Account-Based Marketing 101: ABM Strategy, ABM Campaigns, Advantages & Pitfalls
92% of B2B marketers find account-based marketing (or ABM) “extremely important in their overall marketing efforts.“
And most of the marketers (85%) who use it find it to have higher returns than any other marketing approach they use … with about half of them reporting “significantly higher” ROI.
Whether it’s creating more opportunities with high-ticket accounts or closing deals quickly, ABM has many advantages. It’s almost a sure way of winning a few of the most strategic and money-making deals on any company’s wishlist.
So here’s a primer on account-based marketing to help you understand what it is, how it’s done, if you should do it, and the tools you’ll need.
What is Account-Based Marketing?
The simplest definition of account-based marketing comes from Terminus (an account-based marketing platform). It defines ABM as:
A focused approach to B2B marketing in which marketing and sales teams work together to target best-fit accounts and turn them into customers.
So what does that mean?
Well, it means that in account-based marketing, you select a few companies, say a 100 companies, who are the “ideal” or most profitable customers you could ever have.
After you’ve identified these “target” accounts, you focus all your sales and marketing efforts on winning some percent of these 100 companies.
Let’s understand some better…
So to really get account-based marketing, you should know how it differs from inbound or traditional marketing.
In traditional inbound marketing, marketers use channels like SEO, content, social media, pay-per-click and more to bring a LOT of “relevant” traffic to a website.
Some of this traffic signs up to be subscribers or books a demo or creates a trial account.
Let’s loosely call all these people “leads.”
These leads are then passed on to the sales team, and the work of the sales team begins.
The sales team shortlists the “quality” leads and starts their “thing,” for example, activities like reaching out, presenting, pitching, nurturing, etc.
In account-based marketing, this happens in the reverse order.
First, the sales and marketing teams work together to identify a few select accounts that can drive a lot of revenue.
Once the list of target accounts is ready, again, the sales and marketing people come together to build personalized selling experiences for (each of) these accounts.
This includes showing these accounts hyper-targeted ads, serving personalized website content, designing personalized email (or physical mail) outreach campaigns, optimizing the different “touchpoints” and a host of other ABM tactics.
The idea is to make the marketing/selling feel so relevant that the target accounts are compelled to engage with you.
Let’s now see how sales and marketing teams actually do account-based marketing.
The Anatomy of an ABM Campaign in 5-Steps (and the tools you need for each step)
A typical account-based marketing framework has five steps.
Step #1: Identify Target Accounts
The first step of ABM is all about finding the target accounts.
Here, you need to create an ideal customer profile (this the equivalent for a persona in the inbound marketing world) and then find targets that fit into this profile.
Terminus offers an excellent ideal customer profile worksheet here. It’s a great starting point to build yours.
Once you’ve created your ideal customer profile, use these four data points (as recommended by ABM solution Engagio) to find the accounts that match your ICP:
- Firmographic data: This is data about the company such as its size, annual revenue, industry, etc.
- Technographic data: This is data about the technology stack a company uses. For example, if at Convert, we find an agency that uses a competing A/B testing solution, it’ll likely be a good fit for us also. This works just as well for complementary technologies too.
- Intent data: This is data that shows if a company might have the intent of using a solution like yours. For example, at Convert, we offer a Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) solution. So, if we see an agency hiring for the role of a “Chief Optimizer” or something, that might mean they’re scaling things up and might be interested in hearing about us as well.
- Engagement data: This is data about your existing leads (who fit into your ideal client profile) that you’d like to target in your ABM program.
Here are a few tools you might need at this step:
- A company insights platform like LinkedIn, DiscoverOrg, Datanyze, or ZoomInfo. There are many more such databases.
- A tech insights platform like BuildWith that shows you what technologies a company uses.
- A CRM like ProsperWorks (now Copper), HubSpot Sales, or Salesforce to build your list of target accounts and record your other findings.
You might also consider working with a data vendor like LeadGenius to support your account selection efforts.
Step #2: Map Target Accounts
In the second step of account-based marketing, you need to identify the right contacts from each account you’ll be targeting.
Because many people (about 17!) are involved in B2B decision-making, you’ll need to identify the C-suite, the (decision) influencers, and also the end users.
In this step, you also need to learn as much as you can about all these accounts. This is also called as account “coverage.”
Here, you’re basically gathering intelligence about how to target these accounts at the industry-, company-, and decision-making levels. So you need to follow their industry news, market dynamics, growth drivers, competitors, etc.
Many companies also perform a SWOT analysis for each target account as part of this step to know exactly how to approach them.
In addition to this high-level data, you must also learn about would could convince the CEO to work with you (if the CEO decides) or what would your best approach be to target the CIO (if the CIO, too, is involved in the buying decision) and so on.
Important to Remember: Please understand that storing information about people in your CRM might involve you needing to get a lead base for storage of names, email addresses and other personal data, if these contacts are from European companies or are European citizens, in accordance with GDPR compliance mandates.
Step #3: Create the Content/Marketing Collateral
In this step, you’ll create blog posts, whitepapers, reports, videos, surveys, ad copy, quizzes, landing page copy, social media copy, brochures, and any other content or marketing collateral that will help you move your target accounts through your sales cycle.
Now, you might think you already do all this as part of your inbound marketing process…
BUT in account-based marketing, all this content is custom-created or customized (or at least highly adapted) for the target accounts.
For example, if we were to do ABM at Convert and we had a generic report titled “How to prepare for GDPR,” we’d customize it for the industry of the target accounts. So it could become “How to prepare for GDPR in healthcare” or “How to prepare for GDPR in HR.”
Sometimes, it might even make sense to write content exclusively for just one account.
Step #4: Execute the ABM Strategy
Now that you know what companies to target (and who to target in those companies) and your messaging is ready, it’s time to roll out your ABM campaign.
Rolling out an ABM campaign includes actions like the following:
- Launching your advertising campaigns
- Kicking off the pre-selling social engagement
- Connecting with the decision makers
- Rolling out email campaigns/Sending physical mails or kits
- Making phone calls
- Attending and building engagement at events
- Running personalized website experiences
All these actions create a series of touchpoints between your company and the contacts from the target account.
For instance, a contact from a target account will click on an ad that was targeted at the company level and visit your website.
Your website personalization tool (if it’s like Convert) will read the company IP address of this company and identify the company account from which the lead has originated.
The solution will then use this information to serve a personalized website experience.
Let’s say this visitor then reads a certain piece of content from the landing page that has been displayed to them.
Now, your marketing automation solution will “see” this interaction and alert your sales team to push through a “hello” call to this company/account. You can even personalize your pitch based on the content they read.
You get the idea, right?
There are thousands of ways the different contacts from your target accounts can engage with your website. You, too, can respond in hundreds of ways depending on their behavioral patterns.
For running your account-based marketing campaigns, you need a bunch of tools such as:
- Ad solutions like Kwanzoo or LinkedIn Ads to run ad and retargeting campaigns.
- A social engagement solution like Hootsuite for social outreach efforts.
- An intelligent website personalization solution like Convert Nexus™ that allows privacy conscious account based targeting with the help of IP-2-Company look-up
- A marketing automation solution like Marketo, Salesforce, or HubSpot to keep track of every touchpoint and offer sales and marketing insights to optimize the campaigns.
- A solution like MailChimp or Mailshake or for email outreach.
- A few tools for handling your event marketing, physical mail campaign (in case you run) and any other ad hoc tactics that you might use.
Step #5: Analyze the Marketing Effort
Once you’ve stopped your account-based marketing campaign — for example, when you’ve reached your campaign’s target like converting, say, 20% of your target accounts into opportunities — it’s time to analyze its performance.
You can choose from a host of metrics here … but these are some of the most common account-based marketing metrics marketers measure:
New contacts to enter your sales funnel: This metric shows how well you could break into the decision-making circle of your target account.
Engagement rate: The engagement rate is usually an indicator of the number of contacts that click on your ads and the number of times they visit your website. Broadly, this metric shows the number of accounts that responded to your campaign in some way.
Email response rates: This could be a good measure of the interest you could generate via your campaign.
Opportunities: This shows the number of accounts who responded positively to your sales conversations.
Pipeline velocity: This metric shows how many days you took to convert an account from the initial touchpoint.
Ultimately, you’ll measure the number of the Trial/Demo requests you could generate and the resulting revenue and ROI from your account-based marketing campaigns.
For very basic ABM implementations, you should be able to do some decent tracking with Google Analytics (or with any analytics solutions you might already be using).
You might also try advanced AI-powered tools to run your ABM. AI-based tools won’t just help you identify your target accounts but can also tell you which account to approach first. They can also help with more precise account profiling and intent monitoring and tons of other things. These inputs can dramatically improve your campaign’s performance.
As you just saw, ABM is an exhaustive exercise and there are no quick wins as such. Just like any other marketing approach, account-based marketing, too, has its pros and cons.
The Pros and Cons of Account-Based Marketing
Here are a few benefits of account-based marketing.
Pipeline acceleration: Because account-based marketing engages a bunch of decision makers in an account simultaneously, the speed at which accounts move forward in the sales cycle increases significantly.
Sales/marketing alignment: Account-based marketing gets the sales and marketing people of a company to make “orchestrated” efforts toward winning business. When these two teams work in sync, businesses perform much better.
Zero wastage of time and efforts on poor leads: Because account-based marketing begins with the identification of high-ticket accounts, all the efforts are geared only toward winning a few key business accounts. This is a big advantage over traditional or inbound marketing where pursuing poor leads is common.
While these benefits make a very convincing case for trying account-based marketing, a few cons clamp it down:
Time-consuming: Account-based marketing on a 1:1 level is VERY time-consuming – running even a one-week long campaign can take you a few months to launch.
Resource-intensive: According to the ABM Benchmark Survey Report, 35% of marketers interested in ABM do not take the first step because of the lack of internal resources and budget.
If you’ve a small sales team with just a few “selling hours’ with each resource, you might not be able to put in the level of effort meaningful account-based marketing needs.
Costly: Even basic account-based marketing needs a decent tech stack (like a sophisticated CRM, a robust marketing automation system, a complex integrations engine and more). You also need to spend a good deal of money to buy data for fueling your drive and for running advertising campaigns.
Let’s now see what companies can truly benefit from ABM drives.
Is Account-Based Marketing Right for your Company?
If you’ve a solution that a million businesses can use, account-based marketing is not for you.
You should continue using the traditional inbound marketing approach where you cast a wide net and write and promote content (and use other digital marketing channels) to get these companies to visit your website, enter your sales funnel, and convert.
If you sell to a few select companies, say, Fortune 500 or 5000 or maybe the top XXXX companies in your industry, then you can benefit from account-based marketing.
So what about the companies that don’t fall into these extreme profiles?
Most companies DON’T fall into these extreme categories.
But they can still use account-based marketing.
For such companies, however, account-based marketing is just another marketing+sales tactic they use to win their “best” business.
So if your product is a good fit, for like thousands of companies, you should use account-based marketing to win your most strategic, profitable, and long-term accounts.
3 Inspiring Account-Based Marketing Examples
Different companies use ABM differently.
Here are three stories of companies that made ABM work for them.
VersionOne — Driving 2X more sales opportunities with ABM (An early adopter of ABM)
Enterprise agile management software provider, VersionOne used AMB to 2X its sales opportunities. It switched from solely pursuing inbound marketing to ABM because it couldn’t “outspend” its competitors in the inbound game.
Accounts targeted: 800
Account engagement rate: 88%
% Increase in opportunity size: 45%
Increase in opportunities: 2X
eSignature transaction management solution provider, DocuSign used ABM to market to targeted accounts across six different industries.
Accounts targeted: 450+
Engagement rate: 59% (with an average of 13 page views/target account)
% Increase in sales pipeline across the 6 target industries: 22%
ICT services provider, O2 used ABM to boost its brand awareness and break into C-level audiences of its enterprise-level targets.
Accounts targeted (till 2017): 40
Pilot program (2015): O2 chose just one strategic account and launched a one-to-one ABM campaign.
Expanding the pilot program (2016): O2 rolled out its ABM to 10 strategic accounts.
Full program (2017): O2 launched a full program targeting one-to-few ABM drives and
% of target business generated: 325%
% of target pipeline achieved: 313%
New contacts: 39 C-level contacts
But sometimes ABM becomes its own victim too. Quite a few ABM campaigns aren’t planned or executed right resulting in a huge loss of time, efforts, and resources.
Setting up a Pilot Program
As you can tell, just setting up an infrastructure for account-based marketing is very expensive. You need tools and custom development and integrations, and whatnot.
The cost of building and scaling account-based marketing also increases with the level of sophistication of your campaigns. For example, designing an account-based marketing campaign by engaging a third-party data provider (to identify target accounts) and adding predictive analytics on top of it (to identify who to target first) will cost you a lot more than having your in-house resources create a list of targets and reach out.
Because account-based marketing is so resource-intensive, most companies don’t roll out massive account-based marketing drives at the start.
Instead, they begin with narrowly scoped “pilot” programs. It’s only when their pilot programs succeed that they roll out full-blown ABM systems.
Just like O2, even you can start your pilot program by targeting just one strategic account. Then scale from there. Many B2B companies that started their account-based marketing pilot programs in 2016 have now matured their pilots into full programs.
Wrapping It Up …The Future Beckons
If you can’t create a complete account-based marketing program right away (because of budget constraints or limited resources), you should still offer your key target accounts with personalized website experiences.
Personalized website experiences alone can get a huge lift in your conversion rates. About 93% of companies see better conversion rates by delivering personalized website experiences.
At Convert we power some of the most personalized website experiences for our customers.
But we are taking things to the next level with an even smarter solution.
Features like identifying a company with IP detection, serving AI enhanced personalization that fits your website to a T and results in native experiences and a lot more are on the horizon.
If you want in on the future of mass scale, intelligent ABM and personalization, join our VIP Wait List for an exclusive invite to the beta version of the tool, before anyone else.