What Account-based Marketing (ABM) is – and what it’s not

“One thing ABM is not is a lead generation campaign; you’re not going to be able to measure with quarterly KPIs or see short-term impact. Account-based marketing is intensive with new tasks and objectives: you need to drive some form of orchestration between channels and touchpoints; you’ll need to test messaging which will be more bespoke than what you’re used to. The trickiest, and often most painful, change for lot of B2B organizations is the shift from quarterly to long-term goals and measurements.”
Kalja Moolenaar, Director, EMEA Strategic Advisory, MarketOne

“We do ABM”

“We do ABM” is a common phrase you hear nowadays within B2B circles – but do you really? Despite 94.2% of B2B organizations reporting that they have an active ABM program according to the 2020 State of ABM Report, it’s still not well understood. Of the organizations undertaking account-based marketing, more than half (51%) said that their program was in a ‘pilot’ or ‘early stage’, with only 13% of respondents having sales and marketing teams fully integrated into an ABM program.

This result is no surprise – account-based marketing is not easy, and it requires significant resources, budget and a new mindset. The implications and the responsibility stretch way beyond simply targeting high-value accounts. With this in mind, let’s look at what ABM is, and what’s it’s not.

ABM is not… simply choosing target accounts

ABM is… identifying target accounts and building a list, developing ICPs (ideal customer profiles), creating hyper personalized content and messaging for every stage of the buyer journey, executing the campaign and measuring and optimizing. This is only achieved by digging deep into your prospect’s behavior and gathering very specific insights from sales and account plans informed by business goals. How do you select your target accounts? Are they picked by sales leadership, marketing or RevOps? Is the choice based on a hunch or a validation process via data, so you can be certain these are the high value accounts you should be going after? ABM requires a data-driven target account strategy.

ABM is not.. a tool or tactic

ABM is… a marketing strategy or approach. ABM scales beyond lead generation or sale conversion. It’s an experience-led strategy that builds deep audience relationships. It’s no longer cut-and-paste personalization by simply adding a dynamic first name to your messaging or changing the headline of a landing page. ABM is a holistic and connected customer-centric approach, and a unified consistent and engaging buyer experience. It’s about building relationships with prospects and customers in an always-on way and getting to know them better than they know themselves. To succeed in ABM, you will need buy-in from C-suite to implement a strategy for your entire organization to create account-based marketing, account-based sales, account-based strategy – it’s account-based everything. 

ABM is not… simply using ABM tech tools

ABM is… using your tech stack to enable the ABM process to be more efficient. Purchasing the latest software doesn’t mean you can instantly nail ABM or solve all your account-based marketing challenges. In fact, according to B2B Marketing, just 16% of marketers feel they have a good understanding of available ABM technology. Focus on knowing how to use your tech and build 1st and 3rd party data, activating ABM across channels with data insights and channel strategy. Think about what business objective you want to achieve with ABM, build a map to get there and the resources to implement it. You can get ABM started with a basic tech stack consisting of your Customer Relationship Management software (CRM), a Marketing Automation Platform (MAP) and a platform that brings in data and collates it from an account, rather than contact perspective. Tech is often seen as the magic bullet but it’s just the enabler.

“In their rush to jump aboard the bandwagon, all sorts of companies are rebadging or recombining their products and services as ABM, failing to understand that account-based marketing is not a technology but rather an approach – one that is based more on conversation, research, adaptability, and listening than any clever combination of programmatic software or artificial intelligence.”
Alisha Lyndon, CEO of Momentum ABM

ABM is not… cold calling contacts within target accounts without nurturing

ABM is… a clear and unified strategy that straddles best-fit channels. The phone conversation plays a crucial part in building relationships but it’s just one element of a holistic approach based on segmentation and buyer journey stage. ABM is not simply a sales tactic.

ABM is not… a demand generation campaign

ABM is… reaching out to prospects in small segments of big, high value accounts and targeting existing accounts to create deep personalized connections. Demand generation is focused on creating a large volume of qualified leads and winning new customers in larger segments. ABM can serve a demand generation function in that it can boost brand reputation, identify new leads or target market segments but it is focused on channels, accounts and personalized content. ABM requires a new marketing mindset in focusing on accounts rather than contacts, and a longer time frame (potentially 6 to 18 months) to prepare your teams, create new messaging, onboard software, get leadership buy-in and implement. Where demand generation is a quick win, ABM is about embedding long-term success.

ABM is not… about clicks and opens, MQLs, leads and engagement rates

ABM is… a long-term process and because of this a longer wait for results – vanity metrics are out of the window. Think about how you are going to measure success – will it be first touch, or last touch or multi-touch attribution on a weighted scale? Measurement will depend on your sales cycle length too – you may have to wait for 12 to 18 months to see revenue attributed to the campaign, which can be difficult if you’re used to getting quarterly results attached to pipeline. Always keep in mind the business objective you have set for your ABM program and have business-wide goals, not goals linked to one ABM account manager who could move on. The new ABM leader might not be up to speed or may want to take a new approach, which means you may have to potentially overhaul the process. The ability to be flexible as changes happen will serve you well.

ABM is not… a one-off get-together between sales and marketing

ABM is… a close and ongoing alignment with mutual objectives. In the same way that ABM is not about a one-time interest in an account that is quickly passed on for sales outreach, it is about sales and marketing collaborating – continually, and at every level. With ABM, you’re inverting the funnel by asking marketing not to simply identify and nurture leads before passing them to sales but to work with sales to identify target accounts. Sales may not want to get onboard with ABM because they’ll be working in a new way with fewer leads. ABM forces sales and marketing to get behind the same strategy, and it works – companies with aligned account-based marketing strategies generate 208% more marketing revenue according to MarketingProfs. And yet 25% of sales and marketing teams continue to operate in traditional silos, which can be exacerbated in times of financial uncertainty. Sales, however, must be on board, and continue to be engaged and every marketing insight validated with sales’ detailed knowledge of the account: from identifying target accounts, developing personas, finding the right messaging, integrating ABM into an omnichannel strategy to measuring and optimizing.

“Make sure that you have that marketing and sales alignment because if you don’t have that at the very beginning, you’re never going to have it.”
Amy Hall, Global ABM Manager at Hitachi Vantara

ABM is not… promoting gated content

ABM is… about relationship building and sharing content to facilitate connection. Why hide your most relevant and engaging content behind an opt-in form? B2B buyers loathe filling in forms – recent research from 6Sense found that on average only 3.5% of web visitors filled out a form, while Unbounce reported the median conversion to form-fill rates among their customers was a mere 3%. The above stats show 97% don’t comply, so why does this common marketing practice still exist? Mainly because marketing can demonstrate they produce leads and hit their marketing qualified lead (MQL) goals. But ABM is all about relationship building and sharing content is a valuable facilitator – this becomes so much harder if you put a barrier in place. Gating content also limits the engagement, interaction and tailoring content to a specific account, and reiterates a transactional rather than trust-building relationship. It’s the latter that’s so important for ABM.

ABM is not… a quick fix, a fast revenue driver

ABM is… about nurturing over a long duration. You can’t expect to move the needle with ABM in a quarter. ABM requires a commitment of at least six to 18 months because you must pilot as you go – accounts, messaging, channels – and only when you see results, move on to the next stage. This test-and-learn process and waiting for results over time requires buy-in and patience from the top to the bottom of your organization. You also need to think about the best ABM approach out of one-to-one, one-to-few and one-to-many, and which accounts are best suited to which approach – the ones you deem to worthy of the most time and resources should be one-to-one, and this may change over time.

“ABM is not just multi-channel marketing. It’s best practice marketing. But there’s more to it than just using multiple lead sources. It’s about treating the accounts you’re going after as markets in their own right.”
Owen Steer, Senior Strategist at Digital Radish

Adopt an ABM mindset

Account-based marketing is not simply another marketing buzzword that involves using the standard marketing tactics to pinpoint a small number of accounts. It requires a whole new approach to targeting and nurturing higher value accounts. A large proportion of ABM is about adopting a mindset that approaches marketing in a new way, moving away from vanity metrics to long-term business results.

ABM is an organization-wide strategic roadmap that ideally is integrated and applied to your content, omnichannel strategy and outreach. Get to know your target accounts and use sales insight from the conversations they are having to inform your messaging. Get together with sales to develop personas together, choose target accounts and check in with them every step of the way. With an integrated strategy, you can apply best practice account-based marketing principles to add value to those premium accounts and continue to reap the benefits well beyond acquisition.