The Ultimate Guide to Account-Based Marketing

Claire Brenner
Claire Brenner  |  June 8, 2018

Everywhere we go, we're surrounded by marketing. I'm marketing to you right now.

Marketing is all around us.

I know it sounds a bit ridiculous, but it's true.

Walking through downtown with billboards left and right? That’s marketing. Being interrupted with ads before you can watch a single YouTube video? You guessed it! Marketing.

Heck, we can’t even walk into a bathroom anymore without seeing another ad.

Wherever we go, companies are doing their best to appeal to the masses.

Unfortunately, as consumers become more empowered with information and customer reviews at the touch of a button, mass marketing isn’t quite as effective as it once was.

We don’t want to feel like just a number – we want to feel important.

Consumers (myself included) want to feel like we’re a company’s number one, most-valued customer – even when we’re not.

Some marketers have caught onto this. Today, it’s referred to as account-based marketing.

Account-based marketing (ABM) is a different approach from trying to appeal to the masses. In fact, it’s the opposite. ABM is all about hyper-personalizing your marketing campaigns to individual prospects, with the goal of making every customer feel like number one.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about account-based marketing, starting with the basics.

By the time you get to the end, you’ll be an expert, with an understanding of ABM and its history, its tactics, its benefits, and much more.

Are you ready to learn more about the buzzword that’s taken the marketing world by storm?

Let’s get started! 

What is account-based marketing?

If you’ve attended a SaaS conference or listened to a B2B marketing podcast in the last five years, you’ve probably heard the term “account-based marketing” thrown around a lot.

We marketers love our buzzwords. If there’s an opportunity to talk somebody’s ear off about flipping the funnel, or sales and marketing alignment (smarketing), you can bet we’ll take it.

But if we’re going to give you a comprehensive guide to account-based marketing (ABM), we should probably start from the beginning. What exactly is ABM? And what is it about this practice that, in recent years, has taken the B2B marketing world by storm?

However, before we get into account-based marketing, we have to talk about the traditional model of marketing from which it veered away. 

The Traditional Marketing Funnel

Traditional marketing is a method still often used in both business-to-consumer (B2C) and B2B companies. There are a few stages to traditional marketing (as few as three or as many as six, depending on who you ask). This funnel is a linear process, where your audience starts at the wider end of the funnel and goes through the stages in order.

As the funnel narrows, the percentage of people getting through each stage also decreases. In this section, we’ll go through five common stages. The names of these likely vary depending on who you ask, but the goals and intentions of the marketing professional behind them remain the same.

The first stage is awareness. This step is all about traditional advertising efforts. The goal here is to get your product or service in front of as many people as you can, whether it’s through paid advertising, public relations efforts, social media, content marketing, or more. Regardless of the methods your team opts for, your number one priority is getting eyes on your offering so that your audience can recognize their needs.

The next stage is consideration. Potential customers who make it to this stage realize that your offering may provide a solution to the problem they’re facing. A marketer’s job at this stage is to further nurture their audience by providing more information. Often, they’ll utilize email campaigns to provide special offers or targeted content.

The third stage of the traditional marketing funnel is the intent stage. Luckily, it’s pretty simple, because it’s exactly what it sounds like. If the potential buyer makes it to this stage, they’ve likely begun putting forth signals that they’re close to a purchase. For a B2B software buyer, maybe they recently completed a free trial. For a B2C buyer, they may have added your product to their cart. At this stage, marketers may reach out again, offering a limited-time discount or a little something extra with purchase.

The fourth stage is the purchase – again, precisely what it sounds like. At this point, the buyer has made their decision and gone through with buying your product or service. That said, it’s not over yet! This next and final stage may be the most important.

Your last stage in the traditional marketing funnel is retention. Ideally, this is when a first-time customer turns into a loyal advocate. You can achieve this transformation with a great product offering and stellar customer service; usually, it’s a combination of both.

Some potential customers make it all the way through the funnel; most don’t. Many fall out along the way – even as late as the intent stage. Account-based marketing acknowledged that shortcoming and instead decided to flip the funnel.

Now that we’ve covered the traditional model, we can begin to discuss account-based marketing.

 

Account-based marketing and flipping the funnel

An ultimate guide to account-based marketing should probably start with the basics. What is ABM and who uses it?

ABM is a more narrowly focused take on B2B marketing. As opposed to marketers devoting a ton of their team’s effort and budget to public awareness, they work with sales to identify key target accounts and work to move these particular accounts through the purchasing process.

The key words here are target accounts. Marketers and sales teams use ABM on some of their high-stake customers – the ones who have potential to bring in the most revenue for the business.

With this method, sales and marketing combine resources (here’s that “smarketing” buzzword we mentioned earlier) to develop highly personalized campaigns. The combination of regular marketing outreach with well-timed, one-to-one sales connections support ABM’s goal of building familiarity with prospects, ultimately molding them into mutually beneficial relationships.

It may seem like account-based marketers are fishing with a spear instead of a large net, like their mass-marketing counterparts, and that may be true. But, think of ABM marketers using that spear to catch a 400-pound salmon, when other marketers are coming away with a net full of 200 small trout. ABM aficionados argue that potential customers are more likely to become loyal advocates through these more-targeted initiatives.

So who are the ABM aficionados we mentioned above? Account-based marketing is a tactic often used by B2B enterprise marketers – at G2 Crowd, we consider an enterprise as a company with more than 1,000 employees. However, it can be used by any company that’s seeking high-value customers.

Account-based marketers are looking for customers that will have the highest customer lifetime value (LTV). That means they’ll not only close a large deal from the start, but also continue upselling them throughout the customer lifecycle.

ABM is so popular among enterprise companies because they have the resources to do it properly. Similarly, B2B marketers often have smaller audiences, which makes ABM an easier approach than traditional mass marketing.

You see, these personalized campaigns may not resonate with the general public. In fact, they probably won’t. However, they’re not supposed to. Instead, marketers design the initiatives specifically for the key group of decision-makers at a given prospect company.

Nobody is crazy about feeling like we’re just another potential customer. On a much smaller level, this explains our increased likelihood to open an email that has our name in the subject line. The same goes for ABM.

When you’re able to personalize each campaign to the desires and needs of a specific prospect, they already begin to feel like a valued customer – Tweet this!

Account-based marketing is like a subject line with your name in it, on a grander scale. It can be anything from a personalized sales deck to a campaign as massive as taking a group of executives skydiving.

To some, ABM sounds like it would be more straightforward than traditional marketing. Appealing to a select few is easier than to the masses, right?

Not exactly. In fact, identifying key companies, the decision-makers within them, and their wants and needs requires significant work – not to mention a lot of joint effort from marketing and sales. However, if it works in your favor, the rewards you reap will be more than worth it.

Consider this – you’re a marketer at a social media monitoring software company looking to acquire a B2C client that’s a household name. Your product provides brands functionality for listening and tracking relevant content across various social media platforms. You know this customer could be a significant source of revenue, so your team designates a fair amount of resources to its particular campaign.

To play off of your product’s listening functionality, you buy 11 pairs of fancy new headphones for the decision-makers you’ve decided to target. You send them along with a note that says, “Having trouble listening to what your customers are saying on social media?” and a fully personalized sales deck describing exactly how your product can help.

If this campaign pays off or at least gets your salesperson’s foot in the door, it will be money well spent.

Ultimately, a lot of what account-based marketing comes down to is the Pareto Principle or the 80/20 rule. In its origination, the Pareto Principle related to land, when Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto found that 80 percent of Italian land was owned by 20 percent of the population.

Regarding account-based marketing, it refers to revenue and argues that 80 percent of revenue comes from 20 percent of customers.

When you know which of your customers are included in that 20 percent, you can tailor your marketing efforts specifically toward them – and there it is: account-based marketing.

Speaking of history, the next chapter will cover the past 20 years of account-based marketing, plus, where it is right now.

History and rise of ABM

Understanding the origins of account-based marketing is a vital step to understanding where the practice may be going in the future.

While traditional marketing dates back to the printing press in 1450 and beyond, account-based marketing is a much more recent trend, dating back to the early 1990s. At this time, both B2B and B2C companies recognized a need for marketing that focused on personalization over appealing to the masses.

However, Don Peppers and Martha Rogers formally introduced the concept when they published The One to One Future: Building Relationships One Customer at a Time in 1993. This book, referred to by Business Week as “the bible of new marketing,” was a well-known and respected prediction of the transition from the mass marketing approach to the more personalized one-to-one marketing.

The book encouraged marketing and sales teams to seek out the small percentage of their customers that offered the greatest financial gain. Then, to work individually with each customer and establish a personalized nurture plan for each.

ABM looks very different in 2018, as these relationships may be developed and tended to with email, team collaboration tools, and web conferencing software. However, in 1993, marketers were encouraged to look to other “new technologies” – the fax machine, voicemail, and cell phones.

Today, the approach Peppers and Rogers predicted is known as, of course, account-based marketing.

Peppers and Rogers developed this innovative idea when they met in 1990. Rogers, a then-professor at Bowling Green State University, felt uncomfortable teaching mass marketing, believing that the rise of technology would significantly change the approach.

Peppers felt the same. Both acknowledged that innovation – specifically, the rise of CRM software – made it easier to track particular traits, wants, and needs of individual customers.

With marketers having customer details at their fingertips, they could develop a tailored approach to marketing. Peppers and Rogers predicted this would be much more successful than the early 1990s approach of appealing to the masses.

However, it wasn’t until 2003 that somebody coined the term account-based marketing. The Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) elaborated on the concept when it published its groundbreaking paper, Account-Based Marketing: The New Frontier, giving a name to the emerging marketing trend just 10 short years after Peppers and Rogers initially introduced it.

This paper touched on the personalized approach to marketing, but also brought forth a new critical point: the valuable relationships marketers would build with their most important customers.

That conference was a significant turning point as companies began to embrace the transformation from mass marketing to account-based. The 15 years since then have only brought increased popularity to ABM, especially among B2B marketing teams.

So why has ABM become so popular?

In recent years, customers have become significantly more empowered. They’re no longer limited to the information that comes out of a sales pitch. Rather, thanks to the wealth of information via the internet and customer reviews, customers can begin their own product research before ever contacting a company.

This evolution of the purchasing process scared marketers and left them wondering if their mass marketing efforts would go unnoticed. In reality, this advance is a positive. Ultimately, it makes room for a more trusting vendor-customer relationship – one that better benefits both parties in the long run.

However, to reap the rewards of those relationships, marketers have to embrace the fact that the vendor is no longer in the driver’s seat. Many did this by implementing an account-based marketing strategy.

Account-based marketing is a method of combating many of the challenges B2B marketers face. DemandBase demonstrated this excellently in its ABM infographic, stating that 82 percent of B2B website visitors are not potential customers, and 97 percent of website visitors ignore calls-to-action and remain unknown. Many of the traditional efforts they relied on simply weren’t giving them results.

What does that really mean?

Efforts to reach every single site visitor and convert them into a lead were not working. For as much human energy and financial resources marketing executives were throwing into this, they weren’t passing along qualified leads to their sales team.

Account-based marketing was the alternative they needed. By identifying the accounts that were most valuable to their businesses, they could more narrowly focus their resources for higher financial gain.

Although account-based marketing dates back to the 90s, it’s still a relatively new concept. However, it’s currently one of the most buzz-worthy trends in B2B marketing, with 74 percent of marketers working with sales to define accounts and goals, according to DemandBase.

According to DemandBase, 74 percent of marketers today are working with sales to define accounts and goals – Tweet this!

Now that you understand the history and current state of account-based marketing, we’ll continue with how marketers are using it today. The next chapter will cover the different types of ABM and how to determine which method(s) will work for your team.

Account-Based Marketing Tactics

As we’ve mentioned throughout this guide, ABM focuses on four underlying principles: client centricity, sales and marketing alignment, relationship focus, and personalized campaigns. That said, as it has gained popularity over the years, different companies have developed various ways to approach it based on their size, resources, and target customers.

For each vendor to optimize their strategy and see maximum results, they need to tailor their programs to their own needs, in addition to their customers. For example, a small business may not have the resources to take a group of executives out for a steak dinner. On the other hand, an enterprise may want to do more than just a targeted email campaign.

In this chapter, we’ll discuss the types of account-based marketing, who uses them, and the tactics that are used within each tier. As they are well-renowned and widely understood within the industry, we’ll use the distinct terms coined by ITSMA to describe each.

Strategic ABM: one-to-one

Strategic ABM, or the one-to-one method, is the original approach to account-based marketing – the strategy Peppers and Rogers referred to in their groundbreaking book. It is also the one that typically requires the most marketing resources, but, similarly, delivers the highest return on investment.

One-to-one ABM is usually spearheaded by one or two key members of an organization’s marketing team and directed toward the most valuable clients – the 10 percent of clients that are likely to bring your sales team the six-figure deals they’re after. These clients also represent the greatest churn risk, and the largest upsell opportunity, which is why targeting them with hyper-personalized campaigns is of the utmost importance.

To put it simply, strategic ABM is when marketing teams break out the big guns. These campaigns are typically implemented by enterprise vendors that can afford lavish gifts, $400/head VIP dinners, fully customized sales stacks – and that’s just scraping the surface.

The purpose of these events isn’t to show off how much money you can spend (although sometimes it may seem like it). Rather, the goal is to get your top salespeople in the same room as decision-makers at your target accounts. If they can turn a happy hour into a meeting, and a meeting into a six-figure deal, the time, effort, and money spent will be more than worth it.

ABM Lite: one-to-few

ABM lite, or one-to-few account-based marketing, is a method targeted to small groups of key accounts that have similar characteristics and needs. While following the same principles as strategic ABM, it requires a lower financial commitment and is likely spearheaded by mid-level marketers and salespeople.

This strategy targets key accounts that have lower revenue or upsell potential than the accounts you’re targeting individually. For example, say 30 percent of your target accounts in total have the same revenue potential as the 10 percent we mentioned above. That 30 percent would be who you reach out to via ABM lite.

Companies may be grouped based on industry, company size, or problems they’re facing – often, a mixture of all three. The campaign could be slightly customized per individual company but will remain mostly consistent across the board.

These initiatives may include tactics like small gift boxes, off-site happy hours at industry events, or executive roundtables. These methods will still delight potential customers but the program spend is significantly less than with strategic ABM.

Programmatic ABM: one-to-many

Programmatic ABM, or one-to-many account-based marketing, is the newest approach to ABM. It’s the practice of scaling ABM to a multitude of accounts, made possible by recent technologies (we’ll chat more about ABM software in Chapter 8). Not to be confused with segmented or traditional marketing, the one-to-many approach is still targeted – it merely uses larger clusters of accounts.

Through email marketing campaigns, paid social media targeting, and more, one marketer can reach hundreds, or even thousands, of different accounts. There will likely be little-to-no customization by the company, but rather a single campaign that touches the accounts’ general wants and needs.

The key to implementing a programmatic ABM approach is all about balance. You want to reach a large enough audience that you see still results, but narrow it down to the point that your messaging is still applicable to the accounts you target.

The following image from ITSMA provides an excellent overview of the amount of accounts you’ll target with each approach and the spending that goes into the campaign.

 

abm-tactics

 

No single method of ABM will be a one-size-fits-all. In fact, most companies employ a mixture of the means to ensure that they’re hitting all of the accounts that will push the needles on their revenue goals.

Now, we’ll dive deeper into common tactics used throughout account-based marketing and into which tier they may fit.

As we briefly mentioned earlier, in-person events can be a huge hit when targeting those key executives. These can range from more casual (executive round-tables, small happy hours) to extravagant (expensive dinners, sporting events, or excursions). Depending on your budget and goals, you can determine which options will work best for your team.

If you have the resources and you’re chasing a seven-figure deal with a prospect, setting up their executives and your SVP of sales in box seats at an NBA game may not be your worst option. On the other hand, if you have a few mid-range accounts you’re going after, bringing these executives and a few of your top salespeople together at a happy hour may be a better (and cheaper) route.

Direct mailers are also a favorite tactic in ABM. Similar to in-person events, these can range from personalized pamphlets and calendars to lavish gifts like headphones or even drones. If you’re looking for a crowd-favorite, cupcakes or another sweet treat are sure to please.

The key with direct mailers is making sure the package gets opened. When possible, send it in a box as opposed to an envelope. Make it stand out and, more importantly, make it evident that there’s something they want on the inside. Nothing says “failed campaign” like a $75 box of specialty donuts going straight into the garbage (and honestly, what a waste of donuts!).

For those who prefer to connect electronically, custom offers, paid social advertising, or even invitation-only trainings and webinars can be a valuable way to reach a wider range of target accounts. These methods are also less expensive options if you’re a smaller company or just beginning to implement an ABM strategy.

Similar to the types of ABM, companies can employ multiple tactics depending on the target they’re trying to reach. What it comes down to is this: the gifts, events, and online ads just get you in the door – it’s still up to your stellar sales team to seal the deal.

ABM vs. Inbound Marketing

ABM isn’t the only buzz-worthy trend making its way through the marketing industry.

Inbound marketing, a term coined by HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan in 2005, has taken off in popularity since its inception. B2B marketers especially took the concept in stride starting in 2012, when the purchasing process began its transition to be more customer-centric.

Today, inbound is still gaining popularity with HubSpot leading the way for a multitude of other B2B marketing teams.

However, there is very much an “Us vs. Them” mentality when it comes to inbound versus account-based strategies. That said, using them in tandem can help marketers optimize their tactics. The mindset that one is superior to the other is simply untrue.

In this chapter, we’ll cover the basics of inbound marketing and how they differ from account-based, the common goals between the two, and how marketers can use one to complement the other.

Inbound marketing is all about empowering your customers through organically found content. By producing content that feels valuable and informative – whether it’s blogs, social media posts, infographics, or more – you establish your business as a trusted and authoritative voice.

Inbound strategy doesn’t focus on interruption-based messages, which would include sending the content directly to customers, paid social ads, and more. Instead, it’s about optimizing the content to be found organically through search engines and social media.

As opposed to fighting for a customer’s attention, you’re letting them come to you through content that feels personalized, relevant, and helpful.

Inbound marketing has four stages: attract, convert, close, and delight.

The attract stage is all about turning strangers into visitors. By producing educational and valuable content, readers will begin to view your brand as a resource. In the future, they’ll know to come to you during their research. The ultimate goal here is for strangers to become repeat visitors and loyal readers.

The next stage is the convert stage. This phase is about turning loyal readers into marketing-qualified leads. Producing top-notch content is incredibly valuable at this stage. Often, you can convert readers to leads through gated content, but if your readers don’t see your content as educational, they likely won’t give you an email address just to access it.

The close stage’s primary goal is to turn marketing-qualified leads into customers. When marketers receive a contact’s email address, they can continue to nurture the contact by sending tailored content their way. If this effort to build a relationship is successful, marketers can pass them along to sales. Using the knowledge marketing has gathered through various nurture campaigns, sales will ideally turn this lead into a customer.

The delight stage is about turning customers into advocates. Hopefully, this comes naturally. With a great product and top-notch customer service, you shouldn’t have an issue with it. However, there’s still work required from the marketer! User feedback is an invaluable tool here. Customer reviews will help you identify both your happiest customers and the ones whose relationships could use some work.

As opposed to the traditional marketing funnel, the inbound approach is a loop. When you turn customers into advocates, they’ll reach out to their networks, turning them into visitors, and so on.

With a basic understanding of inbound marketing, you likely can see how it differs from the account-based approach. While both types are customer-centric, account-based is about reaching out to the customer, whereas inbound focuses on letting the customer come to you.

However, that’s not the only area in which they differ. A significant area of difference between the two is scalability. In fact, the method a marketer chooses to use can likely depend on their audience size.

For example, if a B2B marketer at a niche software company is determining how to market their offering, they should consider the size of their audience. An inbound strategy may not be their best option. Regardless of how valuable of content they produce, they won’t achieve their goals if there’s nobody to read it.

Similarly, marketers at companies with massive audiences may find inbound to be a more cost-efficient approach than account-based marketing. In fact, inbound champions may argue that using ABM to market to broad audiences will resemble the spammy approaches – precisely what inbound was created to counter.

Additionally, they differ based on deal size. Due to the goals and tactics associated with ABM, deal sizes are often larger. On the other hand, inbound deals closed may be smaller, but the deals themselves will likely be more plentiful.

This all said, the different approaches share two crucial similarities. Regardless of how you reach them, both inbound and ABM enforce the idea that the customer is at the center. Both were created with the intention of empowering the customer and act as an alternative to the traditional (and often sleazy) sales pitch.

Similarly, they are both driven primarily by valuable content. However, this takes different forms in the various approaches. In inbound, this content is written to be an authoritative and educational resource. In account-based marketing, the content can range from a well-written nurture email to a thought-out social post, and anything in between.

This chapter may be called “inbound versus account-based marketing,” but in reality, it’s not a question. Different types of marketers will choose the approach that works for them based on their specific needs and goals as a company.

More importantly, you can combine inbound and account-based marketing to optimize your strategy.

Marketers can do this in multiple ways. If you are primarily using an inbound strategy, the content you’ve already created can be your most significant resource. Repurposing past blog posts, infographics, eBooks, and more to specifically target key accounts is a simple and productive way to get through to some of your toughest potential customers.

On the other hand, you can use account-based insights to support your content ideation. If you know what content has influenced previous key accounts, you have a starting point for what you’ll produce in the future.

Similarly, you can leverage ABM techniques to follow up with readers who have turned into marketing-qualified leads through your inbound efforts. If you’ve received an office address through gated content, perhaps you can send the prospect a direct mail package.

As we mentioned before, the case for inbound versus ABM isn’t a this-or-that situation. When you use them together, they can bring you great success and help you acquire the loyal customers you’re seeking.

In the next chapter, we’ll refocus on account-based marketing specifically and the benefits that come along with it. 

ABM benefits

With ABM taking the B2B marketing world by storm, professionals have been quick to highlight the various benefits.

As we’ve mentioned throughout this guide, account-based marketing can require B2B professionals to spend a significant chunk of change. Seeing desired financial results is critical to the success of an ABM strategy, but they certainly aren’t its only draw.

In fact, the benefits of account-based marketing are plentiful. In this chapter, we’ll highlight the advantages of an account-based strategy and what they mean for sales and marketing professionals alike.

Since account-based marketing is all about the customer, we should probably start here. First and foremost, the primary advantage of ABM is creating an improved experience for your customer.

We’ll get into the financial and business benefits in a bit, but right now, customer experience is what it’s all about.

Unfortunately, sales and marketing professionals can have a bit of a reputation. They can be considered “skeevy” or seem as if they’re only trying to upsell you.

As a marketer, I have to disagree with this stereotype. However, account-based marketing actively combats it. ABM is all about building valuable relationships. Yes, it often results in increased revenue, but that’s because the customers and the business trust one another. The relationship is mutually beneficial. Customers are often willing to pay a lot of money – ABM ensures that they’ll get their investments’ worth and more.

All around, the experience is more personalized. This is an additional benefit for both the potential customer and the marketing professionals behind the campaign.

Prospects will feel special when marketing efforts are customized to acknowledge their specific needs, which is exactly the feeling ABM is striving to create. Through building more personalized campaigns, marketing teams become more well-rounded, and sales professionals learn to tailor their pitch to different audiences.

An individualized campaign allows both sides to get to know each other on a professional level. This personalization sets the relationship up for success.

When you implement an ABM strategy, it becomes easier for sales to jump into a productive conversation immediately. Instead of spending (or wasting, depending on whom you ask) their time making cold-calls, they’ll be reaching out to people who want to talk to them. Or, if nothing else, are feeling a bit more willing.

Not only does this help your sales team avoid cold-calling, but it will also speed up the sales process. And dialing number after number isn’t the only waste of time. Sales teams spend hours, if not entire days, trying to identify the key decision-makers at a given prospect company.

With ABM, sales and marketing teams work together to identify the professionals they need to target at each company before the marketing campaign begins. This hyper-targeting leads to successful sales conversations instead of shot-in-the-dark emails that likely aren’t going to anybody with actual purchasing power.

That all said, there are certainly plenty of financial advantages that stem from account-based marketing. Now, we’ll focus on the aspects of ABM that benefit a company’s bottom line.

Many will argue that ABM is a more efficient use of a marketing team’s budget than mass marketing. Instead of committing significant resources to a mass campaign and hoping somebody bites, marketers are directing their resources to the prospects they believe are capable of the highest possible impact.

By thoroughly vetting potential customers, they can target them with hyper-personalized campaigns and increase the likelihood of securing an exciting lead for their sales team. This specificity makes good use of a marketing team’s most valuable (and often strapped) resources: time and money.

This improved budget efficiency also means a decrease in waste of resources. With ABM, marketing teams aren’t sending out hundreds of generic packets that will likely end up in the garbage. Instead, they’re personalizing campaigns and sending fewer.

For example, maybe they’re sending out 50 expensive direct mailers that include a new pair of headphones. From that campaign, their sales team gets 20 meetings and, ultimately, makes five sales. If those sales, on average, were $10,000 each, then the total revenue far exceeds the marketing cost.

Even if they didn’t get a sale from every direct mailer sent (which let’s be real, will probably never happen), it might have at least gotten a foot in the door for your sales team. Even that initial opportunity can result in a purchase further down the road if the marketing and sales teams continue to nurture the relationship.

Additionally, when people are aware of the dollar amount they’re spending to market to each prospect, and the size of the deals that result from those efforts, calculating return on investment (ROI) is simple.

Tracking goals and measurements is critical when determining the success of any campaign, but it’s made simple through account-based marketing. What it comes down to is money out versus money in. With ABM, it’s easier to nail down what resources went to which target accounts, and any deals that resulted from them.

Content marketing company Skyword offers a great explanation on calculating return on investment when utilizing an account-based marketing strategy.

A comprehensive understanding of ROI is essential when determining types of campaigns to run in the future. It paints a simple picture of what worked, and what you can improve for next time.

Second only to an improved customer experience, the final benefit we highlight may be the most important.

Overall, account-based marketing improves alignment between marketing and sales teams.

“Smarketing,” as those in the industry call it, is vital to the success of both sales and marketing professionals alike.

Improved alignment between teams can help to build relationships and boost morale internally, but if that doesn’t sell you, maybe this will. Teams with great sales-marketing alignment close up to 38 percent more deals.

With the above benefits, it’s obvious why so many B2B marketing teams are beginning to embrace account-based marketing strategies. If you’re considering implementing ABM into your marketing mix, the next chapter will give you the steps you’ll need to take to get started successfully.

Steps to a successful account-based marketing strategy

So you want to implement an account-based marketing strategy?

You’ve come to the right place!

It’s true that ABM is a sophisticated strategy that requires a lot of moving parts. That said, there are a few steps you should ensure you’re taking to see the best results from your campaign.

Assemble your ABM team

If you’re entirely new to account-based marketing, then the first step is obvious: assemble your ABM team!

This will look different depending on the type of company for which you work. If both your marketing and sales teams are built out, it’s more likely that a few employees can devote the majority of their time to ABM.

These employees may come from a variety of backgrounds within these two teams. Content marketers, marketing operations managers, and field marketers can all be great additions to this team. Having a marketing-focused graphic designer is always a plus, as well.

On the sales side, a sales or business development representative is a must-have. They can be critical in executing research to determine key accounts and the decision-makers at a prospect company. Additionally, you’ll want to recruit some top account executives – the ones trusted to close those six-figure deals.

Define your ABM goals

You probably learned this back in middle school, but as a reminder, you should never start a project without first defining your goals. This is especially true when beginning an ABM strategy.

Once you’ve assembled your team, you can sit down and discuss what you’re aiming to achieve. Ask yourself some questions. For example, what percentage of new business is marketing expected to drive? What are the ABM-specific revenue goals? How many marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) are the marketing team expected to pass through to sales?

Discuss these questions (and more!) with your team. Use the answers to set your goals – and as you’re beginning to document your ambitions, don’t forget: goals should be SMART. By that, we mean Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound.

When you’ve determined your goals, you can begin working on your strategies to achieve them. 

Identify target accounts and determine key decision makers

Now that you’ve assembled your team and documented your goals, we’ll start working on the tactical level.

ABM is all about personalizing each campaign by account. Before you can customize initiatives, you have to know to whom they’re directed!

To determine your target accounts, you’ll want to look at the companies that could provide you with the highest possible revenue. However, a one-time deal isn’t all that you're seeking. Consider the growth potential of each company. Will you be able to upsell them in the future? Even more importantly, do they have a high churn risk?

When you determine your key accounts, you’ll dig in even deeper by identifying the employees there with the purchasing power. Frankly, who you’re selling to depends on what you’re selling.

If your offering is a marketing automation tool, perhaps you’ll want to seek out the chief marketing officer, director of marketing, and marketing operations manager. Try to find a balance of the high-level employees who will use the software as well as those who manage the team’s budget.

When you identify these people, you’ll know where to focus your marketing efforts.

Focus marketing efforts on engaging decision-makers

Alright – you’ve identified your target accounts and narrowed down the decision-makers.

Now it’s time for the fun part!

At this point, you’ll begin your marketing efforts.

When you get to this step, it’s important to determine which type of ABM may be best-suited for each prospect. Remember earlier, when we discussed the difference between strategic ABM, programmatic ABM, and ABM lite?

Consider your audience and the potential deal. If you’re targeting just five high-impact accounts, you may opt for a personalized strategic ABM campaign, customized to each company in particular.

On the other hand, if you’re reaching out to a larger audience, ABM lite may be a better choice.

This step is all about the execution. Whether it’s a direct mailer, paid social media ads, or anything in between, this is when you’ll begin outreach and start the conversation.

Making the sale

If you successfully completed the last step, this should (hopefully) be easy.

That’s right – it’s time for the sales team to step in.

ABM is all about making sales conversations more productive. Once you’ve finished your marketing outreach, your account executives should be armed with all they need to reach out to their key prospects. By focusing marketing efforts on the decision-makers, you’ve given them a head start in sealing the deal.

That said, making the sale isn’t everything. In fact, the purchasing process used to end here, but not anymore!

Once the contract is signed, we’ll move on to the next step: turning customers into advocates.

Turning customers into advocates

This step is what account-based marketing is all about.

While making sales and bringing in revenue is important (no duh), ABM’s primary function is to build relationships. If forming a connection with your customers is the goal, turning them into advocates is how you’ll know you’ve achieved it.

Turning a paying customer into your company’s biggest fan may sound intimidating, but it’s not impossible. And while it isn’t easy, stellar customer service will get you started.

Continue being attentive to your customer’s wants and needs post-purchase. Not only will this enable your team to increase its LTV, but also it will let them know they’re more than just a number.

And if building relationships wasn’t motivation enough, remember that advocates can pay off in more ways than just one. In fact, according to Joseph Jaffe, ABM aficionado and author of Flip the Funnel, acquiring a customer through an existing customer costs just one-third as much as other methods of acquisition.

This is why account-based marketing is a loop, as opposed to a one-way street.

When your current customers help you acquire new customers, ABM comes full circle.

Measure success

So you’ve gone through the steps of your first account-based marketing strategy.

All done, right?

Well, almost. The final step is all about understanding just how well that strategy worked. The last stage of your ABM strategy is measuring success.

Success in account-based marketing can mean a few things. Obviously, it means revenue secured, but as we mentioned earlier, the relationships you formed can be just as, if not more, critical.

Looking back at your performance and measuring success is vital to understanding what worked and what you’ll need to improve for next time.

That was a long process. That said, the more campaigns you implement, the easier it will be to get through those seven steps.

If you’re looking to make the process go even smoother, the next section is for you.

Account-based marketing software

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – software makes our lives easier.

Regardless of the business problem you’re trying to solve, there’s likely a software solution. If nothing else, there’s at least something that will smooth out the process.

With the introduction and evolution of account-based marketing, a significant opportunity opened up in the software-as-a-service (SaaS) space.

Today, there are multiple types of software tools within the greater realm of account-based marketing. G2 Crowd hosts four separate categories: marketing account intelligence software, account-based execution software, account-based reporting software, and marketing account management software.

Each of these tools serves a different function as a part of an ABM strategy. In this section, we’ll highlight the types of ABM software tools and how they help marketing and sales teams achieve their goals.

Overall, account-based marketing software assists in realigning marketing and sales departments. As with many software tools, ABM software heavily focuses on task automation.

In this case, the tools can automate and reduce the lengthy process of identifying prospects and dedicating the resources to nurture them.

As we mentioned earlier, determining which prospects are key accounts can be a tedious process. Typically, it requires time and effort from business development representatives, account executives, and marketing professionals.

Automating this with software frees up your team’s time and allows them to focus their efforts on more impactful (and less tedious) tasks.

Similarly, ABM software provides users with a comprehensive view of each target account. In addition to just identifying them as leads, they’re able to craft their journeys through the purchasing process and even build future opportunities.

And as with many software products, integration is key. Various ABM tools can integrate with other sales and marketing applications, such as CRM software, to improve communication and alignment.

We’ll now take a closer look at the various categories within ABM software and provide a brief overview of their primary functions.

Marketing account intelligence software

When implementing an ABM strategy, it’s important that marketing and sales professionals take the time to develop the list of prospects that will become their “key accounts.” As we’ve mentioned throughout this guide, these are the accounts that have the highest revenue potential and are most likely to become loyal advocates.

That said, developing this list isn’t easy. In fact, it takes a lot of time from marketing and sales professionals alike.

Marketing account intelligence software strives to simplify this process. These tools collect insightful and detailed target account data from external sources and then use that data to develop the list of critical targets.

This data is much more valuable than just an email address or phone number. In fact, it can identify where specific employees are in the company hierarchy or what segment they work in, singling out the accounts with a high probability of converting.

This data enables the software to score or rank leads, better connecting marketers with prospective accounts. Ultimately, these tools will save you time and allow marketers to get a head start on their ABM campaigns.

To take a look at different software offerings, check out the G2 Crowd Grid® for marketing account intelligence software. 

Account-based execution software

I’m sure we don’t need to repeat this, but in case you’ve somehow forgotten, ABM is all about personalization.

Account-based execution software facilitates the customization marketers need to execute their ABM strategies.

This software is used by marketing teams to more efficiently assemble the custom messaging they need to deliver to each account. With these tools, users are able to create targeted content and deliver the content to key targets on an account-by-account basis.

These products primarily function to improve the quality of leads that enter the sales pipeline. Customizing marketing efforts increases the likelihood that a sales conversation will be successful and saves marketing teams from spending unnecessary resources on prospects that won’t lead to a sale.

Often, these tools can integrate with marketing account management or marketing account intelligence software products.

To see which software companies offer a stellar account-based execution product, check out the G2 Crowd Grid® for account-based execution software. 

Account-based reporting software

Remember how much we stressed the importance of measuring the results of your

ABM campaigns?

That’s where account-based reporting software comes in.

Account-based reporting software offers marketing and sales teams valuable metrics about the performance of their ABM strategies. For example, these tools provide insights such as the percentage of target accounts reached or lead-to-account mapping.

When analyzed all together, these metrics enable professionals to see the efficacy of their account-based marketing strategy.

To compile these results, account-based reporting tools integrate with a company’s sales database. The database provides them with the information they need to deliver feedback in the form of metrics.

To check out software companies with account-based reporting offerings, explore the G2 Crowd Grid® for account-based reporting software..

Marketing account management software

Marketing account management tools can be a major asset to any ABM strategy. Having an understanding of where key prospects are in their purchasing process is vital. These software tools give professionals that insight and much more.

Marketing account management software can keep track of prospect data throughout the entire ABM campaign. This means marketing and sales professionals have increased visibility into where each account is at in the pipeline.

Documentation of this relevant information enables communication between sales and marketing teams. With this knowledge, professionals can understand who needs to devote efforts and where, as opposed to blindly guessing and over- or under-nurturing certain prospects.

Overall, marketing account management software is about maximizing efficiency. With the increased transparency it provides, sales and marketing organizations remain aligned so that resources and efforts aren’t going to waste.

To compare marketing account management software offerings, take a look at G2 Crowd’s marketing account management software Grid®.

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Software, when implemented correctly, can be a key asset to the success of your account-based marketing strategy. To read even more about ABM software tools and their functions, read our comprehensive account-based marketing software category page.

ABM key terms explained

Marketing is an industry infiltrated with jargon, and account-based marketing is no different! In this brief section, we’ll provide an overview of the terms you need to know and how they relate to the bigger ABM picture.

Ideal customer

Account-based marketing is all about identifying those key accounts that will really push the needle on your revenue goal. These accounts are called “ideal customers.” Your ideal customer is based on a profile you develop and should be representative of the group whose problem your offering was built to solve. Building your ideal customer profile is a critical step to determining the language you’ll use throughout your marketing efforts.

Smarketing

Smarketing may not be an actual word, but what it represents is very real. Smarketing is the concept of aligning sales and marketing teams to improve communication and optimize efforts on both sides.

Smarketing is vital to account-based marketing, as sales and marketing teams work very closely throughout your ABM strategy. Ensuring that your sales and marketing teams remain in sync will improve efficiency and likely increase revenue.

Marketing-qualified lead (MQL)

A marketing-qualified lead, often referred to as an MQL, is a lead that has been determined to have a greater likelihood of converting into a customer. They’re called marketing-qualified leads because they are typically evaluated based on a set of parameters put in place by your organization’s marketing team.

MQLs are an important aspect of account-based marketing because typically, these are the leads that have been nurtured with a personalized campaign. When a marketing professional passes an MQL on to their sales counterpart, it’s likely the prospect(s) at that company are ready and willing to sit down and have a conversation.

Decision-makers

This is a term we often used throughout this guide. While this can mean different things in different companies, we’ve used it to refer to those employees with the actual purchasing power. Often, this is more than just one employee.

Typically, purchasing power will lie predominantly in the hands of the department chair. For example, if you’re trying to sell marketing automation software to a marketing team, your decision maker will likely be the CMO.

However, it’s also important to remember the people who may hold the purse strings – often, the chief financial officer or chief operating officer. These may also be decision-makers, so it’s important to think beyond the department when you’re determining where to focus your marketing efforts.

Account-based marketing is just as jargon-filled as any marketing buzzword out there. That said, a comprehensive understanding of the common terms, and how they fit into the larger picture, is essential. 

Conclusion

We’ve built this guide with the goal of turning readers into account-based marketing experts. Now that you’ve read it all, how do you feel?

Hopefully, you’re feeling well-informed. If you’ve been with us from the beginning, you’ve read the basics of ABM, its history, the difference between ABM versus other marketing trends, and much, much more.

As ABM continues to gain popularity and evolve, so will this guide. The marketing space is ever-changing, so continue to check back as we make updates and add new content.

This was a lot of information, so I invite you to bookmark this page and refer back to it when you feel you need a refresher.

Until next time!

Claire Brenner
Author

Claire Brenner

Claire is a senior content marketing specialist who came to G2 Crowd after graduating from the University of Dayton with a BA in Communication. Born and raised in the Chicago area, her brief stint in Ohio gave her a new appreciation for deep-dish pizza, but left her well-versed in Cincinnati-style chili and "cities" with a population fewer than 400,000. While not writing, Claire can be found practicing calligraphy and planning her next trip.