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What Is Account-Based Marketing?

Account-Based Marketing

Account-based marketing (ABM) may seem like a hot new marketing trend taking center stage, but this is not the case. ABM has been around for a long time, but it is once again becoming the preferred marketing strategy of the most innovative and successful B2B companies. In fact, 93% of B2B organizations say they consider ABM to be very important to their organizational success. So, what is account-based marketing and why has it made a spectacular comeback?



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Defining Account-Based Marketing

Let’s start with three of the most common account-based marketing (ABM) definitions. ABM is:

  • A structured approach to developing and implementing highly customized sales and marketing campaigns for single accounts, prospects, or partnerships. *ITSMA
  • A strategic approach marketers use to support a defined universe of accounts, including strategic accounts and named accounts. ABM helps to evolve the role of marketing to reflect a stronger alignment with sales objectives and customer needs to deliver better execution and revenue outcomes” *Sirius Decisions
  • A strategic approach to business marketing in which an org considers and communicates with an individual prospect or customer accounts as markets of one. *Wikipedia

While all slightly varied, what these definitions have in common lays the foundation for ABM. They identify 3 key things that makes a marketing program an ABM program.

  1. A strategic, structured program
  2. Hyper-focus on target account success
  3. Complete organizational alignment

A great comprehensive definition of ABM reads:

“ABM is a strategy used by B2B marketers to identify and target the accounts they value most. ABM solutions include account-based data and tech to help companies attract, engage, convert, and then measure progress against customers and prospects at scale.” *Demandbase

Now, I’m sure you’re asking yourself, what is up with this “account” terminology? Aren’t marketers supposed to bring Sales leads? This is a fundamental shift in thinking that’s required in account-based marketing. No longer does marketing focus on leads and individuals; marketing now focuses on a specific group of target companies or accounts.

Sales has never closed “individuals” or “leads.” Sales closes accounts. In the end, marketing is adjusting its own lens to better align with larger business goals and to do so, marketing has to talk the sales and business talk before ABM can walk the business walk. So, if Sales has always worked in accounts, why is ABM just now becoming the talk of the town?

Where Did ABM Start and Where Are We Today?

Let’s take a trip down memory lane. Account-based marketing began over 20 years ago,  influenced by our friends in Sales, as a strategic way to market to target accounts. It didn’t have the success it enjoys today for a few reasons.

  • 1990s: Most organizations focused on small numbers of accounts. They connected through highly personalized, high touch engagements such as dinners, in-house meetings, and personalized notes sent after events.
  • 2000s: The new millennium ushered in the era of content management systems (CMS) and marketing automation systems (MAS) to help marketers scale their efforts and reach more people. This included a focus on email, reactive marketing initiatives to customer actions, and form submissions to drive conversions. The personal touch was lost in the mix.
  • Today: Technology and personalized data work as one to target hundreds and thousands of target accounts. Digital efforts are streamlined to reach the right people with the right message at the right time by using ideal client profiling, real-time bidder visibility, customized website experiences, personalized sales interactions, and improved data management systems, reporting, and processes.

Today’s advancements in technology and the deep understanding your business has of its customers all fuel account-based marketings rapid growth over the last 20 years, and it’s no surprise when 96% of marketers claim to have higher ROI with ABM than other marketing types. *Demandbase 

Four Major Benefits of Account-Based Marketing

Sales and Marketing alignment is typically like oil and water; it just doesn’t mix. But it doesn’t have to be that way! With ABM, Sales and Marketing must repair the relationship and work closely together so both teams can focus on their shared target accounts. When this happens, you have much higher close rates and you keep business objectives top of mind. But that's not all you’ll gain with ABM.

Here are some of the key benefits you’ll find with ABM:

  1. Account-based marketing delivers the right message at the right time to the right accounts.
    This is only possible with full organizational alignment. With Sales and Marketing focused on specific target accounts, Operations can then optimize technology resources to make delivery speedy and measuring the results a snap. It’s all about collaboration.
  2. ABM helps bridge the gap between departments by shifting focus to target accounts.
    If you can’t beat ‘em, collaborate with ‘em! Collaboration is essential for ABM success. ABM bridges the gap between departments by creating a central, standardized language around ABM. That shared vocabulary focuses on accounts, key business objectives, revenue, and an iterative process. Marketing becomes more efficient by focusing on target accounts (no more spray and pray!). Sales is excited about the increased quality of account leads. Both are thrilled at the higher close rates with larger contract values.
  3. Account-based marketing delivers a customer-centric experience.
    Remember how Sales and Marketing lost their personal touch in the early 2000s? Because customers can smell a sales pitch from a mile away and they are always growing smarter, it is important to have highly personalized interactions when dealing with accounts at every journey of the buyer’s stage. Customers crave personalized attention, and when you know the target accounts attributes like the back of your hand, you can proactively provide specific solutions just for that target account.
  4. ABM connects marketing to revenue.
    You read that right. ABM helps marketing make a tangible impact on revenue. This is because ABM markets to hyper-targeted accounts. These accounts are chosen in part based on their likelihood of positively impacting key business objectives. These objectives fall into three metric categories:
  • Close Rates
  • Average Contract Value or Deal Size
  • Funnel Velocity

The Key to Understanding Account-Based Marketing

No man is an island, and no department is a silo. Account-based marketing is only strong when:

  • the team rallies behind it,
  • there is collaboration across the organization, and
  • everyone understands that ABM is the key strategy that positively impacts the business’s bottom line and the health of the company.

How do you do this with ABM? The most important element to understanding ABM and how it positively impacts business objectives is by flipping the funnel. Yes, our Sales funnel is getting turned upside down. ABM starts with a hyper-targeted focus, then expands to create advocates. The traditional sales and marketing funnel begins with a large group of people, then homes in on the best clients.


*This flipped funnel was created by our good friends at Terminus

Because ABM requires great targeting skills from Step 1 of the process, the whole organization sees the benefits:

  • Finance gains greater predictability, transparency, and visibility into marketing expenses’ ROI
  • Operations engages with coordinated platforms between Sales and Marketing while creating accessible reporting for everyone from c-suite to HR.
  • Sales improves precision, coordination, and velocity in its target account engagements.
  • Marketing becomes more focused, efficient, and finally connects the dots back to revenue

Questions and critics are almost guaranteed, but by presenting ABM in a way that speaks to tangible, measurable, key business metrics, you will have a better chance at convincing others that ABM will make business better for everyone involved. And education is an integral part of the journey, so as you introduce ABM, make sure educational resources are available. Knowledge is power, after all. If that’s not enough, there’s one thing that will surely convince any naysayer— a decrease in cost per opportunity with an increase in pipeline generation.

It’s a total-organization effort, a partnership, and it begins with measuring past metrics, discussing how ABM meets business objectives, and fully committing to the collaboration it takes to make ABM a success.


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