What is Account-Based Marketing?
Account-based marketing (ABM) is a growth strategy in which marketing and sales work together to create personalized buying experiences for a mutually identified set of high-value accounts that could lead to significantly higher expansion or growth opportunities.
While the term account-based marketing has only worked its way into our marketing vocabulary in recent years, the general concepts that define the strategy have been around for a long time. ABM comes down to the question of how much effort you put toward engaging (and hopefully landing) each potential customer.
ITSMA describes ABM as “treating each account as a market of one.” If you only had a market of one customer, you’d pull out all the stops to engage every possible stakeholder and personalize every touchpoint to cater to their specific needs.
When you think of ABM in this way, it is no wonder why it’s so effective. And when you’re targeting only a few accounts, a hyper-focused level of attention is doable. It’s when you broaden the search to hundreds or thousands of accounts that it becomes impossible to scale.
Well, it’s not impossible. It just requires a strategy that enables you to scale.
In this guide, we’ll teach you how to build a scalable framework around your ABM strategy by:
- Developing an account-based marketing strategy
- Defining your target account list
- Applying a tiered ABM approach
- Defining attributes to segment and target your accounts
Is ABM a strategy or tactic?
ABM is a strategy focusing on targeting specific key accounts with personalized, highly relevant marketing. It isn't a tactic, but a comprehensive and highly collaborative approach that involves the coming together of marketing, sales, and other teams to achieve specific business goals.
How to Develop an Account-Based Marketing Strategy
To reap the benefits of an ABM approach, you must develop a viable account-based marketing strategy. These steps will help you design and implement your method effectively.
Step 1: Align your sales and marketing activities
Create shared goals and strategies that allow your sales and marketing teams to work together as a unit to provide a seamless buying experience for target accounts from start to finish. When your sales and marketing teams embrace cooperation and clear communication, each does its part. Marketing acquires the leads, and sales closes the deals.
Step 2: Develop data-driven target account personas
Use data to identify any high-value accounts currently showing interest in your company. Review these organizations’ size, maturity, income streams, and spending patterns. Examine the tools and platforms they currently use, their business objectives, and projected growth. Develop a data-driven list of target account personas for your sales and marketing teams to agree on.
Step 3: Create target account-specific marketing plans
When you’re truly marketing to an audience of one, it’s essential to deeply personalize your approach based on intelligence about the prospect. Even if you develop similar marketing plans for different targets, each must be tailored to specifically address individual accounts. This includes customizing your content and outreach to appeal to the primary contact and all members of each company’s buying committee.
Step 4: Attract the right contacts at each target account
Use your data to identify the connections to approach your target accounts, then determine the marketing channels they are most likely to visit. Develop high-performing content for the spaces most relevant to your targets. These could include industry events, trade publications, and targeted ad placements.
Step 5: Include the rest of the buying committee
Don’t overlook other members of the buying committee who may influence your target’s final decision. A robust ABM strategy identifies all involved parties and tracks their interactions with both sales and marketing teams. Create marketing materials that reinforce your messaging and use it to actively engage them individually.
Benefits of Account-Based Marketing Strategies
Implementing these steps can help streamline your marketing and deliver a range of benefits for your organization.
Optimizing your importance to high-value accounts: A comprehensive ABM strategy compels marketers to personalize content for each target account. When all interactions are explicitly tailored to the target’s needs, it optimizes your value by showing how your products and services solve their challenges.
Improving cross-team collaboration: Enriching cooperation and communication across teams advances any organization’s performance. In an ABM context, this means marketing and sales concentrate on achieving the same objectives. This collaboration keeps them aligned, improves budgetary adherence and revenue results, and enhances customers’ experiences with a company.
Boosting customer experiences through timely communication: Every company hopes to create a sense of delight among its target clients. Use your hard-won alignment between sales and marketing to ensure all the team members know where your target is on the buyer’s journey. This enables them to provide timely content and tailored communications to influence buying decisions.
Helping to determine your ROI: Measuring your return on investment is simple with account-based marketing strategies because you can easily establish whether the tailored marketing expenditure produced results. You can also identify similar target accounts and employ the same effective tactics to secure those, maximizing the value of your marketing dollars.
Streamlining your company’s sales cycle: Account-based marketing simplifies the typical sales cycle by allowing you to save time and resources by concentrating on specific target accounts. Instead of trying different marketing tactics to generate leads, ABM ensures that the companies you pursue are right for your business (and vice versa).
Expand business through account relationships: When you implement an effective ABM strategy, you invest substantial time and money into winning and building trust with high-value target accounts. This puts you in an excellent position to retain and delight these accounts, encouraging them to refer you to their contacts through word-of-mouth marketing and testimonials.
Account-based marketing strategies offer many benefits for B2B companies, provided you identify the correct target accounts and implement appropriate tactics to convert them.
How to Define Your Target Account List
Sangram Vajre, Co-Founder and former CMO of Terminus, lays out an ABM program perfectly when he describes it as “Flipping your Funnel.”
The idea for this analogy is that instead of the traditional inbound approach of generating a high volume of leads at the top of your funnel and narrowing the focus as you work your way down. ABM flips that funnel and starts by focusing on only your most ideal accounts, the most valuable ones with the highest likelihood of buying from you.
Creating this target account list is the cornerstone of any ABM initiative.
A great way to start is by looking at your current customers. Who are your most valuable customers, most likely to have the highest spend or longest lifetime value to date? What things do they have in common that make them your ideal customer?
If you can start by building your ideal customer profile, you’ll soon have a great picture of the types of accounts you should target. Your analysis should factor in demographic and firmographic details, such as company size, annual revenue, industry, length of the sales cycle, lead score, and overall fit with your product or service’s solution.
It’s also important to leverage your sales team and the data you currently have in your CRM. In a joint effort with your sales and marketing team, you can start to identify all of the top prospect accounts in your database and develop a sense of your target audience. Many organizations also start by having each of their reps pitch their top 10 or 20 accounts.
With a clear picture of your ideal account, you can leverage artificial intelligence tools like Bombora and LeanData to find similar companies that aren’t even on your radar yet. After all this work is done, you may have a list of hundreds or even thousands of target accounts that meet your ideal customer profile (ICP).
How on earth can we give them all one-to-one attention?
How to Scale with a Tiered ABM Approach
This answer is not every account requires one-to-one treatment. With hundreds of target accounts on your list, it’s impossible to treat them all with a hyper-focused level of personalization. You would need an enormous team and budget.
But that’s where a tiered ABM approach can prove extremely valuable. The general idea is that you can break your massive list down into tiers based on importance—things like their overall size or value, how closely they match your ideal customer profile, and how likely they are to close. In the chart below, you can see the three tiers of ABM as outlined by ITSMA.
The first tier, referred to as One-to-One ABM, is the super personalized one-to-one treatment most commonly associated with ABM. This is only manageable with a handful of accounts, but you can pull out all the stops with these accounts. Some examples include personalized webinars and unique content pieces based on their challenges or objectives.
We’ll be creating more content that looks at the specific tactics, so we’ll leave it here for now. The idea with One-to-One is that this tier is meant for your biggest, most valuable accounts that are worth the dedication and attention.
The second tier, One-to-Few ABM, addresses your next 500-1000 ideal accounts. Of course, you can’t give them all one-to-one treatment, so this tier focuses more on a one-to-few approach. This tier focuses on grouping accounts into more manageable segmentations that you can target with personalized content they can all associate with. This could mean landing pages tailored to a specific industry that are personalized with their logo or company name.
The third tier, referred to as One-to-Many ABM, is meant to address the rest of the accounts on your list. This list can be as large as 1000-5000 accounts, so your tactics here are similar to your typical inbound account-based marketing strategies.
However, by leveraging your various account segments, you can be targeted with your email outreach, using messaging and content more focused on the topics and industries your accounts are interested in. For example, you can create email campaigns focused on specific verticals, topics, or geographic areas.
We’ve created a simple sheet that you can use to map out your ABM strategy, following the three tiers outlined above. (Click the image below to see it.)
Defining Attributes to Segment and Target Your Key Accounts
With your account list now broken into manageable tiers, you can start to think about how you’ll go about marketing to each. In tiers two and three, segmenting them into marketable groups enables you to define common attributes among accounts and effectively target them at scale.
The best way to do this is by referencing or creating a list of common attributes between them.
For example, many of your target accounts may use the same technology, be from the same industry, or live in the same geographic region. All of these are valuable when it comes to deciding how to target your marketing campaigns.
Wrapping It Up
Most modern B2B demand generation or revenue marketing teams are either investing in ABM or seriously thinking about it. The reason is obvious—it works.
But, as you’ve learned in this guide, the key is to have a scalable account-based marketing strategy. This enables you to define your target account list, break the list into manageable tiers, and effectively segment your accounts into marketable groups based on common attributes—and, yeah, accelerate your pipeline.