When sales and marketing combine their unique skill sets for one common goal, great things can happen. With a rapidly evolving marketplace, creating a strategic methodology is more important than ever. You can do this with a streamlined sales and marketing process focused on producing more revenue in a shorter period.
One tactic to accomplish this rapid revenue growth is account-based marketing (ABM). ABM uses targeted marketing campaigns to win over specific business-to-business (B2B) accounts. ABM has the potential to produce the largest marketing return on investment (ROI) when focused on high-value accounts.
Below, we outline what you need to know about ABM. You’ll discover what it is, how it works, and the elements that go into creating and implementing a successful ABM campaign.
What is account-based marketing?
Account-based marketing is a highly individualized, account-specific B2B marketing strategy. You’ll develop this strategy in a coordinated effort, with marketing and sales working as allies.
First, identify the high-value accounts you want to target, then develop a customized strategy for each account. This continues down to the level of key influencers and decision-makers in the sales cycle.
Why should you use account-based marketing?
Marketing campaigns typically target a market segment or subsegment. Some are designed to have a broad reach aimed at capturing a large number of leads, who must progress through marketing and sales funnels.
Account-based marketing is hyperfocused on a set of carefully selected high-value accounts. ABM can help you land new accounts and expand business with existing clients. It can also be a key component of startup marketing plans for new companies as well as programs developed by mature companies.
ABM forgoes the time and effort to narrow down a large bucket of leads into qualified prospects by honing in on qualified clients. You can focus internal resources and budgets on activities most likely to generate revenue and improve ROI.
Types of account-based marketing
You can break account-based marketing into three main types. The best choice for your company depends on how many accounts you want to target with your marketing efforts. Each type also requires varying levels of investment, time, and numbers of employees.
Strategic ABM (one-to-one marketing)
Strategic ABM targets individual high-value target accounts. This type of ABM targets one specific account and requires the most resources, but it typically also has the highest ROI.
Marketing and sales teams need a firm grasp of the target account’s needs and goals to create hypertargeted marketing plans. This is the most traditional type of account-based marketing and is usually discussed when referring to ABM broadly.
ABM lite (one-to-few marketing)
ABM lite, or one-to-few marketing, targets second-tier accounts. Marketing and sales teams can group these accounts into clusters of five to 10 with similar challenges and goals so they can leverage creative and other resources.
Teams must understand customer profiles to target their marketing, but the marketing isn’t as hyperfocused as strategic ABM. ABM lite is best for teams with flexible budgets but slightly limited numbers of team members.
Programmatic ABM (one-to-many marketing)
Programmatic ABM, or one-to-many marketing, markets toward large groups of businesses with similar goals and needs. Programmatic ABM lets you use customer demographics to group hundreds or even thousands of accounts together.
Typically, companies use customer relationship management (CRM) platforms, marketing software, or marketing automation tools to carry out this type of ABM. Programmatic ABM is good for smaller companies with smaller budgets because it uses fewer resources to target a large swath of customers.
Benefits of account-based marketing
Account-based marketing offers an opportunity to generate more revenue and ROI in a shorter period. Below are the key elements of ABM.
Personalized marketing approach
Capturing the attention of sophisticated B2B customers isn’t always straightforward. For example, let’s say your business targets a niche within a certain market segment. Your umbrella messaging to that market may not resonate with them, so they ignore it.
To overcome this and other challenges, ABM tailors outreach and content at the account level and to key decision-makers and influencers within the account.
Sales and marketing alignment
With ABM, sales and marketing are allies working toward a common goal through a shared strategy and intertwined process. This can result in greater resource efficiency and overall efficacy.
Shorter sales cycles
An internal team of motivated, cross-functional stakeholders can generate awareness, capture an account’s attention, engage key decision-makers, and convert them into customers. The result is a shorter-than-average sales cycle.
Clearer and improved ROI
According to a survey from Demand Gen Report, 76% of businesses using ABM report that it results in a higher ROI than more generalized marketing programs deliver.
An account-centric approach makes revenue attribution and the ability to identify direct costs—and measure ROI—easier. Equally important, ABM streamlines the sales and marketing process compared to traditional lead generation. It can also remove unqualified prospects upfront, enabling you to focus time and energy on the accounts most likely to convert.
Better resource allocation
Leads from broad-brush marketing campaigns require time and effort to qualify, groom, and advance through a sales funnel. ABM accounts are targeted before a campaign launches, so resources are laser-focused on exactly what is required to convert and generate revenue.
Disadvantages of ABM
While ABM may sound like a marketing panacea, consider these potential disadvantages.
ABM may require more time and resources to create highly personalized, account-level programs versus a traditional one-size-fits-all marketing campaign.
Account-based marketing is better suited for larger companies that can devote enough resources to make it a winning solution. Businesses needing to limit their ABM campaign spending because of budget concerns should consider putting the effort on hold until they have the necessary resources.
Narrows the target customer pool
Small or midsize companies interested in making a bigger splash in the market and gaining more customers may wish to target a broader audience.
Failure to align on the right target accounts
You must allocate enough time and resources upfront to determine which accounts to target and to develop and execute a sustainable strategy for each one. Shortcuts at the outset of an ABM campaign can lead to failure.
Lack of accurate shared data
You need accurate B2B data and intelligence to choose the right target accounts, customize content and messaging, and select the most efficient channels.
During a time when sales and marketing teams are pushed to generate more revenue more quickly with improved ROI, you may be tempted to overpromise and hope you get lucky. Instead, set realistic expectations and achievable goals.
Account-based marketing strategy
Account-based marketing allows you to target high-value potential customers and forge strong connections through individualized marketing and sales plans. But you need a strong account-based marketing strategy for ABM to work.
Consider these steps when designing your ABM approach.
- Establish your vision. How can an ABM strategy improve company revenue and create new business prospects for your organization? What companies are you hoping to reach? Don’t jump ahead to later steps without first envisioning the end goal.
- Set goals. Consider setting goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) to further clarify what success looks like.
- Define key metrics. Common examples include customer acquisition cost, conversion rate, and customer lifetime value.
- Create a budget. Have a strong understanding of what you’ll need to spend to secure a new account. Factors like competition, brand awareness, and technology can impact your project budget.
- Encourage buy-in from your team. For your strategy to be successful, your entire team needs to row in the same direction. Encourage greater buy-in by agreeing on the desired outcomes and educating leaders about the benefits of the campaign.
- Align sales and marketing. For an account-based marketing strategy to be successful, the sales and marketing team must share a spirit of collaboration and accountability. Schedule regular meetings where both teams can come together to share wins, discuss progress, and ensure everyone is on the same page. Ensure compensation plans are aligned for goal achievement.
- Invest in tools and training. Consider what marketing software or platforms can help you identify potential accounts and implement your plan.
Account-based marketing vs. inbound marketing: better together
You may think ABM and inbound marketing are at odds, but they can work well together.
ABM focuses on outbound tactics (starting a conversation with an account and sending personalized messages). Inbound marketing draws customers to you through content marketing, social media, search engine optimization (SEO), and advertising.
For example, paid advertising is traditionally an inbound marketing tool, but it’s also a successful tool for ABM. So, instead of separating ABM and inbound marketing into silos, look at ways they complement one another and leverage these.
Account-based marketing vs. lead generation: Which is better?
Traditional lead generation uses a broad approach to generate as many leads as possible, whereas ABM addresses a select set of high-value accounts. Typically, ABM accounts are known entities and not necessarily new leads, whereas lead generation can identify new leads.
Depending on your product or service mix, you may need both. The key is to have the bandwidth and resources for both.
How to implement account-based marketing
Don’t underestimate the time, human resources, and budget it takes to design, implement, and manage an ABM program. Understanding the steps can help ensure accurate estimates.
1. Identify high-value target accounts
Look for accounts that not only align with your offerings but also have a higher likelihood of becoming long-term, valuable customers. Consider factors like their current pain points, the competitive landscape, and the potential for upselling or cross-selling opportunities.
2. Research and gather data
In addition to online research, tap into your existing customer base and sales teams to gather valuable insights about your target accounts. Conduct interviews or surveys to understand their specific needs, preferences, and buying behaviors. The more comprehensive your data, the better you can tailor your strategies.
3. Define your goals and objectives
Ensure that your goals and objectives align with both your marketing and sales teams. Break down your overall goals into smaller milestones to track progress more effectively. Regularly review and communicate these goals with your team to keep everyone motivated and focused.
4. Segment your accounts
Continuously analyze and refine your account segmentation as you gather more data and insights. Consider factors like their level of engagement with your brand, the potential for a partnership or collaboration, and the urgency of their needs. This dynamic segmentation will allow for more personalized and targeted approaches.
5. Build account personas
Conduct interviews or schedule meetings with stakeholders from your target accounts to gather firsthand information. Use this opportunity to empathize with their challenges, understand their priorities, and build relationships. This deeper understanding will enable you to tailor your messaging and content to resonate on a more personal level.
6. Craft personalized content
Use customer testimonials, case studies, and success stories to illustrate how your solutions can address the specific pain points of each account. Consider creating interactive content or hosting webinars to actively engage with stakeholders and provide them with valuable insights and actionable takeaways.
7. Determine channels and tactics
Experiment with different channels and tactics to find the right mix that resonates with your target accounts. Use social media listening tools to identify platforms where your accounts are most active and engage in conversations. Consider retargeting ads to stay top of mind and nurture relationships throughout their buying journey. For the most valuable accounts, you may want to assign consistent liaisons from your team to further build relationships.
8. Execute and measure
Use A/B testing to assess the effectiveness of different content variations and tactics. Monitor the performance of your campaigns in real time, tracking metrics like click-through rates (CTR) and conversion rates. Regularly review the data and share insights with your team to optimize your strategies.
Measuring ABM success
As with any marketing program, you can measure success in several ways—though ROI and revenue generation are typically the ultimate objectives. ABM aims to shorten the sales cycle and boost revenue with an improved ROI.
Metrics that go into your formula should include:
- Average contract value. Since ABM targets high-value accounts, the average contract value should be higher than the average value of all accounts.
- Win rate. Super-focused targeting and account-level customization should result in a higher-than-average conversion rate.
- Sales cycle length. ABM skips a lot of the lead generation and sales cycle process, potentially decreasing the time from the point of first engagement to closing a sale.
- Retention rate. Sales teams have always used account-based selling as a strategy, but using ABM to engage key decision-makers and influencers upfront will likely result in even stronger client relationships. ABM also helps you extend your messaging and offerings to clients more quickly, so you can beat your competition to the mark.
- Net promoter score. This index, ranging from -100 to 100, measures customers’ willingness to recommend your products or services. ABM aims to develop stronger relationships with various individuals in a client’s organization and create a more enjoyable buyer journey. This can increase customer satisfaction and lead to a higher net promoter score.
Account-based marketing ideas
You can engage in account-based marketing in several ways. Every business and customer is different, so every ABM campaign should be different. Let’s review five account-based marketing examples in action.
Personalized video campaigns
Create short, personalized videos addressing the specific pain points and challenges of each target account. You can send these videos by email or share on personalized landing pages to grab the attention of key decision-makers.
The brand Brightcove creates “Meet Your Account Manager” videos to introduce team members to new customers. In each video, the account manager defines their role and shares about how they can use videos to help the brand grow their business.
Host account-specific workshops
Host exclusive workshops or training sessions tailored to the needs of individual target accounts. Provide hands-on guidance and solutions to their specific challenges, demonstrating your expertise and building stronger relationships.
Since 63% of customers cite onboarding or training as a key reason they would purchase a product, these workshops can be incredibly helpful. Consider how you can use a training session to provide useful information and high value while also encouraging potential clients to envision what you can offer through a paid service.
Let’s say you’ve identified a potential client at a software company. To make a connection with key decision-makers, you can put together an interactive workshop focused on their specific needs while showing how your product can provide a solution. You can foster a deeper connection between your team and their company and offer a better understanding of how your product could meet their needs.
Use LinkedIn’s account targeting feature
Use LinkedIn’s account targeting feature to deliver personalized content and ads directly to the LinkedIn feeds of key individuals within target accounts. Tailor the messaging and visuals to resonate with their industry and pain points.
For example, you can target ad campaigns based on specific demographics to reach the decision-makers at companies in your targeted group with the highest possible financial return. Doing so can drive more qualified leads and allow you to guide decision-makers throughout the buying journey.
Collaborate on content creation
Partner with key decision-makers from target accounts to cocreate valuable content like ebooks, reports, or industry insights. This collaborative approach can generate high-quality content and foster stronger relationships with the accounts.
For the best results, choose a partner who shares your vision and has similar goals, ensuring you avoid potential conflicts and work together effectively. It’s also wise to clarify your format and style from the beginning to avoid potential confusion.
Imagine you’re working with a cybersecurity company that provides data protection to banks and other financial institutions. You identify a global bank that you would like to work with, and you reach out to the bank with an idea about a collaborative project.
By working together, you can demonstrate your expertise, communicate an understanding of the bank’s key challenges, and build a deeper relationship with the bank’s leadership, while also delivering a product that will provide reach to other potential customers.
Launch a podcast
Launch a podcast designed for your target accounts. Invite industry experts from those accounts as guests to discuss relevant topics and address their pain points. This can establish your brand as a thought leader while strengthening connections with the target accounts.
For example, a consulting firm that focuses on helping executive teams develop better alignment and organizational health could create a podcast and invite key leaders from target organizations as guests.
The guests will appreciate the opportunity to share their expertise and benefit from the exposure, and your audience will find value from hearing what these leaders have to say.
Get account-based marketing help through Upwork
Account-based marketing can help your business attract and convert key accounts, whether you want to target one or many. But you don’t need an entire marketing team to start working with ABM.
Hire a marketing specialist through Upwork to help you with account-based marketing and get started immediately without the hassle of onboarding.
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