Account based marketing (ABM) is a B2B marketing approach that requires collaboration from marketing and sales teams to target best-fit accounts and turn them into customers. In this approach, individuals within accounts are engaged and treated as unique, highly-sought after customers. This growth strategy requires a high level of personalized buying experiences for each targeted account.
With that being said, ABM is not for everyone. It requires a lot of sustained effort. ABM is ideal for a high-cost solution with a long sales cycle that touches a lot of people.
What are the different types of account based marketing strategies?
When people ask “what is account based marketing?” the answer is not so cut and dry. There are three types or levels of ABM that differ in scale and personalization. You may use one or more of these options at the same time.
1:1 ABM. Sometimes referred to as strategic ABM, 1:1 ABM delivers tailor-made content and messaging to individual target accounts. This highly personalized approach helps you foster better engagement and deeper relationships with prospects.
1:few ABM. You may hear people call this strategy ABM Lite or account segmentation. Instead of focusing on highly tailored content for an individual account, 1:few ABM involves creating custom content and messaging that appeals to specified, grouped accounts.
1:many ABM. This last one is often called Programmatic ABM and is highly scalable. 1:many ABM programs typically target 100 or more accounts at a time that share common traits and pain points.
What is the difference between ABM and demand generation?
Demand gen programs target markets and industries with the goal of driving a large number of leads to Sales. ABM programs focus on acquiring and nurturing leads from specific accounts, with an emphasis on quality over quantity.
Some of the key differences between ABM and demand gen are:
- ABM requires Marketing and Sales to regularly work together to identify and review accounts and strategy.
- ABM requires an understanding of the personas and roles in the buying group at target accounts—and the creation of personalized content and messaging to appeal to them.
- ABM requires a fully integrated martech stack with consistent and standardized reporting across teams.
A good way to think of demand gen is like crab fishing. You set your basket nets in multiple areas and haul in as many crabs as you can. After you sort through your baskets, you keep the few that are the right size and throw back the rest. This capture first, qualify later approach brings in a lot of leads, but can overload the sales team with contacts that don’t fit your target market or aren’t ready to buy.
Sticking with the fishing analogy, ABM is more like the way most Alaskan fishing outfits catch halibut using a chum bag attached to the anchor. Following the scent, the halibut come directly to the boat. Marketers using an ABM strategy create content they know will attract the people on the buying team at targeted accounts, and they make that content available to those personas in the places where they hang out.
What are the components of a successful ABM strategy?
Marketing and sales alignment.
ABM requires everyone to be on the same page. Many of the companies we talk to focus on alignment between marketing and sales. For ABM to really work, alignment needs to happen at multiple levels, starting from the CRO to demand gen teams, marketing ops, sales managers, and sales enablement.
To lay a strong foundation for your ABM program, there are 5 key areas that require continuous alignment:
- Goals. Why are you moving forward with an ABM strategy, and what will it solve?
- Target accounts. What accounts do you want to go after? Are you going to market one-to-one, one-to-few, or one-to-many?
- Tools. What tools do you need in your tech stack? Do you want to track intent data, and how will you use gifting practices in your account nurture?
- Playbook. How will you engage with your accounts and evaluate if everyone is on the same page about that plan?
- Sales-enablement. How will you support sales and their conversations with accounts?
An ABM strategy targets specific accounts, with highly-personalized content. An omnichannel approach will put that content and messaging in front of those target accounts, everywhere they roam. Being omnichannel ensures a company will not only be in the best position to grab attention, but also further engage accounts and foster deeper relationships.
Account level reporting.
The way data is managed in ABM is specific. There needs to be a single source of analytical truth that both marketing and sales act upon. When ABM is done correctly, a business uses contacts associated with accounts in its CRM instead of leads. By associating contacts with accounts, businesses can house deeper information, such as whether the lead is an existing customer, related to an active pipeline opportunity, or works at a partner account.
What technology do I need for a successful ABM program?
This should go without saying, but this strategy only works if your technology is all integrated and your data is shared across all tools. Moreover, you should structure and format your data uniformly so that every team has the same information, regardless of where they are pulling the report.
Many organizations believe getting their tech stack in order boils down to ripping out existing technology that doesn’t fit and inserting what does. That’s a bit of a fallacy.
Approaching new technology.
Your current tech stack enables everything your organization does, which makes changing it extremely disruptive. Fortunately, you’re probably already using most of the core technologies—from marketing automation to publisher programs to analytics platforms—that you need for successful ABM programs. Your stack will likely only require one or two additional tools to round out the mix and accomplish your ABM goals.
An organization should approach new technology as an add-on rather than a replacement. This will maintain necessary stability as you define new use cases and identify the technology vendors that address those use cases. No matter what tech is added, your entire stack must be integrated. Relying on manual processes leads to messy data, the possibility of misinterpretation, and important account data slipping through the cracks. In the long run, it limits your ability to scale.
Optimizing existing technology.
It’s surprising how many marketers already have tools with necessary features to drive ABM campaigns but are completely unaware. Before looking for new technology, ask the account manager for your existing platforms about their latest capabilities. Share what you are trying to accomplish. They will often be able to find solutions and workarounds to help you accomplish ABM goals.
Take publishing programs, for example. An organization might contact one of their existing publishers to place certain pixels on their site — adding calendar capabilities or implementing chat capabilities — to increase the amount of data and engagement. A vital piece to any tech stack is the reporting. Organizations need to ensure their reporting can properly measure and evaluate the impact that ABM programs are creating and what success the sales and marketing teams are having.
What data and analytics do I need to support my ABM program?
What is account based marketing if not data-driven? A business’s ABM program can thrive or die on its data. The goal is to collect the right information on target accounts and help sales use it effectively to close deals. When it comes to ABM, there are two major no-nos with data and analytics.
ABM is about connecting the dots, which cannot happen if data caches are split amongst marketing and sales. If each team is holding a different stack of reports and data, how will they help each other discover new accounts and close deals? It does no good for the organization if marketing and sales have individual reports with differing information. Integrated systems and reports are a must to keep marketing and sales on the same page, working toward the same goals.
Integrating reports is not enough if data points are not standardized. If marketing pulls a report and the sales team goes off of their own version of that report, there’s going to be a problem or two. Measuring success all boils down to pulling the same kind of data from every touchpoint and integrating that into the same data buckets with the same labels. If Sales and Marketing are unknowingly measuring certain data points twice or dividing some up, it can change the entire outlook.
The Iron Horse insight.
There is a reason why so many marketers are searching “what is account based marketing?” ABM is not simple. It IS complex and requires tight orchestration and alignment, a strong commitment to change management, and an advanced use of data and technology. Whether you’re planning to fully practice ABM or not, this is a strategy that almost every B2B marketer needs to understand. You might find that mixing in some ABM campaigns to land some big fish could be a highly rewarding effort for your company.