Account-based Marketing (ABM) is a strategic marketing approach that treats an account (an individual, company or vertical) as a market of one.
ABM is highly personalised, and combines insight-driven marketing with sales, to increase awareness, develop relationships and drive growth within specific high-value, high-propensity accounts.
ABM 'flips the funnel' to treat each customer as a market of one, rather than targeting a wider persona demographic, as inbound and other, traditional lead gen strategies do. Often described as 'fishing with spears' rather than 'fishing with nets' depending on your ABM starting point, a campaign will begin with a selection of target company accounts (or industry verticals), then work to expand relationships and buy-in with key stakeholders and decision makers within that account or industry.
With the potential to drive stronger, more valuable customer relationships and enhance retention, Account-Based Marketing is an increasingly valuable strategy for B2B marketers.
Note that there are different levels of ABM, which we outline in the section below. Different marketers will have different starting points on the road from inbound to ABM. For example, some will start by targeting to specific individuals (ABM 1 to 1), whereas others will need to start by targeting an account list within a vertical (ABM Lite), or may only have an initial list of good-fit accounts at a persona level (Inbound to ABM). Each ABM campaign must be tailored to suit uniquely.
Benefits of ABM Marketing for B2B marketers
Regardless of your starting point, an account-based approach helps to solve a range of marketing challenges. ABM:
- Builds relevance trust and buy-in with large, complex and high-value businesses
- Helps you develop buy-in with key stakeholders involved in the buying cycle
- Works to prove the value of a complex service offering (often a combination of products people and services) to high-value accounts
- Enhances business growth through quality, long-term relationships and relevant conversations (ie - ABM tightly couples the strategic direction of your customer with your proposition)
- Aligns marketing and sales as business partners to articulate a holistic and joint customer marketing plan
Working to move perspectives of your business from 'just a vendor' to 'a trusted partner', ABM uses strong account insights in order to make marketing more personalised, engaging and relevant, often at an individual level.
80% of B2B marketers globally say ABM outperforms all other B2B marketing tactics
60% of marketers report a revenue increase of at least 10% within a year
84% of marketers said that ABM had significant benefits to retaining and expanding existing client relationships
Structuring an Account-based Marketing campaign
What should an account-based marketing plan actually look like?
The route any specific account-based marketing campaign follows will depend on a number of factors and components - which will all change uniquely for the campaign at hand, and will be influenced by an organisation's initial level of ABM maturity.
So to define what your account-based marketing playbook should look like, where to begin and what activities to expect, it's important to first understand your organisation's ABM starting point.
Defining your Account-based Marketing process
At Strategic, we have defined four-tiers of ABM to outline the different starting points that an organisation may need.
This framework covers a range of ABM maturities, from those who lack in depth account insight and are simply conducting inbound marketing (or another 'traditional' lead gen approach), to those moving from inbound to ABM activity, to those with a clearer perspective of the high-value, high-propensity accounts that their campaign needs to target.
Starting from the top of the framework:
ABM 1 to 1
The top of the framework outlines an ABM 1 to 1 approach; which selects specific individual contacts and accounts who are highly engaged / with high propensity to buy. Organisations who suit this tier already have insights at an account and contact level, so the campaign itself will highlight value by addressing the specific account/individual's challenges in specifically personalised content.
The further down the framework we move, the broader the targeting focus and starting point. At an ABM Lite level, activities are still quite personalised; organisations who suit this tier will target using a defined account list and vertical focus - but may not yet have clarity on specific target individuals. The content and messaging in an ABM Lite campaign will address challenges at a vertical or industry level, but also incorporate specific account business drivers where possible.
Inbound to ABM
An Inbound to ABM campaign is almost a transitional stage, where inbound activity works to generate relevant leads and creates a nurture pool of opportunities, from which to identify high-value, high propensity accounts for ABM Lite, or ABM 1 to 1 activity. At the Inbound to ABM stage, campaigns will target at a persona challenge level, with the potential to personalise further as good-fit accounts are identified.
At the inbound level, campaigns market to unknown accounts via organic and paid channels, without any specific account filter. Campaign content and messaging is again targeted at a persona level, using any existing customer data to inform content and messaging.
So, do you need a clearly defined list of target accounts are in order to begin ABM? No; it simply means that your ABM plan will need to start on one of the lower maturity tiers and gather the insight needed to expand into more account-targeted activity.
Account-based Marketing tasks
Activity execution in an ABM campaign will vary depending on your overall campaign success criteria, campaign goals, targeting criteria, best-fit channels for your account focus - and of course your ABM maturity.
Looking generally however, key activities in any effective ABM campaign will include:
Confirming ABM programme type
Defining the campaign focus and target account selection criteria
Setting specific and realistic KPIs and goals
Securing executive buy-in and support from sales as well as marketing
Defining target accounts
Building all activity on a foundation of deep customer insight
Agreeing campaign success criteria
Developing relevant messaging and content assets to support the campaign
Targeting across the best-fit mix of media and channels for your ABM tier/ programme type
Following appropriate sales strategies and outreach
Tips for effective campaigns
With so many moving parts, Account-Based marketing can be complex to execute successfully. Simply understanding what activities comprise an effective campaign isn't always enough.
To really see success and avoid campaign errors, it's important to follow a number of account-based marketing best practice protocols.
How to approach Account-based Marketing
Set clear campaign goals
What goals and KPIs should you set for an account-based marketing campaign? They may differ to the metrics you'd expect in a more traditional marketing strategy. For example, in other strategies, you may monitor progress by reviewing pageviews, engagement, clickthrough etc, top level KPIs etc. But for account-based marketing, measurement usually come down to quality account generation, account DMU contact increase and revenue expansion within accounts.
To succeed with ABM, you need to ensure campaigns are focussed towards securing quality account relationships, and that you are closely monitoring how effectively your team progresses with, and converts those ABM relationships - to see results. It's also crucial that your campaign sets clear success criteria. What will success look like for your campaign; quality engagement, awareness with X key accounts or otherwise? Make sure these criteria and other goals align with the overall objectives of the business.
Select the right approach
Not every organisation will be ready to jump into ABM with a clear idea of who their high propensity accounts are, or know who the individual decision makers within those accounts are.
So, it's important to spend time identifying your organisation's ABM maturity level in order to select the right programme approach. Your ABM maturity level (and best-fit go-to-market approach) can be defined by assessing:
- If your organisation has a defined ABM strategy
- Whether your marketing KPIs measure across the whole of the customer lifecycle
- How you select the right accounts for ABM (if you currently have a process)
- Whether your marketing and sales teams are aligned regarding the opportunity and approach to your most important accounts
- How well your organisation understands the specific challenges you help solve for your customers
- Whether your content conveys your organisation's unique value to your customers
- Whether you personalise content for specific customers
- Your understanding of ABM metrics to monitor
Run a pilot campaign to ensure executive buy-in, and manage expectations
If you're considering an ABM campaign, running a pilot is an ideal way to showcase potential results, build support internally, and develop the initial foundation and resources required for a full ABM programme.
A pilot is crucial to test how ABM may work for you at a resources/results level. However, if you are a marketer charged with evaluating ABM as a go-to-market strategy in conjunction with traditional demand gen, you shouldn't say yes to a campaign unless you can first secure internal buy-in. A pilot is a great way to do this and manage those internal expectations.
Securing the support of sales teams - as well as other executive buy-in is crucial for ABM; your organisation must be able to commit to supporting the campaign at every stage of the customer lifecycle, and must be willing to allow realistic timescales and objectives if a pilot (or later on, a full blown ABM campaign) is to gain traction.
Align marketing & sales
In line with managing expectations, when planning and implementing an ABM campaign, make sure everyone involved has a clear idea of their unique ABM role and responsibilities. Your sales and marketing teams need to have an aligned perspective on the goals of the campaign, on what content is being created, what promotional and follow up activities are being executed, and much more in order to ensure combined effort and progress in the right direction.
To keep track, hold regular sales/marketing catch-ups to review tasks, monitor how accounts are progressing and brainstorm new ideas.
As it's unlikely that your teams will win every account targeted, it's wise to use these meetings to review and learn from any lost deals. It's the best way for all sides to learn, stay aligned and progress your ABM approach.
The components of an Account-based Marketing campaign
Account-based marketing is a transformative strategy for both marketing and sales. Increasingly, marketers are expected to be able to define, execute, report on and succeed with campaigns that precisely target and appeal to the best-fit, high yield prospects for your solution.
ABM allows marketers to achieve lead goals by creating a more targeted, joint sales and marketing plan that treats high-value accounts as “markets of one” comprised of multiple key stakeholders.
But understanding how to develop and action a successful ABM strategy can be complex; even if you already have an understanding of your ABM maturity level and common ABM best practices, each campaign will be different. There's a lot to consider!
So what account-based marketing tactics should a campaign use, and what execution channels are best to use for different ABM programmes?
Account-based Marketing techniques to use in all ABM programmes
Regardless of your selected ABM programme ('ABM 1 to 1', 'ABM Lite', 'Inbound to ABM', Inbound), all campaigns will need to include this activity:
Identifying good-fit target accounts, and the DMU
ABM centres all activity around precise key customer accounts (or verticals/ clusters). Unlike traditional lead gen focussed strategies, which focus on lead volume, the goal with ABM is to progress awareness and relationships with decision makers in your target account list.
So to run a successful campaign, you must first have a clearly defined view of your target accounts (dependent on your ABM targeting criteria; accounts, verticals, clusters etc), their attributes (ideal revenue, size, location etc) and their key challenges (at the appropriate account, cluster or vertical level) that your solution addresses.
Once you have a clear view of the attributes you're looking for, you can create a shortlist of good-fit targets who fit those parameters, and use them to qualify any current database contacts you already have. Ideally, when you know which accounts you want to target, your campaign should work to identify the best contacts within those accounts to connect with - those decision makers and stakeholders who make up the Decision-Making Unit (DMU), and work to raise awareness/engagement with them.
Developing insight and profiling accounts
A strong foundation of data-driven insight is integral to the success of any marketing campaign. Account-based marketing is no different; data insight must be used to develop bespoke propositions and messaging for each customer and stakeholder group.
Put simply, data insight is integral to steer your campaign.
Use your own customer/campaign data, account level data from social listening and even 3rd party intent data to identify accounts with the highest propensity to buy. This insight will also highlight where you should focus sales and marketing effort, and how to tailor campaign messaging for the best return.
Aligning sales and marketing
Increasing leads, improving retention and driving revenue are increasingly, a marketing goal. This means sales and marketing integration must be more cooperative, clear and comprehensive than either team may be used to.
Today, instead of marketing working to generate leads before handing them off to sales, both teams must align on campaign goals and activities as a whole, to ensure seamless support and campaign decisions through every stage of a prospect's journey. In any ABM campaign, both sides of the business must have clarity on precise account focus, campaign goals, responsibilities and more - and feedback frequently - if campaigns are to run successfully.
Reviewing your ABM toolkit
Before any activity can be considered, you need to have the right infrastructure in place to support your campaign. For seamless execution, campaigns will use a CRM, Marketing Automation platform, CMS, ABM content promotion tools, and social promotion channels - all of which should integrate for best tracking and reporting.
Creating ABM focussed messaging and content
ABM is about highly personalised, targeted marketing, that resonates with a specific account's challenges. So if you're not creating messaging and content that reflects that, you're not making the most of your strategy.
Once you have appropriate insight into your target accounts, consider the individual, company or vertical challenges (dependent on your programme) they have, that you help to address, and develop messaging accordingly.
From targeted, segmented email marketing, through social selling, to on-page content personalisation (or 'smart content') make sure every interaction your account has with your messaging and content is relevant to them (and personalised when appropriate).
As the focus with ABM is not primarily on lead volume, but on developing a relationship with a quality account, a range of other hard and soft metrics should be defined that can be mapped back to specific sales and marketing objectives.
When assessing success, consider: are you effectively moving accounts to opportunities? Are you focussing on successfully developing a relationship with the DMU? Are you on track to achieve your goals and ROI?
MQL vs. MQA: What’s the difference?
A key point of difference between an Account-based Marketing approach and “traditional” lead generation strategies is measurement - specifically how you measure and monitor “good-fit” accounts vs “good-fit” leads
While most Marketers (and indeed the wider commercial business) are familiar with MQLs (Marketing Qualified Leads), MQAs (Marketing Qualified Accounts) are a lot less well known (and used).
So what is each one and how are they different?
MQL - Marketing Qualified Lead
Describes leads (with a particular focus on Buyer Personae) who meet your criteria for “good fit”, i.e. right Buyer Persona, seniority, company, location, etc. that have shown some level of engagement with your brand or content (downloaded eBook, attended webinar, etc.) They are qualified to enter your sales funnel and be nurtured through to a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL).
MQA - Marketing Qualified Account
Describes the entire high propensity account / decision-making unit (rather than one individual person within that account) who, following your ABM activities, are showing a degree of sales readiness. This metric (and ABM as a strategic approach) is more aligned to how sales are focused on winning accounts as opposed to winning leads).
MQA measurement considerations
When moving toward an MQA measurement model, what account-level metrics should you track to determine MQA readiness?
Do you have the right data and insight into which accounts are showing a higher propensity to purchase and are actively in a buying journey? And are you targeting the right individuals within that account?
Incorporating informed buyer intent intelligence into an ABM programme allows greater relevance, accurate targeting, and gives clarity on which good-fit accounts are truly good-fit, high-propensity MQAs. Essentially, intent-driven campaigns pinpoint active buyers, identify key priority areas for those accounts, and enable teams to focus resources on true MQAs, in the right places at the right times.
Account awareness of your company is another key indicator to determine MQA readiness. Branded web traffic and engagement interactions (such as email open rates, percentage of content consumed, engagement, etc.) are key indicators of awareness.
How much time has a good-fit account spent engaging with your organisation? Closely related to awareness, engagement outlines the specific time an account has spent actively engaged with you. Time spent reading your content, browsing your site, opening your emails, or speaking with representatives or chatbots are all actions to monitor to determine account engagement - and MQA readiness.
Channels to consider for different ABM programmes
Depending on your specific ABM programme, level of maturity and funnel stage focus, ABM execution channels will vary. However, we tend to see a mix of the following execution channels for ABM programmes:
ABM 1 to 1
Execution channels include - Linkedin Sales Navigator, InMail, Email and offline
Execution channels include - For a small audience size, the same as ABM 1 to 1, channels. If targeting a large single account with large global audience size; LinkedIn Sponsored Updates, InMails, or email if existing contacts are known.
Inbound to ABM
Execution channels include - Linkedin Sponsored Updates, InMails, remarketing, matched audiences (if the audience size is large enough)
Execution channels include - organic channels, PPC, remarketing
Keep in mind that every campaign is unique - channel selection will also depend on the environments that your target accounts are active in; which may include offline activity.
Account-based Marketing tech
Technology has transformed the very basics of B2B marketing. Sparking the advance of Inbound marketing, digital evolution has enabled more precision targeted, cost-effective, comprehensive and scalable marketing strategies to exist.
To build better ABM campaigns, target effectively and connect with key accounts and opportunities, it's crucial to understand what technologies and tools are available.
With the right toolkit, it's now easier to track lead and customer data in detail, speak with priority accounts via the right channels; and importantly, personalise communication at scale.
Required tech for Account-based Marketing
An ABM toolkit contains multiple components. Before starting a campaign, make sure you have access to the right account-based marketing tools:
A CRM (Customer Relationship Management) platform. Central to effective marketing and sales alignment, a good CRM integrates with other platforms (such as your marketing automation platform) and enables both sides to track progress and insight in real time.
A marketing automation platform - such as HubSpot. Think of a marketing automation platform as the central point, integrating all your marketing and sales activity and collating all interactions and touchpoints to provide complete marketing intelligence. Aligned with your CRM, automation platforms provide a central point to manage your campaign, from lead scoring, to tracking content, email campaigns and much more.
A CMS (content management system). This again, must integrate with your marketing automation platform.
ABM content promotion tools. Content Personalisation Platforms and Contextual Marketing tools allow you to use a mix of IP targeting, domain based targeting, geo fencing, keyword targeting and 3rd party cookie targeting to precisely segment content to exact accounts. Depending on your targeting approach, these tools can recognise when key accounts visit your site, where they are based geographically, keywords searched for etc, and use that insight to display personalised, relevant content to them.
Social media. In an ABM campaign, it's important to promote the right content via the channels key accounts actively use. Social paid promotion can enable an extra level of targeting and relevant social engagement between your sales team and key account individuals. It will result in better nurture, relationship building and trust.
Remember: for best campaign tracking and reporting, every tool and platform used in a campaign should integrate.
Can Account-based Marketing tech be used to scale campaigns?
A range of ABM technology; an array of social listening tools, predictive data analytics, customer engagement data, 3rd party intent data, marketing automation and CRM technologies are available to help us scale activity. With them, we can gain deeper account level insight and profile stakeholders, gauge buyer propensity, identify the correct mix of media and channels to engage on and more.
However, interpreting the data necessary to select ABM-ready accounts is another matter. Looking at the individual elements of ABM, activities such as developing an optimum and persuasive customer value proposition, developing account-specific messaging and bespoke content still rely on a considerable amount of human judgement, so keep in mind that ABM programmes can't be scaled by technology alone.
Measuring ABM success
Measuring metrics and reporting on account-based marketing programmes differs somewhat from more traditional strategies. As the focus is not on lead volume, but rather, on developing a relationship with a quality account; there are a range of other success criteria and metrics that account-based reporting will consider.
ABM success metrics
For example ABM programmes will typically monitor;
This may be shown through the acquisition and engagement of net new contacts; identifying and engaging new buying centres or influential decision-making groups.
For example, ensuring the customer has a deep understanding of your organisation and it's full range of offerings. An example of this can be seen should you move from vendor to strategic partner/trusted advisor status. If your sales team are seeing an increase in interactions back and forth with key contacts this may be a key indicator.
Are your targets engaging with personalised content and online experiences? Are they attending your events such as webinars? Which of your content assets or site pages are they opening, digesting and viewing - and where in the buyer's journey do they sit?
Value of marketing to sales
Demonstrating marketing's value to sales and the wider business.
Ultimately, being able to demonstrate that ABM is impacting the movement of opportunity through the funnel to closed revenue is key.
Website engagement, sales cycle length and velocity (conversion of prospects to opportunities and onward), revenue, retention, deal sizes (typically these are larger for ABM) and number of contacts per account are all additional metrics to monitor for success.
Considering ROI success for Account-based Marketing
ROI for ABM is also not as linear as traditional lead-volume-driven marketing. This is because the focus for ABM campaigns is largely to grow awareness, enhance mindshare and develop long term relationships with specific, high-value accounts.
When considering an ABM investment, assess expected return on investment by:
- Considering if your target account(s), as a market of one, justifies the investment that ABM requires to generate a return on investment.
- Clearly defining your ABM account selection criteria; this is an important factor when determining potential ROI.
- Managing expectations by building the business case on a foundation of clear metrics and commercial KPIs.
Understanding budget requirement
Understanding budget requirement is a key factor when building the ROI case for ABM. Factors that influence ABM campaign investment will typically include:
The level of activity you are already undertaking
Are you already actioning a level of ABM? Or, are you conducting an inbound marketing strategy (which can be used as a foundation for quality lead gen and nurture and work as a pool to identify ABM opportunities)?
The number of accounts the ABM campaign will engage
How many accounts will the campaign focus on? Do you have a process in place to identify ABM opportunities - and are you aware of the resources required to create bespoke campaign assets for each?
Does your expected target account spend justify 'market of one' ABM investment?
Any required technology investments
Do you need to invest in marketing automation, a CRM, or other platforms and tools?
Any required staff investments
Can you implement ABM activity in-house, or should you outsource to an experienced Account-based Marketing agency? Do you need to invest in your marketing team? Do you need to invest in your sales team?
Other required resource investments
Have you accounted for the time and budget needed to plan, develop strategy, manage the campaign, create bespoke account-targeted content?
What does success look like for ABM?
Each ABM programme will have defined different success criteria, aligned with the overall goals of the business. For example, for one ABM campaign, success may mean increasing overall revenue growth, but for another, may be defined by an increase in engagement, or greater account perception of the organisation.
Regularly monitoring key factors such as audience growth (especially growth of account specific contacts), customer perception, customer engagement, revenue growth, retention, and sales cycle length - and comparing these factors with non-ABM activity can all give an indication of ABM success.