What is Account Based Marketing?

B2B marketing evolves fast. With channels, tactics and messaging in a constant state of flux, it’s essential efforts are made to keep up with what works and how. Yet despite all this change, the underlying fundamentals have largely remained the same. Segmentation, targeting and positioning still underpin the foundation of marketing, it’s just the tactics that have become more advanced.  

This is particularly true for targeting. As technology has evolved, the ability to target audiences based on increasingly granular criteria has improved to such an extent, that we can now hone-in on individual prospects (for better or for worse) and deliver valuable messaging when it truly matters.

Targeting has always been an essential piece of the marketing puzzle, after all, it doesn’t matter what you have to say, if you’re not saying it to the right person, then your message just won’t have much impact. 

Account Based Marketing (ABM) was developed with this principle in mind. Designed to help B2B companies accurately target their audience, ABM presents fantastic opportunities to enhance the efficiency of marketing activity, improve marketing attribution and optimise marketing spend. 

Account Based Marketing Defined

Hubspot defines ABM as:

A highly focused business strategy in which a marketing team treats an individual prospect or customer like its very own market. The marketing team can create content, events, and entire campaigns dedicated to the people associated with that account, rather than the industry as a whole.

Yet this doesn’t tell the whole story and instead only looks at the one to one variant of ABM (we’ll cover that later). In truth, ABM goes beyond marketing towards a single account and treats a group of accounts (with similar characteristics) as a market of one. 

For added clarity, when we say ‘a market of one’ we mean a group of companies that share similar characteristics (size, customer problem, sector etc.), making them receptive to  a message personalised to fit with their common needs. 

The Benefits of Account Based Marketing

Account based marketing offers companies opportunities to enhance their marketing capabilities and drive revenue with highly effective and relevant messaging. 

With an ABM campaign, organisations can tap into a host of benefits that yield significant results. Here’s why:

ABM’s Targeted Nature Shortens the Sales Cycle

By focusing on highly relevant customers for the offering in question, ABM shortens the typically long B2B sales cycle. 

As ABM focuses on priority accounts, it delivers the critical information prospects need as they progress through the buyer journey. This supercharges the influence and value communications delivered, helping prospects move towards the purchase stage, faster. 

Communications and Content Are Personalised to the Audience’s Needs 

ABM’s hyper-targeted nature means all forms of communication can be optimised for the audience’s interests. 

As a result, the information shared is typically of high value as it aligns perfectly with the target’s challenges and is developed with their specific circumstances in mind. 

In short, the more targeted a campaign is, the more value it can deliver, as it covers subjects that are more relevant.  

Marketing Attribution Becomes Much Easier to Achieve 

One of the greatest challenges faced by marketing is the difficulty in achieving attribution. 

As the buying process encompasses so many touchpoints, it can be hard to identify key influencers in the final purchase. 

However, with an ABM approach, attribution becomes easier to achieve. With a list of pre-identified target accounts, purchase and engagement activity from these targets can be monitored and easily recorded. 

If marketing activity is aimed towards a set number of accounts and one of those accounts turns into a customer, then it’s much more accurate to credit marketing activity with that customer, in comparison to trying to attribute industry level marketing activity. 

ABM Aligns Sales and Marketing Activity 

Taking advantage of a cohesive Sales and Marketing team effort, ABM taps into the full potential of inbound marketing and uses a coordinated sales effort to maximise results. 

This alignment helps marketing play a key role in closing deals while also helping the sales team by informing them on where and when to act. 

Types of Account Based Marketing

Account based marketing covers a wide variety of marketing activity and is commonly split into 3 approaches - based on the number of accounts being targeted. Each approach requires a slightly different strategy and execution. 

Strategic ABM - One to One

Strategic ABM is designed to target a single business. Most companies that choose to take a one to one approach in their ABM strategy are aiming at multiple stakeholders within a very large organisation. 

Content and communications will then be developed that helps solve each individual’s challenges and delivers value. This positively positions the company across multiple touchpoints and increases the likelihood decision makers will acknowledge them when considering solutions to their problems.  

To justify creating company-specific resources, the contract at stake must be of a high enough value - if the solution in question is not high cost or margin, then it’s unlikely to be the right approach to take. 

With this in mind, one to one ABM is less common than alternatives as it is a riskier strategy and requires a crystal clear understanding of the target’s problems in order to deliver the necessary value to drive conversion. 

ABM Lite - One to Few 

The one to few approach is a common form of ABM. Involving the identification of a small group of accounts with similar needs, challenges and attributes. This strategy is designed to provide a highly targeted market that can be fed the same messages and receive value. 

Providing the common characteristics identified align, communications and content can be developed that help the group overcome their common challenges. Through this approach, the company is positioned positively and drives prospects towards a potential buying-ready state. 

Programmatic ABM - One to Many 

Designed to target a large number of accounts within a specific segment - often a horizontal/vertical market - the programmatic approach aims to deliver value to a wide range of prospects using targeted (if slightly less valuable and specific) messages. 

In many cases programmatic ABM campaigns will use engagement templates to develop automated personalised messaging, creating the perception of highly granular targeting. 

These templates often use the prospect’s engagement behaviour to customise the message and align with their challenges. 

First Steps To Conducting An ABM Campaign 

Identify Your Target Accounts

To kick off your account based marketing campaign, you first need to identify your target accounts. The number of targets will vary based on the type of ABM you’re looking to pursue, but whatever the case, you need to know who it is you’ll be looking to capture. 

This involves identifying key characteristics, including industry, company size, location, annual revenue etc. all of these details and more will play a significant role in how you group targets and deliver value. At this stage, market research is critical as it will help determine which targets can be best served by your company offering.   

Map the Customer Journey

Understanding how your customers buy and the journey they go through to reach a purchase-ready state is essential to identifying the problems they’re experiencing and how you can play a role in helping to solve them. 

  • What do they do when they encounter a problem?
  • Where do they find their information?
  • What information do they need? 

These are all questions that will help you get a good understanding of the journey the prospect will go on, from problem recognition all the way through to solution selection. 

In an ideal world, the journey would be developed from customer insight and data, but this is easier said than done as it’s not always available. 

Buyer Personas for ABM

Once targets have been agreed internally, it’s time to start familiarising yourself with your new prospects. 

This should involve a thorough investigation of the company/sector in question, looking at the greatest challenges and opportunities the market can offer. From here, key stakeholders then need to be identified, and key questions answered: 

  • Who is making purchasing decisions?
  • What problems are they having?
  • What common characteristics do they have? 
  • How can they be appealed to en masse?  

The insight from these questions will help to build an understanding of the common persona and offer a better appreciation for the target audience while also guiding communications and content offerings.  

Create ABM Content 

Moving forward with personas in hand and a clear understanding of the target (and their problems), content now needs to be developed that can address the pain points identified. This content should align with the target’s specific criteria, so whether you’re aiming at c-suite or just managerial level, this should be taken into account. 

Beyond job seniority, sector specific challenges should also be at the forefront of content development. It’s important to position the prospect’s key problems and their journey to solution at the heart of the content you deliver. 

Remember, your content’s first priority should be to deliver value and position you as a voice of authority on the subject matter. If this can be achieved, then when the prospect comes to consider solutions for their problem, your brand and offering will be front of mind and you’ll be ready to take full advantage. 

Identify Channels 

So at this point in your ABM strategy, you should have a clear understanding of who you’re targeting, with content designed specifically to address their problems. 

Well now it’s about optimising that content’s visibility so your target sees it at the right time and place. This stage is critical as there is no point having a highly valuable message if the target can’t see it. 

When identifying channels, it’s important to consider their user behaviour and the platforms the target is likely to use. Some will likely visit Facebook or Twitter often whereas others will live on LinkedIn, it all comes down to what they do and the type of people they are.

In an ABM campaign, marketing typically provides ‘air cover’ for the sales team while they prospect target accounts. 

As the typical buyer journey is a multi-channel and multi-touchpoint process, it’s essential prospects are engaged with consistent messaging across platforms and channels. 

This is particularly important when they cross from engaging with marketing to engaging with sales, and highlights why alignment between these two is so important to ABM success.    

ABM Campaign Execution

With all components of your campaign researched, produced and ready to go, you can start on execution. 

With many integrated pieces working together, the campaign will need regular management and coordination, ensuring everything is working as planned. This will help avoid any surprises and ensure the right messages go out at the right time, a critical capability for your ABM campaign to work properly. Remember, if one part fails, everything else is likely to be affected too - nothing operates in a silo. 

Finally, campaign performance needs to be monitored as well, ensuring prospects are engaging and assumptions made prior to launch are accurate. 

ABM Measurement 

Measurement is a key component in ABM campaigns, understanding which pieces are working and which need improving is essential to iterating over time. 

With only a select number of accounts targeted, measuring the success of ABM is much easier than other types of campaigns. However, to effectively measure performance, you need to ask the right questions, including: 

  • Is the list of known individuals in target accounts growing?
  • Have there been changes to the way target accounts engage with the brand and content?
  • What revenue has been generated from target accounts? 

Bare in mind the metrics you should be looking at in your ABM campaign are not the same as those in an inbound campaign. Your campaign measurement should be focused on metrics like Accounts Touched, Accounts Engaged, Account Lead Score Movement and Accounts Closed. 

Why ABM Will Grow Into The Future

While account based marketing has been around for a while, it’s arguably still in its infancy. As companies get to know how it works and the best approaches for their customer base, it’s likely adoption will continue to rise across the marketing sector. 

With the technology improving behind the scenes, targeting is only going to improve over the next 5 years, this will further enhance the potential of an ABM approach. 

This development combined with a desire to optimise marketing spend by reducing the scope of communication while also maximising ROI will drive ABM adoption. 

In addition, with B2B purchase decisions being made by an increasingly growing number of stakeholders, ABM’s value will grow as multiple decision makers will need to be engaged in order to drive purchase action within a company.