Account-based marketing (ABM)

Account-based marketing

Quick definition

Account-based marketing is a B2B sales and marketing strategy that requires both teams to collectively engage specific target accounts that are considered a good fit for the products/services sold by the brand.

Key takeaways

Account-based marketing focuses on targeting best-fit accounts that have already expressed interest or be considered high-revenue opportunities, rather than solely focusing on traditional, lead-based only opportunities. Companies are most successful when they find the correct mix of account-based and lead-based marketing strategies.

Necessary tools for account-based marketing campaigns include marketing automation software, predictive analytics, AI, and technology that gathers intent data.

Content used in ABM needs to be highly personalized to each persona that makes up the buying group of a specific account.

ABM is becoming a marketing automation best practice and tablestakes for B2B brands.

Mitch Folks is senior manager of product marketing for Marketo Engage at Adobe. Mitch is responsible for product and go-to-market strategies for Marketo Engage, with an emphasis in account-based marketing capabilities at Adobe. He brings eight years of sales, marketing, and product management experience to help digital marketers and advertisers achieve success within B2C and B2B industries.

What is account-based marketing?

How do companies determine which accounts to target?

What tools do you need for account-based marketing?

How do ABM campaigns tie into a larger company strategy?

How do companies implement account-based marketing?

What challenges do companies face with ABM?

What mistakes do companies make when implementing an account-based marketing strategy?

How do companies determine success with an ABM strategy?

How will account-based marketing change in the future?

Q: What is account-based marketing?

A: Account-based marketing is a strategy, not necessarily a product or technology. B2B marketers and sales teams collaborate on a shared strategy and then coordinate account-based experiences together as one revenue team with the same agreed-upon goals. They select a specific number of key accounts to work on together to help win business.

Traditionally, marketing focuses on inbound strategies, like content marketing, or lead-based marketing, where you cast a wide net and hope that people respond. With account-based marketing, you try to target specific individuals within an account and coordinate your marketing efforts with the sales team. Generally, you would use an account-based strategy when you need or want to focus on larger deal sizes or high-value accounts that typically have a longer sales cycle. It's a slower and more patient — but more strategic — approach to winning business, and is especially important in B2B marketing efforts.

Q: How do companies determine which accounts to target?

A: It's completely dependent on the goals of the business. For example, if a company wants to focus highly on their existing customer base, and they have a new product they initially want to sell mainly to existing customers, they would hand-select specific existing customer accounts to sell to.

Another example would be if a company has a new product that's geared toward a new target market. For instance, a company that doesn’t have any healthcare company customers yet might create a brand-new product in the healthcare vertical that would provide value for healthcare companies. The marketing and sales teams would work together to target the top 500 healthcare accounts on the West Coast or the East Coast or within the state of California, depending on how targeted they want to get.

Q: What tools do you need for account-based marketing?

A: You need a marketing automation application to help automate and scale all of your efforts. If you want to target more than 20 or 50 accounts, but you don’t have the number of employees you need to target all those accounts at the same time, a marketing automation application can help make the process manageable. Artificial intelligence and automation technology fill the gaps.

For the data, you’ll want a CRM that you can integrate into your automation tool. The CRM will primarily help the sales side, while the automation tool will primarily help the marketing side.

Other helpful tools include predictive analytics and intent data companies, which are great for helping you prioritize. So once you have your target account lists, intent data helps you prioritize which ones you should focus on first. Intent data is based on a technology that monitors activity across specific websites and identifies if contacts from a target account is expressing interest in a topic that's related to your business.

From this information, you could infer that they are actively looking to buy something. That makes the sales and marketing teams aware that certain contacts are expressing interest in relevant topics, making those contacts good candidates for further outreach or active engagement. The theory is that those contacts from that specific account are more likely to purchase from you than an account that isn't expressing any intent.

There are also ABM-specific tools, which are point solutions that only help you with account-based marketing workflows. These tools primarily focus on paid media, so they help you run ads to people within your target accounts across the web.

Q: How do ABM campaigns tie into a larger company strategy?

A: ABM is generally one of two strategies a company uses. You have your traditional inbound marketing and then you have your account-based marketing. These should run in parallel, if it makes sense for the company. And brands need to find the right mix. Some brands are 80 percent ABM and 20 percent lead-based marketing. Some brands have those percentages flipped, while some brands are 50/50. It completely depends on the company, their resources, their level of maturity, their goals, and the product or services they sell. But generally speaking, a company should be doing both.

And the account-based marketing strategy should help influence the lead-based strategy. For example, if I have an account-based marketing strategy, there are target accounts that I know we need to close this year. And marketing and sales are going to team up to accomplish that goal. But that doesn't mean as a marketer I'm going to stop doing just paid media and trying to fill the top of the funnel. The difference is, now that I have an ABM strategy running in tandem with my lead-based strategy, I need my ABM solution to recognize if a new lead is part of a target account as leads flow into the top of the funnel. If they are, they’ll be treated as part of the account-based marketing strategy. If they're not part of my target accounts, they’ll be nurtured based on the lead-based strategies. So ABM puts an account filter in front of my lead-based strategy.

And to successfully run an ABM strategy, you still need highly sophisticated and advanced lead-based targeting. At the end of the day, you're still targeting an individual with account-based marketing, but you're targeting an individual in the context of the account and the other individuals within that account. So you need both capabilities.

Q: How do companies implement account-based marketing?

A: The biggest challenge brands face is figuring out the strategy. Many companies don’t know where to start. And the best starting point is the goal of the business. What is the company trying to do that year? Do they want to sell a product or raise brand awareness?

If you're enhancing your existing product to target your existing customer base, then your account-based marketing strategy would reflect that. If you're building a new product, or you want to break into a new market or new vertical, your ABM strategy should help you achieve that goal. If your ABM strategy doesn't align with your business goals, it’s not going to be successful.

Once you figure out your strategy, the next step is finding your ideal customer. Generally, brands will look at their existing customers, because those customers have already bought from them, and they'll try to find common attributes between existing customers. They'll take those data attributes and use that data to feed an artificial intelligence model. The AI will scan that database, look at all the common attributes, and then scan another database to find similar accounts the marketing team can use to build their target account lists.

And once the AI presents those accounts, the next step is to look at the intent data. Which accounts have contacts that are expressing high intent by engaging with information relevant to your product or service? For instance, if you are selling a marketing automation product, you will look at the intent data to find contacts that are reading marketing automation articles, downloading marketing automation ebooks, clicking on ads across the web. Those will be the accounts you want to target first.

With account-based marketing, you're not necessarily putting all your eggs in one basket, but you do have a limited number of resources. So if you're focusing on the wrong accounts, you may be wasting time. The intent data will show which accounts are expressing interest or are ready to buy.

Q: What challenges do companies face with ABM?

A: In addition to the challenges of developing a strategy and determining which accounts to target, companies also face challenges with reporting and content. When a company has separate ABM and marketing automation tools, those are two different databases that don't talk to each other. The reports are not within the context of each other. So the challenge is being able to view all the marketing and sales efforts at an account level, not just an individual level.

The challenge with content is that it has to be very specific. If you’re targeting healthcare companies, and you know the decision maker within those companies is the director of marketing, you need to know what content will appeal to them the most. It needs to be centered around the needs and concerns of a marketing director for a healthcare company. And if you’re targeting a decision maker in the IT industry, the content needs to be specific to IT concerns. You still want to have personalized content with your inbound and lead-based marketing, but they tend to be less specific from a persona perspective.

Q: What mistakes do companies make when implementing an account-based marketing strategy?

A: One of the common mistakes is companies think they immediately need to go buy a new software tool to add to their martech stack. Companies can often start an ABM strategy without needing to invest in new technologies. And the process of asking for budgets to be re-allocated and adding a tool to the tech stack can slow ABM implementation down.

Another mistake marketers make is waiting for the target account list from sales. A lot of people don't build a target account list together. The sales team will create it in a vacuum based on gut feelings and opinions instead of working with marketing to come up with that list based on both marketing and sales data.

Q: How do companies determine success with an ABM strategy?

A: Companies will consider whether the average deal size went up and if they generated more revenue. They also measure the overall pipeline. With ABM, the focus is less on quantity of leads and more on quality in terms of both engagement and strategy. The sales cycles tend to be longer, but the deals are bigger.

Q: How will account-based marketing change in the future?

A: We’ll start to see ABM be seamlessly integrated into marketing automation. In other words, ABM will become tablestakes, and even considered a marketing automation best practice. It won’t have its own industry. It'll just be part of the overall engagement or customer experience industry. And all these dedicated ABM tools will either get acquired or they'll essentially struggle to compete against the big marketing automation providers if they don't ultimately innovate by creating robust and full-scale marketing automation capabilities.