheet, offered by Terminus.
- Form an ABM pilot: Companies wishing to invest in ABM should start. A pilot should run for one line of business, and focus on 10 (or less) accounts. Create only one Ideal Customer Profile, and a single campaign with an allocated budget driven by a single SMART goal, including a set duration of time. * Working with only
- Set up weekly/bi-weekly cadence: Regular account reviews help maintain momentum. These sessions can function as a time to tailor content and offers, check-in on progress, align on next steps, and generally support collaborative campaign goals.
- Create a RACI model: To track the responsibilities of various cross-functional team members we recommend using a RACI, a project management tool that assigns individuals as responsible (R), accountable (A), consulted (C), or informed (I).
- Identify your data champion: From data modeling to system integrations, a successful ABM team needs at least one team member who loves – or at least doesn’t dread – working with data. Ideally, you have team members familiar with data architecture, data compliance, system integrations, and data analysis tools.
While everyone loves the benefits and high conversion rates from Account-Based Marketing case studies, in order to achieve the same in your organization, marketing, sales, and services teams need to collaborate on a shared vision. If the time and effort to execute the campaign are considered too high, the strategy will fall down without executives assigning team members to execute campaigns. For those doing the day-to-day work, friction will mean that it’s only natural for them to return to behaviors that they know resulted in some successes previously.
ABM is often confused with persona-based or industry-specific marketing personalization, in order to be considered ABM it needs to be tailored to a specific account.
These challenges are so great that Salesforce has invested in research to define the phenomenon of ABM false starts and ultimately to the renaming of Account-Based Marketing as “Account-Based Engagement”.