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. Unless a product has a high-dollar sales cycle that touches a lot of people, a company probably doesn’t want to use ABM and would best stick to a standard demand generation approach.
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, and an organization can use more than one of these options at the same time.
1:1 ABM. This is the one we hear talked about the most but very few organizations do it. Sometimes referred to as strategic ABM, this delivers tailor-made content and messaging to individual target accounts. 1:1 helps produce better engagement, deeper relationships, and improved loyalty amongst prospects.
1:Few ABM. You may hear people call this strategy ABM Lite or account segmentation. 1:Instead of focusing on highly tailored content for an individual account, this strategy creates 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 typically target 100 or more accounts at a time that share common traits and pain points.
How does ABM differ from demand generation?
In demand generation, the targeting focus is on markets and industries, and the goal is to drive a large number of leads back to the sales team. When it comes to ABM, accounts are targeted instead of individual leads, putting a stronger focus on quality over quantity.
Some key requirements for ABM that differ from demand gen:
- ABM requires a regular cadence between marketing and sales to identify and review accounts and strategy.
- ABM requires an organization to constantly create personalized marketing content for accounts.
- ABM requires a fully integrated martech stack with consistent and standardized reporting across teams.
A fundamental difference to note between these two strategies is that demand gen pushes offers through a variety of channels to different segments of an audience, while ABM tries to reach accounts with personalized content through a variety of channels.
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 throwback all of the rest that are too small. Because demand gen is more about being in the right places than having the right content, there tends to be a wide range of good to bad leads, with the majority of them not worth a sales follow-up. ABM does not take that approach to capture first, qualify later. ABM has already identified and defined the target accounts and is more focused on having the right content for those accounts. Sticking with the fishing analogy, it’s like how most halibut in Alaska are caught using a chum bag attached to the anchor. Following the scent, the halibut come directly to the boat. Marketers using an ABM strategy create the content they know will attract their targeted accounts.
What are the components of a successful ABM strategy?
Most organizations doing ABM believe their strategy is optimized, but are not fully integrating all the different moving pieces—every tactic, every platform and tool in their tech stack, and all of the available data. This is like baking a cake without mixing the ingredients first. Yes, you have all the right pieces, but you’re not making anything good out of it.
Most companies we’ve seen fall short of their goals with ABM can usually link all of their issues back to their preparation and planning stage. It should come as no surprise that any strategy can fail with mismanaged expectations and not properly preparing from either a technology standpoint or structure standpoint, or both. There are four main areas that organizations planning to conduct ABM need to plan around; Alignment, Planning and Execution, Technology, and Analytics.
Marketing and sales alignment.
ABM requires everyone to be on the same page. Most companies have a high-level way of thinking about alignment, focusing only on marketing and sales, but it’s a lot more than that. 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.
When it comes to getting your tech stack in order, most organizations believe that simply 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 to the entire organization. It’s a bad idea to “rip the bandaid off” because replacing the entire stack will result in disaster from top to bottom. You do NOT have to do this to start practicing ABM. Your current stack uses your core technologies — from marketing automation to publisher sites to analytics platforms. 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. Making these adjustments will require a more delicate approach that will result in one or two platforms being added to your existing stack while you slowly add to them and migrate over to them. This will add necessary stability while also considering what the use cases are and then defining vendors that address those use cases. No matter what tech is added, your entire stack must be INTEGRATED, otherwise your data sharing is going to be messy, your reports will be misinterpreted, and your account information will be mismanaged.
Optimizing existing technology.
Most technology can be optimized to better perform the needs of an organization. Not replacing technology saves money and reduces the amount of disruption and the need for training. It’s surprising how many marketers already have tools with necessary features to drive ABM campaigns but are completely unaware. Businesses can contact the support teams for each platform or tool in their stack to voice their needs and find solutions, workarounds, and alternatives to 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 in 2022. You might find that mixing in some ABM campaigns to land some big fish could be a highly rewarding effort for your company.